Building up a high-tech future

First slide

How often have you heard that America is falling behind in preparing students for the high-tech future? Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington has made a commitment to moving forward with developing today's students for tomorrow's future. Part of this commitment has been the establishment of the first high school engineering program in the Arlington Diocese. The first class in the program is Principles of Engineering taught by Paul Gerton.

Students in the class begin with learning the engineering design process. They learn how to do different types of engineering drawings by hand, and then transition to the computer lab where they work with a state-of-the-art computer-aided design program.

Each quarter focuses on a different engineering discipline. The first quarter was about civil engineering and structures. The second quarter combined mechanical engineering and heat transfer. Third quarter focused on reverse engineering and product improvements, and the last quarter is all about electrical engineering.

But this is not just lectures and learning from a book. The real benefit comes from the students working in engineering teams on hands-on projects. Hands-on activities are incorporated into each lesson and each quarter culminates in a project that student-led teams present in class.

Students learn the value of the team approach and that they each have something to contribute. By being exposed to the wide range of engineering disciplines, students can find both what they are good at and what interests them. Often students will assume the role of a specific type of engineer and experience a great sense of accomplishment.

Students in this class enjoy math, science and sharing their ideas to come up with a new product or make improvements on existing technologies.

"Besides learning the many fields of engineering, it also helps me build my problem-solving skills," said O'Connell senior Alec Schrok.

The program enables the student to blend together knowledge from other subjects and their own ideas into a real-world application. "In education parlance that is called 'synthesis,'" said Gerton. The students just call it fun.

Next year O'Connell will use the Project Lead the Way curriculum and expand its engineering offerings. So don't be surprised if you see a robot roaming the halls of the school. It's all part of the future, happening now at O'Connell.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013