Teamwork: The POE House

This was an assignment I just wrote for a course I’m taking: to describe a day in my classroom from a journalistic third-person perspective. I figured I’d post it here as well. This is a slightly-fictionalized version of what occurred in my Principles of Engineering class on and around March 25th, 2014.

POE House Lighting

POE House Lighting

Upon walking into Nick Yates’s engineering classroom at Patterson High School in east Baltimore, the first thing one notices is students gathered together working on a project at the center of the room. Walking closer, the project reveals itself to be a large structure, roughly eight cubic feet, which the students explain is a model house. Each wall has a different truss design, built out of coffee stirrers that form triangles that fit together into a square wall, two feet on a side. The students are collaborating in teams, each team responsible today for lighting up a wall of the house.

The students are a diverse group. Six countries of origin are represented here in this one room: United States, Nepal, Mexico, Congo, Nigeria, and China. Among students born in the US, the majority are black, but some are white and some are Latino. Boys outnumber the girls in this engineering class, as they do in the engineering field, but the girls tell of after-school mentoring programs and field trips that have helped encourage them to stick with their engineering classes and to pursue a STEM career.

As one boy positions a light emitting diode (LED) on the wall, his partner pulls off electrical tape and hands it to him to secure it in position. Another partner reads off of a circuit diagram in her engineering notebook, where they have designed the electrical circuit, instructing her teammates how to connect the wires in between LEDs. And the fourth team member is using alligator clips to join three solar panels together to make this wall’s lights powered by environmentally sustainable source.

After a while, the team steps back to admire their handiwork. They bring over a lamp to simulate the Sun’s rays hitting the solar panels, and flip the light switch to on. But the LEDs do not light up. They are daunted for just a moment, but soon start troubleshooting the problem to try and fix their electrical system. One student suggests they check all the wire connections, to make sure they are all twisted together properly, and two members of the team immediately start to do that. Another suggests getting a multimeter to check if the solar panels are even generating electricity. As others check every place where two wires meet manually, she goes to get a multimeter from the teacher’s desk. She asks one of her partners to hold the multimeter’s leads to the wires while she operates the device. Each solar panel is reading about 1.83 volts of electricity, but the lights are still not lit. Another team member suggests checking the plan, to make sure the solar panels are wired in series so that their voltages add up. The team consults their notebooks, verifying that their actual work reflects their design; it does. Some of the team is beginning to lose hope, and one suggests calling the teacher over for help. But one student, remembering the time he held an LED to a nine-volt battery too long and the bulb blew out, suggests making sure each LED is working. His teammate asks how they should test the LEDs, perhaps by holding each one to a battery to see if it lights up? He grumbles a little about this, thinking of all the work they had just done to tie the LEDs together with wires into a circuit, only to have to undo it all. But at this point the girl with the multimeter steps in, saying they could use the multimeter to figure out which if any bulb was dead. The team works together and finds they did have a non-working LED. They replace it with a new one, and the lights come on. Success!

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