Civil Engineering in the Classroom
Foster, Patrick N., Children's Technology and Engineering
You're more likely to encounter the term "Civil Engineering" in a government occupational outlook report than in everyday conversation. But, it's a useful term that children can understand and use. Vocabulary related to civil engineering includes two key terms: structure and infrastructure.
what is civil engineering?
We can think of engineering as the fusion of technological design and technological action. In general, civil engineering deals with structures that are built on-site. The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge, and the Empire State Building are products of civil engineering. Apartment complexes, shopping malls, and school buildings are as well.
Civil engineering also deals with infrastructure. Infrastructure is the "behind the scenes" framework that technological systems rely on. If the human body were a machine, the circulatory system would be an example of infrastructure. The aqueducts of Rome, the Panama Canal, the Dutch Delta Works, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the U.S. Interstate Highway System are all civil engineering projects because they provide infrastructure.
Here's a pretty comprehensive definition of civil engineering as a career:
Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and water supply and sewage systems. They must consider many factors in the design process, from the construction costs and expected lifetime of a prolect to government regulations and potential environmental hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes... (U.S. Department of Labor: www.bls.gov/ocojocosoz7. htm)
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2010), there were more than 278,000 civil engineers working in the U.S. in zooS. This makes civil engineering the single largest branch of engineering in the country (Figure 1).
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) lists nine types of civil engineers, but we can generalize these into three categories:
* Those who design and build structures like houses, bridges, and dams.
* Those who design and build infrastructure, like water supply networks, roads, and sewage, to support buildings, bridges, and other structures.
* Those who oversee the research and logistics, like surveying, material science, and soil mechanics, necessary to create structures and infrastructures.
It's easy to forget this third group because we often can't connect them with something tan g~bIe like a road or a building. Their work often overlaps with science, math, and other l9ekls.
For example, materials scientists app'y most of the same kinds of inquiry and experimentation as theoretical scientists. The names of a few materials scientists may be familiar to some elementary-school students. Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) patented the vulcanization process, which paved the way for moderr uses of rubber, and is the namesake of the Goodyear Tire company. Alfred Nobel (1a33-1896), who created the Nobel Prize program, invented dynamite. And much of the work of George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was also in this area.
Surveyors, meanwhile, are civil engineers who use practical geometry to determine land boundaries. In order to do their jobs, most surveyors also have to apply social studies concepts from areas such as geography and law. Although many stories about both men are probably mythical, we know that both Benjamin Bannecker (1731-1806) and George Washington (1732-1799) were accomplished land surveyors.
Related fields: In addition to the 278,000 civil engineers, about seven million other people in the U.S. work in the construction sector, including about 8oo,ooo who are in a field called "Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction." There are also several branches of engineering that are sometimes closely related to civil engineering, and these include environmental engineering (seethe March 2011 issue of Children's Technology and Engineering) and mining engineering.
President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) is probably the best-known U.S. mining engineer. He was a practicing engineer in Australia and China and wrote an influential mining textbook before entering government service.
why introduce civil engineering content to children?
There are a few websites like AsCEville. org that encourage young people to consider becoming civil engineers, but vocational guidance hardly seems the best reason to introduce civil-engineering content in the elementary classroom. And we know that knowledge about civil engineering is not measured on largescale educational assessments, nor has it traditionally been considered essential knowledge for someone with a wellrounded education.
In fact, the value to children in asking and learning about civil engineering is probably more psychological than cognitive. The principal outcomes for children investigating and learning about structures and infrastructure are:
1. understanding how buildings and other structures are made, how they work, and how they are maintained.
2. Providing motivation and/or a contextfor learning and practicing language, mathematics, and other skills.
The second is probably the more obvious. A construction site could provide the backdrop for problems in estimation; reading responses could be based on books about the building of the transcontinental railroad; older students could be challenged to reconcile differing theories about how the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed. Like many other topics, civil engineering could be used to contextualize skills in the elementary classroom.
But civil engineering also has a special potential as a tool for the child to interpret a segment of his or her world. In some cases, these may relate to concerns elementary students may have; for example, younger students may ask:
* What's beneath a manhole cover?
* How are homes made to resist fire?
* Why doesn't a bridge fall when a heavy truck drives across it?
* Are telephone lines dangerous?
Some students may be curious about technologies they encounter in their everyday lives...
* What happens to the water that goes down the sink?
* How does an email message get from one continent to another?
* Why do some houses have basements, and others don't?
while others may ponder questions such as:
* How might the Colossus of Rhodes (or Stonehenge, etc.) have been built?
* How does water get up to the top floor of a skyscraper?
* How can undersea tunnels (like the 30-mile-long Chunnel) be built without flooding?
civil engineering in the curriculum
Some of the most fundamental knowledge needed to design and construct buildings and other structures is present in elementary-school math, science, and technology standards. For example, "structure" is considered a foundational concept in biological as well as physical science; and "patterns" occupies a similar station in mathematics. Plane geometry, simple machines, properties of materials, and forces and motion are further examples.
But what about language arts and social studies? Learning about civil engineering-without which modern society would be impossible-is too important to focus only on the math and physics that underlie it..
The history and geography portions of the national Curriculum Standards for Social Studies provide straightforward connections to topics like bridges, dams, roads, aqueducts, and castles. But among these ten K-u standards are expectations that students will be able to approach social issues by posing and addressing important questions without easy answers. Standards such as "Individual Development and Identity," "Production, Distribution, and Consumption," and "Science, Technology, and Society" may be investigated with questions like the following:
* Why aren't more civil engineers women?
* What were the root causes of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire?
* Why and how was the Hoover Dam built?
* How would our world look today if people could not bridge roads, canyons, or bodies of water?
* How responsible should an architect (or other designer of a civil structure) be for the safety of the people who eventually use the structure? (This could be connected to a study of the 2005 Katrina floods in New Orleans.)
* What types of engineers would be responsible for which phases of a large-scale civil project?
In some cases, Internet research might be an appropriate way for students to address questions like these. For example, www.asceville.org might be a good place to start investigating about different civil-engineering fields (Table i). Here are a few other websites that might also be of use to older students:
* History and Heritage of Civil Engineering: http://live.asce.org/hh
* PBS Building Big: www.pbs.org/ wgbh/buildingbig/
* Structure (including the International Database and Gallery of Structures): http:j/en.structurae.de
* Kidipede: www.historyforkids.org
While the first two of these provide a general background, Kidipede's "Architecture" section and the Structure site may be good starting points for students researching historical topics in civil engineering, particularly if they're interested in specific buildings.
Reading and Language
In addition to websites, there are also plenty of readily available nonfiction books about construction, architecture, and related technologies that are suitable for children. While many of these are concerned with modern technologies (skyscrapers, bridges, etc.), many combine civil engineering with another favorite topic: the ancient world. David MacAulay is among the most notable authors in this subgenre. His best-known book, The Way Things Work (with Neil Ardley, 1988, Houghton Mifflin) focused more on mechanical and electrical engineering, but many of his other works deal with civil projects. His series of illustrated architectural books (Cathedral and Castle [both of which received Caldecott honors], Pyramid, City, etc.) are uniformly excellent.
The Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections series (various authors, Scholastic) also contains several relevantvolumes, like Castle and Egypt, which mirror some of MacAulay's work. Biesty's color illustrations tend to be less focused on architecture than MacAulay's black-and-white ink drawings, and as the series name implies, most are `4cut-away" or cross-sectional diagrams. Finally, I'll plug Stephen Hoare's Caves, Mines1 and Tunnels (with Bruce Hogarth, 2001, Bed rick), even though it's out of print. In addition to diagrams including King Tut's tomb and a diamond mine, it also addresses the question of "what's under a manhole cover?"
Hands-On Civil Engineering Activities Based on Chiidren's Books
Beyond Virginia Lee Burton's 1939 classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and a few others, there are somewhat fewer fictional children's books related to civil engineering than nonfiction books. But a number of activities in prior issues of Children's Technology and Engineering (formerly Technology and Children) suggest ways to integrate children's literature and civil-engineering activity (Table 2).
Commercially Available Units
A few relevant elementary-level units are available from the Boston Museum of Science's EiE (Engineering is Elementary) program and ITEEA's I~ (Invention, Innovation, and Inquiry) project Since both programs are nonprofit, the prices are reasonable (Table 3). EiE offers twelve other units, in a variety of engineering fields, for Grades 1-2 and 3-5. Each unit is based on an original storybook. I3 includes a total often units at the 5th-6th grade level. Each is focused on the integration of math, science, and technology.
Learning about civil engineering can help children increase their understanding of the human-built world, and it may inspire their curiosity about the natural sciences and mathematics used by civil engineers every day. Since structures and building relate to the topics of many nonfiction children's books, civil-engineering knowledge may help children-especially reluctant readers-to form text-toworld connections. Finally, learning about structures may lead to meaningful questions about the relationships among science, technology, and society.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). Occupational outlook handbook: Teacher's guide. Washington, DC: Author. Available: www.bls.gov/oco/teachers_guide. htm
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (zoio). Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-11 edition. Washington, DC: Author. Available: www.bls.gov/oco/
Patrick N. Foster is an Associate Professor at Central Connecticut State University. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Civil Engineering in the Classroom. Contributors: Foster, Patrick N. - Author. Magazine title: Children's Technology and Engineering. Volume: 15. Issue: 4 Publication date: May 2011. Page number: 4+. © 2010 International Technology Education Association. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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