Teaching Elementary (K-5) Students about Construction. (Article)

By McCracken, James | Technology and Children, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching Elementary (K-5) Students about Construction. (Article)


McCracken, James, Technology and Children


Elementary students are naturally eager to learn about construction technology. Many youngsters are fascinated by the opportunity to watch a dump truck, crane, or grader in action at a construction site. They are mesmerized by the capabilities of these machines to move gigantic amounts of dirt or lift heavy beams for a building that is taking shape. Youngsters may also be awed as they approach a skyscraper or cross a dramatic bridge. There are many ways for teachers to tap into and promote this interest and thereby advance the technological literacy of their students.

Beginning with Basic Concepts

Children can easily be introduced to the breadth of the constructed world. It includes the homes that children live in and the school buildings they attend as well as the factories, offices, and other buildings where their parents work. it includes the streets, highways, and bridges that students use in their daily travels. It also includes many of the things they see and interact with on a daily basis, such as towers for electrical power lines, radio transmission and microwave signals, and pipelines underground that are used to transport oil and water. From high in the sky to below the surface of the ground, construction projects are literally all around them. The breadth and variety of the world of construction is rich in technological content.

Moreover, the constructed world offers a myriad of opportunities for articulation across the entire elementary curriculum. For example, elementary students can begin to understand the rudimentary laws of physics that must be taken into account by architects and engineers and how materials can be shaped and assembled to create structures. Elementary students can also begin to appreciate how architecture goes beyond just providing basic shelter by reflecting the local community and culture in design and in the building materials used. Children are capable of appreciating how a dramatic office building, civic building, or church can inspire people who work or worship in it. It is possible to introduce all of these concepts while simultaneously teaching other core subjects.

Constructing Instruction

With planning, teachers can easily feel comfortable teaching about construction. A small amount of preparation time can greatly enhance the authenticity and accuracy of student learning outcomes, ensuring that concepts taught are accurate and focused. There are many resources on the Internet and locally to provide assistance. For example, architects, local contractors, and building trades workers are excellent resources for planning field trips, scheduling guest speakers, and seeking suggestions for classroom activities. Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA, 2000) provides the construction content necessary to ensure that students progress toward technological literacy.

Before sending students to work with sticks and glue, and to maximize authentic learning of structural concepts, teachers can prepare models to illustrate basic concepts of construction design and materials. For example, teachers can prepare models to demonstrate structural strength by bolting four strips of wood together to make a square and bolting three strips of wood together to create a triangle. Pushing against the corners of the square quickly reveals that the square is distorted easily, while pushing against the corners of the triangle reveals that the shape is impossible to alter. Teachers can then ask students to identify where triangles are used in construction (roofs, power line towers), which will reinforce the application of these concepts to the real world.

Similarly, simple props can easily demonstrate basic building design and construction concepts utilized regularly by architects, engineers, and construction workers. For example, a yardstick can be used to teach about the principle of deflection, its relationship to mass, and the orientation of material to maximize strength. …

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