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07 November 2017

Innovators Tribe: Thinking Like an Engineer {Crew Review}

Innovators Tribe

We were excited to receive the 2-year subscription to Thinking Like an Engineer from Innovators Tribe for this review. The course is designed for kids in 6th to 12th grade, so Hero(11) is on the young end of the spectrum, but he was very interested in learning more about engineering.

When you log in, there's a lot of information right at your fingertips. There's a 4-page pdf syllabus that outlines what you can expect your student to learn during the course.

The supplies needed for the course are all common household items, except for a small carpenters' level, which is not expensive at all, and a great addition to the toolbox that we're helping Hero stock for when he leaves home. Other than that, it's paper, card stock, scissors, and tape: no hidden costs in supplies, which is great.

The user interface is intuitive and easy to navigate: your menu is in a sidebar on the left, and the class content is one the right. Each time you log in, it asks if you want to start with the slide you left off with.

The very first project turned out to be quite challenging for Hero -- and for me, once I started to help him. Part of this is that he misunderstood the directions -- and I didn't double check on him until after we had struggled with a much more difficult project. What we were doing was building a five foot tall tower, built from only 4 sheets of paper and a foot of masking tape. But he thought it was only an inch. Ouch. That's a big difference. We worked on this considerably longer than the 1 hour that it was scheduled to take. Note to self: I still need to keep a closer eye on the directions for "independent" work!

I'd budgeted 1-2 hours per week for this course, so the misunderstanding in the instructions kept us scratching our heads for a couple of weeks. He first tried a round tower, built from rolled papers. But with so little tape, they wouldn't stay together, much less stand up.

He tried a few other things, and then I started helping: I thought that triangles might work better than tubes, so he cut pages and folded them into various types and sizes of triangles. He's really been a trooper, and I feel a bit bad for not thinking to check the instructions a little bit sooner... oops. I guess that part's also going to be a learning experience! The triangles worked better than the tubes: we got a couple different towers over three feet. But in the end, they were too unstable to do with only 1 inch of tape helping us hold things together: it meant almost all our joints had no tape at all.

By this point, we'd spent a number of hours on the project, and the post it note that I put on the doorframe marking where the tower was supposed to reach seemed a little bit mocking, so I started searching online to see what kinds of resources there are for this kind of project -- because it still hadn't occurred to me to check the instructions. But I'm only slightly sorry, because there's been some good lessons in persistence, in resilience, and a whole lot of hard work that's gone into the project so far, and those are character lessons that far outweigh any "being behind" that I might be worrying about. Plus, with a generous 2-year subscription, I'm not sweating over if we'll be done before I have to pay for a renewal: it's ok if the project takes longer than anticipated. It's ok if my student needs to grow into the requirements of the course as he goes along, or takes a little longer than anticipated. There is room for exploration, should something be extra interesting, and still be able to finish. And, if you have multiple students using the course, it's ok if they don't work at exactly the same pace. They estimate that there is about 30 hours of course work, so we still have plenty of time to complete this before our subscription runs out, even if we have several projects that run long.

Once we make it into Unit 2, there's some design software that's included in the course, and instruction on how to use it to "get ideas out of your head". I'm looking forward to when we get to that point in the course; I think that Hero is going to love that aspect of things.

There's a great balance between hands-on projects, instruction on what engineering is, introduction to the tools of the trade, and examples from real life of feats of engineering and a whole section of units on "Grand Engineering Challenges of the World". Even the paper tower project that has taken us so long has a little bit of information about real-world engineering feats: the blue tower on the graphic is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. He tells just a little bit about it as an introduction to the paper tower project.

A first condition of this vitalising teaching is that all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do; given the vitalising idea, children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea as upon a peg capable of sustaining all that it is needful to retain.
-Charlotte Mason 2:277

This course is full of the vitality and enthusiasm of the instructor, Mr. Kroeplin. And he does a great job of illuminating the relationship between the instructional work, the hands-on projects, and real life. Because of our misunderstanding of the instructions, Hero's not very far into the course yet, but I think it's going to remain something that he looks forward to seeing on his schedule each week all year as we work through it. 

Thinking Like an Engineer

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