As we finish the second week of school at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, students are learning the Engineering Design Process (borrowed from NASA), and how it compares to the Scientific Method (source: www.makeitsolar.com). Both of these are problem solving methods, but each is more appropriate in certain situations. We reviewed the scientific method first, since students have learned that in the past. We did a lab using a computer simulation to determine the density of water, and we practiced writing a full lab report. Today, we focused on the engineering design process, and the students had a couple of engineering design challenges. One involved making a FPG-9 (foam plate glider, 9-inch) and experimenting with its control surfaces. Here are some photos:
These type of activities are a lot of fun for the students and me – but they also serve a purpose. Students learn to work in teams and quickly develop, test, and refine solutions. They also learn how to meet deadlines, as some design challenges have strict time constraints. Students must present their ideas, as well, and defend their choice of design. All of these are life skills.
We will be developing these life skills much more fully by participating in regional and state-level STEM competitions. Each competition will require the students to organize themselves, schedule practices, determine roles of team members, and then practice for the competition. Here are competitions I am planning to introduce to the students so that they can plan to compete:
- Helicopter 2050 (deadline on October 15, 2015)
- CyberPatriot (middle school rounds one weekend per month, October 2015 through March 2016)
- Science Olympiad (state competition on March 19, 2016)
- Invention Convention (state competition on April 30, 2016)
- Engineering Encounters (formerly West Point) Bridge Building Contest (January through April 2016)
- Others as we learn about them!
I will be seeking mentors for many of these contests – please contact me if you can help. Practices will be every other Friday afternoon – see the Academy annual calendar for the dates.