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Higley engineering students use skills to create bridges


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  • Michelle Reese/Higley Unified School District

Higley Engineering

The engineering program at Higley High School is laying the groundwork for students who may aspire to a career in science, technology, engineering or math. It’s also connecting them to real-world problem solving, said teachers Jason Sixkiller and Robert Frederick.

This spring, students in Mr. Sixkiller’s Honors Introduction to Engineering Design used simple materials – tongue depressors, tooth picks, pipe cleaners and more – along with sophisticated 3D computer software to create bridges designed to hold up under great pressure.

Higley engineering students use skills to create bridges HigleyEngineeringHP

Students in Honors Introduction to Engineering Design used simple materials – tongue depressors, tooth picks, pipe cleaners and more – along with sophisticated 3D computer software to create bridges designed to hold up under great pressure. Photo courtesy Carlos Espinosa/Higley Unified School District

At least, that was their hope going into the project.

The exercise gave students an idea of what it would be like to create a bridge in the real world, complete with requirements to keep it cost effective, as well as safe, Mr. Sixkiller said.

Students were given a “parts list” that included prices.

“During the design phase, they had to fill out the quantity of each item they wanted to use and calculate the cost of the bridge,” he said. “They’re really learning a couple of things: applying the design process we worked on all year and learning how to build something. There’s a big gap for engineers from designing something on the computer to building it.”

“They’re learning what’s feasible to design and having fun,” he said.

Junior Zack Merhavy said his team came up with two designs they thought were perfect, though not simple. When he created a mock-up of one design at home, “it didn’t work,” he said.

That Monday, the team decided to use a simple truss bridge, he said.

“I went back to my first drawing that I didn’t think would work, but it held a lot more than we expected it to,” Zack said. “I learned that I don’t give myself enough credit. … I think it’s cool how all the teams integrated what we learned without even knowing it.”

Freshman Anna Martin said the hardest part of the assignment was figuring out how to use the different materials.

“We were adapting the materials once we got them,” she said. “We changed the design. When we were putting it together, we overestimated the amount of materials we would use.”

Frederick’s Digital Electronics class designed digital circuits on a computer and then used a simulator program to test their designs, very similar to what engineers do today, he said.

They learn to program robots in their final project of the year to enable different sensors and controls.

The students then run their robot through a maze course to test the robots navigation capabilities that are controlled by their program.  It gives them great experience in programming methods and techniques that is very valuable in industry today.

Higley High’s engineering program includes an option for students to earn college credit. Since classes are rotated, Mr. Frederick will teach Principles of Engineering next year, which will be offered with dual credit from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Mr. Sixkiller also hopes to also place upperclassmen in internships with businesses. The school’s STEM Ahead Diploma is an option for students to get further grounded for their future, they said.

“It’s turning into a full, four-year program,” Mr. Sixkiller said. “We hope eventually to provide math credits in the future.”

Four students took and passed the state engineering exam this year.

“They get certified by the state,” Frederick said. “They can use it to when applying to college. It’s a feather in their cap.”

Many of the seniors who have graduated after taking the engineering classes have gone on to study engineering in college, Mr. Frederick said.

To add to the program, the two teachers started an en engineering club and they hope to add robotics to the club next year.

“It provides them an opportunity to extend their learning outside the classroom,” Mr. Sixkiller said. “There are lots of options to compete in multiple disciplines of engineering. … We want a lot of different opportunities for these kids.”