Report from the MakerSpace: Engineering Foundations at “Acera Industries”

By April 8, 2024No Comments

Written by Alison Earnhart, MakerSpace Maven


With the new trimester beginning last month, I got the opportunity to jump back into teaching electives for the upper school and I’m so excited about my new course! While the official title of the course is Engineering Foundations: Design and Product Development, my students are experiencing it as onboarding for the fictitious “Acera Industries”, where they are being trained as new employees at my engineering company. 

This course was conceived by me as a fast-paced general introduction to the many aspects of engineering and design thinking, with a big emphasis on building a toolkit full of practical skills. These practical skills range from social and leadership skills like metacognition, communication, and collaboration through the technical skills of sketching, 2D & 3D CAD, 3D printing, laser cutting, electronics, and coding. It’s already a ton of stuff to pack into just one trimester, but we’re not stopping there! After spring break, we will transition from skills building to skills USING as we transform our class into an engineering team working for Acera Industries (for comedic effect I’ve been dropping hints along the way that our company *might* be a little sinister a la Aperture Science, Inc. and Black Mesa, IYKYK ). During our employment for Acera Industries, students will collaborate on inventing, designing, prototyping, testing/iterating, and producing a final deliverable — which will be some kind of robotic toy intended for use by our young clients, Acera’s Room 1 and Room 5 students!

With one week left to go before spring break, we have been voraciously consuming new experiences with professional-level tools and skills. I am SO PROUD of the work students have been doing the last two weeks in designing and 3D printing their own fidget spinners as an introduction to CAD skills. We are taking a very complex tool and set of skills and making it fun and exciting because students realize the value in getting to create their own designs to 3D print instead of simply relying on pre-made designs found online. This week, we are getting a crash course in electronics and coding thanks to our fleet of Arduino Uno microcontrollers. With them, we’ll be building simple circuits, experimenting with motors and sensors, and getting an introduction to controlling electronic systems with text-based code. 

Helping to manage these various design teams and work sprints is my guest co-teacher, Mohammed Tonkal from Tufts University. Mohammed is a graduate student in the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, currently working on his PhD. He has been working on developing lessons and projects to teach students of all ages about project management and product development and is an expert in teaching students how to tackle and manage complex, multi-faceted projects with a range of collaborative tools and methods. We have already been bringing in industry-standard tools such as OnShape for our CAD work, and during our major project we’ll be rolling out Notion for use as our project management software. We get access to the premiere “enterprise” versions of these tools and more thanks to Mohammed’s connections and expertise! I am absolutely thrilled to be collaborating with Mohammed, as I get to learn so many new things from him that I will be able to incorporate into all my future engineering courses!

To me, one of the core aspects of “real” engineering is that it must be client-centered from inception to final deliverable. Engineers need to practice empathy for and seek out critical feedback from whomever they are designing for – working alongside them at every critical step. Without user-centered design, engineering loses its humanity. I’m looking forward to reporting out on what our students end up inventing and developing for our younger Acera students!