Kenai students take advanced engineering classes

KENAI, Alaska  — It has been years since Evan Withrow took one of Dana Edwards' Project Lead the Way engineering classes at Soldotna High School. But the metallurgical engineering student still remembers how good it felt to take the classes that convinced him to be an engineer.

Students in the district's Principals of Engineering and Digital Electronics will spend the next year building increasingly complex circuits, building renewable energy sources, testing the tensile strength of everyday objects, learning what it takes to be an engineer.

Edwards said he has been teaching PLTW classes at Soldotna High School for five years and said there are similarities between each of his classes.

"Most of them have no idea what engineering is," Edwards said. "They may have a dad or a mom that's an engineer. They just really don't have a good feel for what they do. So these classes give them a good idea of what engineering is all about."

Withrow, a freshman at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology said he was leaning toward becoming an engineer before he took the district's introductory class in 2009.

"I've been interested in engineering for, I don't know, for a long time. I've always been good at math. I saw the class and it looked interesting," Withrow said. "It didn't help me decide which type of engineering, but it definitely made me decide that I wanted to go into some type of engineering."

The Project Lead the Way curriculum provides schools with a project-based curriculum tailored to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

While the courses are structured similarly to career and technical education classes, teachers are certified through the national organization and follow a curriculum that focuses on engineering or biomedical science courses, depending on the track individual schools select.

Edwards said he was certified to teach the two courses offered at Soldotna High School, but wanted to expand the program to offer more advanced engineering courses.

Currently, the Project Lead the Way curriculum is offered in more than 4,000 schools in 50 states, according to the organization.

Edwards said some of the advanced classes like Aerospace engineering or Biotechnical engineering were alluring, but he wanted to make sure they would be a good fit for students in the area.

"There's a civil engineering class that they teach which would probably be the next one that I would consider doing, but they also have computer-aided manufacturing," he said.

For now, Edwards is leading another group of budding engineers through an engineering unit on hydrogen-powered cars.

"We try to do as many hands-on projects as we can," he said. "They're pretty cool. This is a hydrogen fuel cell that you fill with water. When you hook electricity up and run it through water electrolysis produces hydrogen and oxygen gasses. So one side will have hydrogen, the other side will have oxygen, then you can take two wires and hook it up to an electric motor and a hydrogen fuel cell."

The goal is to see how fast or far model cars can be powered by the handheld fuel cells.

The twist, Edwards said, is that part of the unit is about other kinds of renewable resources as well and students get the chance to compare the types of energy.

From activities that allow students to watch objects get crushed, explode, race or heat up, they learn skills that can be used outside of the classroom.

In Edwards' digital electronics class one of the first things students learn is how to solder.

Then, they're given kits to help them build a basic dice-roller using chips, wires and computer boards.

Withrow said he learned how to keep track of his work, something he uses often in his chemistry lab.

"You get into the habit of writing things down. If you didn't learn to record what you were doing then you'd have to repeat it over and over again. I think the organization is a good skill to have," he said.

Edwards said the class also taught students how to put theories they learn in their other classes, into practice.

"It's the idea of using those discoveries and scientific principles to solve problems," Edwards said. "I use these examples from these classes in my math classes all the time. In the digital electronics class, we'll start using natural logs and exponential functions. That's Algebra II where you first get introduced to that."

Soon, simple functions become complex objects.

"It seems like such a goofy little thing to make a light flash," Edwards said. "But if you want to do it at a certain rate, you have to have certain numbers on your component; certain resistors, certain capacitors. So using that math to figure out those things is a good application."

Some of the things he teaches his high school students are more complex than things Edwards remembers doing in college and the students surprise him every semester.

"It takes them a little while to start getting it but then pretty soon, they'll be doing a project and all of the sudden 'Hey Mr. Edwards, I did this, I changed this circuit a little bit and all of the sudden it makes it do this or that. It's kind of cool when you see them go off on their own."

The format of the class is easier than most college classes as well.

"We're building things, like the circuitry and yeah, I did that as I got into college, but it was once a week for three hours," Edwards said. "You're doing it all year long here, you can absorb it much better."

For Withrow, the classes are a fond memory from high school that he said other students should consider taking as well.

While he isn't sure yet exactly what he'll do with a metallurgy degree, Withrow said he's hoping to work with sporting equipment.

"I grew up playing basketball, I'm a big sports junkie, so it would be really cool to design something that you can see being used, like maybe baseball bats or golf clubs or something along those lines," he said.

He said he has good memories of learning basic programming and building robots.

His family recently bought a Roomba, a small robotic vacuum cleaner that's famous for its ability to sense and move around furniture, essentially cleaning carpets without the human-powered help.

Withrow watches the simple robot clean his house and considers the programming required to make it work.

"I think, 'I could do that.'"

source: http://washingtonexaminer.com/kenai-students-take-advanced-engineering-classes/article/feed/2038811#.UIcsJxzO75k

New VISTA Project at SWAMC Focused on STEM Activities
SWAMC is excited to announce that a VISTA service member will act as the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education coordinator for the Southwest region, starting in April 2012. The VISTA volunteer will focus efforts on existing partnerships for educational opportunities at the K-12 level, and investigate how broadband technologies can be used to maximize entrepreneurship and learning opportunities in other educational settings.
The total project will focus on 3 primary objectives: 1) Partnering with Junior Achievement in Alaska to provide dedicated financial literacy training which has been proven to improve student's classroom performance and completion of high school; 2) Facilitating the Ocean Science Curriculum Working Group (School Districts, NOAA, University of Alaska, and others) as they develop and implement a curriculum specific to Southwest Alaska school districts; and 3) Building on SWAMC efforts to develop a Broadband Strategy and Economic Development opportunities using newly deployed Internet technologies, with specific efforts towards outlining requirements to establish innovation centers providing a broadband connection, computer hardware and business support. In addition, our VISTA, Cameron Dean, will continue to research other STEM appropriate educational activities that may fit with our region, including those in renewable energy, underwater robotics, and fish habitat.

Please contact our office to find out more. As the project gains more focus through these activities, you can follow the progress at the STEM page of the SWAMC website.


source: http://www.swamc.org/html/posts/new-vista-project-at-swamc-focused-on-stem-activities86.php 


Anchorage looking at value of career education


ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Anchorage School District is looking at proposed changes that would place greater emphasis on career and technical education.

The move would mean changes in districtwide graduation requirements, according to Tuesday's Anchorage Daily News.

The school board convened a task force this week to present an initial proposal for revising graduation requirements at a series of public meetings. The task force grew out of listening session held five years ago that indicated the public wants high school students to learn more practical job skills.

The idea is to make earning an Anchorage School District diploma rigorous and flexible, while recognizing that career education is increasingly valuable for high school graduates.

"That's the challenge in all this," said assistant superintendent of instruction Ed Graff.

The basic proposal makes minor changes in credit numbers to basic subject areas such as math, history, English and science and reshuffles courses into content areas like "Global Arts and Understanding" and "STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math."

But the bigger shift would be allowing students to receive core academic credit for career and vocational classes, which are now usually counted as electives. For example, a forestry class in the natural resources management program might count as a science graduation requirement class.

The district's proposal would also offer the option of earning an "advanced academic" or, "advanced career and technology" diploma endorsement.

A final proposal is expected to go to the school board, perhaps by June.

source: http://www.newsminer.com/view/full_story/18265010/article-Anchorage-looking-at-value-of-career-education-?



STEM AK releases summer science camp schedule


The STEM AK program of the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) will once again offer a rich array of summer science camps to kids of all ages in locations around Southeast Alaska. These camps are led by experienced and enthusiastic staff that ensure a safe and fun opportunity to explore and learn.

The following STEM AK camps will be offered during the 2012 summer season:

• Sun to Sea: grades 7-9, June 4-9, Juneau only

Sun to Sea Camp connects middle school students with scientists and experts from NOAA to help explore the world of wind, weather, waves and more through hands-on learning. 

• Advanced Rocketry: grades 6-9, Ketchikan, June 11-13; Juneau, August 13-17

For the novice or amateur, if you want to learn how to design your own rockets using advanced CAD software, and choose your own motors, this is the camp for you!

• FIRST LEGO Programming: ages 9-14, Juneau, July 9-13; Ketchikan, June 11-14

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there’s a robotics camp for you. FIRST offers accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people from the time they start school through high school graduation.

• The Un-Saturday Thing: grades 4-9, July 9-13, Juneau only

Based on our very successful Saturday Thing program, we will provide an environment that stimulates innovation: freedom to think and explore a community of kids, who are also innovators, equipment to enable innovation, and easily accessible supplies.

• Kitchen Chemistry: grades 4-5, July 23-27, Juneau only

Budding young chefs will explore various methods used in cooking food and some of the chemistry involved in food preparation and preservation.

• Underwater Gliders: grades 7-9, Aug. 6-10, Ketchikan only

Learn from Navy engineers how to build and operate your own underwater glider to collect and analyze aquatic data, and learn about marine acoustics.

Details for each summer camp experience are listed on www.STEMAK.org. Interested participants should visit this website to find out more information and submit an application online.

JEDC has a limited amount of funding for Summer Science financial aid. Aid is awarded on the basis of household income and in the order that completed financial aid applications are received until funding is exhausted for this year. 

For more information on any of these camps, contact Robert Vieth at rvieth@jedc.org or at 523-2342.



Mrs. Helen Mehrkens, State Director
Alaska Department of Education and Early Development
P.O. Box 110500
Juneau, AK 99811-0500