The Ottumwa Courier

January 16, 2014

Engineering the future

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — School isn't just reading, writing and arithmetic anymore. At Ottumwa High School these days, it's reverse engineering and functional analysis.

Summer West's Project Lead the Way Engineering class gave their semester project presentations Thursday morning, wrapping up several weeks of research and planning. They were to choose a common item, find a problem with it and then come up with various solutions and implement them.

Five projects were presented Thursday: a fan, a clock, a pepper grinder, a white-out dispenser and a three-hole punch. Each one had "design and functional issues" that the students then had to analyze and correct. This meant spending several weeks researching and developing working plans for their innovations.

Steven Wilson, Braxton Walker and Dalton Bowers worked on the fan presentation for several weeks, as each team had to analyze the product itself, write a visual and functional analysis of the object and market research was done to see if their innovative ideas would work in the real world. Then Computer Aided Drafting models of each part were made from the dimensions inputed into the program. This gives the students some added visualization for their calculations and ideas.

"It's a long process. We started before Christmas," Walker said. "We're building on a creative idea to build something new."

Their innovative idea for improving the fan was to add a remote control and misting element to the fan. The remote would control the mist, the concentration of spray and the direction and angle of the blades. While they didn't have to have a working model yet, West says a 3D printer can be used with some of the projects to see what they would actually look like.

Other innovations students made were adding solar power to a back-lit clock, finding a more efficient way to replace correction tape and making the trap on a three-hole punch a little more user-friendly.

In the first class of the high school's engineering sequence, West says, the focus is to get students familiar with the design process. This reverse engineering project combined many of the techniques they had been learning all semester.

"It's about using all of these skills — you can't just jump into it," she said. "It's about analysis and visualization, and there are a lot of steps that are going into these projects."

The students agree that these aren't just subjects in the classroom. Especially for the seniors, they're skills to take with them in the next phase of their lives.

"(I'll use them) in a future job, hopefully, and in college," Wilson said.				

The groups also had to have quick facts about their item and be able to show all their citations where they gathered their information. Their presentations were then giving using Power Point and a computer projector to show their calculations and other information they've been recording in project notebooks.

And a group project is one way to get out of their comfort zone, West says, pushing them to work together as a team.

"There was a lot of resistance to having a group project be so much of their grade, but when you're on the job, you're never by yourself. In engineering, you're working with builders, with bosses, with software designers ... you're never just sitting by yourself in a cubicle doing your own thing.

There are two Project Lead the Way Engineering classes at the high school, and this is the first year for classes at Evans Middle School. There are even plans to start younger students in the program, getting students interested in these courses as early in life as possible.

"We want them to think outside the box," Steve Zimmerman, assistant principal and Project Lead the Way coordinator, said. "We want to get them interested in science and engineering, and we want to make sure we get to the middle school as a feeder program and then extend to the elementary schools."

There are currently 30 students enrolled in the engineering classes at the high school, but West says hopefully more will be involved as they see the projects and skills being worked on this year.

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC