A 4-stage model for training engineers and scientists to help bridge the gap between home and school

Children spend the majority of their waking hours (80%) each year outside of school (cite), yet the emphasis on education is placed primarily on teachers and school, leaving the rich resources of parents and home learning unaddressed. Knowing this, we work with parents and mentors so they can provide opportunities for their children to practice and master problem-solving skills over the course of many years through many hours of practice, but we also work with teachers to bridge the gap between home and school, and to provide a consistent message to children from primary influencers.

As we’ve described previously, we’re focused on bringing our programs to scale through the use of technology, but don’t view technology as a substitution for in-person interaction. We want to use technology to support people’s interactions with one another, and have integrated technology as one element of our 4-stage model. 

Key Elements of our Model:

1. We provide a rigorous science communication training to scientists and engineers, training them to explain the science behind their work directly to the public (or as one participant put it, explaining it to a fourth-grader). This is done by having the scientists and engineers design original, high-quality hands-on projects that they teach directly to students and parents in their local communities, providing widespread technical education.

2. The projects the scientists and engineers develop are all open-ended engineering design challenges. These challenges are designed to have “low walls and high ceilings”—to be easily accessible while also lending themselves to endless and increasingly complex iterations. The challenges are intended to help students develop their creativity, innovation, problem solving skills and persistence—skills of critical importance for the next generation of STEM innovators. 


3. We train parents so that they are informed and connected to what their child is learning. The parents are able to continue providing similar learning experiences at home (well supported by resources). Following a similar train of thought, we also train partners like libraries, after-school organizations and teachers to use our challenges, taking care to connect school and out-of-school environments. 

4. Finally, we publish the challenges the scientists and engineers have developed both online through the Curiosity Machine, and through print with our Making Machines book series. Curiosity Machine users are supported by professional scientists and engineers who volunteer (and are trained) as mentors, providing sustained virtual feedback on each project. This role also offers scientists and engineers we had trained to develop challenges and share them at Family Science courses to continue mentoring students, although in a less time-intensive way.

From Pre-K through 5th grade, we mainly focus on parents—as they spend so much time with their children compared to teachers. We host family science to involve parents with the learning process, engage them, and encourage them to continue to explore and build with their children at home. By middle school, we expand our focus to include teachers and afterschool program facilitators, engaging them and training them to use our online curriculum and technology tools in and out of classrooms. However, our main focus is on our mentors, and we emphasize the science communication training, in our four-stage model as laid out here, and in putting that model into practice. Technology can never be a substitute for in-person interaction, which is why we train our mentors so extensively, and work to make our virtual mentor feedback as personal, individualized and sustained as possible. As we scale, we understand technology’s role as one of support for people’s in-person interactions with one another, and have integrated it as one part of our model, bolstered by one-on-one virtual mentorship.

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