Clawbot debuts through Rockford’s ‘Project Lead the Way’ course

Jake Boken (left) and Ben Skinner, Rockford High School  juniors, with their creation of “Clawbot” through Project Lead the Way. (submitted photo)
Jake Boken (left) and Ben Skinner, Rockford High School juniors, with their creation of “Clawbot” through Project Lead the Way. (submitted photo)

Rockford High School has implemented Project Lead the Way courses as a way to help students find a path to college and career readiness.

Currently, Rockford High School is offering two such courses: Introduction to Engineering Design and Principles of Engineering, on a two-year rotating cycle. Last year, students were able to enroll in the design class and this year, Principles of Engineering is offered, with the design class set to return in 2014-15.  Rockford High School is partnering with the Wright Technical Center in this college- and career-readiness venture. Students who have taken the two engineering classes and wish to enroll in additional Project Lead the Way  courses may do so at Wright Technical Center in their junior and senior years.

In his 2005 book “The World is Flat”, author Thomas Friedman wrote about the shortage of engineering graduates being produced by U.S. colleges. In K-12 education, that shortage spawned a number of programs aimed at increasing student interest in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Rockford Area Schools created a STEM magnet school, Rockford Middle School – Center for Environmental Studies. More recently, Rockford High School added elective courses in its technology education department.

Project Lead the Way is recognized as a leading activities-based, project-based and problem-based program for middle and high school STEM education.  The program has its own certification program for schools wishing to participate. It uses industry-standard software in its programs, exposing students to “real-world” problems and applications.

“Project Lead The Way is a great opportunity for students to apply the theoretical knowledge they learn in science and mathematics,” instructor Jonathan Rau said. “By introducing both design and problem-solving challenges to students, they get to experience firsthand how the algebra and physics they learned in first hour is used in real life. (Project Lead the Way) is a great program that helps tie all learning together.”

Ben Skinner, a junior at the high school, said, “What I like most about (Principles of Engineering) is the challenges it presents for me.”

His classmate, junior Jake Boken, in answering the same question, had this to say: “Building robots, learning engineering and completing the challenges we face.”

Just recently, Skinner and Boken put the finishing touches on a “Clawbot,” a robot with a working claw mounted to its front.

The high school is exploring the possibility of providing opportunities for eligible students to receive college credits through a local technical college upon completion of these courses. Such “articulation agreements” are common between technical colleges and high schools in many areas of study.

As Friedman noted in “The World is Flat,”  U.S. students are now competing not with just their neighbors or with students across the nation, but with students throughout the world.

Rockford High School Principal Ryan Jensen said, “We hope that our (Project Lead the Way) program blossoms into a strong component of our course offerings and helps position our students to be prepared for college and career readiness upon graduation.”