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When you hear the word “engineering,” what do you think of? Some people might think of someone who builds things, while others might think of the engineer who drives a train. While neither of those answers are wrong, there’s more to the field of engineering than you might realize. In fact, engineering is all around you! From phones and cars to elevators and planes, most of what we have today is thanks to an engineer who saw a way to make life better and easier. Engineers use their understanding of math and science to explore, design, and create new things or find ways to make old things better. Have you ever looked at what you had around you and used your imagination to fix it or make something new? Maybe you used plastic cups to make a speaker sound louder or used a book to keep your phone or a book upright. That’s engineering!
What Is Engineering?
Simply put, engineering is the act of using math and science to solve real-world problems. Engineers explore how things work and use that knowledge to make things better. Engineers design, develop, test, and evaluate products to make sure they work and are safe for us to use. From developing electric cars to providing clean water to remote villages, engineers are an important part of the world around us. In fact, engineering is what gives us the technology that has completely changed how we live today.
Types of Engineering
From building machines that make coffee to machines that explore Mars, the world of engineering is full of adventure and creativity, but there’s more to it than just dreaming up something and working toward its creation. Did you know that there isn’t just one type of engineer? In fact, there are lots! There are mechanical, electrical, structural, computer, and nuclear engineers as well as aerospace, biomedical, chemical, industrial, civil and environmental engineers. While some of these are responsible for the design, construction, and inspection of buildings, bridges, or rockets, others focus on finding ways to prevent, reduce, or eliminate pollution or creating better types of computers.
Science and Engineering
Engineers are problem-solvers who rely on a good understanding of science to explore how things work and see how they can make the world better. Today, engineers use scientific advances and technology to test their ideas and creations to see if they will work in the real world. They can use computer software to simulate real-world conditions to determine if they need to change their product or design. Have you ever heard of the scientific method? Engineers use it to test their creations! The engineering of any design, from the smallest computer to the largest cargo plane, revolves around a good scientific understanding of the world around us.
Benefits of Engineering for K-12 Students
As early as when you were a toddler, you probably liked building things and taking them apart to see how they worked. Exploring engineering in school lets you do this same sort of process to solve different types of problems, and it helps you work on your math and science skills, too. While you’re coming up with and testing your ideas, they probably won’t work sometimes, but that’s totally OK: It’s part of the process, and it’s important to learn that you don’t always have to get things right on the first try. Working on an engineering task can help you learn from your mistakes and teach you to keep trying.
You’ll also learn something pretty cool: Problems don’t always have just one right answer. While a math problem always ends up with one solution, like 2 + 2 always equals 4, when you’re engineering something, there might be a lot of different ways to solve the problem. For instance, how would you make a boat that floats out of straws? You might come up with one design, and your friend might come up with a different-looking one, but they might both work. When you study engineering, you learn to be creative and try out your ideas, even if they’re not exactly the same as everyone else’s.
It’s also important to learn about engineering for a practical reason: There are lots of different jobs for engineers, so you might be setting yourself up for a great career when you’re an adult. Maybe you’ll create a spaceship that takes humans to another planet, or maybe you’ll help to make a new medicine that saves lives. Maybe you’ll make a hit video game, or maybe you’ll make a new bridge that people drive over every day. These are all jobs that an engineer can do!
From Archimedes (288-212 B.C.E.) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519 C.E.) to Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) and Elon Musk, engineers have made important discoveries that have completely changed the way people lived. While advances from engineers as far back as Archimedes and Leonardo da Vinci may seem trivial to us today, such as simple flying objects or pulley systems, their inventions were groundbreaking and provided the foundation for things we have and can make today. We often take for granted the amount of time and work it took for us to be able to switch on a light or turn on the air conditioner, but engineers gave us those things.
STEM and Engineering Activities, and Projects
- Build Elsa’s Ice Palace
- Rubber Band Cars
- Create and Test a da Vinci Bridge
- How to Build a Circuit Flower
- Building Projects Using Hydraulics