Briarcliff Students Take Engineering to a Whole New Level

Briarcliff Pronciples of Engineering teacher Christopher Lo

Being an engineer is a lot harder than it looks. You have to be an inventor, a craftsman, a mathematician, a designer, and an artist, among other things. At Briarcliff High School, students in grades 9-12 in Christopher Lo’s Principles of Engineering class have proven that they are each a jack-of-all-trades by their work on a recent project.

The project was to create a beanbag launcher prototype that can be used in a carnival booth. It consisted of three pieces: a launcher, a gameboard and a booth, while the beanbags that were to be launched were tiny bags of rice.

Students made mathematical calculations in order to estimate the angle that the beanbags will be tossed when they are launched and also did a series of launches.

“We are using an estimate that is based on statistical math,” Mr. Lo explained. In the beginning of the project, students each had to come up with the concept sketch and a design brief and once they got into groups of four, they decided together which design to use, using a decision matrix that had various criteria.

“We practiced how to do concept sketching last week and I provided feedback,” Mr. Lo said. “The sketches had to be in 3D and labeled.”

Once they decided on a design, the students selected different roles to take on: the sketcher draws the final design, including the concept sketches; the assembler assembles it based on the design. A third student documents the process with photos and videos and a list of steps involved. The fourth student is a timekeeper and checker and ensures everything is done correctly and on time.

“The students have only two-and-a-half days to complete this,” said Mr. Lo, who did a trial run of the project before presenting it to the class.

Students were eager to work in their respective roles and worked safely. Those who were using boxcutters were constantly being monitored by Mr. Lo.

“They all had to take a safety test before using them,” he said.

Creativity abounded as students worked on their projects, showcasing a variety of themes in their prototypes, such as fruit or Santa Claus.

Like several other current projects in the middle and high school, this project is also part of Project Lead the Way curriculum, which is new this year in the schools.

“I had to adapt it a little because the PLTW courses are usually slightly longer than our 42-minute classes, but I like it a lot,” Mr. Lo said. “There are a lot of creative projects to choose from.”

Mr. Lo, who had taken a two-week intensive course over the summer in professional development for PLTW, is enjoying watching the students work on their projects.

“It is very exciting to watch the students do it on their own,” he said. “They will continue improving on it using trial and error.”

According to Mr. Lo, students in this class will be exposed to many different projects and many different forms of engineering.

“For example, they will build 3D models on the computer and then print them on our 3D printers here at the school,” he said. “The final project in the unit will be designing and building a box to transport cupcakes safely. My goal for the students is that by the end of this course they will have a solid engineering design process, which can be applied anywhere, not just this class.”

Mr. Lo’s goal is also to prepare the students for next year’s course, which is Advanced Principles of Engineering. He is also looking forward to the Engineering Club.

“We are starting new this year and we hope to enter competitions in robotics next year,” he said.








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