Member Kudos: Engineering Program at Frankenmuth High School, Frankenmuth School District

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, June 17, 2015

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight the Engineering Program at Frankenmuth High School in Frankenmuth School District.

These engineering students were asked to explore the field of biometrics. They decided to engineer a prosthetic hand. They designed the hand, printed the parts on the 3-D printer and assembled the hand. The assembled hand actually picks up objects.

Description: Ten years ago, FSD adopted the following vision—High Academic Achievement for All and a Place for ALL Students. Research shows that students who participate in extracurricular activities perform better in the classroom. One of the groups being slighted included those who had an interest in tinkering and tearing things apart, the inventors and the problem solvers.

With that in mind, in 2009, teacher Rob Baker approached the Convergence Foundation with his vision to create an engineering program. A grant of $25,000 was awarded to provide start-up funds. Since that time, the Engineering Program has expanded to include three levels and has led to the development of additional extracurricular opportunities for students.

The goal is to expose students to hand-on projects designed to get them thinking about how things work. Some of the objectives are to ensure students learn an overview of engineering and technology disciplines, basic design and testing protocols, basic elementary engineering theory through projects, explore C++ programming, Maple or MatLab, and Labview, and be encouraged to join competitive or extracurricular clubs.

Funding/Resources: The Engineering Program was initially granted $25,000 in 2009 from the Convergence (Square One) Foundation. Since that time, the cost of all materials/projects associated with the program has been funded through grants and donations. The Frankenmuth Community Foundation and Frankenmuth Insurance Company have recently awarded $15,000 to the engineering program that will fund student projects through 2019. Teacher Rob Baker is employed full-time with the Frankenmuth School District teaching physics and engineering.

Kremin, Inc., a local precision machining and contract manufacturing firm donates resources and space within their shop.  

One of the highlights of the program has been the growth of the entire STEM department working collaboratively to provide cross curricular and extracurricular opportunities for students. Psychology teacher Willy Beck supervises the FIRST Robotics Club, Biology teacher Mr. Culver offers an Underwater Remote Vehicle Club. Shop/CAD teacher Mr.VanArsdale and Mr.Culver are trained in Additive Manufacturing and mentor the students in using 3-D printers.

Outreach: Communication—Students work in groups to design their projects. Communicating with each other is critical in all project work. Students have numerous opportunities to present their projects to various audiences.

This student created a catapult.

Critical Thinking—Engineering provides students with numerous opportunities to think critically.

Student Aaron Krafft, “Engineering is different from any other class I have taken. Rather than being taught how things work, we learn how things work by doing them. Engineering is a class that simulates the real world better than any other class I have taken.”

Student Alex Leach, “We are encouraged to think outside the box. We take real-world problems and fix them.”

Student Laura Farnsworth, “Have you ever thought of how you yourself learn? Well, there are things that will work and also things that will fail and then you need to start all over. That is how this class works. You pick your project and if it fails, then you can keep working on it until it is a success.

Creativity—One of the cornerstones of engineering!

Student Dakota Yarnell, “Engineering class is one that sets free the minds of students because it allows them to creatively express their ingenuity. Personally, this class has made such an appeal to me, that after high school, I plan on pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.”

Student Mitchell Kishnick, “Creativity is a big part of this class where we get to choose our projects, but we also can build what we are building our way just like we are out in the real world.”

Student Brandon Walker, “What makes this class unique is the idea that we get to choose what projects we do and those projects can be anywhere from building a defibrillator from scratch to launching model rockets. The freedom to express our interests is what this class gives us.”

Student J. Edward Tagget, “Engineering builds upon the blossoming of the individual and allow for he/she to create and design projects of interest—something lacking in other classrooms.”

These two groups of students of students came together to engineer and then construct a repeating cross bow. Communication is critical in all of the group projects.

Student Autumn Gentner, “This class gives you a hands-on chance to create something you always wanted to do. If your project doesn’t turn [out] the way you wanted it to, you can always go back and fix what you think is the problem.”

Students are expected to test their projects. If the project fails, they are expected to problem solve and make adjustments.

Collaboration—The Engineering Program is entirely a collaborative effort.

Student Brian Reisig, “Engineering is a hands-on class and provides students the ability to think and problem solve on their own and in groups. Also, engineering shows students how things work without a teacher just explaining it. This class helps students learn the thought process and learn how to solve errors in their projects. Engineering provides students with useful skills that they will need after they graduate.”

Student Alejandro Ayala, “Students are allowed to choose the project they want to build, which lets students have a small glimpse of how working in a team feels."

Results: Since the inception of the Engineering Program, the class has expanded to include three levels of engineering students. The current engineering class has Level 1-3 students working together (see chart below). The STEM culture has permeated to include crosscurricular collaboration. For example, the Biology and CAD/Woodshop Teacher participated in an Additive Manufacturing summer camp. During the class they built two 3-D printers. The Biology, Engineering, Woodshop and Mechanical Drafting classes are now collaborating on projects. A FIRST Robotics Team was formed and is now in year two. A number of students in the Engineering Class participate on the FIRST Robotics TEAM.

Year Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
2009 24    
2010 28    
2011 32 6  
2012 14 19  
2013 15 12  
2014 17 9  
2015 15 8 3

Current Student Testimonials:

Student Brian May, “Engineering offers a different type of learning than any other class at FHS. Students are allowed to work on hands-on projects that interest us. Engineering allows us to explore areas of interest in-depth at our own pace and in our own way. My very first engineering project was a basic programming task. It was not difficult, but it was something completely new to me. Since then I have found a love for programming and I now plan on studying computer science next year when I attend college. Without engineering, I never would have discovered this passion.”

Student Alejandro Ayala, “Engineering teaches topics such as bridge truss design, however, our teacher tries to teach us skills that are going to help us in the future. Some of those skills are time limits, go beyond what is expected and understand what you are doing. Out of all classes where I am currently enrolled, this is one of the most helpful ones.”

Former Student Testimonials:

Ethan Ettema, Senior at Michigan State University, “In my second semester of my senior year at FHS, I was fortunate enough to take a relatively new class—engineering. In the class, we were provided the flexibility to explore a discipline of our choosing, one that not even our teacher, Mr. Baker, had to know. I partnered with a couple of friends to explore programming. Before the class, I knew little about what programming or coding entailed other than it was the backbone of most technologies. I was intrigued by the seemingly endless possibilities of what could be done by simply writing letters and numbers. Being able to explore this topic all semester confirmed my fascination of this topic.”

FHS students Jeff Territo and Ethan Ettema participated in a panel discussion regarding the Engineering Program at the Square One Network Symposium.  

Fast forward to March 2015. I am now a senior at Michigan State University studying Computer Science within the College of Engineering where I will be graduating in almost two months. After graduation, I plan to move to Omaha, Neb., where I will be an Associate Application Developer for Union Pacific. If it were not for my opportunity to take the engineering class at FHS, my career would likely not be the same. The opportunity to explore a topic and be trusted to learn without the assistance of a teacher was crucial in my career and future.”

Eric Edmond, Junior at University of Michigan, “As an engineering student at the University of Michigan, I have lived with four other engineers for the past two years. During this time, one thing has become apparent about engineers: we have very specific interests and we love to get our hands dirty exploring those interests. If my roommate is not upstairs designing his next circuit board, I am in the living room programming my running website. Engineering disciplines are increasingly collaborative fields, and it is unfortunate that many of my fellow students lack experience with designing, building, programming and collaborating prior to college.

The engineering course at FHS was an excellent course that focused on doing and allowed students to explore their interests. The students determine the direction of course and individually dictated what they got out of the course. My personal interests led me to explore programming. I received a license for MATLAB, which is a powerful programming language used for data analytics. However, as a high school student, I was interested in making games, and because of the flexibility of the course, I was free to pursue this interest. As a result of this experience, I learned how fun programming is, and more importantly, I enjoyed learning. I am a junior in computer science at U of M and will be working for Microsoft in the summer, and a large part of this is because of my experience in the engineering course at FHS.”

Program Coordinator: Rob Baker, FHS Physics/Engineering Faculty,

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