Did you see the new Goldie Blox video? This company, whose tagline is “toys for future engineers,” just released a viral video in which three young girl engineers execute a Rube Goldberg machine set to the tune of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls.”
This video is excellent, because it helps draw young girls’ attention to the possibilities of engineering. Maybe after seeing the video, they’ll ask their parents for a Goldie Blox kit or try to build a Rube Goldberg machine in their living room. Maybe they’ll learn, as all engineers do, that a successful project means educating yourself in math and physics; that you need to know exactly how far apart to place each domino to make sure your train falls down at an even, consistent rate.
Getting kids excited about math, science, and engineering is one of my favorite subjects, and I’m always looking for new ways to involve children in STEM-related projects.
For example, I regularly take my Vex Robotics tools to local schools and to scouting clubs to teach kids how to build small robots — and then how to build a robot that can beat other robots in a rally! It’s great because you can see exactly when the kids figure out that a robot with an inclined plane in front can push other robots off the track by lifting up the competing robot’s wheels, and that a robot with a square front doesn’t have the same advantage. It’s like physics, math, robotics, and simple machines all in one.
If you’re looking to nurture your own junior engineer, here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Give your kids the right tools
Yes, this means buying some Goldie Blox. It means letting your kids play Minecraft, one of the best games out there for kids interested in math and engineering. It means letting your children build a giant domino train that takes up the entire living room, or letting your kids launch Barbie off a trebuchet in the backyard just to see what happens.
Engineering experiments can sometimes get a little messy. But they’re well worth it.
2. Make tutoring awesome
Math education in schools isn’t always what it should be, but a math tutor can help bridge the gap. As the Huntington tutoring website notes: kids who fall behind on early math concepts sometimes never get the chance to catch up. When teachers have to focus on 30 students simultaneously, they don’t always have time to give your child the one-on-one attention he or she deserves — and this, in turn, often leads to kids deciding they “hate math” or “are bad at math” even before they’ve given math a chance.
Solve this problem with one-on-one tutoring. Math skills are essential, whether your child grows up to be an engineer or pursues a non-STEM field, and a good math foundation leads to success on the SAT, success in college, and success in life. Hiring a math tutor now means giving your child a foundation in math that will last a lifetime.
The key is to make tutoring sound like it’s an awesome opportunity, not a punishment. Tie the tutoring in to the other engineering projects you’re running around the home, like your domino Rube Goldberg machine — the more your kid learns, the bigger she’ll be able to build that machine. Make sure you choose a tutor who is willing to have fun with math and help your child unlock all of math’s possibilities.
3. Surround your kids with cool peers and role models
Fitting in is extremely important for children. So is making friends, and having positive role models that reflect and affirm their interests. If you’re not an engineer yourself, find a friend or connection who might be able to talk to your child about career possibilities. Invite engineers, math professors, astronomers, and other interesting people to your child’s scouting or youth group.
And don’t forget about your kids’ peers, especially during the transition to junior high. If all of your child’s friends are acting like math and science are “uncool,” your kid is likely to pull away from those activities and interests. Your job is to make sure your son or daughter is involved in extracurricular groups or other activities where he or she is surrounded by smart kids equally interested in math, science, or engineering.
When in doubt: Space Camp. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t dream about going to Space Camp, and I’ve seen it turn the strongest math haters into math aficionados.
I can’t guarantee your child will grow up to become an engineer (even though engineers are amazing) but I can guarantee that if you follow these steps, your child will develop an interest in math, science and creativity that will last a lifetime.