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A new dimension at the Tech Center

Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 10:38 am

With three-dimensional printers at the ready and 16 high school students working enthusiastically at their computers, one class from Rappahannock High School has embraced a new course for its interactive style of technology-based learning.

Through the implementation of the STEM (science, technology, mathematics, engineering) academy at the Northern Neck Technical Center (NNTC), a new class, Introduction to Design Engineering, has become available to local students.

The mostly virtual course has students drawing and even printing their own designs.

“It’s not just pencil and paper work,” said class instructor Scott Syster, who previously taught a computer-aided design and technical drawing/drafting class at NNTC. “It takes a lot of responsibility for those other students. It’s like a college course.”

Throughout the class, students will work with the 3-D program Inventor, learn modeling skills and even take on reverse engineering, in which they will examine an object, tear it apart, put it back together and improve it.

So far, Syster said all of his students from both Richmond County and other schools have already grasped the concept of engineering.

“The kids are just running away with it,” said Syster. “They love it. Everything I’ve seen so far from all the schools have been unbelievable.”

The concept of engineering was something that Maliek Veney, an 11th grader from Rappahannock High School (RHS), already had a passion for.

“What I’m looking forward to doing in this class is maybe [having it] help me come up with my own designs that I have in the future,” said Veney, adding that one of the inventions he has in mind could potentially increase security in homes.

Veney added that the class  “works with my creativity and whatever I come up with in my mind.”

He and the other students said they learned about the different types of engineering.

“There’s a lot more to engineering than what I thought previously,” said 9th grader Landon Rock. “I just didn’t think there were that many types of fields.”

Most agreed that the class was more hands-on than other classes they had taken before.

“It’s just more fun than other classes, I think,” said 9th grader Robbie Schroth.

His fellow 9th grader, Jerrad Brown, agreed.

“It’s a really fun class in general,” said Brown, who is interested in honing his artistic skills through the course. “It’s actually more interactive [than other class] and you can really get into it.”

Engineering was also a subject in which 10th grader Oscar Lopez was interested before taking the class, as he wants to do construction engineering. His classmate, 11th grader Nicholas Rouse, spoke of his own interest in pursuing automotive engineering.

Rock, however, hopes the class will help him in his goal to become a graphic design artist for the purpose of drawing logos for companies or road signs.

For their first major class assignment, the students designed and even raced their own cable cars. The model consisted of a balloon, straw, tape and a rubber band.

“We put in on a fishing line, you had to construct it and then see how far it’d go,” said Blake Bundy, an 11th grader from RHS. “We had to keep trying different things to see how far it would go and then we had to rebuild it.”

Brown proudly noted that the RHS students broke the record set by the other schools with the speed of their cable cars.

The cable car project was “the most exciting thing” Bundy said he has done in the class, which he is continuing to enjoy.

“It seems pretty interesting to me…like maybe now it gives me an eye-opener of what I might want to do,” said Bundy.

Syster also noted one assigned task where the students had to design an improved version of a Styrofoam paper cup.

“Some of their drawings and concepts were just…incredible,” said Syster, adding he was able to understand their sketches right away.

As he spoke, 11th grader Andrea Zamora walked up to a nearby table to choose an object to sketch. At first she gravitated towards a glue bottle.

“Great! Glue bottle is one of the best ones to draw!” said Syster. But Zamora chose perhaps a more challenging object in picking up a stapler.

“I’m going to draw this because this looks neat,” Zamora said with a smile.

While at her computer, Zamora said that the engineering design class was just one she took to “see what it was like.”

“There’s a lot of problems [to solve] that come up when you’re designing something,” said Zamora before sharing she was looking forward to the “big projects” in the class.

She added that the class has been different in that the students “are not always just listening to the teacher” and instead take to working on problems at their computer.

Lopez agreed with her.

“[The class is] more to ourselves. We do it more personally,” said Lopez, adding there was limited guided practice from Syster.

“He just tells us what to do and we have to come up with a plan of how to do it and we’ll get creative,” said Lopez.

Both he and his RHS classmates, 11th graders Robbie Howeth, said that they learned a lot more in their engineering design class than they did in most other courses.

“You learn it from your own experiences and not simply by the teacher telling you,” Lopez said.

Syster, while admitting he wanted all of his students to become engineers, said he hoped they could somehow integrate the concepts they learned in his class into their future lives and careers.

“I don’t want this to be a wasted time for them,” said Syster. “I want them to be able to use this.”

The following students who take the class also contributed comments: Watt Taylor, 12th grade; Bill Johnson, 11th grade; Constance Johnson, 11th grade; Ian McGlinn, 10th grade; Felix Martinez, 12th grade; John Lee Grindstaff, 9th grade; and Evan Shipman, 11th grade.

All of the students who contributed comments attend RHS except for Taylor, who goes to Washington and Lee High School.

Participanta in the STEM academy consist of Essex, Richmond, Northumberland, Westmoreland and Lancaster counties as well as Colonial Beach.

For more information about the STEM program, its provider Project Lead the Way and the STEM academy’s implementation at NNTC, call 804-333-4940.