Intro to engineering
Posted on: Oct 9, 2017
A unique course at Delano Middle School is introducing students to engineering and challenging them to learn in new ways.
In September, members of Tory Spanier’s Design and Modeling class were given the task of crafting a foot orthosis to help people with cerebral palsy.
“It’s been fun to try something new and see what you can create,” said eighth-grader Ethan Unrein.
The Project Lead the Way program focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects. Spanier said that projects typically encompass an engineering branch, biomedical branch or computer science.
In this case, students were challenged to build a foot orthosis just days after school began, and later were introduced to an established design process.
“We throw that first project at them, have them design something to get their feet wet, and then afterward you step through each of the different phases of the design process and share more detail about how to use it,” said Spanier. “So Design and Modeling is about trying to add another problem-solving method to their tool belt. We ask them how their process could have been better if they had used this process.”
The sequence includes everything from defining the problem and generating concepts to creating sketches and engineering drawings. Later steps include building a model prototype, testing it, modifying it and ultimately reaching the optimal solution. Students work together in teams, which also challenges them to build collaborative skills.
“It can be quite frustrating because there are lots of different ideas and a lot of them don’t work,” said eight-grader Cole Koets. “Learning how to work together gives you the best solution, but it can also be really hard.”
To help eliminate individual bias in favor of any given idea, students are introduced to a concept called the decision matrix. The matrix helps students evaluate each concept based on things like cost, materials needed and difficulty, and provides a tool for ranking the concepts after that evaluation.
Whether or not students maintain an interest in the engineering field going forward, Spanier said there is value in the course for all participants.
“Maybe they won’t choose a career in engineering, but at the basic level there is a problem-solving approach they can take out of it, or maybe it makes them a better consumer to understand how things are made and why things are made that way,” said Spanier. “It helps them understand that engineering is involved in everything they see and touch and do in their lives.”