Using DC motors to teach high school students about engineering

Today was a great day. Mr. Bailey, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Engineering teacher, asked us to come to his school and explain to his students what an  engineer does. In past sessions at other local middle and high schools, there were many questions from students. Most of them came down to – what does an engineer do? and how do you know engineering is a good career for me?

The first question is relatively easy to answer. Engineers apply what the learn in school and have experienced on the job to be able to help their “customers” solve problems. Now mind you, engineering is broad and covers many areas such as mechanical, electrical, chemical, biomedical, materials, mining, and more. Each subject holds appeal to certain students. So, it is important for the student to understand what subjects they enjoy and where they have had success. After providing some examples of real life situations that were solved using engineering, we moved onto the second question – how do you know engineering is a good career for me (the student)?

These students are taking a course called Introduction to Engineering. I congratulated them on taking a course that will introduce them to engineering concepts. That was a good decision on their part. It is important to learn what you like to do as well as what you don’t particularly like to do – that can have an influence on your career path. Another comment I made was for each student to think what they enjoyed doing when they were 12 or 13 years old. At this age, students are doing what they like best without getting paid. In some cases, it becomes their passion or drive which will carry them through the tough times.

After responding to other questions, we pulled out the props (see picture below) and talked about brushed and brushless DC motors. Explained this was one of the first signs that showed my love of engineering because I loved to build homemade DC motors – and still do today. The hit of the day was the Lego robot designed by David Gilday called Mindcuber. Mindcuber is a Lego robot that solves a Rubik’s Cube in about 90 seconds. After a few false starts the robot delighted everyone with the final result. Those that had smartphones pulled them out and recorded the whole event. It really was a great day!

Teaching at Engineer Day

Speaking at Engineering Day

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