Building Engineers Program starting up in Macon County schools

The Building Engineers Program has found success in Moore County, North Carolina, leading to an interest in robotics in all grade levels. Macon County is the only county in WNC to offer the program.

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

The Macon County School Board met at Nantahala School on Monday, Dec. 5. Normally, the school board meets the fourth Monday of the month but due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the meeting was moved to Dec. 5.

On the agenda was a presentation from Jennifer Love, STEM Coordinator, regarding the Building Engineers Program. This program brings Engineering and Design Skills into daily instruction and allows the students to be leaders in the classroom.  Through this work students from all backgrounds are able to envision themselves in STEM Careers.  Love said that Macon is the only county in Western North Carolina to offer this program. 

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction explains that if schools are to truly build toward the modern graduate that is able to collaborate with others to flexibly solve problems, they must start in kindergarten. The Building Engineers in K-5 classrooms initiative seeks to do exactly that across the state of North Carolina. 

The approach this initiative takes is both deep and wide. The deep part includes working directly with local education agencies in cohorts to assist them in developing two-year plans for spreading this work within the classrooms in their district. The “wide” part is the establishment of a statewide collaborative of elementary educators interested in these ideas and willing to champion them in their classrooms.

Where it began

In the fall of 2014, a group of Digital Integration Facilitators (DIFs) in Moore County Schools (MCS) delivered Lego EV3 and NXT robotics that were scattered across the district to five elementary schools to start after-school robotics clubs. In the spring of 2015, MCS held its first Elementary Robotics Showcase. This initial spark lit a fire across all grade levels from kindergarten all the way to advanced robotics within high schools.

​The momentum generated from this movement led the MCS digital learning team to expand the positive impact beyond after-school clubs and directly into classrooms. This expansion was fueled by the creation of the K-5 Engineering thread in the summer of 2016.

​The engineering thread is a set of 12 engineering mini projects, woven directly into MCS’s K-5 math and science pacing guides. These projects incorporate both robotics and traditional materials (such as popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, and cardboard). The response to this curricular thread was immediate, enthusiastic, and overwhelming: The scramble was on to meet teacher demands for more.

The success of this work led to Moore County being named 1 of 4 Innovation Academies by NCDPI.  This allowed MCS to host 800-plus educators from across the state through site visits and the development of the annual conference/robotics showcase-Building Engineers in K-5 classrooms.  Now, through a partnership between NCDPI and the SERVE Center, this work can grow and expand to reach even more students. 

Macon Schools expectations

Love explains what Macon County expects to gain from the program.

 “The gist is that this program will provide the resources and support through professional development to help our teachers plan STEM activities that can be integrated into the K-5 academic classroom.  Instead of this being enrichment, it would be directly related to content which is the intent of STEM.  Our current K-8 STEM teachers already have the focus on designing activities that will help support classroom teachers with difficult or abstract concepts such as physical science or data collection in math.  In this way, our STEM classes are providing academic support for specifically math and science but they are also incorporating literacy.  Lastly, our STEM teachers are beginning to include the new K-12 computer science standards.  These standards were intended to be taught through the math and science classes starting in kindergarten but through our STEM classes, we are able to address these skills through hands-on activities like robotics.”  

Love sent out an email on Monday morning regarding signing up for the workshop for this program, and five teachers have already expressed interest in learning about it. 

A professional development class will be held on Jan. 20,  at the central office board room.  The goal is to get 6 to 8 elementary teachers to sign up.