High-tech or hi-tech typically is understood to include anything affected by electronics. There's no doubt that the United States industry fully meets that criteria, and to continue being economically successful we must supply a work force that meets the needs of a high-tech society. If not, we must go abroad to find the personnel that have the right qualifications. That statement opens up a can of worms about politics and global work forces and I don't want to go there. I want to focus on one segment of the work force that you and I know very well ” the electrical/computer engineer.
Education experts say they are struggling to entice students into preparing for high-tech careers as many public schools fail to spur children's interest in engineering and science. Additionally, there will be a continuing dire need in the near future for qualified individuals to enter fields involving high technology. Some observers say that children choose their career paths as young as the third or fourth grade, and if they don't know what an engineer is, they won't want to become one. How do we prepare more of our children to meet the challenges of becoming an engineer?
First, we must make the U.S. populace aware that their kids need to be exposed to the core courses for any engineering discipline ” math and science. Presently, many communities put much more focus on sports as an extracurricular activity but very little on anything else such as having fun with math and science via the various engineering disciplines. Parents who want to make their kids aware of the joys of building things they may have to do it themselves. You can get your children excited about engineering by finding appropriate hands-on toys like log cabin sets, erector sets, Lego sets and basic electricity and motorized games. To this day, I'm not sure who had more fun with all those games ” my children or me. My wife even thought of getting rid of them in a garage sale but I couldn't bear to part with them, because I have such fond memories of playing with them and my kids. Those hands-on experiences were fun and helped them develop inquisitive minds and an interest in how things work. I remember wondering when my children were very young why I couldn't find any local groups that could offer after school informal classes for any engineering or science. I knew it was available in some states but not in my town. That was before the Internet became popular as a meeting place for kids to learn.
What can parents do to entice their kids to develop an interest in science, math and engineering? Presently, help is available, but typically not through the K – 12 school system. You may have to look to organizations and even colleges to find appropriate help. You can even find some interesting sites online like the Junior Engineering Technical Society, or The American Society for Engineering Education. Both sites have a variety of quizzes in geometry, algebra, physics and even basic circuit design.
NASA even sponsors some educational sites such as the Glenn Research Center that helps develop and share aerospace technology through web-based resources, computer simulations and videoconferences. Additionally, they offer a collection of math and science resources with a focus on aeronautics and space, just for the young students. This site is pretty cool because it helps your budding engineers determine what they know but also builds proficiency in weak areas to meet the minimum proficiency for a given grade level. For example, there are math questions designed for end-of-year ninth graders that not only have the correct answers listed but they also explain why the other possibilities are incorrect.
The Glenn Research Center site also provides a teacher's section with some help for teachers in K ” 12 and listings from previous projects. The projects that I looked at are designed for middle school and high school, but parents should consider this site if their children are even a little interested in how things work. However, there are some projects for elementary schools ” just poke around in the archived projects.
There are organizations that are also well worth looking into for kids who want to join a group of like minded individuals. Toying with Technology is supported by Iowa State University. The main idea driving this course was to offer a technology literacy class aimed at students, particularly education majors, who are in non-technical fields but want an appreciation for the technological innovations that surround them. This course was created to introduce students to aspects of science, engineering, and technology. It does so through a collection of hands-on laboratory experiences based upon simple systems and controlled by small microcomputers. The intent of the course is to introduce students to recent advances in electronic technology in a gentle, non-threatening manner. Laboratory experiences typically involve the design and construction (out of LEGOs) of simple models of real-world systems, including an elevator and its controller, a garage door and its opener, a computer-controlled car, and a house security system. Unfortunately, it appears to be available only to residents of Iowa.
The Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) is another group worth looking at because it promotes interest in engineering, science, mathematics, and technology, and is dedicated to providing real-world engineering and problem-solving experience to high school students. JETS puts students in touch with engineers, shows them what engineers do, and demonstrates how the math and science concepts they are learning in class are applied in real life to engineering problems.
The society offers high school academic programs that focus entirely on developing real-life engineering teamwork and problem-solving skills and informing pre-college students about engineering careers. The group provides several opportunities for individual and team participation in activities that allow students to engage in engineering while in high school.
A self-administered engineering aptitude exercise, The National Engineering Aptitude Search+ (NEAS+) is a self-administered academic survey that enables students to determine their current level of preparation in “engineering basic skills subjects” (applied mathematics, science, and reasoning).
In cooperation with the U.S. Army, JETS also offers the Uninitiates’ Introduction to Engineering (UNITE) program, a summer initiative for minority students who want to pursue their interest in engineering and technology study and build their math and science knowledge and skill.
A hands-on national engineering design competition, the National Engineering Design Challenge (NEDC) is a cooperative program with the National Society of Professional Engineers and the National Talent Network. It challenges teams of students, often working with an engineering adviser, to design, fabricate, and demonstrate a working solution to a social need.
Finally, if you and your kids just like puzzles that test your math skills you may want to try one called Cut the Knot. They have some interactive Math and puzzles to exercise your brain. Have fun.