Middle School Science and Engineering Expo

Providence School launched its Engineering Academy this school year, and it has proved to be a great success. Overseen by Mr. Rodney Meadth, this four-year high school program gives participants a broad experience in the various fields of engineering, with an emphasis on practical service and project-based learning.

In carrying out assignments with real-world applications, students designed an orphanage for partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, taught a science lesson to younger students, and produced custom-designed 3D-printed educational items requested by the school’s teachers. Examples of these include geometry volume demonstrations, chemistry molecular models, pyramids and ziggurats for elementary social studies, and even the Academy’s own promotional USB drives. They also connected with professionals in the Santa Barbara area, including Moog Space and Defense Group, Praevium Research, and architect Jeff Shelton.
The science lesson taught to the 4th Grade earlier this year; the catapult will
feature again in a hands-on activity at the Science and Engineering Expo!

Engineering Academy students are acting as mentors for Providence’s first Middle School Science and Engineering Expo. The Expo showcases a variety of hands-on demonstrations and exhibits, all relating to a theme of space exploration. Aimed at families with upper-elementary aged children and older, guests can interactively explore robotics, chemistry, navigation, interplanetary science, and more.

The Providence Science and Engineering Expo will be held at the school’s Upper Campus on 630 Canon Perdido Street on May 3, from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Entry is free, refreshments will be served, and families with children are encouraged to attend.

Middle school students explore the theme of space exploration, coming up
with a conceptual design for a Mars habitat

“I’m excited to show people what we’re doing with STEM here at Providence, because it’s something unique,” says Meadth, who is co-leading the Expo with the middle school science teacher, Nate Alker. “We have a strong engineering and science experience, from a Christian perspective, in the context of the liberal arts. This means that our students understand not only the ‘how’ of science, but also the ‘why’.”
The Providence Engineering Academy is currently accepting applications for next year at all high school grade levels (9-12). Those interested should contact Rodney Meadth at rmeadth@providencesb.org. Browse this blog site to read more stories of projects undertaken and grants awarded and to download a copy of the application packet.

Middle School: AIAA Foundation Grant

Much of the funding for our high school Academy comes in the form of grants, generously donated from a wide range of community sources. Our middle school elective is no different. The 7th and 8th Grade students explore a diverse range of engineering topics—structures, gear ratios, sensor technology, and coding to name a few—and they need technology to do it! Our middle school classroom is well stocked with laptops and LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets to help them accomplish this.

This semester, the middle school elective is pursuing a space exploration theme (this ties in with our Science and Engineering Expo on the 3rd of May, here at the Upper Campus). In keeping with this theme, the students are learning about navigation; specifically, how do you write algorithms that can guide a robot to a particular destination? How do unmanned spacecraft and planetary exploration robots find their way?

For this navigation unit, we needed to supplement our existing EV3 robots with extra add-ons. We decided to invest in infrared sensors, which are paired with small beacons (both pictured). The beacons either act as a hand-held remote control for the robot, or they can broadcast a signal for the robot can home in on. Both modes involve careful crafting of navigation algorithms that make decisions based on sensory input.

The simple Robot Educator, shown with the infrared sensor attached (the
red/black shape mounted in its center) and two infrared beacons

Mr. Meadth is a member of the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), and so was able to apply for an AIAA Foundation Classroom Grant to purchase these needed resources. Twenty different schools were selected for this grant of $250, which is aimed at teachers doing hands-on STEM activities that relate to aviation or aerospace, and we are glad to announce that Providence was one of them. We now have enough sensors and beacons for an entire class—thank you to the AIAA Foundation!

Left to right: Ashlynne, Brennan, and Todd
show the robots, all with IR sensors attached

The middle school students will continue to learn the finer points of using these and other sensors for the rest of the semester. Their final project will be to design and construct their own version of a Mars rover, which will compete in an open-invitation event in early June. We’ll keep you posted on this exciting long-term project!

Don’t forget to follow this blog to get all the latest on the middle school and high school engineering activities, and please send your questions and comments to Rod Meadth at rmeadth@providencesb.org.

Educational Design Project: Part I

A few weeks ago, we mentioned that the Academy students are working to design actual products to be used by our own Providence teachers, and that a grant from New Matter would provide us with three more 3D printers to help accomplish this. The students submitted their final work today, and we wanted to show a snapshot of some of the pieces.

Alec, a freshman, responded to several small projects, the first of which was to design a close-fitting cone/cylinder and pyramid/box set. These will be given to the Geometry class, as a hands-on experiential proof that the volume of a cone is truly one-third of its enclosing cylinder. Students can place the cone inside the cylinder, and fill up the empty space with rice or beans or beads. When they remove the cone, they will find that exactly two-thirds of the cylinder’s volume is still full, meaning the cone took up one-third of the volume. Simple, handy demonstrations like this tend to stick well in a student’s mind, and Alec has provided just the tools to do it!

Alec with his cone/cylinder demonstration, destined for the Geometry class
Eva, also in the 9th Grade, responded to a design brief coming from our middle school engineering elective (Eva participated in this elective last year … and did very well!). At the end of each semester, the middle school students create LEGO robots that attempt to complete a particular challenge. The challenge usually takes the form of collecting or depositing small objects, and we have used coins and foam cubes in the past. Eva is bringing us into the 21st Century with custom-designed 3D-printed hexagonal… things. The “things” are strong enough for an adult to stand on, have gaps and angles that make it easy for the robots to grab on to, are brightly colored for the robot sensors, and are surprisingly light, being mostly hollow. Way to go, Eva!
Eva shows off her game piece for the middle school engineering elective

Gabe, Tys, and Aaron were given permission to respond instead to the “Star Trek Replicator Challenge”, a public competition organized by the ASME Foundation and NASA. The three of them are working individually to create food-related items that could be one day 3D printed by astronauts and interplanetary explorers. While this may sound far-fetched, 3D printing is actually an ideal solution for isolated spacemen and spacewomen; if a tool or part breaks, or if you suddenly need more of a particular item, you can produce it at will from CAD plans, which could either be created locally or transmitted from a design team on Earth.

Gabe’s product, one section of which is pictured, is a food storage container, made in two pieces, with self-locking tabs. He has also taken the opportunity to learn additional CAD skills, such as running finite element analysis (FEA) to determine crucial stress locations.

We wish Gabe, Tys, and Aaron the very best for their submission to the competition!

A small section of Gabe’s NASA food storage solution, with locking tabs

Lastly, sophomore Sarah Jane set about designing the promotional material for next year’s Engineering Academy students. This year, we had a simple flat key tag designed by Mr. Meadth; next year, Sarah Jane’s design will feature a 32 GB USB drive housed in a hexagonal sheath with the Providence “P” logo proudly emblazoned on the front. Creative and useful!

Sarah Jane’s USB drive housing (the final print will be in two colors
and include a 32 GB USB drive)

Part II of this story will come later in the semester, after the students have actually given their printed products to Providence teachers and received feedback. Learning this iterative design loop is a key component of any engineering experience, and the students have taken to it with gusto. Subscribe to this blog to hear about it when it happens!

4th Grade Science Lesson: Catapults!

Let’s be honest—if there’s one thing everybody loves, it’s a good catapult. Few things are more satisfying than choosing one’s favorite projectile, pulling back on a spring-loaded arm, shouting some indistinct battle-cry, and letting fly! With such sentiments firmly in mind, the Providence Engineering Academy set off to the Lower Campus to teach the 4th Grade some basic principles of science and engineering—using catapults.

Tossing aside the temptation to settle for table-top miniatures made of popsicle sticks and elastic bands, the Academy constructed three heavy-duty wooden war machines, with four-foot-long launch arms. Many thanks to sophomore Tys vanZeyl for singlehandedly building one of these himself! The design included custom-made 3D-printed cups to hold the tennis ball projectiles.

Fire! 4th Grade students wisely get out of the way
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

Let’s be clear: while catapults are a lot of fun (and only slightly dangerous in the wrong hands), this was no mere game. The purpose of the lesson was to show the 4th Graders how changing the input variables produces different outcomes. In this case, the 4th Graders had control over two input variables: 1) the position of the launch arm’s fulcrum, and 2) how far back they pulled the arm. The students recorded their distance for different combinations of the two, in an attempt to understand how they could predictably control the outcome in the future.

The lesson also showed that a more durable cup design was needed in the future.

Oops! The blue 3D-printed cup breaks loose and takes flight
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

After recording the different outcomes, the games began! The students marked out scoring zones on the range, and the 4th Graders attempted to land their tennis balls in just the right place—referring, of course, to their data in hand.

Gabe and Aaron help the 4th Grade record their data
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

After three rounds, scores were tied between two teams: the Corn Cats and the Engineering Nerds. The two teams went into a sudden death round, and after a brief struggle, the Engineering Nerds dropped their ball into the zone for a hard-earned win!

The Engineering Nerds win the day!
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

The Academy students finished the day back in the classroom with a round of discussion and questions, asking the 4th Graders about the two variables, their effect on the outcome, and problems they encountered.

Debriefing back in the classroom
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

Thanks to all of our stellar Engineering Academy students, who planned and prepared and constructed to make this an amazing experience for the 4th Grade. We hope to get down to the Lower School again this semester, and use our knowledge and passion to invigorate the next generation for math and science and engineering.

‘Til next time!

3D Printing Grant for Providence Engineering Academy!

It is with thankfulness and joy that we announce another grant win for the Providence Engineering Academy! The 3D printing company New Matter awarded Providence with the grant last week, and they will soon be shipping us three brand-new MOD-t 3D printers and enough supplies to last a long time. This is the fifth grant that the Academy has won over the past eighteen months, including one written by the students themselves.

(Update 11 March 2016: Pasadena-based New Matter received over 450 grant requests from across the nation, and chose 100 of these.  Providence was the only school in Santa Barbara to receive one of these grants.)

The New Matter MOD-t printers are smaller and simpler than our current Leapfrog one, with the ability to print anything that fits within a 6″ x 4″ x 5″ envelope. Although it sounds small, many of our projects will be well suited to this size, and anything larger can still be sent to our heavy-duty Leapfrog Creatr. The MOD-t printers look great, and are advertised as being quiet enough to operate within a home or classroom with minimum disruption–another advantage over our existing setup.
9th Grade students carefully measure and plan their work
This grant win is particularly well timed, as the students are in the middle of their latest project: to design and produce educational products for the school’s teachers. Having four printers means the students can produce their designs at a much faster rate, putting prototypes in the hands of the teachers and their students as soon as possible.
Providence’s teachers have gladly submitted their design requests to our students, and the types of applications range widely: Mrs. Kleen has asked for scale models that compare Mesopotamian ziggurats to Egyptian pyramids for elementary social studies; Mr. Hurt has asked for connectable models of ionic lattices for his chemistry lessons. One of the students, Sarah Jane, is designing the promotional material for next year’s Academy class, and Jenna is creating a stylish stand for administration computer monitors. Along with all of this in-house effort, three of the boys were given the option to tackle a NASA-sponsored competition called “The Star Trek Replicator Challenge”, where they design 3D-printed food-related items for astronauts and space colonists to use.
It is our hope through all of this that students learn not only to design well, but to design with purpose. We don’t play around with technology just because it’s cool, or to win competitions. As the creative children of a creative God, we use our skills to aid and encourage others.
Stay posted as we continue to update on the educational design project!

Designs Complete: Orphanage in the DRC

The vision of the Providence Engineering Academy is to “inspire and equip students to find creative solutions to the world’s problems through mathematics, science, and engineering, as imitators of a creative God.” In accordance with this, the Academy recently became involved with a true situation that not only stretched the students’ design skills, but showed them how they could bring those skills to bear on a world full of need.
Steph Fellows, formerly of Journeyman International, a humanitarian architecture program connecting university students with worldwide projects, came and visited our high school class back in early December. Steph shared of her experiences in places like Tanzania and the Congo, where she learned first-hand about other cultures and spearheaded various projects for students at Cal Poly.
After outlining the design process and giving several case studies, Steph zoomed in on an actual situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An orphanage serving 40 children had been gutted by fire in late October, and the children were living in various temporary settings. The operators of the orphanage saw this as a chance to build a more suitable facility in a better location, and they reached out to Steph to see if she could help.
The burnt-out orphanage, located in Eastern DRC
Steph gave our students the details of the new design, including budget, square footage, capacity, necessary spaces, and site location on Google Earth. They broke into six teams, and were encouraged to work creatively but realistically within the bounds of their constraints.
After about six weeks of class time, the student teams had produced and polished their final designs, which were presented to the class and sent back to Steph for her evaluation. Her summary comments said it all: “I have goosebumps! They did a phenomenal job!” She told them that she was “impressed by their work as well as the capabilities of young people.” The students in turn were grateful for Steph’s time and effort spent in delivering the project and giving summative feedback.

Gabe and Tys decided to put together a “recycled” design, converting shipping containers into habitable spaces.

Congo Containers
(Gabe Clark, Tys vanZeyl)

Jake, Isabelle, and Sarah Jane decided to go for a more traditional design, with two levels and a wide porch, focusing on creating a welcoming home for the children.

Eglise CBCA Bugabo Orphanage
(Jake West, Isabelle Marchand, Sarah Jane Robertson)
Aaron and Dylan worked on a clustered design, choosing to create smaller bedrooms to give a greater sense of privacy and individualism to the children.
A Home for Secure Comfort
(Aaron Satchwell, Dylan Duncan)
To see all six designs, you can view this poster.
We’re proud of the skills the students are developing, and look forward to seeing how they continue to grow! From here, we are learning to use a different suite of CAD products, with a focus on designing educational aids within our own school. Stay posted, and keep being creative!

Visit to Moog — Space and Defense Group

Last Friday, the students from the high school Providence Engineering Academy were privileged to visit the local division of Moog (rhymes with vogue). Mr Frank Mueller, a family friend of Aaron (one of our engineering students), received us warmly and spoke about his personal journey as a car enthusiast, university student, engineer, and leader in his field. Frank has worked on rocketry systems, testing equipment, cars, and heavy military equipment, for a range of American companies.

Students in front of the Moog building (no photos allowed inside–sorry!)

Frank then took us for a tour, showing us the machining facilities, electronics test benches, and heavy military equipment located in the warehouses connected to their office space. Unfortunately, we can’t show you any photos of this part of the tour! Students gained a greater appreciation of the work that goes into designing the systems that keep our troops well-equipped, and they were fascinated to hear Frank’s perspective as a Christian in this industry.

When the students were asked what was most memorable, Josh reminded us of Frank’s wise words: never stop learning. Frank stands as an example of someone who has successfully balanced studies, an engineering career, his marriage, and his faith, and our students were grateful for all that he shared with us.

Middle School: Intro to Engineering

Our high school Academy provides a robust four-year program for any high school student who wishes to apply… but what about the younger grades? It is easier than ever for elementary and middle school students to get a handle on engineering and science concepts, both in the classroom and even at home. Along with our established science classes, Providence meets this need with the middle school elective: Intro to Engineering.
This semester, the Intro to Engineering class is following a space exploration theme. Within that framework, the students will explore the history of space travel, structural engineering topics, sensor/motor robotics technology, navigation principles, and coding. One of the first mini “challenges” given to the boys and girls was to design a Mars habitat–all within fifteen minutes!
Students outline their design prior to sharing it with the rest of the class
Presenters opened the floor for questions after their presentation
From there, they looked at an overview of space travel, beginning with Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. The last 100 years or so of space exploration were described, culminating in the incredible achievements of 2015: the flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, the Philae comet lander, astronaut Scott Kelly committing to a year on the International Space Station, and much more.
Today, the class completed a hands-on exploration of trusses. A truss is a linked system of thin, light members, that preserves high strength and rigidity for very low weight–highly favoured by space engineers the world over! Our students built their own truss with the classroom LEGO kits, and then made predictions as to which of their truss members were in tension or compression. They replaced the tension members one by one with pieces of string, proving their guesses were correct.

Two of the boys show how tension members in a truss
can be replaced with string
These explorations will pave the way for the eventual design and construction of autonomous robotic systems at the end of the semester. Plenty more projects to come before then, and we’ll keep you posted!

MIT Enterprise Forum

Students from our Academy were recently invited to attend the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum, a monthly event right here in Santa Barbara that presents on a range of topics relating to business, entrepreneurship, and technology. Kristin Horton of the Haven Capital Group reached out and generously offered to cover charges for any of our seniors or juniors, and Gabriel and Jake (pictured) were only too happy to accept.
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)
The Enterprise Forum has recently tackled such topics as cybersecurity, the technology of disaster relief, and thermal vision (it is an interesting fact that infrared technology is actually an industry strength of Santa Barbara). This month’s topic was “Go Big! Go Green!”, looking at how businesses can realistically–and profitably–incorporate sustainable practice into their daily operations. Included among the speakers were representatives from Patagonia and Sonos.
On the whole, our boys enjoyed hearing from local industry leaders, making connections, and of course the open buffet! Students from nearby Anacapa School were also invited, all of this being part of the Forum’s new student outreach initiative. We’re thankful to the Enterprise Forum, and especially to Ms. Horton, and we hope to see more students at these and similar events as opportunities arise.

Jeff Shelton

In the middle of the first quarter, our Engineering Academy students were out on the street–Garden Street, to be precise–sketchbooks in hand, eagerly drawing pictures of interesting architecture. One stand-out building was 819 Garden Street, also known as El Jardin, designed by local architect Jeff Shelton. As the students worked busily to capture the essence of the dynamic lines and tiled surfaces, one of the men working on the building invited them to come in for a quick tour. It turned out to be Jeff himself, and he was only too glad to show the thirteen of them up and down the narrow stairways and towering balconies.
(Photos by Tys vanZeyl)
(Photos by Tys vanZeyl)
More recently, at the beginning of the second semester, the students were again invited to get a glimpse into Jeff’s world. He entertained the students for an hour or so in his workshop, showing them his plan drawings, hand-made models, tile samples, and other tools of the trade. The students were glad to hear of his experiences, and the wisdom he had to offer to aspiring designers.
(Photos by Tys vanZeyl)
Jeff also invited the students to come tour his latest construction, also on Garden Street, once it is finished. Stay posted for more!