Engineering Up Close

Engineering Up Close

The Class 12 students in “Principles of Engineering” collected their starter kits, which were neatly organized in clear plastic cases, found free spots in the spacious Hayot Center for Innovation (HCI) and began to tackle an engaging task.

The goal of today’s lesson was to lay a foundation for ongoing discoveries in engineering by giving these seniors the introductory skills and knowledge essential for this versatile discipline, which is an important component of the cross-disciplinary, STEAM-focused learning that thrives across Chapin. (“E” is for Engineering; the other letters stand for Science, Technology, Arts and Mathematics.)

To the untrained eye, the spiderwebs of wires, boards with impossibly tiny holes and color-coded plugs spread over the work areas might elicit shrugs of confusion. Not so for Science Teacher Prasad Akavoor’s students, who are quickly gaining fluency with the basic materials, equipment, processes and concepts that this class requires.

After opening their laptops and their kits, the students embarked on a series of interactive exercises designed to establish and test circuits using a pair of boards. One, called an Arduino board, has an Elegoo microprocessor on it, allowing engineers to program the devise to gather data from attached sensors. The second, nicknamed a “breadboard,” can be used to make electrical connections. The chief difference with the breadboard is that wires can snap effortlessly into holes without the need for soldering.

As the students followed step-by-step digital directions, extreme attention to detail and excellent manual dexterity were called for, as was a healthy dose of determination.

The students experimented with different configurations before some achieved successful electrical connections, typically indicated by an illuminated light (and accompanied by a few excited “yesses”). Others continued to persevere, either on their own or with assistance from their teacher or fellow classmates.

“This course is student-centered, self-paced and obviously very hands-on,” explained Dr. Akavoor. He pointed out that, although the class was at various points in this preliminary activity, everyone was expected to be finished in time to tackle an upcoming practical assessment, which presented this challenge:

You are the lead engineer in a high-profile company. Your team needs to develop a security system that gives off a warning when any object comes within a certain distance. When an object is detected, the main door locks. When no object is detected, a steady green light remains on, and no warning is sounded. Build a circuit on your Arduino board, and program it to mimic the scenario described above.

What’s particularly unique about Principles of Engineering, Dr. Akavoor noted, is that it is a rigorous, year-long class, affording students unparalleled opportunities to delve deeply into this far-reaching STEAM field as they build confidence and expertise.

Further, being able to hold the class in the HCI, with storage capabilities and plenty of room to spread out, has been a “game changer,” commented Dr. Akavoor, as he walked around the tables, answering questions and encouraging each student’s steady progress.

As the seniors move through the units, they will investigate several fields of engineering, including mechanical engineering, software engineering and material stability. As well, they will practice using integral tools, such computer aided design (CAD) and technologies like 3-D printing. They will also discover simple machines, compound machines, programming and automation.

“Most important, students acquire skills, like cutting, sawing, drilling holes and so on, that they likely wouldn’t learn in any other course,” added Dr. Akavoor.

At the end of this productive yet easy-going class, the students gathered up their boards, wires and circuits, carefully placing the materials back in their starter kits to store for next time. Soon, the second unit of study will get underway, offering our young engineers the opportunity to explore drawing and designing – classes that promise to be equally as enlightening.