Do you think engineering is an art form?

Help youth explore engineering as an art form.

Michigan State University Extension is dedicated to increasing science literacy across Michigan, providing programing to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) awareness and involvement. One component of STEM awareness is considering the question, “Is engineering an art form?”

The answer depends on who you ask. An artist may say no, and an engineer might only see logic and no art. While some engineers may agree with this idea, others will disagree, stating the ability to envision solutions and approach problems in unconventional ways are similar to the creativity of an artist. There is no doubt that artists and engineers make significant contributions to our lives.

You can help youth evaluate the engineering design process and explore the idea of engineering as an art form by engaging them in an engineering challenge like what type of paper makes the best paper airplane?

The engineering design process involves six components that can occur in various orders and may be revisited multiple times. The six components are:

  1. Ask. Define the challenge, its limits, what you know and what you need to know.
  2. Imagine. Brainstorm possible solutions.
  3. Plan. Consider the solutions from the imagine step and determine which solution best meets the ask.
  4. Create. Build your solution based on the plan and test it.
  5. Improve. Think about the test results, discuss changes, reimagine solutions and make a new or modified plan.
  6. Communication. Throughout all areas of the process, communication is vital: communication within the team, with the funder and the general public.

After youth have completed the engineering challenge, ask them to think about each step of the process: what they did and what might an artist do? Have youth record their observations and thoughts in an “Is Engineering Art?” chart.

Sample: Is Engineering Art?

Process

Engineering

Art

Ask

Identify the challenge, including cost, materials, size, shape, etc.

Identify the project, including materials, supplies needed, size, shape, etc.

Imagine

List possible solutions.

List possible ideas for the project.

After youth have completed their chart, ask them to share one item at a time until all their items are listed. Remember, the question was, “Do youth think engineering is an art form?” Next, ask youth to work as pairs or a small group and identify each part of the process as art or not and, most importantly, why. After each group has finished, ask them to take turns sharing how they rated each part of the process and why.

Finally, ask youth, “Do you think engineering is an art form? Why or why not?” This the most important part of any scientific investigation—the conclusion. When youth tell you or each other that engineering is or is not an art form, allow lots of time for them to explain why or why not. You helped them investigate the process of engineering and gave them time to think about whether it was considered an art form, now it is time for them to make their own conclusion based on the information collected. This is science in action.

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the MSU Extension Science and Engineering webpage. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. US-23 or visit our Alcona County MSU Extension Facebook page.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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