IEEE REACH Program Gains Traction in the K-12 Environment and Elsewhere

IEEE REACH Program Gains Traction in the K-12 Environment and Elsewhere

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Over the past year, the IEEE History Center’s newest program, IEEE REACH (Raising Engineering Awareness through the Conduit of History), has experienced significant growth and garnered an overwhelming positive response from both teachers and administrators, in addition to other outside organizations. In May 2017, just 5 months after the beta launch of the program’s new website,, IEEE REACH received the Ayrton Prize for Digital Engagement in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (HSTM) from the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS). The Ayrton Prize, first given out in 2016 to the British Library, recognizes a self-contained website with HSTM content, available in English, that reflects best current practices and effective use of media in communicating HSTM to a non-specialist audience.

REACH provides Social Studies teachers with free educational resources that focus on the history of technology and engineering.  REACH helps teachers investigate the impact of technology on society, culture, politics and economics throughout history, and to explore the influence that these factors had on technology. Fundamental connections between technology and society exist, and the free REACH resources provide teachers with the tools they need to incorporate the history of technology, in a social context, in the classroom. By incorporating the history of technology in the history classroom, students learn how society influences science and technology, and how science and technology influence society. Understanding the relationship between society and technology helps students to become competent decision makers in both personal and civic matters, and creates an understanding of not only technological literacy, but also cultural literacy.

Currently, there are six inquiry units, or lesson plans, on the REACH website: Tools of Early Maritime Navigation; The Printing Press; Radio; The Greek Triremes; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones); and the newest one, Refrigerated Rail Cars. As the name suggests, an inquiry unit presents the material in a way that students pursue the answers to questions that will lead them to greater understanding of the history of technology. For example, the Refrigerated Rail Car highlights the history of the technologies associated with that historical invention, and focuses on the role that the Refrigerated Rail Car played in agriculture, politics and the economy. IEEE REACH provides a new lens from which to view history and fills an educational resource gap with a coherent look at the history of technology within a social context.  In addition to the lesson plans, REACH resources also include primary source documents, hands-on activities, and short, engaging videos for the students that can be used in the classroom or in an “inverted classroom” mode.

As a supplement to the IEEE REACH free resources, the REACH team has begun the implementation of professional development workshops (PDWs) for K-12 teachers. The inaugural PDW took place at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, located in New York City, in the summer of 2017.  This one-day REACH workshop explored the IEEE REACH Program’s UAV Inquiry Unit’s compelling question, “To what extent have Unmanned Aerial Vehicles been used to benefit humanity?” The workshop, facilitated by a team from the IEEE History Center, was part of a weeklong professional development course, “Drones! A Catalyst for Integrating Engineering, Science and History,” organized by the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and supported by a grant from the IEEE Foundation, which also funded parts of the Intrepid’s Drones exhibit. The course provided professional credit to teachers within New York’s Department of Education.

On 3 March 2018, members of the REACH team will host another one-day PDW in conjunction with the National Council for Social Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology.  This workshop will explore the IEEE REACH Program’s Triremes Inquiry Unit and investigate the influence the technology had on democracy and empire.

More than 250 teachers and administrators are currently signed up for the REACH program, with a potential to reach more than 10,000 students. These education professionals come from six different countries, with the majority from 26 different states within the United States. REACH subscribers include numerous High School and Middle School Social Studies teachers, teachers involved in STEM programs, University Professors (including some who “teach the teachers”) and some in Engineering Programs.  2017 proved to be a great year for the REACH Program.

2018 will witness, in addition to an expanding PDW program, continued growth in the content on the REACH site. Inquiry units currently in the pipeline include the Lightbulb and Electrification, Skyscrapers, and Electric Appliances. The IEEE REACH team will also be presenting and exhibiting at the National Council of History Educators’ annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, further growing the “reach” of the program.

It is an exciting time for the IEEE History Center and the IEEE REACH Program, an IEEE public imperative, as we continue to advance student understanding of technological history and its relationship with humanity. Together, we are further enhancing the technological and cultural literacy of the next generation. None of this would be possible without the generosity of our donors, as the program is fully donor funded. To learn more about how to donate and continue to bring these great resources to the next generation, please visit the IEEE Foundation’s page for REACH, found here.

I also encourage you to check out the REACH resources, sign-up for an account and see what all the excitement is about!  I learn something new about the history of technology and its relationship to humanity every day.  Why not explore it with me?  It’s extremely interesting and a lot of fun!

Kelly McKenna is program manager for the IEEE REACH program.

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