This semester, high school juniors and seniors were offered an option to take a semester-long engineering course. The class, called Engineering for Change, was inspired by the Project Lead the Way Principles of Engineering class recognized by the College Board. With four engineers among the science and math faculty last year, the class was designed with a lot of combined experience and with Mount Madonna School’s mission in mind.
So far, the class has studied simple and complex machines, design tools and the engineering design process, energy and energy transfer, engineering careers, and electrical engineering. Redesigning some of the projects and labs with the pandemic in mind has presented a unique challenge. Students have take-home lab kits that include app-enabled energy monitoring and equipment to experiment with molding and curing for a future materials lab. In addition, a “field trip” to the machine shops on campus was a treat.
Before spring break, as students started studying circuit design, they created circuitry and design journals that included real working circuits affixed to paper. While paper circuits have been a fixture of makers’ art projects in lower grades, for older students they presented a platform where each student can work without sharing equipment or crossing social-distancing barriers. The students described their circuits mathematically (as well as practiced design tools like isometric drawing) comparing configurations and adding more complicated components. The project paves the way for them to use microprocessors (Arduinos) in the next unit, control systems.
This week, each time the class meets, the tent transforms into an electrical lab where students are soldering components onto circuit boards. The outdoor environment, already wired for safe use of computers and projectors, is better than a classroom as it is well-ventilated for the project. Students are enjoying developing their circuit techniques in the sunshine.
Several years ago a curriculum map of K-12 science showed a gap in teaching the “E” in STEM (engineering), a gap that has been present historically in most school programs. MMS addressed the gap by starting the Makers’ program for elementary and adding engineering lab series in several traditional science classes. The new engineering class is part of an ongoing effort at the school, and in education across the country, to address equity gaps in engineering fields and to get more kids interested and involved in “making and designing” at increasingly challenging levels.
Raw electrical components are readily available and inexpensive compared to what they were even 10 years ago. It’s fun to be able to use them in this way that combines hands-on learning with intellectual growth. It’s also a fun challenge to combine offering these new learning experiences within the restraints of our pandemic-safe classrooms. – By Lisa Catterall
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communication,
Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.