Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2007

Introduction to engineering

Class provides first step to applied science career

December 20, 2007

Eighth-graders at Lexington Trails Middle School were challenged Monday to make an egg float in water.

The challenge was delivered of the new engineering applications exploratory class offered to middle school students in De Soto USD 232. The semester-long class has sixth-graders focusing on aviation engineering, seventh-graders studying architectural engineering and eighth-graders focusing on industrial and bioscience engineering.

Monday's lab was teaching the eighth-grade students about density. The students added one spoonful of salt to their beaker of water to see how much salt it would take to float their egg. Most of the eggs were floating after about six spoonfuls.

Engineering applications teacher Katie Grise said the purpose of the new exploratory class was to let the students explore the different careers they could go into in engineering.

"There are so many different occupations and applications for engineering," Grise said. "If you get an undergrad in engineering you can pretty much do anything anymore, and I try to promote that."

The middle school courses are funded by a three-year $800,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation. The courses are directly tied to the Project Lead the Way program that is set to start at the district high schools next year.

Project Lead the Way is a four year sequence of courses, which, when combined with college preparatory math and science courses, introduces students to the scope, rigor and discipline of engineering and engineering technology prior to entering college. Although it was written into the Kauffman grant that the district would participate, the program is being funded by the district and not by a grant.

Grise said the idea for starting at the middle school level was to get students a head start if they should choose to eventually become engineers.

"If we can get them started early they will be on that track and they won't have to retake courses some people take in college," she said.

With any new course, the biggest obstacle is finding the proper class materials, Grise said.

"It has been a challenge to come up with engineering material that is at the students' knowledge levels yet gives them a proper view of what it is all about," she said.

So far, the classes have got to do a lot of projects, including building straw bridges, toothpick bridges and newspaper skyscrapers.

Grise said she also communicates with the engineering applications teachers at Monticello Trails and Mill Creek middle schools.

"We are in constant communication through e-mail," she said. "We talk about what worked for us and what didn't"

The teachers also will get together for a professional development day the week before students return from winter break.

Grise said she would like to change the seventh-grade course work a little bit. Currently, the class is learning about architecture by examining the blueprints of their own school and then identifying different elements in person.

"I found that big projects are very catching to the students," she said. "We will probably be working with more units that are about specific sections of architecture."

Another goal is to recruit more students to take the class, Grise said. She currently teaches one section of each grade level, and she would like to see that expanded to two sections per grade.

"At back-to-school night, I talked to all the grades about it and tried to get the word out to the parents and the students," she said. "Hopefully after the semester is over, the students will promote it around the student body."

Eighth-grader Danielle Dowdy said she enrolled in the class this year because she wants to do architectural design. She said she would recommend it to other students.

"I would tell them to take the class because you learn about different strategies and it can really help you out more if you want to go into this type of business," she said.

Eighth-grader Robby Satterwhite said he took the class because it was new and it sounded fun.

"We used a video game, Sim City 4, to learn about infrastructure in a city," he said.

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