2014-12-12 / Community

Copter project highlights AutoCAD use

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Alan Carp, right, helps James Macolini, senior, with his quadcopter. Students enrolled in Engineering classes at Kennebunk High School have been building and programming quadcopters since the beginning of the school year. “The class is largely workshopping,” said Carp, who is also the STEM coordinator at Kennebunk High School. The quadcopter kits were funded by Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel. (Alex Acquisto photo) Alan Carp, right, helps James Macolini, senior, with his quadcopter. Students enrolled in Engineering classes at Kennebunk High School have been building and programming quadcopters since the beginning of the school year. “The class is largely workshopping,” said Carp, who is also the STEM coordinator at Kennebunk High School. The quadcopter kits were funded by Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNK – Many students are reaping the benefits as the curriculum that integrates science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has strengthened in the classroom.

Alan Carp, STEM coordinator at Kennebunk High School, is teaching an engineering class that exclusively focuses on quad helicopters, or quadcopters.

In this course, which is made up mostly of juniors and seniors, Carp introduced students to the mechanisms. He then charged them to build a functioning quadcopter “from the ground up” using trial and error. The quadcopter must be light enough to lift off the ground, yet heavy enough to handle very subtle steering maneuvers, or, as Carp put it, “beefy enough to carry batteries, but light enough to fly.”

Students used AutoCAD design software to build and program the quadcopters, and printed the designs on the 3D printer.

“Students are learning the basics of flight, heat transfer and soldering,” Carp said.

As complicated as the design and programming process may seem, said Carp, many of the students come to his class with no background knowledge in computer programming and no prior experience with AutoCAD.

Knowing this, Carp assigned students to groups of three to four students with various skill levels.

“The hard part is when you have someone very advanced with someone very inexperienced,” Carp said. To ensure students with less experience were not left out, Carp closely monitors each group’s dynamics. If one student is always leading, he will encourage others to lead and not feel threatened.

This type of comprehensive group project is being strongly encouraged at Kennebunk High School, especially in areas that involve STEM.

For some students, Carp said, this might be the “only chance they really get to work on a start-to-finish project.”

If he had to “put his finger” on the most important lesson to be gleaned from the class, it would be “working together with a small group toward a common goal,” Carp said.

An engineering STEM class focused on using trial and error is a recent addition at the high school. Materials used to build the hoop houses last year and the quadcopters were both funded almost entirely or entirely by the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel. The Education Foundation provided $5,450 to purchase the quadcopter kits and the 3D printer.

Because the classes are new, enrollment is high, Carp said, and students are enthusiastic.

“There is a different feel in STEM classes,” said senior Connor Shillington. “The kids in the class are often more committed to those specific classes. Many of the students also have an idea of pursuing a career in one of the STEM fields, which causes the students to have more than a basic knowledge of the topic.”

The engineering course using quadcopters is the ninth engineering class Shillington has taken at the high school level, something he’s proud of. He has also taken five math and five science sources, which really help to complement the engineering courses, Shillington said. “In my opinion, the partnerships between the classes has prepared me for each better. These skills all come together in the engineering class. For instance, many of my classes have used AutoCAD, which I needed to use in order to design and print the body of my quadcopter. These skills prepare me for college engineering classes and possibly future employment.”

Shortly after Thanksgiving, each group displayed its ability by maneuvering quadcopters around an obstacle course. After Christmas, students will redesign the machines, building on what they’ve already learned.

“I’ve really enjoyed working on the quadcopter,” Shillington said. “Within my group I have one other student who is very involved with the STEM program, and one who is a little bit weaker.

“Together we work as a group and have deadlines and deal with our own issues with our group. It prepares you well for an actual engineering job in which collaboration is needed.”

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