By Jerry Merz, Consultant

The Wauwatosa School District updated its 6th grade Technical Education program curriculum in 2013. The new curriculum incorporates pneumatics and hydraulics and the course culminating project utilizes the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) Challenge.  480 6th grade students took the class during the 2012-13 school year and were exposed to fluid power mechanics.

Traditional methods of assessing these students would require a paper and pencil test. However, using the fluid power challenge as the assessment method, allowed teachers to guage whether the students were able to put into action concepts and skills learned during the course. The aim is for students to be able to transfer these concepts to other problems and situations they may experience in other classes.

This year Wauwatosa School District formed 48 National Engineering Week Future City teams as part of the Middle School Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) houses at Whitman and Longfellow Middle School involving 180 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.  Several of the teams which included the 7th graders this year used both pneumatics and hydraulics to solve their transportation problems in their Future City model this year which focused on “Tomorrow’s Transit: Design a way to move people in and around your city”. 

A combined Whitman 6th and 7th grade team, with a city named “Back II the Future”, used two plastic syringes and plastic tube they used to create hydraulic devices last year.   Each Future City model must incorporate one moving part.   They put a piece of dowel in the tube to show a transportation pod moving through their town as their method to move large distances within their city as part of their intermodal design.  Originally they tried using air to push a wood dowel to move through a 36 inch plastic tube which was considered. This was version 1.  After several attempts and setbacks they tried water and were successful in ongoing trials. This was version 2.  As part of the process, STEM students are also taught there is no right or wrong answer but to constantly make improvement to get a working solution.  If time allows, they can further perfect the solution which many of these students will do.

As Wauwatosa School District continues to build upon students’ abilities to problem solve, they will become more skilled and engaged through technology threads in various areas such as plastics, hydraulics, modeling, wood, and adhesives. These provide basic concepts in Kindergarten and will spiral in complexity upwards from Kindergarten through 12th grade as outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards and the Gateway to Technology and Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering and design process.  Hydraulics and Pneumatics are important technology threads the school district values and is actively developing.   They are creating paths to make that happen with further teacher development, additional engineering technology connections through extended learning opportunities and after school clubs.

Wauwatosa is just one of the school districts that is bringing fluid power into its classrooms.  To see how your local school district can do the same, contact Lynn Beyer at lbeyer@nfpa.com.