Thinking like engineers means taking a project from concept to reality, with planning, creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in between.
Going beyond the limited benefits of specific technical skills that may be needed right at this moment, the overarching ability to think like an engineer will benefit students and the workforce for many years to come, through industrial sea-changes and technological advances.
That’s how Jean Born sees it. The superintendent of Sheboygan Falls School District, she’s been in discussions with educators and business partners for about three years on how to improve engineering and manufacturing education in the district.
Rather than limit discussions to a few technical courses at the high school level, the district expanded its vision to implement a K-12 curriculum to help students learn to think like engineers.
Beginning at the elementary level and continuing through high school, kids in Sheboygan Falls learn about the thinking, planning, and doing that goes into creating a product.
Project-based learning, maker spaces, STEM education, and the FIRST Lego/FIRST Robotics programs help achieve that goal. Community partners from local businesses talk to students about real-world applications.
Another key piece is enhancing off-site, experiential, work-based learning.
The district unveiled, this fall, a new Innovation and Design Center in a room which used to be the high school auto shop.
To start, this room will be a place for high school students to apply their engineering thinking in a hands-on way – conceptualizing, planning, and creating things that didn’t use to exist.
The new center will allow the high school to offer a Computer Aided Design and Engineering class next fall for the first time. Students taking the STEM Geometry class will also be using the equipment in the lab. And members of the county-wide robotics team, which is hosted by Sheboygan Falls, will be using state of the art robotics equipment to build their projects.
Other engineering classes will be added later, and eventually, younger grades may also use the facility.
Starting with computer-assisted design and moving all the way into creating something is quite an attraction, according to Sophomore Raymond Kulow as quoted in a story by WHBL radio. Kulow thinks the new facility will help students connect with good careers they enjoy.
“They'll learn how to make stuff in computers, and they'll see how it comes from what they make on the computer into a part, and it’ll be something they physically can hold,” he told WHBL.
One of the highlights of the new lab is a 33-ton plastic injection molding machine, identical to ones used in industrial facilities, that comes to the high school through a partnership between the district and a local partner, Bemis Manufacturing Company. According to Milacron, the machine’s manufacturer, this is the first time this exact unit has ever been used in a high school.
Bemis and Sheboygan Falls have worked together before including collaborating on a highly successful summer externship program for teachers where educators spend a week touring Bemis and its suppliers and learning more about the manufacturing process and the types of careers available there.
Over the summer, teachers of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education got together to create curriculum integrating the Innovation and Design Center into their courses.
State Superintendent Tony Evers attended the design center’s ribbon-cutting, and commended the approach. Evers has often commented on the educational power of learning to “think like” a professional in a given field. He also noted that Sheboygan Falls is lucky to have a large number of local companies who partner on curriculum and equipment needs.
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