Design Squad: Inspiring a New Generation of Engineers

Marisa Wolsky
The PBS TV series and website Design Squad, and its spin off series Design Squad Nation, are designed to get its viewers involved in engineering through an integrated media experience and grassroots outreach campaign. Design Squad is a reality competition series where six teenagers learn to think smart, build fast, and contend with a wild array of engineering challenges. With Design Squad Nation, engineer co-hosts Judy and Adam travel across the country, working side by side with kids to turn their dreams into reality. Our ultimate goal with both projects is to inspire viewers to take on their own hands-on engineering activities. To achieve this, developers have created an online community for user-generated content. In local communities, PBS has staged public events that get kids engaged in hands-on design challenges. And, through its outreach, PBS has provided approaches for modeling the design process with kids through trainings; educational resources; and support for teachers, engineers, and informal educators. A new project—Design Squad: Informal Pathways to Engineering—will use existing assets from Design Squad, along with new resources, as the vehicle for researching the diverse pathways children take while pursuing an interest in engineering. WGBH, in collaboration with Purdue University and Concord Evaluation Group (CEG), will conduct a qualitative, longitudinal study of 60 middle school children, representing a range of geographic, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, that will examine the ways in which informal engineering programs support (or fail to support) children’s engineering-related interests, outcome expectations, and self-efficacy.