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Walnut valley Unified School District

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Adventures in Learning

December 7, 2017

By Kelli Giie, WVUSD Office of Community Resources

WALNUT, CA--A new class at Suzanne Middle School is teaching students how the world around them works while learning important skills such as team work, problem-solving, and a don’t-give-up attitude.

Seventh graders have the opportunity to take Robotics and Automation, as part of the District’s STEAM initiative.

The new course is one of several Project Lead The Way (PLTW) classes offered to students from elementary through high school.

Students learn about 11 mechanisms, the assemblies that control motion, and how they are used. Mechanisms include chain drive, bevel gear, lead screw, rack and pinion, etc.

“They are used in every single project,” said teacher Vicky Silcock.

“Students learn what they’re used for, how they work, and how they rotate.”

The group put their new skills to the test in a survival challenge last week.

Students had to imagine they were the last survivors on Earth with no running water, electricity, and barely any food.

Using VEX robotics parts, they built windmills complete with a wood-cutting saw, water pump, and grain grinder to ensure their survival.

The project has a real-world application so they can see when and how it is used.

“Project Lead the Way is cool!” said Kingsley Tang, age 12.

Students navigate their way through gear and drive ratios, reciprocating motion for water pumps, installing tiny input cranks to turn axles on chain drives, output gears that allow windmill blades to rotate clockwise, and more.

“I look forward to this class every day,” said Mehki Lin while installing a water pump feature.

“I like working with the tools!” 

This is not a class where the teacher gives the answer.

Silcock provides guidance, but students must work to solve the challenges on their own.

“There’s a lot of trial and error during the engineering design process,” the technology teacher said.

Students collaborate and problem solve, and then document their findings in notebooks.

There are no textbooks and instruction is computer-based in the PLTW class.

“We can see a finished product (on the website), but we have to figure out how to get there,” said classmate Robert McCormick.

Ian Ceballos utilized a mechanism, gear, and chain drive while working on a pull toy challenge.

“I think this class is preparing us for the future,” he said.

“We use our imagination. It’s a little challenging, but we figure out things on our own.”

The class recently created a prototype for a foot orthosis for a child with cerebral palsy during an instant design challenge.“It was challenging, but we knew it would help other people,” McCormick said.


Suzanne Middle School students design and build windmills during a PTLW survival challenge this semester. 

Teacher Vicky Silcock works with 7th graders in new PLTW class at Suzanne Middle School.