The Amphitheater School District started an engineering program for its elementary school students.

With the start of the school year, 13 elementary schools across the district implemented the Engineering Is Elementary program for K-5 students as part of their STEM education.

It focuses on engineering design, which encourages critical thinking, problem solving and creativity, said Roseanne Lopez, chief academic officer of elementary education at Amphitheater.

“We want children to be highly engaged in their learning,” she said. “We know that hands-on learning and hands-on science could help them be highly engaged.”

A typical unit would start with a story introducing a problem that involves an engineering element, she said. For example, a unit in the fifth-grade curriculum has a story about a boy who needs a knee brace.

The students then learn about the scientific concepts behind the problem — in this case, the human skeleton. Then using that knowledge, the students are tasked with building knee braces.

“It really opens students’ thinking to more than what’s just written on pages,” said Rayette Jackson, a third-grade teacher at Lulu Walker Elementary School. “Applying that to real world and real life — that’s what makes the kids so excited.”

Traditional STEM education involves examinations, experiments, data collection and drawing conclusions, she said. This program takes that to the next level.

“The creating and the designing all comes into play,” she said. “It helps (the students) become much better thinkers.”

Jen Anderson, a PTO board member at Harelson Elementary who was involved in helping with the program, said she is excited for her two daughters to get hands-on learning in engineering.

She said she hopes that the program will provide an opportunity for her children — second- and fourth-graders who she says are more interested in reading and writing — to be interested in engineering.

“If they’re exposed to engineering and tech in an early age, it might spark an interest.”

Contact reporter Yoohyun Jung at yjung@tucson.com. On Twitter: @yoohyun_jung