Schools shine light on engineering possibilities

Schools shine light on engineering possibilities
Teacher Elena Czarnowski, right, helps Riley N. with her solar powered car. The engineering elective meets every Wednesday and many of the students said it’s their favorite course. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO— The closing bell at Grace Lutheran School rang Wednesday afternoon and was met with groans from the middle school students.

They weren’t ready to leave Elena Czarnowski’s engineering class.
The new elective is an introductory course to engineering and many of the nine students said it’s their favorite class.

On Feb. 18 they built mini solar powered cars as part of a lesson on solar power.

Unfortunately, afternoon haze prevented the necessary amount of sunlight to stream through but that didn’t damper the kids’ enthusiasm.

This is the first semester the engineering elective is offered at Grace Lutheran and Czarnowski hopes it will expose more students to engineering.

She spent 10 years selling data systems for IBM and although she was a math major, she had never been exposed to careers in STEM or science, technology, engineering and math.

“That’s why I’m so passionate about it,” Czarnowski said. “This is really exciting to me because I had no exposure.”

She also brings in guest speakers as subject matter experts who work in STEM.

Andrew Warner tests out the mini-solar powered car he built in Elena Czarnowski’s engineering elective at Grace Lutheran School. Photo by Ellen Wright

Andrew Warner tests out the mini-solar powered car he built in Elena Czarnowski’s engineering elective at Grace Lutheran School. Photo by Ellen Wright

They’re usually parents, or friends of parents and Czarnowski said it helps shape the students’ spheres of influences.

She was inspired after listening to an NPR segment about the high number of engineers coming out of Northern California. The segment said that the region produces the most engineers because it is the most densely populated area with engineers.

Czarnowski took it one step further. She said the reason was because children were getting more exposure to engineers.

“It wasn’t necessarily more engineers that work there that spawns more kids in engineering, it was that if they went and had a sleepover and so-and-so’s mom was an engineer, their circle of influence was an engineer, not necessarily that there’s more opportunities there,” Czarnowski said.

Bringing in guest speakers exposes them to local possibilities.

“They realize all these companies are here in San Diego and these people are friends of their friends and it’s actually attainable,” Czarnowski said.

Currently, the class is an elective for grades six through eight but she hopes to make it mandatory for all students.

“I’m going to push to make it mandatory because I think every student should just see if this is of interest to them,” Czarnowski said.

The class is part of a growing trend to get children more involved in STEM.

The Escondido Union School District just announced the opening of a new school, Quantum Academy.

The academy will open in 2015 to students in fourth through sixth grades.

Classes will aim to expose kids to STEM curriculum.

They’ll cycle through both “explore” and “element” classes that are short and long term courses. Students will do things like create a TED style talk or create a compost garden.

Students are chosen from a lottery system, which closes March 6. There are 192 slots open and Deputy Superintendent Leila Sackfield said it’s likely the first lottery will get 2,000 entrants.

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