The Evolution of a Revolutionary Idea

We’ve talked before about the practical uses of Novel Engineering and Novel Engineering Challenges, and how the more time you allow, the greater results you’ll see. In an article about Novel Engineering in the February 2017 issue of NSTA Reports, Missouri fourth-grade teacher Jim Bruegenhemke confirms this.

“You have to give students time to share their designs, get feedback from peers, and improve their design. You need lots of time, but it’s worth it.”

In the same NSTA Reports article, Jeff Govoni, a California fifth-grade teacher, backs up Bruegenhemke’s assertions about Novel Engineering: “The goal is to have rich discussion. The rounds of critique and efforts to make good working prototypes are most beneficial.”

But as the article also makes clear, Novel Engineering is flexible and reliably effective with all kinds of students, no matter the level of time and money investment. Just like the students in Novel Engineering Challenges, at Tufts University’s Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, we used an iterative design process to develop, pilot, reshape, and evolve the program since its inception in 2010.

Now with over one thousand teachers trained in the Novel Engineering approach, we’re seeing the community make their concept their own. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have work to do ourselves.

First let’s just be honest—Jim and Jeff have it figured out. They’ve gotten over the hump of allowing the seemingly chaotic engineering design process infiltrate their classroom. They’re on the other side and see their kids flourishing in reading, creativity, and critical thinking.

But what if you’re just starting? Or what if your school needs to increase the rigor and engagement of afterschool or library-based programs?

Part of the evolution of Novel Engineering answers those questions. With funding from the United Engineering Foundation, we set about creating the first round of Novel Engineering Challenges, a fast and approachable way to get kids into reading and making. In as little as 2.5 hours, with detailed support materials and a network of other challenge teams across the world, a facilitator can engage kids in hands-on problem solving and a bit of competition.

The outcomes Jim and Jeff describe are what we all want for kids.

“My mission is that when students leave my class, they are better problem solvers than when they came in,” Bruegenhemke says. Govoni adds, “Students were really engaged throughout the whole process. They come out of it feeling like they’re on a design team.”

And to think—you can get these outcomes in under three hours?! You can. More time means more reps working their critical thinking and creativity muscles, but that can happen over time as you and your students practice the process.

Give Novel Engineering Challenges a try today