Principles of Engineering Skills

So I’m thinking of giving a skills list a try in my Principles of Engineering (POE) course this semester too. It wouldn’t be full-on standards-based grading (SBG), since in such a project-driven class I need projects and reports to be the major component to student grades, but I think I can adapt a skills list for quizzes (and occasional outside-of-quiz skills demonstration). I’m tentatively planning 50% projects, 25% skills quizzes, and 25% portfolio–including engineer’s notebook.

Below find my first draft for a skills-based outline of how I intend to teach POE this semester. I will be teaching a mix of ninth and twelfth graders, with backgrounds ranging from Algebra I to Precalculus. This will be tough, as POE is the most math-intensive of the PLTW engineering courses. I must try to teach advanced math applications while not boring my students out of their minds, while at the same time exposing students to the great concepts and societal role of engineering and its subfields.

To all the former, current, and future engineers out there, I welcome your input on the skills listed below. Likewise to engineering high school teachers across the country (for your reference, I’ve mixed up the unit order due to equipment lacks: my order goes Unit 2,4,3,1). Or anyone else with an opinion on engineering education.

While I am constrained somewhat by PLTW’s POE curriculum, I do have some choice in what I emphasize and in which skills I test. Are these skills phrased well? Are they representative of what engineering is all about? Are the major subfields of engineering represented (this is a survey course)? Are there any that are too vague (or too narrow) or seem like they don’t belong?

I’m still welcoming feedback to my Algebra 2 with Trigonometry skills list here for about one more day, so my more mathematically-minded readers may like to head over there to ponder and critique.

POE Skills List

General STEM Skills

  1. Solve equations for a single variable
  2. Substitute numbers for variables in algebraic formulae
  3. Measure lengths and angles to appropriate precision (given the context of the application and the accuracy of the tool)
  4. Use trigonometry to solve for missing sides or angles
  5. Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to find unknown sides in right triangles
  6. Use trigonometry to find unknown sides & angles in right triangles
  7. Use the digital dropbox on TS3/Blackboard to submit work
  8. Identify problems to be solved in an engineering context
  9. List multiple possible solutions to engineering problems
  10. Evaluate each possible solution based on specifications & test results
  11. Show knowledge of, and skillful application of, the engineering design process
  12. Show knowledge of various careers in engineering and other STEM fields

Unit 2 – Materials & Structures

  1. Identify five types of bridges by name, definition, and/or picture
  2. Split a force vector into its x- and y-components
  3. Calculate the centroid of various shapes
  4. Calculate forces and moments acting on various objects
  5. Pick appropriate formulae relating to stress, strain, and material testing
  6. Analyze stress-strain graphs to determine material properties
  7. Calculate bridge efficiency
  8. Analyze a bridge for structural and material strengths and weaknesses

Unit 4 – Statistics & Kinematics

  1. Collect and analyze data using statistical measures of center and variance
  2. Calculate speed and velocity
  3. Calculate the effect of gravity on velocity and position
  4. Analyze horizontal and vertical components of projectile motion

Unit 3 – Control Systems

  1. Create flow charts to represent a process
  2. Identify inputs and outputs in a control system
  3. Identify elements of a flow chart or RoboPro program and their key attributes
  4. Utilize branches in a flow chart or RoboPro program
  5. Utilize variables in a flow chart or RoboPro program
  6. Interpret a flow chart or RoboPro program
  7. Identify open and closed loop systems
  8. Demonstrate an understanding of pneumatic and hydraulic power

Unit 1 – Energy & Power

  1. Calculate ideal mechanical advantage for each simple machine
  2. Calculate actual mechanical advantage and efficiency for each simple machine
  3. Calculate gear ratio
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of electricity and electrical circuits (series/parallel)
  5. Use Ohm’s Law and Kirchhoff’s Laws to calculate resistance, current, and voltage
  6. Calculate work, energy, power, and power efficiency
  7. Demonstrate an understanding of the laws of thermodynamics and thermal energy transfer
  8. Demonstrate knowledge of alternative and renewable energy sources

A total of 40 skills. What do you think?



Filed under engineering, teaching

11 responses to “Principles of Engineering Skills

  1. The “general STEM skills” seem to be at very different levels. “Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to find unknown sides in right triangles” is a very specific algebraic geometry skill, while “List multiple possible solutions to engineering problems” is a very general high-level skill, and “Use the digital dropbox on TS3/Blackboard to submit work” is a clerical task specific to one particular class and of no particular value outside that class.

    I thought “Statistics and Kinematics” was a typo, since the usual pair is “Statics and Kinematics” referring to two types of physical analysis. But you have one statistical concept in there. All I can say is “Huh?”

    I also don’t understand why pneumatic and hydraulic power is under control systems rather than energy and power.

    I like to see skills like
    # Calculate the effect of gravity on velocity and position
    # Analyze horizontal and vertical components of projectile motion
    because it is clear what you mean and how to assess the skills.

    I don’t like skills like
    # Utilize variables in a flow chart or RoboPro program
    # Interpret a flow chart or RoboPro program
    because they are too vague. I’d rather see something like “Write a program to control a 3-degree of freedom arm”.

    • nyates314

      Yeah, I had reservations from the start about the purely mechanical use of Blackboard. I think I’ll cut that out. I suppose I could also split the general STEM skills into math prerequisites and general engineering skills?

      Re: statics/statistics and kinematics, statics is mostly covered under Unit 2 (Materials & Structures) and so is not grouped with kinematics. Essentially each has its own unit. They do throw some statistical analysis of free fall and projectile motion experiments in with the kinematics unit. I could add another statistics-related skill in there: “Fit a mathematical model to data and use the model to predict future results.”

      I don’t think I really understand why fluid power is under control systems either. I’ll have to ask the writers of the PLTW curriculum.

      Re: program skills, the major task students are to complete after various introductory lessons is to program a device that will sort marbles of different colors and/or made of different materials, simulating a recycling center that sorts paper/plastic/glass/aluminum. However, that will be a major project grade; whereas the skills I write here are ones I mostly hope to assess on weekly quizzes (i.e. not performance-based). That’s why I isolated a few key particular elements of programming (branches/decision blocks; variables) as well as including one about reading and interpreting what is going on in a program. Any suggestions on how to make those more specific while retaining the ability to assess them on a quiz?

      Again, thanks for your feedback. I am taking it into account as I rewrite my skills list today.

      • I’m a bit confused about what the skills set is for, if the skills needed for the major projects are excluded from the list.

        If I were doing this, I would make a skills list that included all the things I really wanted to be sure the students were evaluated on, then separately annotate them according to the ways they would be assessed (major project, quiz, teacher observation in lab, exam, homework, …).

        Once you have such a comprehensive list, you can then pull out the subsets you need for particular forms of assessment or SBG grading categories or whatever else you need. Trying to build just the quiz list, independent of the other forms of assessment, can easily result in missing something or putting in something that can’t be easily assessed on a quiz and would be better assessed in a different way.

  2. My background is in electrical engineering, so I can’t really comment on most of your specific unit standards. I do think your balance is somewhat slanted toward mechanical engineering. Some part of electrical engineering I don’t see are: Non-resistive circuit elements, like capacitors, inductors, diodes and transistors; Digital logic; The differences between AC and DC; and Understanding how to read an integrated circuit (IC) specification sheet.

    I think in your first skill, you probably want students to be able to do tasks like solving V=IR for R. A lot of algebra students I’ve worked with would really struggle with that, even though they are just find solving for a single variable in an equation that has only one variable. I would specifically call out “isolate a single variable in a multi-variable expression.” The more general skill is understanding that an equation represents a relationship between variables.

    Some general engineering skills I would be inclined to add something about being able to communicate a design to others by writing documentation, understanding other’s design documents, and working with a team. Every engineering job I had a lot of trying to understand the current’s products design, and/or the design of components I was using for a new design.

    I really like that you include general engineering process standards (General 8-11). Energy and Power standard number four is good, except that I’m a little confused by the parenthetical. Energy and Power 5 is excellent!

    • nyates314

      Thanks for the feedback; I really appreciate your ideas. A few comments/responses:

      I do agree that mechanical engineering is over-represented compared to electrical engineering. [My conception, though I’m not certain I’m right, is that Unit 1 is mostly electrical, though also mechanical with simple machines; Unit 2 includes both civil with bridges/structures and mechanical with materials testing; Unit 3 is mostly computer programming with a bit of electrical engineering; and Unit 4 is mostly mechanical]

      While there are some things about the curriculum I cannot change (since it is written by the national organization Project Lead the Way), I will make sure to take this into account so that I give students a truer picture of the engineering field.

      Perhaps why this is so is that there is a whole course on Digital Electronics that will include all of those items you mentioned (circuit elements, digital logic). This course will be taken by students in our pathway the year after taking POE. But there is not a whole course in mechanical engineering. So the POE survey course, while attempting to address all areas of engineering, is heavy on the mechanical but light on the electrical/electronics.

      Re: first skill, you’re right that students do struggle with isolating a single variable among many. The more letters there are, the more confusing it is! Even subscripts (v_0) and Greek letters (theta) confuse the heck out of my students unless they have repeated practice to gain a comfort level. When I wrote that skill, I was thinking of the more basic skill of, say plugging in numbers for V and I, and then solving numerically for R. But perhaps I should have both skills, separately: both are important.

      I like the additional general engineering skills you listed; I think I’ll add them!

      Re: E&P4, I’ll cut the parenthetical. I meant it to address understanding how electricity works, identifying circuits as series or parallel, and explaining what will happen in a given circuit.

      Thanks again for your help! I am taking it into account as I rewrite my skills list today.

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  4. I’m from Canada, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of an engineering course for high school students. I won’t comment too much on your specifics because of my unfamiliarity with the program.

    I’m a math/physics teacher who previously spent 15 years as a mechanical engineer, and I’m extremely surprised at the number of topics that covered in this course. I’d love to teach this kind of course, but I’m also very unsure of its purpose. Why don’t the students wait for university to learn the engineering topics, what’s the rush? I would have thought that prior to delving into engineering topics, kids would be well served to obtain a certain level of mastery on more fundamental math and physics topics. I’m going to have to lurk around your blog a bit and see how things work, it sounds very interesting!

    • I think that the idea is that students are more motivated to learn the physics and the math if they see the point. It is a serious problem in engineering schools that students lose interest before getting to the engineering, so moving the design content earlier in the curriculum has been an important meme in engineering curriculum design for at least the last 10 years.

    • nyates314

      Yes, gasstationwithoutpumps is right. One of the main reasons Project Lead the Way (a national group who writes our engineering curriculum) has grown tremendously over the last 10-15 years is the desire to motivate students to pursue STEM careers.

      Some of the math/physics concepts are taught directly in the engineering course; in other instances they might be glossed over to give students an understanding of the relevant engineering concepts.

      You’re right, there are far more topics than can be adequately covered in a semester of high school. Each year I improve, but I’ve never managed to cover the entire curriculum in the depth it should be. Other teachers I talk with have the same feelings.

      If you click the “engineering teaching” tag below, you can find some earlier posts I’ve written about teaching POE and Computer Integrated Manufacturing engineering courses. I’ve enjoyed teaching engineering, and most of our students enjoy taking the classes too (although they are some of the most rigorous classes in our school, for which students can earn college credit). I welcome your following along & commenting as this semester goes forward.

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