CU-Boulder Wins $500,000 Grant To Develop Elementary Engineering Curriculum

Published: Dec. 12, 2001

The Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder has won a three-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a hands-on, pre-engineering curriculum for students in grades three through five.

The grant from the highly competitive Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education was awarded to engineering faculty member Janet deGrazia, who is the director of outreach for the Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Starting in January, deGrazia will lead a group of graduate students working with teachers at three Boulder Valley elementary schools -- Sanchez, Creekside and Bear Creek. Together, they will develop four, six-week curriculum "blocks" on topics that are taught in the upper elementary grades - energy, the laws of motion, environmental science, and electricity and magnetism.

The curriculum will include lesson plans that integrate math and science concepts with hands-on engineering experiments, while meeting Colorado's K-12 math, science and technology education standards. The curriculum will be tested in schools throughout Colorado, and subsequently in a six-state region. The lesson plans will be disseminated to teachers through professional development workshops, primers, a Web site and CD-ROMS.

The ITL Laboratory has pioneered hands-on engineering education for undergraduates, as well as in outreach to middle and high school students, and deGrazia has delved even deeper by introducing hands-on engineering concepts at the elementary level.

"Engineering is an innovative, exciting and effective vehicle for teaching math and science in the upper elementary grades," said deGrazia. "Kids like it because they can use what they know to build something and make it work."

Recognizing teachers' needs for classroom activities that integrate math and science concepts with hands-on learning, deGrazia created several experiments and lesson plans about the theory and mathematics of motion, which were the focus of last summer's "Kinetics for Kids" teacher workshop.

In that week-long workshop, kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers from around the state experimented with pencil rockets and slingshot-propelled cars, two projects which they could easily build and use in their classrooms with little cost.

This fall, deGrazia went on to present a five-part series, "The ABCs of Engineering," in partnership with Channel 4 KCNC-TV. The series, which was sent to teachers around the state, included hands-on experiments and lesson plans for teachers in aerospace, chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. The materials were supplemented with a week of daily broadcasts featuring deGrazia and News 4's Larry Green.

The FIPSE grant from the Department of Education will expand the effort by creating a longer, more complete set of curriculum-based activities.