Larry Davis, President of Daman Products, explains the annual Fluid Power Challenge. This challenge provides an opportunity for 7th & 8th grade area students to experience mechanical and hydraulic engineering concepts and apply real-world knowledge to project-based learning.
Larry Davis: Many of us in the business community are not happy with the traditional education delivered to kids today. The Fluid Power Challenge is a profound way to impact that education and provide the opportunity for kids to experience real world applications in a dynamic learning environment.
The Fluid Power challenge was the brainchild of a two-year technical school professor in Canada who was really disappointed with the knowledge level of kids coming out of high school and their lack of knowledge of math and science in particular. So he believed that jumping over high school and getting to the junior high kids was the place to go, so he developed a very simple project-based format to help junior high kids understand mechanical engineering and hydraulics. He put a challenge together that would require kids to design a machine with materials as simple as this that would actually do work, real world work.
It was very successful in Canada. The National Fluid Power Association in its effort to educate our workforce and future engineers thought it was a great opportunity to impact seventh and eighth grade kids. So we as an industry have been promoting this for about five years now. The way the challenge works is that the junior high kids come together on two days, a workshop day and a challenge day.
So on workshop day, we take them through the project where they build four-inch square. They build the lifter. And at the end of that time ... It takes them about three hours to get the lifter built ... we introduce the challenge. They will have gone from having no idea how to build this thing and whatever anxiety that creates to having accomplished it and feeling pretty good about that, then we introduce the challenge, which is a real world problem. It could be as simple as picking up a load in this location and dropping it in this location. There's a defined footprint for that to happen. The machine has to stay in a predefined area. The pick up location is predefined as is the drop off point.
It could also be placing product on a series of different shelves. Each year the challenge is different. So, in this case, they've learned to build a lifter, which is one element of picking up a product and moving it over here, but certainly doesn't address rotation and clamping and those things. They're told that once they build their machine, in order to operate it, they won't be able to touch it other than with syringes. And generally, it takes four circuits within the machine to make it operate in a fashion that will actually do the work required.
So when the kids show up on competition day, all they bring is their portfolio and their tools. At that time they are given a new set of materials and three hours to build their project. During the build time, judges are circulating and assessing their team skills, their knowledge of hydraulics, knowledge of mechanical engineering, and being judged on that process. Also being judged on the quality of the construction practices. They brought two portfolios to the competition, one is being reviewed by judges, and that portfolio amounts to 50% of the team's total score. The judging that occurs during the build is a pretty heavy percentage of the score. The actual movement of the product during the competition amounts to 10% or less of the actual score.
I think we have to talk about the value of project-based learning relative to what these kids experience. No longer is someone at the front of the class lecturing, they are engaged, they are immersed in solving a problem that matters, and there's an emotional component to that I think can't be overlooked. The challenge of the project and the ultimate feeling of accomplishment, whether their projects work or not, is a powerful thing, and I often tell these kids they will remember this six weeks and this project for the rest of their lives and they will reflect on this project in ways that they can't understand today: how they related to their teammates, what it felt like to work with other people and accomplish something, what it feels like to have no idea how you're going to solve a problem and then work through the process and accomplish. Those are powerful things.
The impact of this program on kids is so profound. We would like to expand it to as many kids as possible and that takes resources. We would like to involve as much of the business community as possible in the form of cash donations or allowing your people to help on challenge day. These kids will also tell you that this is the most difficult thing that they've done in their educational career, but it's been the most engaging and the most fun and the most rewarding, even if their machines don't work on challenge day. Fluid Power Challenge is an economical, effective way to impact education in the local community.
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