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TMCNet:  Cape high schools boost engineering classes

[September 25, 2011]

Cape high schools boost engineering classes

HARWICH, Sep 25, 2011 (Cape Cod Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- John Bowman, 16, is taking a new engineering class at Cape Cod Technical Regional High School, starting this September, to see if the problem-solving science interests him.


"Engineering fits right in with my welding shop, with its blueprints and stuff," the Yarmouth junior said, "and I've heard it's a great field to get into, especially now with so many bridges starting to crumble." John is among 33 juniors who are taking the new Introduction to Engineering Design course at the Harwich-based school, which serves students from Provincetown to Mashpee. Also a new two-year physics, technology and engineering lab is available as either a core course or a science elective, and the school is looking to add new courses next year.

"Really, a lot of students and even adults don't know what an engineer does," Cape Tech School Supt. Robert Sanborn said. "Part of the reason for this is to get kids interested and to inspire a group of them to go on to become engineers, which America is in desperate need of producing. Also, engineering is where the high-paying jobs are." The technical school is the latest among Cape high schools to change curriculums, partly in response to a state and national push to expose students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also referred to as STEM.

At Upper Cape Tech, an electronics program was converted to a four-grade engineering program three years ago to give students "a smattering of all the different engineering technologies -- civil, mechanical, electrical -- so they can see what their interest is and plan what they will do in the future," principal Bob Dutch said.

One of the technical school's goals is to prepare students for employment after graduation, Upper Cape Tech Supt. Kevin Farr said, and there are Cape jobs available for students with an engineering background at spinoff companies from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In addition, many of the students at both Cape Tech and Upper Cape Tech with good math skills and/or an interest in how things work already have pursued degrees in engineering in the last several years "and that's without us promoting it," Cape Tech's Sanborn said.

Many Cape school superintendents were inspired by a talk in May by Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science in Boston. He believes that students, starting as early as kindergarten, should learn more about engineering in our everyday world.

At the Harwich Middle School this year, students in all grades can take a new STEM course taught by metal sculptor Mike Newby, the new teacher in the industrial arts department.

Harwich Middle School Principal Len Phelan and Harwich schools Supt. Carolyn Cragin searched for months to find the right person for a program about "the design process and problem-solving approach that is the essence of engineering," Cragin said.

The students then can feed into the high school's three-year old engineering courses that began when a new teacher replaced a computer teacher.

"By the second year, interest in the course had doubled, and we've expanded into a robotics club," Cragin said.

She expects the engineering opportunities to increase when Harwich and Chatham schools combine in the new Monomoy region in 2014. Chatham schools already work with the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center to learn about telecommunications. The school also has two engineering courses.

The change in curriculum reflects how the world is changing.

When Upper Cape Tech offered electronics, "in the world around us, everything needed to be repaired and there was a market for those skills," Farr said. "In the disposable digital world that we're in, much of it has to do with designing the next disposable widget, and we hope the people who do that are from our school." And yet the world is still a place where students wonder, "Why do I have to learn this?" a question that exposure to engineering can answer, Elizabeth Berwick said, a math teacher at Cape Tech for several years and now the school's new engineering teacher.

"I'm looking forward to applying the math or science they are learning to the engineering design process," Berwick said, who also has a degree in mechanical engineering. "I'm hoping that this (engineering course) will start to answer that question for them." Cragin also described engineering as "a place where the real-life application of science and math becomes evident to students. Engineering is a very viable career path and it helps students understand their world and how things that are part of everyday life, such as technology, have been developed and evolved over time." ___ (c)2011 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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