It’s late June, but classrooms around Merced are still buzzing with activity, including almost 70 schoolteachers who are learning at UC Merced to better teach engineering classes in schools in Merced and Mariposa counties.
A state Department of Education grant of $1.8 million is set to pay for the three-year program, which began this week at the university.
Engineering also has a considerable focus in all of the summer school classes going on in Merced schools, which are in session this month.
The third- through eighth-grade teachers are training this week, overseen by professors from UC Merced and Merced College. Those teachers are testing hands-on learning experiences, as well as other skills, they could use to teach their students in the coming year.
Rosanna Ayers, a sixth-grade teacher at Le Grand Elementary, worked with teammates to build a bridge made of raw pasta. The lesson, designed by students and professors of UC Merced, is an introduction to the properties of materials.
Ayers, who has taught for a dozen years, said the lessons this week are her first in how to teach engineering concepts to the 11- and 12-year-olds in her class. “This is demystifying engineering so we can teach it to our kids,” she said.
The hands-on learning will likely be popular with students, she said.
For the first time, during the coming school year, the state’s curriculum requires an engineering component in science learning. The Merced County Office of Education has partnered with the Merced City School District and Mariposa Unified School District to implement the new learning.
Jonathan Rhodea, the program director for MCOE, said the new curriculum should serve a dual purpose – help get children interested in engineering and lay the groundwork for the concepts they might study at a university.
The biggest hurdle for teachers to clear, he said, is to relate the science and math to the students’ everyday lives. Teachers need to help pupils understand why the math and science they are learning matters, he said.
$1.8 millionThe state Department of Education grant for the three-year program
Convincing local children could pay off, particularly for minority students. “We happen to live with UC Merced in our backyard,” Rhodea said.
Underrepresented minority groups make up more than half of the student body at the university. Also, about 52 percent of students are majoring in science, technology, engineering and math.
During the next three years, an estimated 1,800 elementary students in Merced and Mariposa counties will be part of the program to attempt to improve their knowledge in those fields.
YangQuan Chen, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UC Merced, said technology and science jobs are on the rise. Preparing young people in this region to go into the workforce is important, he said, noting that those fields often include high-paying jobs.
“We need more engineering education in the workforce to change the landscape (of the economy) for people in the Valley,” he said.