Challenging Students to Build Hydrogen Fuel Cell Boats

Mr. Bill Kuschel is a PLTW teacher who currently teaches Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) and Principles of Engineering (POE). Mr. Kuschel’s hobbies include creating yard art and repurposing old things into new usable decor, as well as enjoying the art of backyard BBQ. He teaches at Waseca High School in Waseca, Minnesota. 

I challenged my POE students to a problem-style "final test" at the end of our first trimester: design and build an “air boat” powered by a hydrogen fuel cell connected to the motor. I supplied them with a 3V electric motor and a hydrogen fuel cell, and they had to design and 3-D print a propeller to transfer the electric power to air power to drive the boat.

Once completed, students tested, redesigned, and tested some more to obtain speed and force readings. Force readings were obtained using our Logger Pro equipment. At the end of final test problem, we assessed what we had done. We found that students put in far more time doing this type of project than they would have to prepare for a written test, but agreed that they learned more and would gladly do this type of problem based test again.

I've only taught PLTW courses for two years but have found that this has transformed my classroom into a totally engaged environment. Classroom management problems are literally a non-issue. One of the biggest surprises has been how easy it is to keep students engaged and how willing they are to put in time before and after school to work on their projects. Oftentimes, I have had students in my classroom more than an hour before school and up to two hours after school – and best of all – because they WANT to be there.

My students have learned to problem solve by realizing that their first ideas may not always be their best, and they have learned that it is just fine to go back and re-do or redesign something to make it even better.

Parents have noticed. They compliment our new PLTW curriculum and are excited to see how their students are being challenged and working hard to meet the challenges.

PLTW courses have been and continue to transform our Industrial Technology department. I am excited to hear how PLTW has impacted my students as they take this experience with them off to college and life.

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