Engineering Design Process Comes to Life with Robots, Bumper Cars, and More

Dr. Stewart Smirthwaite is the principal at Trent Lott Academy in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The school was recognized as a PLTW Launch Distinguished School for the 2019-20 school year.

Excitement, innovation, wonder, and passion have become familiar and frequently obtainable feelings and experiences for our students and teachers since Trent Lott Academy and Chevron committed to improve and expand our STEM curriculum with PLTW Launch.

Scott Job, a PLTW teacher at our school, recently said to me: "Project Lead The Way is a wonderful tool that we have used to round out our year learning science. The program allows my students to apply the engineering design process they learned earlier in the year in a fun, creative way! Plus, robots are awesome!" 

Our fifth graders have the tremendous opportunity to learn to utilize the engineering design process to design, construct, and test remotely controlled robots using the VEX IQ kit, programming them to traverse a hazardous obstacle course. The students read about and parallel an experience shared by students Mylo, Suzi, and Angelina as they together learn about what robots are and how they help keep us safe in dangerous and precarious situations.  Wall-E has got nothing on these robots!  

Meanwhile, the force is with our sixth-grade students as PLTW collides head on into the topic of energy and collisions. Students and teachers discuss and break down the forces at work in an amusement park ride as seen through the eyes of our friends Mylo, Suzi, and Angelina. They have a smashing good time as they design and collide custom made bumper cars. The students identify at what points energy is either potential or kinetic before, during, and after the collision. Finally, students again use the engineering design process to design, construct, and test vehicles capable of protecting their "egg-cellent" passenger. The egg must survive the crash! 

PLTW has provided so many opportunities for students to be hands-on and innovative learners. Through these engaging modules, students learn the problem-solving and critical thinking skills necessary to excel in the 21st century classroom. Thanks to programs like PLTW, they will gain the confidence needed to compete in and contribute to our ever-changing and dynamic society.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.