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Who Says Learning Can't Be Fun?

New Engineering Workshop Launched at Tsongas Industrial History Center

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Teachers and GSE students try out the new “Engineer It!” exhibit designed for students in grades 3 to 12.

By Karen Angelo

As a life and physical sciences middle school teacher, Jennifer Curley is always searching for new ways to help her students understand tough concepts. 

“Potential and kinetic energy are very abstract concepts for students but when they can see how a water turbine works at the Tsongas Industrial History Center, it brings those ideas to life,” says Curley, a science education student in the Graduate School of Education

The Tsongas Industrial History Center (TIHC) – host to more than 60,000 students who take part in hands-on workshops and tours of Lowell National Historical Park’s resources annually – recently launched its newest workshop called “Engineer It!” 

The workshop was developed by a team of teachers, students, community partners, Graduate School of Education and College of Engineering faculty and Lowell National Historical Park and TIHC staff. 

“I brought my secondary education students to introduce them to the workshop and TIHC’s teaching resources in science and engineering,” says Clinical Assoc. Prof. Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Designed for students in grades 3 to 12, “Engineer It!” combines history and engineering as students explore the Industrial Revolution. Working in pairs, students use the engineering design process in a design-and-build challenge using plastic building pieces that connect with metal bolts, nuts and L-brackets. They use simple machines including an inclined plane, a pulley, and wheel and axle that mirror complex machines in the city’s many gatehouses, which students also visit . 

“The Tsongas Industrial History Center is tremendously helpful because it makes learning meaningful by applying concepts to real-life situations,” says Curley. 

The “Engineer It!” workshop helps reinforce student learning as state standards place an increased emphasis on engineering. 

Curley says: “We don’t have a lot of resources in middle school education to teach engineering, so this workshop really helps fill that void.” 

The THIC’s programs are based on state and national curriculum frameworks, and are reviewed to ensure relevance to all state and national standards, including the Common Core State Frameworks literacy skills. 

TIHC Director Sheila Kirschbaum says: “Engineer It! has been in development for many years, and it’s great to see all of the feedback from our university and classroom teacher advisers come together to get it done.” 

In other TIHC workshops, students work on an assembly line, role-play as immigrants, vote in a town meeting, create canal systems and test water wheels, measure water quality and trace the flow of groundwater pollution. 

The Tsongas Industrial History Center is a partnership between the University of Massachusetts Lowell Graduate School of Education and Lowell National Historical Park.