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Students in Uganda Build Bridges with Engineering is Elementary

October 17, 2013

A state-of-the art STEM curriculum -- developed at the Museum of Science, Boston and reaching students in every state in the nation -- is now in rural Uganda. In July, Museum educators Erin Fitzgerald and Kate Sokol brought Engineering is Elementary® (EiE®) to the Gulu Primary School, where they helped students learn how to design bridges and introduced teachers to a new way of teaching.

Fitzgerald will return to Uganda in November with Museum colleague Michelle DiIeso to continue this promising international STEM learning experiment.

EiE engages students (on right) in hands-on engineering design challenges through storybooks about children of different backgrounds who solve problems guided by mentors. Fitzgerald and Sokol chose lessons about bridges and walls which they hoped would inspire students "since Uganda needs civil engineers to support growth, public infrastructure, and economic stability," says Fitzgerald. The activities also have a strong tactile component because many of the children are blind or have a visual impairment. "The curriculum was designed to support learning for all," Fitzgerald says. "We wanted to see if we could make it even more accessible."

This project was supported by Oysters & Pearls, an organization fostering STEM learning for children of all abilities including those with visual impairments. When its founder, Texas philanthropist Sandra Washburn, a distant cousin of the Museum's late founding director Brad Washburn, participated in an EiE teacher workshop in Boston, she saw its potential for the Gulu school.

Washburn says, "I have never seen a team so well prepared and flexible as Kate and Erin," who worked with experts from Perkins School for the Blind before the trip and then adapted the curriculum, based on what they learned about the students and local culture. Both educators learned as much as they taught. "We use materials we think of as inexpensive and easy to get," says Fitzgerald. "But Gulu has no craft stores. The nearest clay for our walls lesson was a riverbank." At the Gulu teachers' request, the whole class went to the river to collect clay. Sokol was struck by their "emphasis on community and shared responsibility."

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The Museum of Science, Boston

  1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114  phone: 617-723-2500