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Project Lead The Way builds future

In its sixth year, PLTW?encourages engineering

September 30, 2012
By BRANDON L. SUMMERS, , Messenger News

Fort Dodge Senior High is in its sixth year of Project Lead the Way, a unique engineering curriculum.

"It was designed to give kids who were interested in engineering some exposure to engineering classes before they actually go off to college and start trying to major in engineering and then all of a sudden find out, 'Ooh, engineering is not for me' and have to change majors," Scott Kehrberg, FDSH instructor, said.

Students in the program can earn course credit from Iowa Central Community College, Kehrberg said, and through exams, earn credits from Iowa State University or University of Iowa.

"They can actually go into college with some engineering credits," he said.

In the first level, Introduction to Engineering Design, students learn about the software used to create engineering plans, such as AutoDesk Inventor, Ed Birkey, FDSH instructor said.

Not only do students enjoy the introductory course, they go on to win contests.

"Last year we had three of those students end up being the top three in the state in drafting, in the Skills USA technical drafting competition," Birkey said.

Some students are inspired to further pursue a career in engineering, Birkey said.

"It's not just to be engineers, but being able to engineer, I think, is a big part of that," he said. "A lot of them will be looking at careers in that area. Some find out when they're in here that doesn't interest them.

In Principles of Engineering, which Kehrberg teaches, there are more hands-on activities.

"We learn a concept in engineering or physics and then we actually apply it," he said.

One project undertaken by Kehrberg's students is a solar-hydrogen car.

"We explore the idea of why we don't have solar cars or why we don't have hydrogen cars yet," he said. "They actually build a small scale car and then they charge up the hydrogen cells and see who can get their car to go the longest."

Students also get an opportunity to talk to an engineer working in the field they want to be in, Kehrberg said.

"They do a whole research paper on that. Basically, they find out about what they want to do," he said. "I've had kids who've actually said, you know what, after hearing what this person does all day long, I'm not interested in that kind of engineering anymore. I'm going to look at a different kind of engineering."

The third level offered at FDSH is digital electronics, where students learn about programming circuit boards for example.

Kehrberg said the engineering program has proven valuable.

"My students have seen it more as hands on," he said. "It's a different kind of class for them, because they're used to the teacher being the expert, having all the answers, and we sometimes have to go out and look for answers, and that's a different kind of role for the students. All of a sudden, we have to troubleshoot."

There are still more areas of engineering that can be explored, Kehrberg said, but it would require a consortium of schools, working together to act as centers for certain classes to provide those opportunities for area students.

According to Kehrberg, the district is exploring this possibility.



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