The engineering design process is an important element to include in the classroom, whether a Montessori environment or a traditional classroom. When guiding children to be part of the process we should consider the following elements as important: there’s a problem and there is access to attempt to solve the problem. In other words, children doing engineering should: (1) have a concrete problem they want to solve or better understand; (2) be methodical on how they address the problem, and (3) must share their solution or understanding with others.
There are many ways in which we can address engineering in the Montessori environment, for example. However, one possibility is by creating an intentional engineer’s corner. This is possible for all ages: primary, lower elementary, upper elementary, and adolescents. Engineering work in the Upper Elementary environment can turn into a whole class project, be work that is part of the work contract, or simply an invitation to spark children’s sympathy and empathy to other children and/or adults. Regardless of the goal, isolating the problem (i.e., having one problem at a time) is key to honoring the Montessori method. In other words, posing a single problem with a variety of materials as tools to solve the problem. Try to avoid the temptation of changing the problem frequently, instead carefully observe children’s work and modify the resources available to solve the problem accordingly.
If you are not sure how to get started here is an idea. Download for free my Engineering Problem Setting story. Print, laminate, and display the challenge. In addition, place a basket with lined paper, and some other baskets with materials. For example, you could have safety goggles, tape, straws, paper cups, wooden rods, hammer, and nails available to your child. In fact, you might be able to set up a digital camera for your child to document how she/he uses their fingers.
If you decide to use the free story, here are some suggestions of print resources that you might find useful.
If your child is “new” at these kinds of challenges find a doll or a toy that can mimic the problem. For example, get a big size doll and remove the fingers on both hands. Then use plaster to seal the hole.
Finally, guide children on how to record the process. You can either have loose papers (see my design process scaffold) or combine these into an Engineering Journal. There are many templates on the internet for the engineering design process. However, I like the most (for now) the one used by PBS Design Squad. Remember to help children record, step by step, the thinking, design, building, testing, and redesign process.