By Kelli Gile
DIAMOND BAR–Times are definitely changing. Classroom #201 at Diamond Bar High, where auto shop students once tinkered on old car engines in the 90s, has been transformed into a 21st century learning space with 3D printers, Chromebooks loaded with CAD and coding software programs, and bins of robotics parts.
About 150 students are now designing and creating projects in DB Engineering, one of the pathways offered through the Brahma Tech Academy.
The four-year diploma program has an emphasis on the relevance of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in today’s workplace.
Teacher Johnny Hwang has been giving teens hands-on engineering experience using Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum for the past five years.
The successful four-course program has earned Diamond Bar High the 2017-18 PLTW Distinguished High School Award.
Only 133 high schools across the United States received the prestigious honor announced last month.
“This class gives the kids a sample of different types of engineering – electrical, mechanical, computer, robotics, and civil,” he said.
In his second-year Principals of Engineering course, students were putting finishing touches on their latest project – a materials sorting machine on May 2.
Groups spent the past three weeks building the metallic machines that could automatically sort glass, wooden, and metal spheres.
Each design was required to sort 15 marble-sized balls, use at least one sensor, include an emergency stop switch, sort the balls into paper cups, and have one 3D printed part.
The only human-assisted action was loading the marbles into the hopper in the creative inventions that slightly resemble a Mousetrap game.
“We wrote the code for the circuit sensor to tell the difference between the balls by colors and then separate them onto the different rails,” explained sophomore Timothy Noritake.
“After we pour them in, the gear spins one ball at a time in the sorter,” said senior Radek Grammes.
“We set it up so the color sensor can detect between 1-2,400 color value for the wood spheres,” he added.
The design was programmed to wait two seconds until the gate opens, and depending on the value the arm would swing and the gate release and drop a ball into the cup.
“Our group got 13 out of 15 balls correct,” reported junior Melvin Houston, who shared that 100% of the balls went into the right cups just one day earlier.
The engineering students are getting real life lessons and skills while in high school.
“This class is about design, problem solving, and working together,” Noritake added.
“I feel like I’m getting a head start for college,” said teammate Eric Susetyo, 16, who plans to pursue a career in engineering.
And that is Hwang’s goal for his students.
“They’re going to be so prepared for college and the learning curve won’t be so steep,” he said.
“All the programs they’re using are things used in this industry.”
Additionally, students are honing professional skills that are applicable to any field – critical thinking, working in groups, making presentations, Hwang added.
The fledgling engineers must come up with their own designs on each assignment.
“All you’re really provided with are the materials and the problem,” said sophomore Calvin Ung who is also a member of the school’s robotics team.
“We brainstorm and gather ideas, then put them into graded categories to decide which one will perform the best,” said junior Bryan Chung.
One group created an extension piece on the 3D printer to correct a slipping gear on their project.
“You feel successful in this class when you solve a problem!” said sophomore Jonathan Tan while recording the CAD design information in his reflective journal.
“I really like 3D modeling – it’s fun!”
“Honestly, I had no coding experience before this class,” said Grammes who has now decided to major in engineering next year in college.
“I had never typed a code before. Mr. Hwang did such a good job explaining the details on how to do it and the step-by-step process on how to remember it.”
“We’re very lucky here – I wish more people could experience this engineering program!”