Engineers learn to get practical at Coronado
New classes expand Project Lead the Way

       Engineering classes have taken on a practical dimension at Coronado High School for the past seven years - a dimension that expanded with two new classes this school year.
       The new classes, biotechnical engineering and aerospace engineering, bolstered the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum, which has been providing hands-on opportunities for future engineers and technicians at Coronado since former instructor Bill Lehman brought PLTW to the school in 1999.
       “It expands students' awareness of what's out there, not only in engineering but in science,” explained Joe Merenda, who handles the PLTW teaching load with colleagues Lynne Williams and Bryce McLean. “They can see why they're taking these things in school. They can look at math and science, and say, 'Gee, there is an end result to why we're doing these calculations, why we we're doing trigonometry, calculus and physics.'”
       Merenda is a retired Air Force officer with a background in communications and electronics. McLean's emphasis has been on math and engineering, and Williams is head of Coronado's Science Department.
       For the most part, the teachers believe both new classes were valuable and hope to continue them - albeit with a few tweaks.
       “It went well,” Williams said of the biotechnical course, adding half-jokingly. “We're just trying to figure our way through a curriculum that is set up for more days than we're in school.”
       “We haven't had too many problems,” McLean said. “We sent back some suggestions, but nothing major.”
       A non-profit organization, PLTW was started in New York in 1997 by business and education leaders concerned about a national shortage of engineers. Today, the programs are offered in more than 1,300 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the PLTW website.
       About 140 of Coronado's roughly 1,500 students are in PLTW, Merenda said. The program offers a total of eight courses that can be taken during high school, with the possibility of individual tailoring to fit scheduling and credit requirements. These include the “foundation” courses of Principles of Engineering, Introduction to Engineering and Digital Electronics and Digital Electronics and the “specialization” courses of Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Civil Engineering and Architecture, plus the new Aerospace Engineering and Biotechnical Engineering courses. A “capstone” course, typically folded into the appropriate specialty course, according to Merenda, allows students to apply their learning in problems of their own choosing.
       “Upon graduation,” a program brochure explains, “PLTW students are completely equipped to enter a two- or four-year college or technical school program in engineering or engineering technology.”
       Students attending Holmes Middle School can take PLTW's Gateway to Technology courses which are designed to prepare them for the courses in high school.
       Two PLTW students at Coronado have been successful in major engineering competitions this year - Kyle Moody in the International Bridge Building (see story, April 27) and Jason Palo La Costa at the local and regional level in a CAD design of a theoretical bandshell (see story, this issue).
       Another PLTW student is Bryce Buchanan, the senior class valedictorian, who plans to go into civil or architectural engineering. The program “has provided a good introduction to the engineering fields,” he said. “It's given me insights into what engineering is really like.”
       Coronado was one of 13 test sites this year for the aerospace and biotechnical PLTW engineering courses. In aerospace, students learned about flight and aeronautics, flew remote control aircraft, designed and built gliders, created air foils, built an intelligent vehicle and learned to use simulation programs.
       Biotechnical engineering combines biotechnology, bioengineering, biomedical engineering and biomolecular engineering, according to the PLTW brochure. This “enables students to apply and concurrently develop secondary-level knowledge and skills in biology, physics, technology and mathematics.”
       “It's such a huge, huge field,” Williams said. “We're only beginning to get a grasp of it.” The subject is also an opportunity to examine “what the science of the future is going to look like.”
       The discipline can be ethically controversial, involving as it does issues such as cloning and genetically modifed food. “These are aspects we're constantly talking about (in class),” she said.
       McLean, who was about to start teaching the intelligent vehicle unit in aerospace engineering when interviewed, said the students would have to design a machine that could “work its way out of a maze and follow a line, go into a tunnel and read a light source.” This would be good preparation for someone hoping to get into the space program and perhaps working with Mars rovers, he noted.

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