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Tell me and I'll forget.
Show me and I'll remember.
Involve me and I'll understand
- Confucius





This exciting program for grades PreK-5 introduces teachers and students to engineering and thinking skills (tools for engineering) in an interdisciplinary project based learning environment. The program uses the engineering design process, as defined in the Massachusetts Science Framework, as a connector between students’ literature and their mathematics and science curricula. It infuses the development of thinking strategies with creative and critical thinking, provocative questions and meta-cognitive reflection, skills that are part of the engineering process. This approach is based on the definition, “Engineering is about designing useful products & processes for society using all disciplines, but mainly science & mathematics”.

Kids also must learn to think across disciplines, since that's where most new breakthroughs
are made. It's interdisciplinary combinations—design and technology, mathematics and
art—"that produce YouTube and Google," says Thomas Friedman, the best-selling author of
The World Is Flat.

If students are to function successfully in a highly technical society, then they must be
equipped with lifelong learning and thinking skills necessary to acquire and process
information in an ever-changing world

What we are doing:

The core idea of our approach is that engineering need not "stand alone" in the curriculum, but can and should leverage existing curricular elements -- in particular literature. We envision a curriculum in which students respond to literature through engineering design projects by identifying needs that the characters have, by identifying multiple possible solutions, and by exploring and refining those solutions through prototyping and revision. For example, kindergarteners might respond to a common fairy tale by designing a house for one of the little pigs (or perhaps a means of blowing down a house for the wolf!); fifth graders might respond to the book Island of the Blue Dolphins by identifying needs and solutions for Karana, the marooned main character of the novel.



Background: our idea is to show you how to, in a systematic way, create an interdisciplinary project learning experiences using the design process and thinking skills as the connector.  Many of you probably have done projects around literature and other subjects, but we hope to develop a way that is systematic and provides your student the ability to participate in the process of finding design challenges in the stories they are reading.   This translates to a project based learning environment where the students are engaged in finding design challenges, doing and reporting on them in as part of a  team.  We are creating a professional development (PD) syllabus that we model for you the methodology.  The major elements of the PD are shown below.  We hope to evaluate this concept in a urban, Rural and Suburban school district  and establish a sustainability model that includes on-line collaboration by teachers and incorporating this PD as a supplemental curriculum in teacher colleges:

 Shown below is a model for a  professional Development program.


Why use Literature?

1. Literacy is an integral part of all existing school curriculum.

2. Stories have the potential to present situations that can challenge children’s imagination.

3. Some stories can serve to encourage students to begin to generate design proposals and connect to science and math (STEM)

4. Literature is an area of the curriculum that all teachers are familiar with and thus the design process can start from a position of strength within the classroom.

5. Building on children’s strength.


We believe some of the benefits are:

•     Showing that all subjects are interconnected.

•     Teachers can integrate this in their existing work and begin to create pockets on interdisciplinary learning.  

•     Doing a whole project versus learning about just a small section.

•     Its OK to make mistakes, in fact it’s a way of learning.

•     Students who experience design-oriented activities in all disciplines will be more likely to develop a deeper understanding of the creative process itself, independent of any discipline.


This program explicitly addresses innovation and entrepreneurship in a number of ways. First, there is an explicit focus on needs finding. Students must identify with characters in literature, and decide what opportunities might exist to help those characters. As such, the program is as heavily focused on the entrepreneurial skill of opportunity identification and assessment. Second, because the program is heavily oriented toward the kinds of thinking skills that the engineering design process requires, it includes substantial emphasis on the kinds of thinking that lead to innovation. In particular,

Teachers and students use divergent and convergent thinking processes and techniques (e.g., brainstorming, criteria-based idea selection) as they develop their ideas for how to respond to the needs of characters in literature. Finally, the design of the professional development workshop is meant to lead to curricular innovation. While participants will be introduced to various techniques and the framework, the participants will be responsible for designing their own projects, and will utilize innovation-oriented design techniques to do so.


  Prepared by  Bill Wolfson.  Copyright © 2009-2012
Last Updated  8/22/2012