High School Engineering Program Teaches Students How to Find a Solution

While building their design, Gian Valenti and his partners had a plan. It would allow them to spin an axle, which would rotate the cams, which would, in theory, result in the movement of the Matchbox car atop their device. 

In practice, the axle didn’t hold the cams in place as they had expected and they had to tinker with the design. 

Of course, in Robert Leonard’s Introduction to Engineering Design course at Carmel High School, problem solving is the point. 

Students work on engineering projects

“You run into a problem,” said Valenti, a freshman. “You find a solution.” 

The class is one of four engineering courses offered as part of the school’s Project Lead the Way program — three of them offer students college credit. Through trial and error, Leonard has tweaked the curriculum to simulate what engineering students encounter in college. They also learn design skills applicable to jobs in engineering. 

“I’ve asked my former students who come back, ‘Are these courses legit?’” Leonard said. “And they all tell me it is in line with what they do in college.” 

The introductory course provides students with proficiency in Computer-Aided Design (CAD), which is commonplace in design firms. The software allows a designer to draw a design digitally before attempting to build it. 

Leonard’s students, who were given a kit that contained supplies for the project — building a working toy that uses both cams and axles to function — drew their original design on CAD. They then used a laser cutter to generate the working parts. Drills, glue and other tools are then used to assemble those parts. 

Freshman Ty Seidman, whose group designed a device that mimicked one dog and two human figurines performing ballet, finds the process engaging. 

“This class is super fun because it’s all hands-on, which I like,” he said. “It’s a really good environment for learning in here.” 

Project Lead the Way also offers courses in the Principles of Engineering, Civil Engineering & Architecture and Engineering Design & Development.   

PLTW students tackle other projects throughout the year such as attempting to reverse engineer (and improve) a simple snowplow affixed to the classroom wall. Leonard said the plow came from his wife’s grandparents’ house and he believes it dates to the 1950s. 

Every fall, students research the design in an attempt to learn its origins but are stumped.  

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Leonard said. 

Through their efforts, the students hone skills they wouldn’t necessarily develop in other classrooms. 

“It’s one of the classes that will help you in the real world,” sophomore Seamus Howard said.