IGNITE Fall 2018 - Page 19

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ACTIVITIES INCLUDED IN THE ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY ACADEMY? Multiple engineering courses, available from freshman year Multiple levels of computer science, including AP courses Machine workshop and manufacturing activities After-school robotics club, including competitions Competition in the Governor’s STEM Challenge In-school visits from STEM professionals “ The Academy has greatly changed how I perceive the math and science that I learn at school by showing me that there are multiple ways to embed the subjects into opportunities of creation. In engineering, I believe that you are only limited to your own imagination.” D’Andre, Grade 12 BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS; BUILDING UP CONFIDENCE Educators know it’s far from easy to get any large portion of students excited about mathematics — especially those who aren’t already at the “top” of their classes. Combined with the sometimes-daunting nature of coding, robotics, and complex machinery, stepping down students’ fears about STEM is important before asking them to rise to engineering challenges. “There’s a perception problem in STEM, where a great deal of students don’t even know what something like engineering is,” says Baxter. “We have the opportunity to show them that the inputs for controlling a machine are often as simple as concepts they learned in Algebra I. As a machine operator, they can learn to program a computer with the right set of commands in the right order to create the recipe of how things are made by the machine.” Brittany Walker, who teaches computer science at West Catholic Prep, believes the project- based learning approach “forces students to think differently, and helps them gain confidence to learn new things.” “In both computer science and engineering classes, students are encouraged to adopt a mindset of ‘fail forward fast,’” she says. “Students are often afraid to be wrong, concerned that there is only one ‘right’ answer. The courses in ETA show them that failing is part of a process; you reflect, learn and improve. And what we see is that students leave the program with a better handle on the foundations of the math they have been learning for many years — and greater confidence in actually applying it.” A strong example of this confidence-building exists in the workshop, where once-apprehensive students clamor over the opportunity not only to use milling machines, but also to create the processes that define their use. Foundationally, students in the workshop must apply existing math skills to plan movements of the machine in three separate axes. Moreover, they must create, compare, and vet their own checklists and procedures for mill use — within established safety guidelines, of course. In so doing they learn both from their peers’ thought processes and from their own mistakes. 19