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How it works: NHHS students get hands-on engineering lessons

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By Becca Owsley

Students in North Hardin High School’s Project Lead the Way program are learning to build local area networks and a few robots to boot.

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The program is a part of local funding provided by Project Lead the Way, a national provider of science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum in middle and high schools.

Some students are working on the in-class LAN by building PCs from junk and using routers and switches, teacher Heath Anderson said.  

The purpose is to understand the backbone of the Internet and how it communicates as a part of the IT work in the program, he said.

“This will exemplify how modern communication is run from one PC through multiple routers from one side of the country to the other, to pull information off of a server from wherever it is,” Anderson said.

The students have been working on the LAN and robots since the beginning of the school year.  

The program is offered to freshman through seniors who are in the pre-engineering and computer apps classes. It takes the more patient students to do this kind of work because it doesn’t always work right the first time and they may have to try something several times, Anderson said.

It’s North’s second try at PLTW. They participated in the program several years ago and stopped until about two years ago. North picked it back up after Central Hardin participated in the program.

Anderson has seen a bigger interest in these classes and thinks the interest will build once students go through the programs and classes in the middle schools.  The middle school students who feed into the high school program will not only know what they are doing but also know what to expect once they get to the high school level, he said.

“We’re looking for kids who want to learn how to solve problems and have a curious mind,” Anderson said.

They don’t have to be interested in engineering but can apply problem solving to anything. Anderson gave pipe welding as an example. In pipe welding you have to solve primary link special problems where you have to run different lines and pipes into modern facilities, he said.

The fail our rates in engineering schools used to be high but with this type of career based training in middle and high schools students can get a better idea of what it’s like and how to apply the math and word problems to be better able to handle it in college because they know the terminology and what to expect, Anderson said.

“They’re way better off then I was in engineering school,” he said.  

These classes helps students see mathematically how to find the best possible answer or at least one that works really well, he said adding this will help them in an engineering career.

It’s a very competitive career and once you’re in it you have to show that your project will work to get the funding for it, he said.  

Timothy Jordan, a junior has been in engineering classes for a year and a half and took a lot of computer  classes his freshman year.

“I like being able to take what I’ve learned and applying it to something hands on,” he said. “Doing mathematics in the classroom is fine but until you actually apply you never know what to do with those numbers”

He has used linear motion kits to use motors to push and pull things with a robot he built. He’s also  programmed remote controls to work with the robot and to get it to function in an autonomous period to work without the control, he said.

Jordan has also worked with another student on the LAN project.  He described the process of taking pieces of other computers to build the server as creating a Frankenstein.

Teambuilding is an important skill to the class because everyone has a different skill set and you pull it all together, he said.

“Two heads are better than one,” he said.

He hopes to use what he’s learned in college towards a career in engineering.

“This is what I really enjoy doing and if you really enjoy doing it you should do it as a career if you’re able to,” he said.

He enjoys working hands on in the class.

“Being able to actually do it instead of just sitting around and talking about it is a really different experience than sitting in a classroom and looking at power points,” he said.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.