Engineering learning

COE brings engineering projects to K-12 students.

John Martinson Jr. was quite dignified as he slammed his fist and wiggled his fingers in a batch of glop.

Tall, quiet, smiling, dressed in an Edison Ventures jacket, Martinson experienced first hand on a dreary November afternoon what his foundation helped fund: a series of engineering activities designed to further introduce K-12 students to the world of technology.

Rowan College of Engineering professors Drs. Kauser Jahan, Krishan Bhatia and Smitesh Bakrania and their students unveiled those activities — which they have been working on for two months — at the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University.

Funded by Edison Ventures

The activities are one part of a Virtual Hub for Promoting Engineering (or VHUB), which the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Edison Ventures funded with a $300,000 grant.

The brainchild of Jahan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, VHUB is a virtual site that will provide resources for materials that use technological products and that focus on rapid changes in technology.

“This is a gizmo gadget-driven generation, Jahan said.

The VHUB resources will include worksheets, video clips, hands-on activities, lab experiments and apps that will address the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Science at all threshold levels.

Web-based, VHUB will enable any teacher in the Garden State (and potentially anywhere around the globe) with access to the Internet to tap into a series of engineering, science and technology segments for middle school use. Currently the team is focusing on the eighth grade physical science standards and will provide access via the Internet to a series of 64 engineering, science and technology segments. Those segments will include history lessons (such as a brief bio on who developed the periodic table), applications of the concept and activities related to the curriculum standard.

“What excites us at Rowan is they have the best educators that we have worked with and like us they are forward-thinking and always envisioning what they can do next,” said Martinson, an investment manager at Edison Ventures. “With the Virtual Hub, the possibilities are endless to deliver their expertise . . . to anywhere the Internet can take them.”

Easy to access, easy to understand

The activities, which teachers will be able to access directly from the VHUB website or via an app, are relatively easy and can be completed in the classroom and also duplicated at home in some cases.

“We don’t want kids thinking engineering is so hard that they can’t do that,” said Jahan.

The activities also are infinitely interesting. For instance, on the day of Martinson’s visit and the unveiling of VHUB, students demonstrated the glop concoction of cornstarch and water that acted like a liquid when touched and like a solid when punched; showed how to make a lava lamp using water, vegetable oil, food coloring and Alka-Seltzer; and more.

Said Bhatia, a mechanical engineering associate professor, “It’s not just words in a textbook.”

Get them interested

VHUB is just one of the College of Engineering’s outreach programs for the K-12 community, some of which date back more than 15 years and all of which are designed to interest young students in engineering and technology in general, starting them on a path to in-demand careers, keeping them current in a global marketplace and contributing to building the United States’ strength in those fields.

Edison Ventures has partnered on two other of those programs:

  • Engineering Clinics for Teachers, which is modeled after Rowan engineering clinics and allows middle and high school teachers to work with University faculty on engineering design projects and to develop the teaching methodologies to transfer engineering ideas into their K-12 classrooms and
  • Engineers on Wheels, which brings hands-on experiments directly to K-12 classrooms. Students can tackle fundamentals of engineering in a van equipped with modules or work on experiments in their own classrooms.

With the United States lagging behind many other countries in science, technology, math and engineering, Rowan faculty developed VHUB as a means to address the need for a new vision for educating engineers to push the country to the forefront of technology.

“Currently there are very few workshops that train teachers on using contemporary technology and multimedia as resources for enhancing and promoting science and engineering education in the South Jersey area,” according to Jahan. “VHUB aims to develop and offer opportunities for K-12 educators to enhance their technological skills for promoting science and engineering education.”

VHUB will focus primarily on energy, materials and sustainability and will include work with computers, iPhones and iPads, among other technology tools.

“This overwhelming generosity has allowed our College of Engineering to focus on critical STEM outreach initiatives that impact K-12 teachers and students throughout the region,” said R.J. Tallarida, Jr., associate vice president for University Advancement and acting executive director of the Rowan University Foundation. “We are grateful for this continued confidence in the University’s ability to accomplish this important work.”