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EL National Conference Spotlight: Bringing Engineering Into the Classroom

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    April Hattori

One of the hallmarks of Expeditionary Learning’s (EL) professional development is providing experiences that enable teachers to deepen their skills and knowledge through workshops that put them in the shoes of students.  The master classes and pre-conference sessions at our National Conference from December 7th through 9th in Boston are no exception.

On pre-conference day (December 6th), Associate Director Merredith Portsmore and Educator in Residence Daniel Wise of the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), will lead participants in a hands-on session entitled Bringing Engineering Into the Classroom: The Power of Real-World Design.

“Engineering is one of many ways that young people can be creative problem-solvers and innovators,” Merredith explains. “Engineering is hands-on and interpersonal. It integrates material from traditional subject areas like Math and Science, and it allows for students to practice “soft skills” like collaboration. Finally, the engineering design process can lead to the production of beautiful, empowering, and transformative work,”

Expeditionary Learning’s Grade 3 module My Librarian is a Camel: How People Access Books Around the World will be the launch point for an authentic design challenge: to help users of the Tufts University library system.

The end goal is that each participant designs something to help a library user. To get there, however, we will engage in mini-challenges that familiarize participants with a variety of materials, tools, and skills. We hope that teachers will be able adapt these activities, and the larger project, in their classrooms,” Dan said.      

Merredith and Dan were inspired to created this session this summer while reviewing Expeditionary Learning’s curriculum to see how it could fit with their “Novel Engineering” project.  Novel Engineering ( is a multi-year National Science Foundation research and development project that has been developed in collaboration with teachers. For Novel Engineering, students use literature as a basis for engineering design challenges.

“Expeditionary Learning’s first module for Grade 3 has rich opportunities for students to engage in engineering challenges - particularly with The Librarian of Basra- a true story about a librarian who has to protect her books from the bombing of her city. The link between this activity and the larger library theme seemed too good to pass up,” Merredith said.

The Tufts Center for Engineering  Education and Outreach (CEEO) is a leading innovator in K-12  engineering education. The CEEO injects engineering learning into K-12 classrooms to change how students think and learn today, ultimately shaping how they invent tomorrow. Believing that all students are budding innovators who will excel by learning through failure, working in teams and  solving problems, the CEEO works through outreach, tool development and research to change the landscape of K-12 education by providing tools and knowledge to K-12 education.

Merredith has the unique honor of being a “Quadruple Jumbo” having received all her four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.A. Education, PhD in Engineering Education). Her research interests focus on how children engage in engineering design problems. Her outreach work focuses on creating resources for K-12 educators to support engineering education in the classroom. She is also the founder of STOMP (, and (

Daniel taught 10th Grade at High Tech High - a project-based charter school in San Diego. He previously taught Grades 6-9 in public schools in New York City and was the Program Director at Urban Action Academy- a small public high school in Brooklyn.

To learn more about Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach visit

For more information on and to register for EL’s National Conference and other pre-conference day activities, visit