The 8th grade students are doing a unit on engineering in their STEM class. Middle School STEM teacher, Laurie Gilbert, walks us through this exciting lesson.

In today’s world, students need to be exposed to more than traditional science. At Menaul Middle School, they have the opportunity to explore all areas of STEM, including engineering. We started the unit using an online program called “Tinkercad” which allows teachers to set up a classroom where we can observe our students’ drawings and designs. This works particularly well while we have on-line students, because even though they are not physically present, I can still observe their work. Tinkercad is a basic CAD program for beginning students.

They drew a design of their choice to show me what they learned on the program. Now that they know how to draw with the CAD program, they are using it to draw their designs for their engineering design challenges. They all learned the Tinkercad program faster than I did. I was amazed at their different approaches to the first design, and the detailed drawings they were able to make. As part of that unit they have been learning a CAD (Computer Assisted Design) program. The following were a free choice design that they photographed from three different angles.

Izzy drew a ring, Elijah drew his computer, Hali drew a house and yard, complete with patio furniture, and Luis drew the projector that sits in their classroom.

The students are currently working on designing an off-road wheelchair for a Barbie. After researching wheelchair designs, and what they would need to traverse rough terrain, they drew their designs on the CAD program. Then they built a prototype to fit Barbie.

Each engineering challenge involves learning about a branch of engineering so that they can do some career exploration. For example, biomedical engineers and mechanical engineers would design off-road wheelchairs. Then they follow the engineer design process. They are then given a scenario that includes a problem to solve and constraints to work within. They do some background research, then brainstorm possible solutions. They choose one solution, draw their design, and then build a prototype. They test the prototype and then make suggestions for improvements.

The projects are from the “Teach Engineering” website, free for teachers. It is fun to watch the students engage in these activities. Our current project, “Design a Shoe”, requires them to learn the physics of force, pressure and impact, the mechanics of walking, and also the anatomy of the foot. I can sneak in science lessons that they engage in because they have a very specific and fun outlet to demonstrate the science. Next week we will have a fashion show as students model their shoes.

Students are currently in the testing phase where they are measuring the force in Newtons needed to pull the wheelchair across a beach (box of sand), a mountain trail (stony, uneven ground on campus), and through a field of grass. They will finish by evaluating and making recommendations for future designs.

Impressive work, Menaul 8th graders!

If you want to learn more about engineering for your student, check out this fun resource:


  1. 1
    Esabelle “Chavela” Verdeja on February 10, 2021

    Wow! This is so amazing! I got both my Bachelors and Masters in Engineering and I’m so proud to hear the school is also teach students these wonderful skills! If you’re ever in need of a professional eye let me know!

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