In one case, Berggren describes how his students worked with the local chapter of United Cerebral Palsy to design a specialized paper holder for a woman with visual problems. To keep her place on a line of words as she was typing, she had an assistant move a bar along the paper for her. The students created a motor-driven system “that allows her to move the bar up and down herself,” Berggren says. “She was just beaming with excitement and joy, and the students were really excited. They felt they had really done something to change this person’s life.”
In addition to PLTW and EPICS, Berggren also works with US FIRST, an organization started by the inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest in science and engineering (FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). US FIRST sponsors and organizes robotics competitions in which teams of students have six weeks to solve a particular problem using a standard parts kit and a common set of rules (US FIRST, 2008).
Berggren sponsors a team for his students as an extracurricular activity. About 30 students participate, including students from other schools in the High Tech High system. Besides designing and building their robot, the students also make presentations at schools, conferences, and local fairs. US FIRST expects the team to run itself as a corporation, Berggren says, with the goal of learning how engineering is done in the real world. Many late nights and weekends are spent working, he says. “I do it because you see what the kids get out of it.”
The kids also get much out of the High Tech High engineering classes, he says, especially “an understanding of and an interest in engineering.” Of the 80 students in his engineering classes over the course of a year, he estimates that about 15 to 20 percent pursue engineering in college. And, he says, at least a few of them tell him something along the lines of, “I had no idea what this was, it never crossed my radar screen, but now I want to go on to college and study engineering.”
Coyle, E.J., L H. Jamieson, and W.C. Oakes. 2005. EPICS: Engineering Projects in Community Service. International Journal of Engineering Education 21(1):139-150. Also available online at http://epics.ecn.purdue.edu/about/papers/IJEE1549.pdf (accessed May 26, 2008).
High Tech High. 2008a. About High Tech High. Available online at http://www.hightechhigh.org/about/ (accessed May 23, 2008).