Engineering 101 for refugee youth: from elevators to ladybug hotels

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Every Friday, AUB staff member Hisham Ramadan drove to the Beqaa Valley where he spent the afternoon teaching basic engineering and technical skills to refugee children in the Education Above All – Reach Out to Asia Ghata schools in Saadnayel and Majdal Anjar, in partnership with AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) and Kayany Foundation. The classrooms where he taught were packed each week with young minds eager to learn and apply practical skills related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The class had a very hands-on approach and Ramadan’s curriculum weaved in bits of arts, regional culture, and history to add depth to the lessons and to provide a personal connection for the students.

“Students were very engaged during the classes,” noted Ramadan. “They proved to be very versatile in the practical aspect of the topics, including assembling models and manufacturing.”

During the year, students aged 10-13 years learned how to design, prototype, and assemble a functioning mini-elevator. They also learned the basics of scaling and dimensioning to build a cardboard house to scale, based on their own calculations, and studied the history of Arabesque patterns, practicing the technique using wood inlay. As a culminating final project, the students were grouped in teams and participated in an AUB-sponsored competition to design and build a functional habitat for ladybugs.

Putting new skills to the test

As part of a broader Ladybug Hotel Competition held at AUB, a school-based competition was held in parallel and Ramadan’s students from Ghata schools were the only ones who ended up competing at the school level. Both competitions were launched by the AUB Botanic Garden committee to engage members of the community in designing small structures that serve as ideal nesting sites for ladybugs to support ecological diversity on campus.

Each student group designed their ladybug hotel, materials were purchased and gathered, and the kids worked hard on constructing their creations. The final products highlight not only the creativity of the students, but the technical ability to translate their intricate designs into reality.

When they were finished, the kids took a field trip to AUB for the final competition. After a tour of campus and the archaeological museum, student teams presented their ladybug hotels and the judges delivered their verdict, awarding first, second, and third prizes as well as certificates of participation to all.  A few weeks later, the main Ladybug Hotel Competition was held and one entry from Majdal Anjar school won the “People’s Choice Award.” Following the competition, students spoke enthusiastically about their experience making the ladybug hotels and working together toward a common goal.

Proposal, implementation, and assessment

Hisham Ramadan is a senior project manager with AUB’s Facilities Planning and Design Unit​. He has collaborated with CCECS, providing refugees with similar applied technical skills. 

The Creative and Practical Skills Technical Training workshops designed by Ramadan included all the teaching materials and an innovative “educational roadmap” to track each child’s progress through the course material. He also conducted a pre- and post-course assessment survey that showed the students improving their skills and practical output by an average of 50%. In addition, students showed an increase in their own perception of their skills and abilities. 

Speaking about the course, Ramadan explained, “The purpose was to guide students through the path of creativity, all while learning topics related to science and technology, in addition to the region’s history and culture.”