Updated: Jun 23, 2021
How can all kids learn to engage in engineering and STEM? Melanie Flores set out to show how to take the imagination of kindergartners and designed the Kindergarten Engineering Design Workshop to life.
Young girl proudly fielding questions about her design work. Photo Credit: Doug DeMaio
A trained engineer, Melanie took an opportunity at her children’s school after taking a sabbatical from the corporate world. She got her foot in the door when their school needed a teacher’s assistant.
Initially Melanie applied her background to run engineering summer and after-school programs. But she wanted to broaden her reach beyond extracurricular programs...so she created a child-friendly version of a famous MIT mechanical engineering course for kindergartners. Instead of building robots, the students designed shoes, following the Engineering Design Process diagram (Ask - Imagine - Plan - Create - Improve) developed by the Museum of Science, Boston.
She and two dozen colleagues joined forces to bring the program to life. Over the course of three weeks, every kindergartner designed a functional shoe from everyday materials, documented their work in engineering journals, and formally presented their work to peers, parents, and teachers. The program was wildly successful, winning the hearts of students, parents, and teachers alike.
“Getting kids involved hands-on as early as possible is the key to encouraging their interest in STEM education,” Melanie said. “There are so many hurdles, if kids can grasp what they’re capable of at an early age, then you’ve won half the battle. Mindset matters, and it’s created when they’re very young.”
Does solving a problem within the constraints of the challenge sound familiar? Make48’s competition closely resembles the program Melanie founded at Kingsley Montessori School (Massachusetts). Normalizing “trying and failing” is an incredible message for students. Having them learn early that experimenting is a process, and that it takes courage, is an unbelievable tool for kids and it doesn’t have to take place in the classroom.
Melanie is now working for SymTrain, an Atlanta ed tech startup that helps customer-facing employees train and upskill faster by offering role play, repetition, and coaching on the fly. Even though she’s not in the classroom anymore, Melanie is still working to make a difference in STEM and in the lives of students and the underserved communities.
Programs like Make48 align with Melanie’s passion for inspiring young innovators and entrepreneurs. Her younger son, Sebastian, loves both making and STEM, and he turned them into a business. He invented OctoGifts, a mashup between candy dispensers, 3D puzzles, and greeting cards, at age 11. In 2019, he set up an e-commerce site and he’s since sold 400+ in 25 states. He has been featured in Authority Magazine, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global platform, Atlanta Inno’s 25 Under 25 List, the Atlanta & Company morning show, VoyageATL magazine’s Most Inspiring Stories, several podcasts, and at Elementary STEM CON 2020.
We hope others will be inspired by Melanie’s work.
Founder of the Kindergarten Engineering Design Workshop at Kingsley Montessori School, Melanie can be reached at mnl.flores@ gmail.com.