The United States government estimates that by the year 2015, there will be a shortage of nearly 15 million workers in the engineering and technical fields.
To help ease the potential shortage of workers, Project Lead the Way has stepped up to help middle and high school students apply academic, engineering and and technology concepts in the classroom in compelling real world ways, with a goal of sparking the students' interest in technical careers such as engineering. Project Lead the Way was first introduced in 12 high schools in New York during the 1997-1998 school year and has since grown to include some 3,000 middle and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In Iowa, project Lead the Way grew 32 percent in 2008 to include 9,096 middle and high school students in 78 schools.
Locally, the program has been used in the Fort Dodge Community Schools through the Principles of Engineering and Introduction to Engineering Design courses at Fort Dodge Senior High and the Gateway to Technology class at Phillips Middle School.
Students in Scott Kehrberg's Principles of Engineering class at FDSH have worked on several projects throughout the year and are currently working on a project called "Have you Lost Your Marbles?" Through the project students created a moving, mechanical marble sorting device using a kit by Fischer Technik. The kits are similar to that of a K'Nex building set.
Before constructing the marble sorters, students looked at what parts would work best to sort the marbles out by color into separate bins. Each part of the device was required to be constructed with the Fischer Technik pieces, except for the hopper. Hoppers at the top of sorters were made of everything from pop bottles and paper to plastic funnels.
The marble sorters are attached to a number of wires which connect lamps. motors and sensors to an interface connected to a software program called RoboPro. The students wrote a program to turn the sensors and motors and to take sensor readings.
As sophomore Krista Thompson worked on her marble sorter, she noticed there were a few things that could use some changes.
"We learned all of the basic parts earlier," she said. "Now we're just refining. I'm working out some kinks."
The students had been learning about design all semester and had spent about two weeks constructing the marble sorters.
For sophomores Blake Peterson and Keaton Williams, it was a few last-minute changes that made the difference in how their marble sorter worked. They moved their sorting device, which moved from side to side, to move up and down.
"The marbles were getting stuck," Peterson said. "We just changed all of this yesterday."
Other projects students have completed in the Principles of Engineering course are a mouse trap car, ping pong ball launcher and structural stress analyzers.
Students enrolled receive high school elective credits, and through Project Lead the Way and the Kern Family Foundation also earn college credit through Iowa Central Community College. At the end of the course they have the opportunity to take an exam that can earn them credit through Iowa State University or the University of Iowa.
"The class is based on projects with teamwork where students can research, study design process and documentation," said Kehrberg. "It gives them the chance to get basic knowledge, apply that knowledge and create new knowledge."
At Phillips Middle School, students who are currently taking algebra courses are eligible for the Gateway to Technology class, teacher Aaron Davidson said.
"We're hoping to change that and make it available to any student who is interested," said Davidson.
The class is divided into four sections. In the first section, students learned about design and modeling, and created two- and three-dimensional drawings. In the second quarter section, students used the RoboPro software to animate what they had sketched during first quarter and also completed a Rube Goldberg project, creating a device similar to the game "Mouse Trap" using the six simple machines.
"The kids were really excited and really enjoyed that project," said Davidson.
Other projects in the Gateway to Technology course have been automation and robotics, wiring and computer programming. Students will finish out the year by creating a simulated factory assembly line.
Contact Emilie Nelson at 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org