Rice Gives Houston Teachers A Hand

June 8, 2009

Rice University will give Greater Houston high school teachers a hand this summer and expects to get one back. High school science teachers will be charged with designing and building prosthetic hands in a two-week workshop that begins this week at Rice’s new Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The Rice Engineering Design Experience will give teachers the knowledge and skills to motivate their students and perhaps encourage them to pursue studies in engineering, according to Rice representatives.
REDE is Rice’s response to Texas’ recently enacted four-by-four program that requires students to take four courses in math and four in the sciences to graduate from high school.
“The usual science courses – biology, chemistry and physics – account for three years,” said James Young, director of the REDE program and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. “The fourth has to be experimental or experiential in nature, and one of the five approved courses is engineering design and problem solving. Very few high school teachers are prepared to teach engineering design.  
“In fact, a lot of them are kind of terrified of the ‘E’ word. They’re smart people but they don’t have any exposure to engineering design.”
This week, some 20 teachers from independent school districts in Houston, Spring and Fort Bend are beginning the two-year process that will give them not only experience in solving practical engineering problems but also Rice graduate credits in education. They’ll take part in two weeks of design- and project-based training and receive materials they can take back to their classrooms.
Young chose the hand project from an IEEE database of real-world engineering projects that he modified for use with Lego Mindstorms, a rapid prototyping system. By the end of two weeks, each team’s hand has to be able to grip a Styrofoam cup and lift it five inches – full or empty, he said. “There’ll be extra points if they can pick up other kinds of things, like a marker or an egg.
“The goal is not really the output of the project, but to put them through the process.”
REDE instructors will support teachers throughout the school year with classroom check-ins before bringing the group back to Rice for a two-week session next summer, with another academic year of follow-up.
REDE is funded by the state’s Teacher Quality Grants Program, which is administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The workshop was organized by Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Southeast Regional Texas STEM Center.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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