Tag Archives: Inquiry-Based Instruction

Avatar Engineers

10 Feb

“What does an engineer do?”

I wanted my students in the after-school robotics program to be able to confidently answer this question and so we took a day off from building robots to use a few 2.0 tools to explore and look for answers.

I recently purchased a set of colorful EGFI cards that introduce students to the various engineering disciplines. (They cost about $10 and can be ordered from egfi-k12.org.) I figured this was a perfect opportunity to put them to use. I handed each student a different card. After they had reviewed the information on the cards, I sent them to the eGFI home page where they sorted through virtual cards to locate their engineering discipline and explore the field some more.

Once students had a general understanding of the type of work their engineers did, they created a Voki in which they introduced themselves, “Hello, I am a/an ______ engineer” and then went on to share a bit about their work.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A few more Voki Engineer Avatars:

Mechanical Engineer Biomedical EngineerAerospace Engineer * Agricultural EngineerMaterials Engineer

Once completed, students submitted the link to their Voki on our Edmodo robotics group page which we plan to watch on the big screen during Monday’s meeting.

In general, it was a great activity and it helped us to begin to understand who engineers are and what they do. If you’re the happy-ending type, stop here. Good lesson. Fun. Done.

But if you want the dirt too and still have some room for the heavy stuff… Here are my reflections on the activity and how it went.

Students left yesterday with a stronger sense of what engineers do and they definitely understood that there are many different types of engineers. That’s what I was hoping for. They also were introduced to new 2.0 tools: Edmodo, Voki, and efgi.k-12.org. I needed to explain very little regarding how to use them. When it came to the Voki page, I said, “I’m pretty confident you can figure out how to make a voki. Play around. Ask each other for help. Let me know if you get stuck.” No one got stuck until it was time to get the URL, but that was a voki issue, not a kid issue.

Unfortunately, when students were creating the content for their cute little vokis, they didn’t respond to the questions I posted for them to answer.  Why is this a problem? For a number of reasons.

First, because I had carefully created a series of questions for them that would:

A) Encourage critical-thinking and move them out of the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and into the higher levels. Their voki’s state basic facts, which is a good start. I had asked them to think about the fact’s and apply their own ideas to them. Didn’t happen.

B) Make it impossible for students to plagiarize or copy and paste. I asked them to form opinions and imagine. When they opted instead to just “describe” the role of their engineer,  quite a few of them initially included phrases that were copied verbatim. I had to really work with a few of them and say, “Since when do you use “accordingly” when you speak?” I then had them answer the question, “So now that you have done some research, tell me what you think your engineer does.” Once they put it into their own 7th grade words, I said, “Ok. Go put that instead.”

Second, because this is a sign of an even bigger problem.

The kids aren’t used to being asked to think. They are used to being asked to follow directions. So they get stuck when they are asked to “follow directions” that ask them “to think”.

They did exactly what they thought or assumed “teacher” would want them to do. Get facts. Turn them in. Get grade. Instead of what I asked them to do. Get facts. Think about them. Form opinions about them. Make connections to other facts and ideas. Create a product that shares your understanding of the facts.

On Monday, after we watch the videos, I’m going to start a conversation. After watching our avatars, I will show them the questions that I originally posted again and ask if they answered the questions in their voki’s. I will explain how my questions are different from the question they had imagined I had asked. Then, I’ll ask them to try again… to pick one of the questions and answer it. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂

It’s difficult because I only see them a few hours a week. They have lots going on. It’s 7th grade after all. I get it. I just wish they were receiving the same messages in little bits day after day, year after year from all different teachers regarding how to research in a way that is meaningful and ethical.

Here are a few of the original questions in case you try the activity and want to incorporate them:

“What do you think you might enjoy about being a ____ engineer? What do think you wouldn’t like at all?”

“If you were a ______ engineer, what type of problem do you think you might try to solve?”

“Can you think of any products you or your friends or family use that were probably created or designed by a ______ engineer? If so, what might you change about the product to improve it or personalize it if it were up to you?”

As always, I welcome and encourage feedback. If you have questions or comments please share.


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