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Early Learning Helps Understand Engineering
BY Rebecca Hartz

Bright Lights 2010

For the past 25 years, Bright Lights has been known around Lincoln, Neb., for their fun and exciting summer camps. These learning adventures use the “hands-on, minds-on” learning technique to immerse young students in the topic of their choice. While most classes are usually centered on one subject, they also offer Career Day Camps that explore an overall profession and the specifics within.

One example is the Engineering Career Day Camp. During this week-long experience, post 6th - 8th graders have an opportunity to see what engineering is about and check out six different branches in this area. While trying out the fields of Civil, Electrical, Industrial, Mechanical, Biological Systems and Computer Engineering, the students learn how to hypothesize and test solutions to problems using current situations.

The camp is taught by Jane Edwards, a Southeast High School ITE teacher, and Charmain Satree, ITE department chair at North Star High School. Working alongside them are students at the UNL College of Engineering. These current students bring a special aspect to the journey of engineering and answer the middle school students’ questions when it comes to classes and the work involved. The presenters also bring in another viewpoint as they widen students’ minds to the world of engineering.

This summer, the students worked with David Hartmann, Math Department chair at Southwest High School, to learn about the big buzz on wind energy. After a presentation on renewable energy, they were given a chance to create a model wind turbine and explore the possibilities using this technology. To understand the workings of the turbine, they were able to tweak the blades of the fans to determine the maximum amount of energy they could put out.

The other activity the students were involved with concerned the current oil spill in the Gulf. The teachers and assistants worked together to invent a tiny version of the oil spill for the students. Once they were given some background information, they set to work. They were given tools to find the best way to get rid of the oil most effectively and quickly. With cotton balls and other utensils, the students worked hard to clean up the spills and get a glimpse of what issues current engineers are working with.

Through this experience, Edwards and Satree hope to brighten the students’ career perspectives by showing them the detailed work in engineering. They want them to take away a new way of thinking when it comes to putting things together and a confidence in their abilities. Their activities connect as engineering in the students’ eyes and help them live it, instead of just seeing the work. The students minds are opened to a new view of a world we hope to one day see them in.

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