Every bored student's mind is plagued with "When will I ever need this?" Most of what is learned at school seems either too generic or too specific for any career. However, this question is incredibly rare in one of my classes: Engineering.
As one of the pilots for the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, our school has offered Engineering-specific courses since the 2010-2011 school year. These no-nonsense classes focus on the skills that are essential to any engineering career. Focused, fast-paced and informative, these courses can be thought of as AP courses hybridized with ROP classes.
The first two years of PLTW are Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) and Principles of Engineering (POE). They provide a solid foundation. IED encompasses the design process, professional presentation skills, documentation protocol, patenting laws and most importantly, the usage of AutoCAD Inventor (a design software vital for visualization and communication). Building upon the skills acquired in IED, POE exposes students to diverse fields of engineering. Past topics include machines (civil), circuits (electrical), and programming (software); we've delve into energy sources (environmental) and transportation (automobile/aerospace). Taking these two courses helps student develop a sense of their interests. Most students continue on to take specialized PLTW courses such as Digital Electronics, Civil Engineering & Architecture, Computer Science Engineering and AP Computer Science. (There are six other courses, but having started this program only recently, our school can offer a very limited number.) I used my junior year to explore Digital Electronics.
These classes do not have a fixed structure: instead, they have a loose skeleton that is mutilated as needed. The first three to four weeks of each unit consist of lectures, notes, and research projects. True learning then occurs in the lab, where all the newly learned concepts come to life. In the final weeks, two or three multi-staged projects are assigned to small groups who are granted full-time lab privileges. Each project involves a reasonable amount of constraints, but design and implementation are left entirely to students. During lab time, pupils are encouraged to collaborate with other groups and correctly document their work. IED projects included designing a specialized coffee cup and a model train. POE projects have been more sophisticated: we have constructed a winch system, programmed elevator, and automatic marble sorter. We brainstormed ideas for our Hydrogen fuel cell cars. Each challenging project provided a plethora of learning and a sense of accomplishments upon completion.
My Engineering class is my second home. Having worked together so intensely, we have developed solid bonds. This class exposes me to numerous topics while ensuring that all the knowledge I gain, I will sometime need. Knowing that few students get opportunities to truly explore a career in high school, I appreciate this class evermore. Activities are interesting and hands-on; the environment is conducive to intellectual growth, not memorization. There are numerous PLTW-affiliated competitions (like the Chevron Design Challenge) that we are invited to participate in; these competitions helps us reinforce our skills while socializing with peers from different schools. Our teacher is knowledgeable and amusing (in fact, several of his pupils have taken to calling him their "bro"). Receiving definite schedules at the beginning of each unit for all tests and deadlines dramatically reduces stress. I learn a lot, I get what I learn, and I enjoy myself the entire time.
However, the program has its flaws. At times I wish this class attracted more girls (there are 5 in my class of 34) or that there was separation between honors and regular students. It is difficult to mediate a pace that challenges advanced students AND reinforces basic for those not as academically gifted. The curriculum is heavy, and slowing for stragglers creates a lag, which eventually leads to either rushed finishes or material left unlearned. Finally, this program is designed for classes of 20-24 students: larger sizes in my district lead to overcrowded lab groups.
But then I realize that this is how the professional world is: there is too much work to be done, there are people of varied abilities, and there are people clamoring and competing for learning opportunities. I've realized that in addition to engineering skills, along the way I picked up people, time-management, and competitive skills, too. So when will I use the things I learn in my Engineering class? Every day for the rest of my life.
The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections.
Garima Raheja attends American High in Fremont. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.