Though his rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” was a bit ding-y, Lee High School senior Scott Peuler looked pleased with himself as he finished the tune by hitting glass bottles filled with different levels of water with a miniature drumstick.
Nursery rhymes were the ditties of the day in teacher Steve Feutz’s engineering class, as students demonstrated the connections between engineering and sound. Senior Israel Hernandez strummed “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on a tiny harp made with wood and rubber bands. Sophomore Jennifer Pablo, juniors Paul Villarreal, Maura Mendoza and Adriana Sanchez and senior Betty Almanzo played “Hot Cross Buns” on a xylophone-inspired percussion instrument made of Pringles cans and cardboard.
Students combined innovation, precision – and a little Mother Goose – to make instruments that created different pitches and notes for the latest project in the class, which started this school year. Feutz, who has taught math for five years, has undergraduate degrees in aerospace engineering and music theory, so fitting a music-themed project into the class was natural.
“Music is my biggest passion, then engineering, math and science,” said Feutz, who sings and plays trumpet and piano.
Physics is involved in how sound is created, he noted. Students experimented by using household objects turned into instruments. “There’s four different instrument groups and they all sound a little different,” he said.
Music, Mechanics, Electronics and Flight
The class touches on many types of engineering, giving students an idea of skills needed in the local workforce. The demand for engineers and designers in manufacturing outstrips supply by at least double, according to the West Michigan Talent Assessment and Outlook report, published in September 2016. This is largely due to a shortage of graduates needed to fill vacancies for industrial and electrical engineers.
“My whole goal is to teach them what engineers do and how they do it,” Feutz said. His students learn to follow an engineering design process: come up with an idea, build, test, and improve if necessary.
Every project touches on a different branch of engineering. Students studied aerospace by designing cardboard gliders with egg containers and launching them off the school’s football stadium press box. They studied electrical engineering by creating gadgets that involve circuitry, remote controls, trains and other inventions.
They also built wooden cabinets into existing tables, now in classroom use, and spaghetti bridges, with one group of students competing in the Ferris State University Spaghetti Bridge Competition in March.
“I’ve liked being introduced to different types of engineering,” said Israel Hernandez, demonstrating how his harp strings make lower sounds depending on how taut the rubber bands are pulled. “We’ve done stuff with electricity and wiring – basic stuff – but it was cool to learn. This class gave me an interest in civil engineering.”
Paul Villarreal said he enjoys having the chance to make things by hand. “It helps you learn the basics of what you need to put something together. It takes math to different levels and puts it all together.”
“I’ve done things in this class I haven’t done in any other class,” added Scott Peuler.
The class started as a trimester course, but because of student interest was expanded to include Engineering A B and C, allowing the option for a full year of engineering.
It’s great for students who like to tinker and spend their time making things, Feutz said.
“It’s cool to see kids who don’t like the traditional classroom model, who really like being able to do hands-on things and build,” he added. “They essentially make a mess of the classroom, make something out of it, and make it their own.”