Online Course Offers Insight Into Pre-University Community

IEEE Educational Activities has developed an online tutorial for members who want to get involved in preuniversity outreach programs

7 February 2008

Turning students into engineers may be the job of universities and graduate schools, but conjuring that initial spark of scientific curiosity often falls upon primary and secondary school teachers. They’re the ones who might inspire students to pursue math and science before they ever approach the gates of a university.

But those teachers often don’t have the technical background for the job. For that reason, IEEE Educational Activities has developed an online tutorial for IEEE members who want to get involved in outreach programs to pre-university schools.

Billed as a “train the trainer module,” the free 30-minute tutorial provides tips and strategies on how to work with middle and high school teachers and students. It includes an overview of the typical school environment and the challenges teachers face. It also suggests ways for members to get involved in schools, perhaps during the career or science and math days set aside to give teachers extra instruction. And there are tips for grabbing and holding a student’s attention should an engineer get the opportunity to work with the students, including handouts for projects such as the Pipe Cleaner Towers Activity, wherein teams of students use simple materials to build freestanding towers.

Those who take the course also gain a better understanding of how engineers can make a difference in their school district.

“One reason the outreach program is so important is that students seem to have a poor perception of the engineering profession. Many think they would be constantly working by themselves in a lab,” says Yvonne Pelham, educational outreach program manager for IEEE Educational Activities, in Piscataway, N.J. “We want to show that engineers are real people, that the work is exciting. And by having engineers in the classroom, students might find a science or engineering field they’re interested in.”

The tutorial also includes links to Web sites detailing science education standards and guides that contain information on how to make a good presentation to high school and middle school students from such organizations as the International Technology Education Association and the American Society for Engineering Education’s K–12 Center.

Pelham hopes that those who take the tutorial will spread the word about the importance of reaching out to middle and high school students, and thereby get more engineers into the classroom.

The tutorial was funded through a five-year National Science Foundation grant to the National Academy of Engineering’s Engineering Equity Extension Service (EEES), of which IEEE Educational Activities is a partner. EEES was created to help prepare a more diverse and talented workforce within the engineering profession.

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