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Project Lead the Way: An Inside Look at PLTW Classes

Last updated on May 3, 2021


April 2021

Do you have an interest in science or math? Do you enjoy working with technology? Would you like to be an engineer or programmer in the future? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you should consider taking the Project Lead the Way courses offered here at Mynderse. These three classes – Design and Drawing for Production (DDP), Principles of Engineering (PoE) and Computer Science Principles (CSP) – all taught by Mr. Hould, give students a great look at what it’s like to study and work in the fields of engineering and technology. As someone who has taken all three classes, I am well equipped to write about them, and talk about my favorite parts of each.

DDP is the first class of the three I took. Based on the Project Lead the Way (a company that designs courses based around STEM topics) introductory engineering material, it teaches students broadly what engineers would do when designing something – whether that be a new toy or a bridge. When I took the class every student got an engineering notebook on the first day, which was essential to write notes in and draw sketches for projects. The class had some note-taking, but also a lot of hands on projects. We would first learn from the online curriculum, then use that knowledge to design balsa wood bridges or 3D model object. One of the most challenging things we did were truss calculations, used to determine the amount of force on parts of a bridge to make it safe and stable. It was tough to learn, but in the end we were able to design our own truss that would be as strong as possible. My personal favorite assignment was when we made our own puzzle cubes, which are models similar to Rubix’s Cubes that have to brre assembled in the correct pattern, like a puzzle. We made prototypes out of wood blocks, then used computer-aided design (CAD) to create it virtually. There’s even have the option of 3D printing the design. There is college credit available for this class though RIT, so long as an end of course assessment is passed.

Principles of Engineering can be taken after DDP, building on some of the ideas in the previous course. It’s my personal favorite class. It looks at different branches of engineering, such as aerospace or electrical, which gives a great overview of different career paths in engineering. What I remember from this class is all of the interesting and exciting projects we did. We used breadboarding and made electric circuits to power LEDs in an early project after learning the difference between series and parallel circuits. We used a tennis ball launcher to see if our projectile motion calculations were correct. The coolest project, I thought, was the robotics one. Working in teams, we were assigned a task that we had to use a robotics kit to accomplish. We designed a robot, built it with the parts given, and then had to write code to get it to function correctly. It was a lengthy process, but very rewarding when I finally got my cart to move the right way. Like with DDP, this class also offers the chance to earn college credit.

If you’re more interested in coding then engineering, check out Computer Science Principles, the newest class here at Mynderse, only being introduced this year. It teaches students to code in Python, one of the most common programming languages. I’m taking it right now, and it’s a very laid back class. Students mostly work at their own pace, going off of assignments on the PLTW website, with Mr. Hould around to help. There is basically no note taking – just writing code of your own. Recently, I finished a project where I made my own simple game in Python. There is a huge degree of freedom in this class, with every assignment having multiple ways to complete it. Knowing how to program is a very useful skill in the modern world, and this class can help jump start that knowledge. Unfortunately, there is no college credit offered along with this class, but despite that CSP is far from a waste of time. The programming skills developed may turn out to be extremely beneficial in a college class that requires coding.

Project Lead the Way classes are not cakewalks. They require some time and commitment, to do work outside of class and diligently work in class. Sometimes, the material can be challenging. Despite that, I’m glad that I took them. I learned a lot, and I think they equipped me well for college. If you’re looking for an interesting class to take next year, try one out and see what you think!

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