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New Upper School Course Provides Hands-on Introduction to Engineering

If you’ve walked by Robin Hori’s science classroom during periods 2 or 7 this semester, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of students in the middle of a project build.

From water towers to bridges to trebuchets, students in grades 10 through 12 have been putting science and math to the test this year in the Upper School’s first ever, and student-requested, engineering class. Titled Integrated Engineering I and II (Engineering I and II beginning in 2024–2025), this lab-based course deeply emphasizes the engineering design cycle while exploring a variety of engineering fields: civil, mining, and chemical engineering in the fall, and mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering in the spring.

The Upper School engineering class is a lab-based course that emphasizes the engineering design cycle while exploring a variety of fields: civil, mining, and chemical engineering (fall), and mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering (spring).

“For years, we’ve been getting feedback from students that they want an engineering class,” said Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson. By designing a fresh approach to the Upper School’s earliest science courses (taken in 9th and 10th grades), Ingrid and her team made room for more subjects that students are interested in, including engineering. Longtime physics teacher Robin Hori was also game to take on this new opportunity—though he wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming reaction from the student body.

“It’s been more successful than I expected,” laughed Robin, whose fall class was filled with students who wanted to continue the course into spring semester—in addition to an entirely separate group of students who wanted to join the spring class. (Upper School students can take engineering during either fall or spring semester, or they can enroll in both semesters consecutively.) The Upper School had to add a second spring class to meet demand.

“The kids were so excited about it that we were approved to open up another section,” said Ingrid, “and Robin took on the class to give everybody that experience.”

It’s clear that this experience is meaningful to these students, many of whom were excited to share their gratitude, particularly about the hands-on nature of the class. As junior Spencer Brady put it, “Engineering is something you do; it's not something you just learn in theory,” and it was important to Robin to structure the class so students fully experience that doing of science in ways that stretch their brains and build their confidence.

Rowland Hall high schoolers work on an engineering project.


“A lot of students have never built anything before and they’re really impressed they can actually build something that works,” said Robin. “Kids are really making an effort to understand why something works. And I’m trying to give them a sense that they can build things out of almost anything, and as long as they follow the science, they know it’ll work.”

To nurture these skills, Robin has structured the class around projects that support each field of engineering, such as building bridges during the study of civil engineering or building trebuchets during the study of mechanical engineering. Students are placed in small groups to promote real-world collaboration and given plenty of room to lead their own learning. Though Robin decides on assignments and parameters—for example, the first-semester bridge-building final required students’ projects to span 100 centimeters and support a moving load—he gives students plenty of freedom, acting as a coach and guide while they problem solve.

There’s lots of freedom in the class to explore.—Andrew Johnson, class of 2024

“He provides materials and concepts, then it’s up to the students to decide what path they want to take—and they can push outside guidelines,” explained senior Andrew Johnson. “There’s lots of freedom in the class to explore.”

For senior Kelton Ferriter, there’s also very low pressure. “It's kind of a perfect, stress-free, good way to get into engineering and explore various areas,” he said. “There’s so much creative freedom.” And this low-pressure approach is beneficial when it comes to practicing the engineering design cycle, from conducting research to creating a prototype to building a final project—and moving back and forth along that path through trial and error.

“These are big concepts, but being able to put them into a physical project and to really see how that works, and to watch where failures happen and when, it’s just a different dimension for learning,” said Kelton.

It’s also helping students become more comfortable with mistakes. “This semester, kids are more patient with failures because they know failure in engineering helps them become more successful,” said Robin. As a result, he continued, “final products are getting a lot better in terms of design, and students are better at explaining the mechanics of how and why a machine works or doesn’t work.”

To help his students become better at learning from mistakes, Robin requires them to keep professional engineering notebooks in which they record projects, including notes, observations, steps, designs, and corrections. All work is done in ink and students are trained to never tear out pages so that they can refer back to what they’ve done. For Spencer, an aspiring engineer and member of the school’s Monochromats robotics team, this is a key takeaway from the class. As a young builder, Spencer said he’s always been told to write down what he’s working on, but he never quite knew how until this year. “I really like how the class has taught me how exactly you write everything down and what you put in an engineering journal,” he shared.

A Rowland Hall high school engineering student works on calculations for a project build.


“It’s nice to be able to go back and see where we made a mistake,” added Kelton, who’s acted as project manager for his group at times, a role that’s also helped him better understand how many ways there are to tackle a problem. “Everyone has a different idea and way to approach it, no matter what the project is,” he said. “The class is so open and creative.”

These are big concepts, but being able to put them into a physical project and to really see how that works, and to watch where failures happen and when, it’s just a different dimension for learning.—Kelton Ferriter, class of 2024

And the class isn’t just for one type of student. Every person brings to the table their individual talents and ideas, strengthening each project and even helping the students better understand where they may want to go next in their education and careers. Senior Rosie Schaefer, for one, said that the engineering class, which she’s taking after a summer 2023 internship with biomechanics professor Dr. Brittany Coats at the Utah Head Trauma Lab, has helped her better identify her career path.

“I realized I want to go into biomechanics—to help people with engineering,” she said. “I really enjoy research and I think that’s what I ultimately want to end up doing.” And, continued Rosie, in-class opportunities to share her evaluations of her group’s projects have helped her identify a talent of conveying science. “Where I’ve excelled is in the explanation of how things work: putting into words why what we’re doing makes sense,” she said.

Whatever their individual takeaways, though, many of the students agree that the class isn’t just for aspiring engineers. It’s for anyone who wants to learn more about the field, to build like a kid again, and to discover more about themselves. And because there are no prerequisites for the class, it makes what can often be thought of as a rarefied subject more accessible, opening doors to students who may not have tried it out otherwise. It’s just one example of how the team is putting Rowland Hall’s vision into action.

“As we evolve new courses, we’re offering new opportunities for students to go really deep,” said Ingrid. “And we’re offering life-changing and skill-building opportunities that are accessible to everyone.”

STEM

New Upper School Course Provides Hands-on Introduction to Engineering

If you’ve walked by Robin Hori’s science classroom during periods 2 or 7 this semester, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of students in the middle of a project build.

From water towers to bridges to trebuchets, students in grades 10 through 12 have been putting science and math to the test this year in the Upper School’s first ever, and student-requested, engineering class. Titled Integrated Engineering I and II (Engineering I and II beginning in 2024–2025), this lab-based course deeply emphasizes the engineering design cycle while exploring a variety of engineering fields: civil, mining, and chemical engineering in the fall, and mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering in the spring.

The Upper School engineering class is a lab-based course that emphasizes the engineering design cycle while exploring a variety of fields: civil, mining, and chemical engineering (fall), and mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering (spring).

“For years, we’ve been getting feedback from students that they want an engineering class,” said Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson. By designing a fresh approach to the Upper School’s earliest science courses (taken in 9th and 10th grades), Ingrid and her team made room for more subjects that students are interested in, including engineering. Longtime physics teacher Robin Hori was also game to take on this new opportunity—though he wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming reaction from the student body.

“It’s been more successful than I expected,” laughed Robin, whose fall class was filled with students who wanted to continue the course into spring semester—in addition to an entirely separate group of students who wanted to join the spring class. (Upper School students can take engineering during either fall or spring semester, or they can enroll in both semesters consecutively.) The Upper School had to add a second spring class to meet demand.

“The kids were so excited about it that we were approved to open up another section,” said Ingrid, “and Robin took on the class to give everybody that experience.”

It’s clear that this experience is meaningful to these students, many of whom were excited to share their gratitude, particularly about the hands-on nature of the class. As junior Spencer Brady put it, “Engineering is something you do; it's not something you just learn in theory,” and it was important to Robin to structure the class so students fully experience that doing of science in ways that stretch their brains and build their confidence.

Rowland Hall high schoolers work on an engineering project.


“A lot of students have never built anything before and they’re really impressed they can actually build something that works,” said Robin. “Kids are really making an effort to understand why something works. And I’m trying to give them a sense that they can build things out of almost anything, and as long as they follow the science, they know it’ll work.”

To nurture these skills, Robin has structured the class around projects that support each field of engineering, such as building bridges during the study of civil engineering or building trebuchets during the study of mechanical engineering. Students are placed in small groups to promote real-world collaboration and given plenty of room to lead their own learning. Though Robin decides on assignments and parameters—for example, the first-semester bridge-building final required students’ projects to span 100 centimeters and support a moving load—he gives students plenty of freedom, acting as a coach and guide while they problem solve.

There’s lots of freedom in the class to explore.—Andrew Johnson, class of 2024

“He provides materials and concepts, then it’s up to the students to decide what path they want to take—and they can push outside guidelines,” explained senior Andrew Johnson. “There’s lots of freedom in the class to explore.”

For senior Kelton Ferriter, there’s also very low pressure. “It's kind of a perfect, stress-free, good way to get into engineering and explore various areas,” he said. “There’s so much creative freedom.” And this low-pressure approach is beneficial when it comes to practicing the engineering design cycle, from conducting research to creating a prototype to building a final project—and moving back and forth along that path through trial and error.

“These are big concepts, but being able to put them into a physical project and to really see how that works, and to watch where failures happen and when, it’s just a different dimension for learning,” said Kelton.

It’s also helping students become more comfortable with mistakes. “This semester, kids are more patient with failures because they know failure in engineering helps them become more successful,” said Robin. As a result, he continued, “final products are getting a lot better in terms of design, and students are better at explaining the mechanics of how and why a machine works or doesn’t work.”

To help his students become better at learning from mistakes, Robin requires them to keep professional engineering notebooks in which they record projects, including notes, observations, steps, designs, and corrections. All work is done in ink and students are trained to never tear out pages so that they can refer back to what they’ve done. For Spencer, an aspiring engineer and member of the school’s Monochromats robotics team, this is a key takeaway from the class. As a young builder, Spencer said he’s always been told to write down what he’s working on, but he never quite knew how until this year. “I really like how the class has taught me how exactly you write everything down and what you put in an engineering journal,” he shared.

A Rowland Hall high school engineering student works on calculations for a project build.


“It’s nice to be able to go back and see where we made a mistake,” added Kelton, who’s acted as project manager for his group at times, a role that’s also helped him better understand how many ways there are to tackle a problem. “Everyone has a different idea and way to approach it, no matter what the project is,” he said. “The class is so open and creative.”

These are big concepts, but being able to put them into a physical project and to really see how that works, and to watch where failures happen and when, it’s just a different dimension for learning.—Kelton Ferriter, class of 2024

And the class isn’t just for one type of student. Every person brings to the table their individual talents and ideas, strengthening each project and even helping the students better understand where they may want to go next in their education and careers. Senior Rosie Schaefer, for one, said that the engineering class, which she’s taking after a summer 2023 internship with biomechanics professor Dr. Brittany Coats at the Utah Head Trauma Lab, has helped her better identify her career path.

“I realized I want to go into biomechanics—to help people with engineering,” she said. “I really enjoy research and I think that’s what I ultimately want to end up doing.” And, continued Rosie, in-class opportunities to share her evaluations of her group’s projects have helped her identify a talent of conveying science. “Where I’ve excelled is in the explanation of how things work: putting into words why what we’re doing makes sense,” she said.

Whatever their individual takeaways, though, many of the students agree that the class isn’t just for aspiring engineers. It’s for anyone who wants to learn more about the field, to build like a kid again, and to discover more about themselves. And because there are no prerequisites for the class, it makes what can often be thought of as a rarefied subject more accessible, opening doors to students who may not have tried it out otherwise. It’s just one example of how the team is putting Rowland Hall’s vision into action.

“As we evolve new courses, we’re offering new opportunities for students to go really deep,” said Ingrid. “And we’re offering life-changing and skill-building opportunities that are accessible to everyone.”

STEM

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