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  • Writer's pictureDarren Ellwein

STEM: Design and Modeling…Just Build!

Part 2 of 2 STEM posts

In today’s fast paced and ever advancing technological world, teachers have a tough job of keeping our children engaged and interested in the classroom.  The more voice and choice offered to our learners gives them an opportunity to be vocal and responsive to their education.  One voice that learners have at our school is to pick their encore classes based on interests.  Therefore, our school has started to offer two new Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) courses to reach all interest levels.  One new encore choice for our 7th graders is a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) course called Design and Modeling (DM).


DM offers learners opportunities to apply the design process to creatively solve problems.  Learners are introduced to overall problem in the first activity and continue to make connection to the problem throughout the succeeding lessons in the course.  These problems are based around designing activities that are appropriate for helping children with Cerebral Palsy (CP), which provides learners a chance to show empathy.  Learners find out how to communicate design ideas through sketches, solid modeling, and mathematical models.  They learn how model can be simulated to represent an authentic situation.  They learn how to generate data for analysis and observation.  They learn how to work in teams, which shows them the importance of communicating effectively, meeting deadlines, and making sure everyone has a chance to give input and critical feedback.  The DM course is broken into three main lessons.

Lesson one is an introduction to design and introduces the students to the design process, types of sketches, team norms, measurement, and mechanical dissections.  Their first activity in this lesson is an instant design challenge in which students must create a foot orthosis to aid a student who has Cerebral Palsy.  The students also dissect a puzzle cube then use their experiences to modify the design to make it more desirable for a child with CP.

Lesson two is about modeling and statistics.  Students use solid modeling software to transfer their 2D images into 3D models.  One main activity in this lesson is working in teams to create a puzzle cube.  They create a solid model using computer-aided design (CAD) and fabricate their design for testing with wood blocks or by 3D-printing.  They then use a mathematics program to complete a statistical analysis test to determine if their design met the criteria and constraints.


Lesson three is the final unit design challenge where students take all the prior knowledge they have learned and apply it to develop a therapeutic toy for use by a child with CP.

This course has been a fantastic option for students who like to be creative and learn some important first steps to being a designer or engineer.  Students are excited to work and are fully engaged in their activities.  This course and all PLTW courses are an excellent way to prepare students for college, career, and real-world experiences and to enter our technological world ready to solve problems.


One goal presented to Mrs. Robel and her students is to create furniture designs for our learning spaces.  To assist this project, we have an architectural firm lead sessions for our iChoose days (combination of Genius Hour and EdCamp).  The goal is to allow our learners to drive the look and learning of our spaces at school.  You can follow Mrs. Robel on Twitter @robelclassroom.

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