Jan 1, 2016

#Engineering Your Projects Tip: Consensus by Doing

One problem that teachers say kids have in their engineering class is coming to consensus on how to approach the project. What often happens is the strongest personality or the kid with the most experience (or confidence) gets his or her way. This isn't always the best solution and doesn't create good team skills.
image by jazza (Jay Simmons) via rgbstock.com

When we work with teams, we encourage them to get consensus by doing, not discussing. By prototyping the ideas students have in 10-15 minutes, they can evaluate the viability of their own idea, plus see what the others see in their minds.

Inexperienced engineers argue, harangue, or pull rank to convince others their idea is right. The best engineers know how to "prototype in the small" or make a quick-and-dirty device that demonstrates (or disproves the viability) of the essential part of their idea. Good engineers consider brainstorming a way to get all good ideas on the table, not just their own, because the solution is what matters, and that is best found with others.

Teachers can help students by giving them the words to move to action. Words like, "Sorry, I don't see what your idea is, can you draw it? prototype it?" And they can help students with more experience learn to piggyback on other's concepts, adopt ideas that make sense (even if they are not their own), and be confident enough to be okay with throwing out their ideas when they seem unfeasible or unworkable.

So, get those students to hold the arguments. This isn't a debate. More words won't help get to solution. Get them to prototype (like any good engineering process dictates), and show each other what they're thinking. Consensus will then be built by doing in reality, not debating in abstraction. Remember, the proof is always in the pudding. -- Good engineering to you all!