How do climate experts use weather patterns to help communities with natural hazards? Ask the third grade students at Ann Arbor STEAM Elementary School.
These students are spending 6 weeks learning about the different ways to answer that question. While it is up to them to come up with solutions, they are able to consult experts, including Associate Professor Valeriy Ivanov’s research group. Ivanov and Doctoral Students Elizabeth Agee and Chase Dwelle, along with Undergraduate Student Nora Mayumi Kusaka Herrero, have been visiting the school, showing them how engineers approach hazards like floods, droughts, and freezes.
“I feel that engaging young people in science and engineering is a great step towards increasing diversity and representation across the disciplines,” Agee says. “When they are able to see real scientists and engineers at work, they are able to imagine themselves in that role as well. The knowledge that I may be encouraging the next generation to pursue engineering is very rewarding. Beyond that, working with the kids is just plain fun!”
Agee (third from top left) with the students.
Agee thinks it is important for the students to conduct their own research and come up with their own solutions.
“Many of the problems that we encounter in engineering, or in life even, have no one right answer. By introducing the concepts of research and design early on, we are allowing children to develop the critical thinking skills necessary for them to deal with problems of varying complexity. When people are able to conduct their own research, they are better equipped to judge the merits of their own designs and those presented by others. Not only are these students coming up with their own answers to these really big questions, they are learning how to present their findings to the public, something even seasoned researchers can struggle with.”
One of the biggest challenges for the students is accepting that some questions do not have one complete answer.
“When anyone asks a question, we want there to be an answer!” Agee says. “When dealing with something as big as climate on a regional and global scale, the answers can vary from community to community. In the end, though, all they are asking for is to be taken seriously. After working with them, I can say that they should be taken very seriously! They are very bright individuals with the capacity for extremely creative solutions.”
The young learners will present their solutions at a school-wide expo on November 18, 2015.