Students in A Block Mechanical Engineering made their final trimester project presentations just before the break. Each student or team had chosen a project to create during the trimester, going through all the ups and downs, highs and lows of the creative process. During the presentation, each team shared some slides and shared with the class what they set out to do, what was accomplished, what they learned, how they were challenged, and what the future might hold for their invention. Ideally, they were able to provide a demonstration of their idea at work.
What was striking was how open the students were about the challenges they faced. They understood that the point is not necessarily to get to a finished product, but to learn how to research an idea and make progress in understanding how something works or is made, mechanically or electronically, and to delve into the work and troubleshoot it until something begins to take shape. An important thing to learn right from the beginning, as Liam Lawless ’21 articulated, is to learn to apply the right amount of ambition to a project idea and choose something that is “adequately challenging” in scope, but not too over the top in execution given time and knowledge constraints. His project was a personal assistant: a device that could share the weather, time, his location, and a few other personal details, like his class schedule.
The students created all manner of things that were at various stages of completeness. There were video games, a remote-controlled car, a gimble device, a nerf gun that could track and “shoot” a snack thief, a robotic arm, and even a cell phone. The ideas were clever and complex and it was great to see that the students were not too concerned that they didn’t have everything totally complete or functional. Though the students who went after William Wu ’20, who shared his fully operational Robotic Arm, joked with admiration that he was a hard act to follow!
It was clear that every student was engaged in the process of learning, iterating, and by the challenge of figuring out something new. Because each project is so unique, the students must really rely on themselves or their teammates to persevere, though they are able to turn to their teacher, Dr. Kistler, or one of the advanced engineering students in the class for some advice or ideas as to how to solve their current roadblock. Isaiah Bird ’21 exclaimed that he always wonders how things work and was thrilled to realize he now knew how the blinkers on his car worked. He and his partner were making a remote-controlled car that they designed in Tinkercad and had most of the 3D printing complete, but ran out of time before it could be fully assembled and operational.
Lauren Kirk ’21 and Kate Sparks ’21 created a cell phone. They shared that their project could send SMS messages, and send and receive phone calls, but while it worked earlier that morning, it wasn’t working for the presentation. Rather than being flustered, they just recognized it as part of the process, another hurdle to get past. As for the future of their project, they shared that they hoped to someday connect it to FM radio. Sparks said, “I learned a lot about perseverance from my partner, Lauren, and we learned the basics of what to question when something goes wrong. I loved getting to bounce ideas off of Lauren and how we felt when we made our way through something. I’d just freak out because I’d be so happy!”
The iteration Sparks is referring to is a big part of the learning each team commented on. Researching and downloading libraries of code and making sense of the language and bending it to create new code that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t was the most constant challenge; also, wiring an Arduino or breadboard is not so easy! All mentioned that doing some thorough research first about the right processes was a time saver. For some this was their first experience, for all it was a creative challenge and a lot of fun!