Last school year my 10th grade son took an engineering class from Catapult Engineering Academy. The class was Introduction to Solid Modeling and Engineering Design, and was my son’s favorite class of the year. The 2014-2015 school year was the first year this was offered, so I wanted to write a review to help other homeschool parents learn about the classes.
About the Program
The classes offered are based on the Engineering Academy at Hoover High School, in Alabama, where the same curriculum has been used in a traditional school setting since 2004. The idea is to take these classes and transfer them to online course so that more students can benefit from them. Right now there are two classes offered, the Solid Modeling class my son took and an Engineering Computations class which teaches MatLab and Labview. Eventually two more classes will be added, Engineering Instrumentation & Analysis and Engineering Design & Entrepreneurship. The classes are designed to prepare students for the kind of classes they will encounter in a college engineering curriculum.
There is a huge push to encourage high school students to learn about and consider STEM careers. Students with STEM skills are in high demand in the workforce, and the jobs tend to be well paying. But preparing for these careers can be hard for homeschoolers because of the technical knowledge required. These classes help provide access to engineering curriculum and trained teachers with expertise in the subject matter.
How the Course Works
The classes are taught online using the Canvas Learning Management System and are designed for high school level students. They can be used by homeschoolers like my son, or even setup for private and public schools. The lessons are delivered online, mostly with video modules. Assignments are given for the students to complete, and then the assignments are submitted electronically for grading. The Solid Modeling class started out with some standard 2D pen and paper drafting, and the students learned how to draw orthographic projections. Then it transitioned into learning Solid Works, a 3D CAD design software tool.
As the class went on my son learned to make more and more complicated designs, and how to manipulate and change the designs. He really enjoyed using this program, and he has used it design some projects on his own outside of the class. He would spend between 15-60 minutes a day on the class, depending on how complicated the current design was.
About every two weeks the students had to write and submit an engineering memo, which described their work for the previous two weeks. My son didn’t love this part of the class, but it was excellent practice for him to learn how to write more concisely and do technical writing. At first he found this the most difficult part of the class, but he got better at writing the memos as the course went on.
There were also a few tests and a couple online sessions where my son went online in a Google Hangout with the TA and demonstrated various skills. There was a final design project where my son made this model of our field microscope. The class was organized and whenever my son needed extra help he was able to contact the TA, Gabby, who helped him work through problems. This class was mostly hands off for me – all the grading was done by the TAs.
What We Thought
My son went into this school year thinking he was interested in engineering, but not really knowing much about it. This class really helped him feel more confident that engineering is the right field for him. One of the goals of these classes is to help provide a context for learning, and this class really did that for my son. He can see how the skills he learned can be used in real life and enjoyed the realistic projects. That is a lot harder for him to see in some of his other classes, like Chemistry.
My undergraduate degree is in engineering, but I knew almost nothing about it when I entered college. Like lots of students I picked an engineering major because I was good in math and science, and I was told engineering made sense. It was a good choice in my case, but many freshman engineering students end up changing majors because they didn’t realize what engineering was. So a class like this is great for helping kids pick the right major. And having confidence that you are in the right major can help kids push through the hard math and science classes that freshman engineering involves.
In addition the skills that are learned in the class are directly applicable to many engineering fields, so having this high school experience and knowing how to use some of these tools should make classes easier. Software programs like Solid Works, MatLab and Lab View are standard both in engineering schools and in the industry.
The Solid Modeling class made an excellent elective for my son last year. He is already signed up for the Engineering Computations class for the 2015-2016 school year, and is looking forward to the class. The only real drawback is that, like most online classes, it is expensive. Next year a full year class costs $750 (currently on sale for $700) and a one semester class costs $450 (currently on sale for $425). This is pretty comparable price to most online classes, and it is worth the money for us. So if you have a student who is interested in a STEM field check out Catapult Engineering Academy and see if it is right for you.