engineering education

Center for Engineering Education Offers Innovative Learning for K-12 Educators

Educator Alesia Arlandson is an instructional data support specialist with Lakeville Area Public Schools. She recently completed her Graduate Certificate in Engineering Education, a four-course program offered by St. Thomas’ Center for Engineering Education (CEE) in the School of Engineering. The former sixth grade science teacher said her CEE experience pushed her understanding and changed her perspective on engineering.

“There is so much that I took away from the courses,” Arlandson said. “The biggest takeaway is the confidence I have in understanding the foundation of engineering and wanting to replicate that confidence in the students and teachers I support. Creating new lessons and projects for teachers is a passion of mine, and I have found great enjoyment doing this with some of the teachers I support. It is a success when we co-teach the lesson, the students are highly engaged, and the student feedback asks for more lessons like the one we planned and implemented.”

Through the CEE, K-12 educators are learning about innovations in engineering education and how to bring those advances into their classrooms. The CEE supports teachers’ STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) integration with engineering education through multiple degrees and certificates. The graduate certificate is also applicable to the School of Education’s Master of Arts in Education Studies with an engineering education concentration; some universities accept the certificate as work toward specific master’s degrees.

Debbie Monson, Professor in the Center for Engineering Education, teaches STEM education techniques during a School of Education class in Opus Hall on November 26, 2018, in Minneapolis.

Creating different classrooms

The CEE draws a variety of educators from assorted backgrounds including nonscience/math fields, including French teacher Caroline Little. CEE Director Deb Besser said it is inspiring to teach educators new ways of problem-solving they can replicate in the classroom.

“Their classrooms look different and you can tell when you walk down the hallway who has this type of engineering education focus, and who’s thinking about STEM in terms of hands-on, problem-based, creative problem-based problem-solving,” Besser said. “You can tell students are more active because they’re engaged. Educators are telling us they are bringing something into their classroom other educators do not have. Their students are learning and retaining things at a much deeper level. It’s the same science and math, but because students are physically engaged and coming up with their own solutions – not because it’s in the back of the textbook – they’re eating it, digesting it and it’s becoming part of them. It’s actually physically who they are and how they solve problems.”

Arlandson increased the number of engineering projects she did with her students thanks to her CEE experience.

“The Center for Engineering Education professors wanted everything we did to apply to our classroom,” said Arlandson, who completed her teaching license from St. Thomas in 2005. “It is important for me to allow my students to explore a variety of engineering skills. I feel students are in a better place for appreciating, understanding and applying engineering concepts because they have more opportunities, projects and challenges to problem solve.”

Developing programs beyond expectations

Allison Knoph, a fifth grade teacher at Concord Elementary in Edina, has more than 17 years of experience teaching in elementary classrooms. In 2012, she was among the first group of K-12 teachers to earn a Graduate Certificate in Engineering Education. The program and instructors, including CEE’s founder and Innovation Director AnnMarie Thomas, transformed her way of thinking about what the classroom experience – more project based, real-world application – could be like for her students. When she was a student, Knoph said she was good at math and science but never considered a career in engineering.

“If I had known that Professor Thomas was what engineering could be and could look like, that might have changed a lot for me,” said Knoph ’02 MA in Teacher Education, who is also an affiliate with the Playful Learning Lab and OK Go Sandbox. “Going through all the different engineering disciplines while you are taking [CEE] courses exposes you to possibilities for your students. As a teacher, then I’m exposing my kids to what engineering is – it’s not all high math, high science; it’s about curiosity, making and problem-solving.”

For more than 30 years, David Crompton worked as a chemical engineer and patent attorney before switching gears to pursue a teaching career. He earned his Master of Arts in Teacher Education from St. Thomas in 2012, followed by a Graduate Certificate in Engineering Education in 2017. A science teacher at Saint Agnes School in St. Paul, Crompton started an engineering club at Saint Agnes followed by an engineering program, which is in its second year as part of the school’s curriculum.

“I believe the real draw to the engineering education classes was recognition that my having an engineering degree really did not prepare me to teach engineering to high school students,” Crompton said. “The program provided excellent curriculum ideas for integration in my science classes and a base for the current full-year Fundamentals of Engineering class we offer.”

Those lessons from CEE courses are still fresh in Arlandson’s mind as she’s currently helping develop a middle school curriculum for a variety of engineering tasks and challenges.

“The media specialist and library assistant recently received a grant from a local manufacturing company,” Arlandson said. “They used part of the grant money to purchase a MakerBot 3D printer, a variety of robots and circuitry kits. The goal is to help write and implement curriculum for students to be able to tinker, make and complete engineering challenges that will be completed during homeroom and the school’s intervention/enrichment block. We want the curriculum to feed into the high school’s engineering program, which is in its second year. There is a vision and drive to develop the district’s engineering program beyond expectations.”