George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teaching "Engineering Through Models" 2013

Teaching "Engineering Through Models" 2013

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I have been teaching a class at the local university for several years now known as "College for Kids". In the first years I taught a model airplane building and flying class, but the last few years I created a course I call "Engineering Through Models" that includes several different model projects over the one week course. I try to switch in a new project every couple of years, this year we will be building the Syringe Hydraulic Arm for the first time but will drop the model solar cars. The lineup for this year includes; foam plate gliders, rubber powered model plane from foam plates, model wind turbine, mousetrap car, and syringe hydraulic arm.

The first day of the College for Kids class could have gone better, the students did OK with the FPG-9 gliders but when they started building the rubber powered planes there was some confusion. I would say to cut a piece 2" x 4" out of foam plate and some would cut much smaller pieces. My idea was to give them general proportions but let them use some of their own creativity. Some of the flying surfaces turned out way too small, I replaced some of the really bad ones. We did not finish the rubber powered planes on the first day as I had hoped.

Day #2 and there was another helper and a bigger room to use which were both Welcome. We finished up the planes in another 20 minutes and flew them in big atrium room. Some of the ones with the tiny wings flew like missiles but some planes flew pretty well. The one student had his plane climbed up to the ceiling which is 3 stories up and flew just below the ceiling, everyone was in awe. We moved on to build the model wind turbines and some of those were finished today so we are back on my schedule.

If there is enough time left on the last day, I plan to have the students fix up there planes from what they have learned and fly again.

I really think this activity has potential, very little balsa is needed and the foam is cheap. There is some breakage but not as bad with many balsa and tissue planes. Low temp glue guns work fine for building the planes in a hurry.

Have a good start on the Syringe Hydraulic Arm and will finish today.

It has been a trying class, on Wednesday a couple of the kids were sticking hot glue sticks into the pencil sharpener and trying to sharpen them. Normally a class is limited to 12 but there has been 13. The school has provided me with two helpers which was much appreciated.

Glad for the experience but it just makes me appreciate the job that fulltime teachers do.

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Bill Kuhl

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Bill Kuhl's picture

A response from a local teacher:

Thanks always for sending this beta along.
I've been teaching a intro and intermediate class on robotics and engineering processes using the LEGO NXT robotics kit.
Always, it seems there are two challenges that are unavoidable.
#1 Time. Students working at different paces. Differing opinions of quality and performance. Always fighting against the ingrained "good enough" mentality.
#2 Focus and tenacity. Students have a tough time sticking it out, especially when it gets hard for them. The lack of risk taking and failure in their lives (video games, coddling parents, media...) lessens their ability to work through failure. Again, differing amounts of tenacity and focus as the day moves along leads to possible behavior management challenges from the instructor.

And you're's like that almost every day in the regular classroom. PROOF that your work is so important in how it offers more experience in this hands-on stuff. Learning and failing are nearly the same... "

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