Engineering With the Habits of Mind

What Are the Habits of Mind?

As some of you may know, I was a founding teacher of the Mission Hill School. While there, the Mission Hill Habits of Mind were developed as a way of thinking and as a way to establish what it means to be a “well-educated person”. These Habits of Mind help students to seek knowledge by asking good questions, as well as using sound methods for finding the answer. These habits are also a key part of thinking like, and becoming, an engineer!

What Kinds of Knowledge Are Students Creating?

  • EvidenceHow do we know what’s true and false? What evidence counts? How sure can we be? What makes it credible to us? Methods: Scientific Method, Design Cycle

K2 and Grade 1 students

  • ViewpointHow else might this look like if we stepped into other shoes? If we were looking at it from a different direction? If we had a different history or expectation? Methods: empathy and imagination


  • Cause and Effect: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? What are the possible consequences? Methods: research, historical knowledge, Scientific Method

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Grade 1 students

  • ConjectureWhat if…? Could it have been otherwise? Methods: imagination; knowledge of alternative possibilities; other Habits of Mind 

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  • RelevanceDoes it matter? Who cares?

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“We look like engineers ’cause we are!”

Here are more of our Young STEAM Inventors showing the relevance of our classroom activities and using the Habits of Mind to be like engineers:


Discussing STEAM, LEGO, and Early Education on TeacherCast

Last month, I was a featured guest on the TeacherCast podcast with Jeff Bradbury for a segment titled “Creating a MakerSpace For Our Youngest Learners”. You can listen to the podcast on the TeacherCast site!

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The Lego Education headquarters in Denmark invited me, my colleague Myrna, and Kate Leiss to discuss our work with Steam Park and STEAM in schools and with families. Research has indicated that children need STEM experiences and a solid foundation starting at three years old (source 1, source 2). So, we talked about 21st-century skills, the importance of beginning in Pre-K, and teaching these skills through twelfth grade.

Tweet me @ACarrollYSI to let me know your thoughts!

Bringing Project Zero Learnings To the Early Education Classroom

“As kids in the traditional kindergarten were playfully designing and creating things, they were developing as creative thinkers….That’s exactly what we need.” 

~ Mitch Resnick, MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Group


For three years, I learned with and under Dr. Steve Seidel at Project Zero about practices for making student learning the focus of the classroom. Through different tools and perspectives, we are able to understand cross-cultural and cross-cultural thinking and creating. I have included below the different ways that we have recently incorporated these learnings into the Young STEAM Inventors classroom.

Create A Culture of Thinking

How do we create a classroom culture that supports student development and effective teaching practices?

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“I’m building a dragon. I’m using the cannon for the fire and the crane for the brain of the dragon. The target will be part of his body. I’m going to put another target and then I’m going to test it out. I’m using the black piece to make the dragons tail. This cannon will hold the fire for my dragon and then the cannon shoots the fire out. I’m thinking about how the fire will protect the dragon so no one hurts it. The white brick is the dragon bone. Wait it’s not working so I’m going to use another idea. In the dragons brain he is thinking about ideas like me. Everything fell down so now I have to fix it. The blue brick is the eye. And the cannon is now the top of the head instead. The dragon can still breath fire out on the cannon. It was easy to make because I added the bottom and the blue brick to make it sturdy. It can wobble because I used the yellow and brown bouncy brick. It won’t fall down. The yellow and brown is the skin too because it stretches. It’s finished now.”

Make Your Learning Visible

How do we unlock the potential of group learning in the classroom so that both children (students) and adults (teachers and parents) learn from one another and engage with new perspectives and strategies for problem solving?

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Address Multiple Intelligences

How can we as educators understand and respond to the unique differences of each learner in the classroom?

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Teach For Understanding

How do we deepen both content learning and student’s thinking skills in all subjects and in all grade levels?

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Thinking and Learning In a Maker-Centered Classroom

How do we as educators and parents explore the opportunities created through maker-centered learning practices?

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“We used the book Road Builders to get ideas and then used our own ideas together. We worked together and we helped each other figure out stuff. Waldi was the architect and first built the police and train stations. Waldi drew the blueprint for the police and fire station.Christopher was the builder and help to build the road. Sebastian was the contractor and he helped with the whole job and had the idea of using a tunnel to connect all three stations. We added the train station later cause we had another idea. We want to add more to the police station tomorrow. We added a truck to bring the materials to the train station.”

Teaching For Understanding

How do we create and facilitate learning experiences that prepare students for functioning in the current society and for an uncertain future?


“Ms. Alicia, I’m the Science Girl!”


With that, I will see you next semester in 2018! I hope you enjoy the holiday season!

One Month of STEAM Park in the Young STEAM Inventors Classroom


“Wonder is the mother of all science.” ~ John Dewey, How We Think

It has been a month since the launch of the LEGO STEAM Park kit. Here is my original post on the launch at the East Boston EEC, in case you missed it. The Young STEAM Inventors have been using the blocks in the kit to make observations and have several insights. I invite you to check out the photos I’ve included below of the students and what they had to say.


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“I started with my idea to make this tower, and I had a boat. I need to figure out how to hang the boat so it can float in the air.”


“I looked at one of the maps and got an idea to use the crane to lift the boat up high. The balloons can be there in case my idea doesn’t work.”


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“I built a slide car. I had an idea and made it. I want to put on two flags on the top because the wind will make my car move faster.”


“I put two flags on it and a cloud. The wind blows from the cloud onto the flag and makes my car move faster.”


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“Once upon a time, there was a Christmas tree store where people buy Christmas trees. Next, someone built a Christmas tree car to go around the back of the store to pick up their tree.”


“I had to balance the orange brick by using three yellow blocks and one blue block. Then, I used two long yellow blocks to make it even. Now, I want to add a crane to carry all the Christmas trees to the Christmas tree shop.”


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Young STEAM Inventors Engaged in Meaningful Standards and Play-Based STEM Curriculum

How does Ms. Alicia determine engaging, high-quality STEAM curriculum?

  • Students must be able to make observations using their senses (sight, hearing, etc.).

K0/K1 Young STEAM Inventors are shown in the following slideshow conducting research on snails and making observations about how snails interact with their habitat:

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  • Students must be able to make something happen and draw connections to the real world. This phenomenon should occur immediately or gradually over time.

Whenever I am engaging students, I make sure to ask them questions that cause them to think critically and to make connections. This process is called “think-alouds,” and you can learn more about them in the following video from the Education Week Teaching Channel:

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In this slideshow, a student and his teammate tell me about the strategy behind their structure and how they were able to connect it to mathematical concepts, namely counting:

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  • Students must design and redesign their ideas. Redesigning includes strategy, reflection, logic, reasoning, and problem-solving. Testing out their hypothesis is an essential component of design thinking and overall quality STEAM Learning.

In this slideshow, students share how they redesigned their projects, and the thought process behind why they decided to do so:

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K0/K1 Young STEAM Inventors Conducting Investigations Through the Study of Playgrounds


“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” ~ Diane Ackerman

The learning that happens in the Young STEAM Inventor classroom is situated in play. Play-based learning is deeply grounded in research. Students are challenged to ask deep questions and use the observations they make to come up with cool and innovative solutions. They are able to make sense of the world by engaging with it through experimentation. Play not only helps students learn content for subjects like science and art, but also helps them learn social-emotional skills, such as sharing, boundary-setting, and empathy. We are very focused on social-emotional learning this school year at the East Boston EEC.

A great place where these learnings happen is in the playground. Dr. Marina Bers, professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and lead researcher for the Tufts DevTech Research Group, gave a TEDx talk in 2014 about how computer programming for young students should be more like playgrouns. You can check out the video below:


K0/K1 Playgrounds

For the past few weeks, I have been facilitating a lesson with K0/K1 students on using the engineering design process to build playgrounds. Each group of students went though the following steps to construct their playgrounds:  AskImaginePlanCreate, and Improve. They also gave me insights into the concepts behind each of their playgrounds.

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This group of students in Ms. Candace’s K0/K1 classroom decided to build a playground castle. They learned a new vocabulary word – “moat,” which is the body of water that surrounds castles and forts – and were quick to use it by building one!   

Look at these Young STEAM Inventors at work: “We had to make changes to the moat because we didn’t build it wide enough for the boats to go through. The second time we figured out what to do like real engineers do.”


“We are a tall Look Out Tower in case the soldiers want to attack it.”


“We just thought of this fire station idea in our brain and we found all the pieces that we needed to build it. We made supports for the building, slides for the fireman to slide down in case they get called to a fire. We made gears to to lift things up and down. If there is a fire we have a water cannon to shoot the water at the fire.


“We have another gear to help the slide support the firemen going down the slide. Some of them weigh a lot. There is a wheelchair in case someone gets hurt in the fire. We have fire boats in case there is a fire on the water.”


“I’m building a building in a playground for an elephant. Elephants eat peanut butter and hay. They’re going to try and get out of the playground. The elephants are going to climb 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Oh no it fell so I have to rebuild it. Now I have 10. That’s all I want to say.”

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“This is a treehouse. A small family lives in it. There is one room and kitchen”

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“I’m building a playground so kids can play together. It has a gate, too.”


Welcome To LEGO STEAM Park

Hello, Families and Friends of Young STEAM Inventors:

Yesterday on November 1, 2017, LEGO Education launched its STEAM Park kit for preschool-aged students and the early education classroom!


As you know, I have had a relationship with LEGO Education for two years now (let me first state  that I will not receive affiliate compensation for any of the links included in this post). The kit is supported by a lot of research on STEAM education and early childhood education, and includes a curriculum full of activities that teachers and parents can do with their students. This semester, I worked with LEGO Education on the kits and provided them feedback that they could use in developing the activities. All of our work that we’ve been doing with your students for the past few months has been packaged into the following video and case study, and you should definitely check them both out!


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The official launch happened at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York City. At the East Boston Early Education Center, I – along with some of my colleagues and students – greeted the new STEAM Park kit with our own “pomp and circumstance” in the form of making.

Here are images of our students exploring the new STEAM Park kit together. They’re officially early adopters! I’ve also shared with you several videos that were taken of students and instructors in action during the East Boston EEEC launch. You can watch them at the end of this blog post.


You can see more of how the launch unfolded on LEGO Education’s Facebook page, and get a glimpse at how my day went on my Twitter feed @ACarrrollYSI. Be sure to tweet #YSI and let me know that you read this blog post. Also, check out the press release for the STEAM Park kit on Business Insider and the review from Geek Mom.