On the first day of the design course, I had students fill out an intake survey listing what skills they brought to the class and what they wanted out of the class. I also talked a bit about the difference between science and engineering and why I saw a need for teaching engineering thinking.
We also spent some time trying to figure out the best time for the course (when the most students could attend). It turned out that there were only 2 feasible times MW 2–3:10 and MW 3:30–4:40. In class, there was a slight preference for 3:30–4:40, but some students had not been able to attend, and asked for an e-mail ballot. I did that and the numbers who could not make each class were identical, but the preferences were slightly in favor of MW 3:30–4:40, so we’re sticking with that time.
Here is a brief summary of the skills students are bringing to the class (based on 13 intake surveys turned in, which probably include some students who won’t be able to continue):
|skill or class||number reporting|
|chem (high school or higher)||13|
|AP chem (score 3 or higher)||2|
|biology (high school or higher)||13|
|AP bio (score 3 or higher)||5|
|physics (high school or higher)||13|
|AP physics (score 3 or higher)||3|
|computer programming||3 (2 self-taught, 1 intro to java)|
|soldering or other electronics||3|
I was interested to see that we had a few students with wood shop experience and one with welding experience. I didn’t ask for gender on the forms, but my vague recollection of the class is that there were more female than male students (very unusual for an engineering class, and I hope that I can get the women to continue in engineering—this class had better be good!).
I didn’t put it on the intake survey (though I should have), but almost everyone had built things with Lego and many had glued model kits together.
A lot of the building experience came from AP Physics classes—that seems to be one of the last remaining places for students with an engineering bent to do anything in high school, now that shop classes have either been removed from high schools or scheduled so that college-bound students can’t take them. (I never took a shop class in high school, and I now regret the missed opportunity.)
I’m a little disappointed in how few have had any programming experience, but not really surprised. I’ll have to decide whether we do some Arduino programming (which is probably the simplest intro for device-level programming) or not. Lots of students want to “build something with my own hands” and a few expressed an interest in learning to program, so this may be feasible.
I asked students, for homework, to do some web browsing and try to find do-it-yourself lab projects on the web, or lab equipment that they would like to try to design cheap versions of. I pointed them to this blog, so that they would have a starting point for their searches (stuff I’d found).