Lyons Teacher Brian Askin uses engineering-design process in his classes, thanks to ideas from Smart Start Grant Program

Brian Askin


Apr 16 2023 4:12 pm

For Brian Askin, a teacher at Lyons Central School District, the Smart Start Grant Program helped him flip his teaching method on its head.

“It literally has changed my entire teaching process,” Mr. Askin said. Mr. Askin was a member of the Smart Start Grant Program’s Tier 2 Engineering Strand in 2022. 

His exposure in the Program to the student-led engineering-design process, rather than conventional teacher-led lectures, drastically improved student engagement and changed how he structures his curriculum.

The Smart Start Grant Program is a partnership between Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES and The University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education. Any and all K-8 teachers with an interest in STEM, whether or not it is a primary part of your curriculum, are eligible to apply to the program.

During his participation in the program, Mr. Askin and his cohort spent a few days at the University of Rochester for hands-on learning with mentors. It was there that the group dove into the engineering-design process — and there that the wheels started turning in his mind about how to apply it in the classroom.

Mr. Askin explained the process: First, you start with a question: How can I solve a problem or how can I improve something? Then, you begin to brainstorm a solution, and third you come up with a design. Fourth, you build that design, and fifth, you test it. And the sixth step, of course, is to take what you’ve learned from the tests and go back to the drawing board to redesign your idea.

“So it's basically the whole process of what we do in science or in engineering, or whatever application we’re using it for,” Mr. Askin said. “It really showed how students can get so much more out of using the engineering-design process.”

Brian Askin

The Grant Program prompted Mr. Askin to take his ideas about the engineering-design process and apply it to a real-life lesson in the classroom. His students at Lyons got to handle their own design dilemmas, which varied based on grade level. 

Fifth graders, for example, had to design a small car that could cross a several-inch gap. His second grade students had a different kind of car challenge, where they had to examine the intricacies of a motor — belts and pulleys, drive shafts and gears — to determine how a vehicle could make a steep climb when loaded with heavy supplies.

Between the mentoring and collaboration with other participants in the program, and then seeing the positive results in the classroom, Mr. Askin had a phenomenal time in the Smart Start Grant Program. 

“When I was in the program I realized how successful it was because the kids’ participation and interest really peaked, because they were doing their own designs, their own builds and trying to solve their own problems,” he said. “It was just a great experience.”