Learning with Models: The Lost Art of Teaching with the Toy Engine

Learning with Models: The Lost Art of Teaching with the Toy Engine

There is a long and proud tradition in the United States and indeed around the world of engaging our youth in educational experiences that are productive and meaningful. Recent decades has even seen the meteoric rise of scientific studies entirely dedicated to the further understanding of how we learn, what teaching methods work for which students, and which simply do not.

This revolution has brought to light a truth that has long been understood by seasoned educators, but is now better understood and an accepted fact of learning: the importance of hands on experience.

Today more than ever, it is tempting to leave education to the virtual ether that provides almost limitless resources to today’s youth to consume a wealth of information. Not to be misunderstood, the internet is revolutionizing education and it cannot be said that all of this rapid change is bad. Far from it, the World Wide Web has provided countless educational opportunities that simply could not and would not be available otherwise.

With that being said, the virtual revolution is leaving behind certain invaluable methods of teaching. One of these methods would be the hands-on method of learning that is essential for some types of learners. This is the type of learning that model steam engine kits provide.

There was a time when working model engine kits were the foundation of teaching thermodynamics and understanding the steam engine. The best model steam engine kit no longer plays this fundamental role, but this article is an exploration of what these model engines once provided to educational facilities, and what they can still provide today.

History of Mini Engine Kit and Education

The industrial Revolution created a rapid societal change the likes of which have not been seen since the modern technical age. The creation of powerful technologies like the steam engine fueled this revolution, but in order to continue the steady march of progress, it was essential that younger generation understand the fundamentals of the engines so they could later be improved and replaced.

The goal was clear: create an accessible means of introducing the concept of complex engines into classroom environments. The solution surfaced in the form of miniature engine kit.

In the era before video and other technology could clearly demonstrate how complex systems of moving parts could channel energy into powering machinery, the mini steam engine kit became an indispensable educational tool.

Machines were not ubiquitous as they are today, and having a primary source to show students the mechanism of steam engines were not only practical, but inspirational. Seeing up close the means in which something as simple as steam could power a working model steam engine and revolutionize society would inspire a whole new generation to further the pursuit of progress.

Students of the past could also not only observe the steam powered motor, but they could construct it with the simple items available in the classroom. The knowledge the models provided were not only theoretical, but practical. This brings us to the ways in which a tiny steam engine could power the classroom of today.

Model Steam Engine Kit in the 21st Century

It will come as no surprise that the model engine kit does not hold the same invaluable position in the American classroom that it might have in parts of the 19th and 20th century. Essentially the two world wars and the advent of video, and later the increasingly large presence of the internet in the classroom, essentially replaced the model steam engine for all intents and purposes.

There was once a time when the only possible means of understanding complex moving systems, like that of an engine, was to observe it physically. The stagnant nature of photographs do not make them an ideal medium for expressing ideas or processes that center around controlled movements.

While it’s true that video that’s readily available today via the internet, or via other resources, can be more accessible and effective means of teaching youth about a wide variety of complex systems. It’s also true that the steam engine itself has almost entirely disappeared from modern life, making the education of such an engine seem unnecessary.

It might seem, then, that there is no place for a model steam engine in the modern classroom, but this is not at all the case. Engine model kits provide two things that the internet or other less tangible resources simply cannot provide.

The first reason an engine model is a useful tool in the classroom is the fact that it provides a hands-on approach to learning. The importance of presenting information to kits in a concrete fashion, so they can quite literally get their hands dirty cannot be overstated. Many kits learn best when they’re moving and engaging material in a physical way that allows them to manipulate objects as they see fit.

The second way in which a model steam engine can be valuable in the modern classroom is the enormous sense of satisfaction they can provide. Many model kits allow for the actual construction of a working engine. Creating an engine with two hands is not only a great educational exercise, but it provides a sense of accomplishment that can nurture existing interest in fields such as engineering or mechanics.

It is difficult, if not impossible to convey the feeling an individual can get from creating a working model through paper or digital mediums. The fact that by nature a model is a physical presence provides it with great value as a learning tool and means of inspiration.

Conclusions about Miniature Engine Kit

Though the steam engine may be dead, the place for a model steam engine kit in the classroom is alive and well. If you’re an educator looking to include a steam engine model in your classroom, check out online retailers to find the model that is right for you and your classroom.

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