Thursday, February 2, 2017
By JORDYN GRZELEWSKI
Ask the students in East High School’s new Introduction to Engineering and Design course what they thought when they were placed in the class, and they’ll probably tell you the same thing: They didn’t want to be there.
“Why’d they give me this class?” 10th-grader Stephaun Lundy wondered when he found out he was in it. “But it’s cool now.”
“I didn’t want to be in it. When you get put into something you don’t know anything about, it’s kind of hard to get used to it until you find an interest in it,” said Brandon Wesley, also in 10th-grade.
Now, he said, “It’s a pretty fun class.”
“I didn’t like it,” said Odyessie Butler-Reed. “I love it now.”
That evolution has taken place over the last several months, since the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – course was introduced at East. The course addition marks an expansion of the city school district’s STEM offerings; Chaney High School, for example, has offered introductory engineering and design for several years, and has higher-level courses that follow it.
“It is part of the Project Lead the Way curriculum,” said district STEM coordinator Pam Lubich, referring to a non-profit organization that develops STEM curricula for schools. “When Mr. Mohip came on board, he asked me what it would take for us to be able to offer that over at East.”
Krish Mohip is the city schools CEO who took over leadership of the district at the start of this school year. He announced in August that East would begin offering STEM, as well as dance and music classes.
East teacher Thad Jemison, who teaches the engineering and design course to two classes, is glad Mohip pushed to implement STEM at the school.
“I really believe the whole school should be doing it,” he said. “They [students] need that different approach to education.”
By “different,” he means that engineering and design requires students to be creative, and work together to solve problems. He knew at the start that students might be intimidated by concepts such as the mathematics required for engineering, but he’s seen the 25 students enrolled in the course grow more and more comfortable with the subject.
“You hear the word ‘engineering,’ and it’s kind of mind-boggling, but they’re getting better. They’re buying in and they’re not as fearful of the course,” he said. “Once they found out they can do some of this stuff, it’s like, wow, they really like it.”
Students use computer software to design objects that they first sketch by hand. The class also incorporates many hands-on activities that require collaboration.
On Wednesday, for example, Jemison handed out materials – cardboard, string, straws, tape, scissors and a paperclip – and gave them 10 minutes to build a crane. They had to use all of the supplies they were given.
At first, some insisted they couldn’t do it.
Fast-forward just a few minutes, however, and most students were well on their way.
Brandon, for example, worked quietly and diligently, skillfully incorporating each of the materials into his creation. He taped a foundation made of straws to his piece of cardboard, then built the crane’s base out of a cluster of straws.
From there, he figured out how to build the crane’s arm, using the string as a kind of pulley that operated the arm. Before long, his crane was hoisting a toy car into the air.
“That was fun,” Odyessie declared as she finished hers.
“And you didn’t think you could do,” Jemison told the class. “And it took you about 15 minutes. Good job.”
Jemison is confident that these exercises will help students in the future.
At the end of the course, he hopes they understand “that there is something different out there that they might be good at. Maybe some of them might want to be engineers one day.”
“Maybe I do have an itch for this,” he hopes they’ll say.