Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Learning Backwards Inspires Progress

FIT Visit Inspires Students to Start at the End in Order to Create a New Beginning

Sometimes working backwards from the finish line provides unique opportunities for identifying how to improve performance from the start.

A talented group of students from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) recently presented a highly engaging, interactive lesson to Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School Science Technology Engineering Aerospace and Manufacturing (STEAM) students on a process referred to as reverse engineering.

Equipped with tools and typical home appliances such as Crock-Pots, coffeemakers, and hair dryers, the FIT students guided Viper students through the process of disassembling the machines to analyze their original design, discussing why particular parts were strategically used instead of others, and making suggestions for design improvements.

During a culminating presentation, students then shared with their peers what changes they would make to improve the functionality of their assigned appliance, and how such changes would yield positive outcomes to the appliance's productivity and/or efficiency.

"Reverse engineering is basically taking something apart, figuring out how it works, and figuring out how you can improve it," said Isaiah Ciarlanti, a senior.

"You have the appliance itself and how it already works," said Wyatt Christian, a senior. "They wanted us to find a way to make it work even better, to improve its function."

Reverse engineering, also referred to as backwards design, was the focus of FIT's recent visit to Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School's STEAM Academy. By disassembling various household appliances, students were able to explore how each machine was designed, as well as investigate potential changes to improve its performance.

"My group took apart a Walmart version of a George Foreman grill," said Wyatt. "When we opened it up, we saw the heating element, which was only a small strip. To improve that, we figured we would expand the strip to cover more surface area of the hot plate, which lead to better heat distribution and faster cooking."

For Wyatt, hands-on experiences like these parallel the work he will do upon graduation. Enlisted into the Air Force, Wyatt will be a crew chief working on fighter jets. "My favorite part of the activity was having everyone working together for a common goal," he said.

"My group had an electric razor," said Isaiah. "When we took it apart, the switch where the wires went in came out easily. If the switch was in the Off position, we could just pull the wires out. We figured the only way to make it better was to fix the battery housing so that the wires would be safer and more secure."

"When we were taking the appliances apart and figuring it out how it worked, the people from FIT came around and asked us questions and were really engaged with the process. They weren't just sitting in the front of the room telling us what to do. That makes it more exciting as a student. Even if it is hands-on, if no one is moving around and participating, it is not as fun. When everyone is learning together, it makes the experience a lot more fun."

"They would walk around and each person would give different inputs," said Isaiah. "Each person had a different way of looking things, which helped us."

"The FIT students were cool and helpful," said Wyatt. "They gave us a lot of good ideas."

One of the FIT students, Leyane Mohammed, is no stranger to Space Coast. A Viper graduate, she successfully completed the STEAM program and is currently in her senior year at FIT.

"I talked to Leyane," said Isaiah. "She walked around, asked us about what we were doing, and offered assistance. She helped us make sure we listed everything accurately."

The field trip idea was spearheaded by Dr. Beshoy Morkos, an Assistant Professor for FIT's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.  He oversees the Systems Research on Intelligent Design and Engineering (STRIDE) Research Lab.

"Dr. Morkos was very energetic," said Isaiah. "He definitely brought life to each of the projects. For the electric razor we took apart, he got so into what we were doing. It was really cool to see someone who has been doing it so long get so interested in the project. That kind of enthusiasm helps get students more excited about learning."

During his visit to Space Coast, Dr. Beshoy Morkos worked closely with students in teaching how the reverse engineering process can lead to improvements to the design of various household appliances.

Overall, the benefits of the reverse engineering process were apparent to participating students.

"It is interesting to know how things work," said Isaiah. "It helps with creativity. Obviously, the person who made it has succeeded with coming up with an idea. It helps you think outside of the box about what can be done to make it even better."

As FIT's visit to Space Coast proved, when it comes to building knowledge and expanding critical thinking skills, nothing beats working backwards from the finish line to help improve performance from the start.

Stay current with Space Coast Jr./Sr. High at Space Coast Edline.

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