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The Evolution of Engineering

Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Sue Parler, Technology Coordinator

There are many times that I do not recognize the extraordinary because I see it as routine. It isn’t until someone else asks, “You did what?” that I realize perhaps what we do is something special. The specific case in point is what the students in Honors Engineering 1 and 2 have accomplished over the past few years.

Fusion 360 Mid-TermOne of my students recently went on an admissions interview for an engineering school. She was describing her mid-term exam in which students modeled an ottoman and chair and tested the models at various thicknesses under specified loads to find the minimum acceptable load-bearing standard. In designing the exam, I thought that it was a great culminating exercise to demonstrate their understanding of the work they had done on structural engineering and industry-standard modeling during the first two quarters. I never considered for a minute the extraordinary nature of the endeavor until my student came back and relayed the admission counselor’s awe through the question, “You’re doing what? In high school?” My student didn’t understand the extraordinary nature either, until the admissions counselor spoke to the department chair to extol her sheer astonishment of the venture.


Our foray into Engineering began in 2013 when two of my best A+ Certification students desired a greater challenge than simply dealing with break-fix technology. It was at that point we entered the Maker Movement, loosely defined as a technology-driven do-it-yourself culture. Our first adventure was to hack a table and make an interactive touch-screen computer. The two young men, already well-versed in woodworking and construction techniques, learned about infrared and haptic technology to convert a 42” television into an interactive multi-touch table driven by a repurposed laptop. It took us nearly three months to accomplish the task to our own degree of satisfaction, but once complete, we were ready to move on.

We elected to learn more about 3D printing. I purchased a build-your-own printer kit, which took a few days to put together. It was a fairly rudimentary first generation PrintrBot that required knowledge of G-Code, .stl files, ABS, and PLA filaments – all foreign to us at the time and serves as testimony to how far we’ve come in such a short time.

iTable ProtoOur First 3D Printer

Learning to SolderMousetrap Car ChallengeIt was after seeing how much those two young men learned (and the spiked interest from my other game programming and game design students who observed our daily progress) that the idea of harnessing the Maker Movement evolved into our current Honors Engineering 1 and 2 courses.

Honors Engineering is an inquiry-based project-based learning class. Students in inquiry-based learning situations own their learning experiences by setting goals, reflecting, and sustaining motivation throughout the task. This is especially true in the fourth quarter where students complete a project that clearly demonstrates their knowledge of structural, computer, and electrical engineering, the topics covered in the first three quarters of the course. Their final exam is a presentation of learning validating an ability to think logically and synthesize a large volume of research.  

The gallery below highlights just some of the final exam projects submitted over the past two years.


Capitalizing on his interest in classic arcade games, one student built a game center that included three different gaming consoles – each accessible by the flip of a switch, all sharing the same monitor. His accomplishment required skills to build the cabinetry and electrical knowledge to merge the three systems together.
 
Much to the delight of his classmates, he brought the gaming center in during senior exam week and the students gathered after school to enjoy his efforts.
 Rotating Solar Panel  

Last year, two environmentally-conscious Engineering 1 seniors built their own hydroponic system and powered the water circulation unit with a rotating solar panel. 

 

The solar panel had a built-in photocell that rotated the panel to the strongest point of light throughout the day.  They not only learned about hydroponics, but about actuators and photo-electronics as well.

TV Triad
The first of the true "legacy" projects, three students built a triad of 50” TV screens that rise from a table at the click of a button. I can cast the contents of my computer screen to these TVs, thus eliminating the need for projectors and allowing 360-degree classroom viewing.
 
The process was more complex than anyone could imagine, The table alone required an in-depth knowledge of structural engineering, but the uniqueness of the endeavor also necessitated their building a scissor jack lift, adding in stop sensors, and sound-deadening the motor.  The result is a gorgeous piece of utility furniture.
 
This year, three Engineering 2 students are fine-tuning the lift and adding KODI media streaming features through a Raspberry Pi 3.
 
 
Jack began with a block of wood and built an electric guitar. In addition to the required woodworking skills, he had to assemble all the electronic components as well.
 
His digital circuit engineering and soldering skills were certainly put to the test. For his final exam, he brought in the guitar and amp and played for us. 
Raspberry Pi Tablet

Two students in the spring of 2015, built their own touchscreen tablet using a Raspberry Pi 2 paving the way for yet another technology-based course in micro-processing using the Raspberry Pi 3.

 

This year, students built Morse Code translators, Magic Mirrors, media streaming centers, and hand held retro arcade games with their knowledge of the RPi3.

 Wind Tunnel

The Engineering 2 class of 2016 had a strong interest in avionics.  Several teams sought to build drones and planes from scratch.  A portable wind tunnel would have been a helpful addition to test the pitch of wings, propellers, the contour of the fuselage, etc. 

 

One student met the needs of his classmates by building such a tunnel.  Using 13” cyclone fans, he needed to stabilize the air current and add something to literally “see” the results – nothing 1500 straws and a fog machine couldn’t handle.


I begin each academic year with a single thought…

True creativity is not thinking “outside the box”. “Outside the box” removes constraints – anyone can be creative without limitations. Our job, as Engineers, is to stay in the box and do what no one else has. To date, I have sat in awe of what my students have been able to produce when given the opportunity to dream. Each semester, propelled by what they have seen from years past, they dream bigger, more global, and learn more than ever before. Not a bad day’s work.