OTTUMWA — In Ryan Johnston's Principles of Engineering class Monday, the eight students were faced with a variety of problems that could only be solved with their engineering skills.
Part of the Project Lead the Way program, this engineering class is designed to combine designing and programming to give students a firm foundation in the basics.
"Some people go to college and take an engineering class and then realize it's not what they want to do," Johnston said. "Here, they can get a taste of what it's like and see if they really want to do this."
Almost the entire class plans to go into engineering programs in college, even those freshmen and sophomores in the class. Johnston says this course will prepare them for what they'll face at the collegiate level.
During class Monday, all of the skills they've learned so far this year all came together in their group projects.
• Seniors Kelly Martin and Lucas Lunsford chose to create a robot arm that would move tools in and out of surgery. It was programmed with three ranges of motion: pivoting like a shoulder, extension and rotation like an elbow and the claw movement of a hand. To go one step further, they programmed it to all be controlled by remote.
"We had to change the elbow because it wasn't strong enough," Martin said. "It just needed more torque for the top part of the arm."
This trial-and-error method is a great way for the students to really problem solve on a practical level.
"I feel like this is a lot more hands-on," Lunsford said.
• For senior Leilah Armstrong and junior Andrew Ware, there were several surprises along the way with their soccer ball detection device. Originally, the pair was going to use two sonars to tell the difference between the ball, a shoe and the goalie.
"But the sonar signals crossed," Ware explained. "And that was one of my favorite programs that I've ever programmed, with three variables ..."
"It was frustrating for a good couple of days," Armstrong added.
Now, the ball will go down a ramp and set off a blinking light for 10 seconds. The control system is programmed to detect which object it is, just in case an errant shoe ends up in the goal area.
• The chocolate chip cookie assembly line created by junior Isaiah Campbell and sophomore Curtis Ford also saw several adjustments along the way.
"We had some programming issues," Ford admitted. "At first, nothing would move. So I had to change it, and then I deleted the whole thing and started over. Then finally, when I was really frustrated, it finally came together."
Their problem to solve was designing and programming an assembly line that would take a cookie along a track and drop a chocolate candy into the top. Despite a loading problem, the finished product was exactly what they'd hoped for.
Having the opportunity to take engineering classes has been a great experience for many of the students.
"I want to take as much as I can while I'm in high school," Campbell said. "It's a great class, but you really have to want to take it."
"It's not a class you just sign up for," Johnston added.
• Sophomore James Gardner and freshman Roger Cruz are the youngest pair in the class, but you couldn't tell it by their project. They designed and programmed a machine that would wind up a cable to a certain length.
"First, we had to create an arm and figure out how to make it wind the same length every time," Cruz said. "We wanted it to be a certain length, but sometimes it might go over."
Then they added sonar.
Gardner said they needed it, along with an emergency switch, to make it all function the way they wanted.
Some of the groups had an unfair advantage, Johnston said, because half of the Bionic Bulldogs robotics team is in this class.
This is the fifth year for the Principles in Engineering class and the sixth year for Project Lead the Way.