World awaits in new program

Jul. 12, 2013 @ 05:57 PM

They may not be launching a space probe, but students at Joe Toler-Oak Hill Elementary School will be exploring the world of engineering during the next school year.

Engineering is Elementary, a new program for elementary school children, will begin when the students return to school in August. The program was developed by the Boston Museum of Science.

Parents of Granville County elementary school students outside of the Joe Toler-Oak Hill attendance zone may enroll their children at the school for this program.

Chris Ham is charged with developing programs that offer more options for students attending Granville County Schools, what the school system calls “managed choice.”

He said 15 students outside the Joe Toler-Oak Hill attendance zone have applied.

“We hope for 20 and, eventually, as many as 50,” Ham said.

The school district will provide transportation.

“Up to now, the choice programs have been at the high school level,” Ham said. “This is the first for an elementary program.”

Plans are started to begin a similar program in the southern part of the county in 2014, he added.

To provide continuity for the students participating in Engineering is Elementary, the school district plans to implement Project Lead the Way, a curriculum that includes project-based engineering and biomedical sciences courses in the county’s middle and high schools.

“Eventually, there will be a K-12 choice model,” Ham said.

Ham brings a varied background to his job as director of managed choice.

He has served as principal of the Granville County Early College High School, as an administrator at Southern Granville High School and as band director at Northern Vance High School.

“Engineering is Elementary is project based,” Ham said.

Students will be engaged in problem solving in real-world situations. Each project encourages students to read, write, think and design like an engineer. The projects will integrate other disciplines to provide a broad learning experience for the children.

Ham explained the program incorporates a learning cycle, in which students ask a question, imagine a solution, plan ways to reach the solution, create the mechanism and try it out. The student then evaluates the outcome and devises ways to improve the process.

“It’s OK to fail,” Ham said, adding the important thing is to learn from each attempt.

Engineering is Elementary has been tested in the classroom by the developers. They found that it increases students’ interest in engineering and encourages them to envision themselves as potential engineers.

“Some kids may find it’s not what they want,” Ham said. “It’s better to find that out now than after a year of college.”

The program will not replace other kinds of learning. Students will be taught the core subjects: reading, writing, math, science and social studies. They will be used as a point of departure to develop engineering concepts and skills.

For example, reading skills can be developed as the students enjoy the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” But then they will be challenged to construct a house that will not blow apart in the wind, whether from Mother Nature or the Big Bad Wolf.

They can even test their house with an electric fan.

Ham is enthusiastic about Engineering is Elementary personally as well as professionally.

“I’m invested in the program,” he said. “My daughter saw the brochures for the program and said, ‘I want to do that.’”

And she will.

To get information on the program and how to be included, Ham can be contacted at (919) 690-2317 or by email at

Contact the writer at