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Brian Copes


As an Engineering teacher at Calera High School, I am using technology to “Change the World.” One of the technologies used is CAD (Computer Aided Drafting/Design) consisting of two different three-dimensional drawing software's - SolidWorks, and Rhinoceros. SolidWorks is industrial standard software that is often taught at the collegiate level. Rhinoceros is software that blurs the line between art and engineering. This Software is locally taught by the Industrial Design Department at Auburn University. Teaching this technology to future engineering students is not the story. It is how my students are applying these software’s, equipment, computers, and technology. Technology is a word that is often used to describe electronic devices but it is much more. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, Technology is defined as "the practical application of knowledge, a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes". I believe the common understanding of this word lies in the combination of these definitions. Technology is not only electronic devices but it is critical thinking and problem solving, it is using one’s knowledge and tools to accomplish a task or to solve problems. Innovation and Creativity Calera Students Show Innovation By Becoming Modern Day Henry Fords Calera High School students have taken the role of a modern day Henry Ford as they develop affordable transportation for the needy masses around the world. Not only are the students learning valuable Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) skills, but they are learning community service as they give of their time and talents to people and groups that they may never meet. Through this project, students learn how they can radically change the lives of people around the world through the development and design of basic utility vehicles. This project presents affordable transportation allowing goods and services to be brought to and from the marketplace in third world countries. The students have developed vehicles that are solving real world problems. The vehicles that the students invented allow a person in a remote location anywhere around the world to assemble the vehicle (similar to an ATV) with simple hand tools. While teaching at Chelsea Middle School, the 8th grade Career Discovery class competed in the Institute for Affordable Transportation (IAT) collegiate competition in 2007 and 2008 with their BUV (Basic Utility Vehicle). They placed first in the open class in 2007. They placed first and second in the 2008 competition, while Rose Holman Institute of Technology, the #1 Engineering School in the country came in third. In 2009, the students of Calera High Schools’, Principals of Engineering class, entered their creation in the engineering competition in Indianapolis, IN sponsored by IAT. Their completed vehicle not only placed first in their class, but also received the highest score of the competition and won the most innovative award. In 2010 another team from Calera High School repeated their success by placing first in the open class. The Calera High School BUV team, by placing first, outscored second place Purdue University by 11 points. The students also constructed a vehicle by taking parts from a crate and assembled a complete, running BUV in four hours without the help of adults or the teacher. The college and engineering judges were amazed at the versatility and abilities of the students with their Calera designed vehicle. Over the past few years the students have not only developed a dynamic vehicle, but they have created a product line - a basic utility vehicle, a people transporter (bus), an ambulance, a 4X4 truck, and one vehicle that can drill water wells and plow soil. This projects success was hinged on "the practical application of knowledge" -Technology. These students not only built these amazing vehicles but they designed them using CAD, writing and produced an engineering report via Microsoft Word, wrote up a bill of materials, and created a budget in spreadsheets. The students have also written assembly instructions and have produced their own assembly video using camcorders and digital cameras. This is no small feat for many of my students. They were required to use writing, communication, teamwork, presentation, problem solving, and applied skills. These were the same students who when first entering the program struggled with reading a ruler. Impact on Teaching and Learning Students Create Low Cost Prosthetic Legs Another example of students use of technology, my proudest and most successful teaching unit, where students took what they have learned in the classroom and applied it to help others "Change the World". Change may not affect my student’s world or lives but can greatly change the world for a complete stranger. This unit was an accident! I am a carpenter by trade and envisioned teaching carpentry and cabinet making for a vocation. As a teacher who stumbled or perhaps fell face first into STEM education, I found myself with a dilemma. I was required to teach biomedical engineering! My question was what is biomedical engineering? Scared to death and after a personal brainstorming session, I thought I would develop a unit on prosthetics. This seemed to fit bridging something mechanical to medical. Having no idea what I was doing, a local artificial limb specialist, "prosthetist," was invited to speak to my classes. The prosthetist showed the students a technological advanced artificial leg that uses micro controllers and processors. He also showed videos on how bionics and robotics are being used in the prosthesis industry. This went very well and allowed me to check off that standard as "taught". This haunted me because I did not teach it but dodged it. Therefore the next year, I invited the same prosthetist to come and speak to my class, but this time with a twist. He spoke on how many amputees are in developing countries, sighting that tens of thousands of Haitians lost a limb in recent earthquakes. There was the "hook" for I often quote the phrase from the movie, Robots, "see a need, fill a need". Both the students and I saw a need and I challenged them to fill this need. Students were immediately assembled into design groups. They brainstormed possible methods of building an inexpensive prosthetic leg. As another class was designing and building a new BUV vehicle using parts from a 1989 Toyota Corolla, bells went off in my head. The Corolla, being the most abundant car in the world, would make parts readily available for use not only in our BUV project but perhaps our prosthetic leg. Using a discarded motor mount from the Corolla, I challenged the students to base their design around it. The students discovered that this motor mount provided a cushioning deflection as well as a rotational spring movement found in a prosthetic leg joint. Not sure if this was an advantage or a disadvantage in solving our design problems, it created an engineering challenge for the students. The students pushed through every design challenge and were able to produce a working prosthetic leg prototype. The prosthetist was so impressed with the student’s prototype that he asked to take the leg to fit onto an amputee in Honduras. The students and I were honored. News of the student's incredible class project spread to the point that Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey made all the students in my classes honorary Lieutenant Governors. Students the preceding year examined the previous year’s prosthetics and improved it. The students not only reduced the weight of the leg by three pounds but also replaced the fixed leg bone with the adjustable end of a crutch. This was significant, for the students discovered through research that children grow three fourths of an inch every year and will go through twenty plus prosthetic legs in their lifetime. The student's new adjustable leg is able to grow as the child grows! After reading the following statistics, my students were immediately determined to reach out and make a difference in the world. My students turned their focus from state and national competitions to going into the world, taking their technologically advanced classroom projects and filling a need in the world. According to a story posted on “Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. One billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). Over 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).” During the summer of 2012, students from Calera High School, under the auspicious of SKY (Skilled Knowledgeable Youth), traveled to Honduras. The students were stationed at a clinic called Clinica de Los Angeles or Clinic of Angels located near the entrance of the Cloud Forest. The students fit fourteen prosthetic legs on local amputees. Uniquely these prosthetic legs were designed and built in class. Another team taught local teenagers how to build basic utility vehicles. One of these vehicles is being used as an ambulance by the clinic. The other has been fit with a plow, and a fresh water drill. These vehicles are servicing people in the Cloud Forest region where travel is difficult. This trip allowed the students to further use technology as they translated their basic utility vehicle instructions into Spanish. The students also used Personal Digital Assistant's (PDA) as they taught the Hondurans how to build their basic utility vehicle. The students further used their PDA's to communicate and give instructions to the patients as they fitted the fourteen amputees with their prosthetic legs. This story summaries the importance of incorporating technology into real life situations. While in Honduras, we were able to witness the first Honduran amputee to be fitted with a prosthetic leg and watch him take his first steps. One of the beaming Calera students exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!” I choked back my tears. Not only did the student change the life of a stranger, but a stranger changed the life of my student and they both changed my life and how and what I teach. Later, a woman came crying and thanked the students. She explained that when her husband had lost his leg, he lost his livelihood, his self worth, and his desire to live because he could no longer provide for his family. The tearful woman further explained that when her husband was fitted with a leg created by one of the students, it was the first time since his accident that he had smiled. Her husband regained his dignity and desire to live. These experiences cannot be taught in the traditional classroom, and these “WOW!” moments profoundly change the lives of everyone blessed by their involvement. Magnolialand Entertainment filmed our incredible experience and produced a documentary entitled "Children Changing the World". The purpose of the documentary is to promote education throughout Alabama as well as a marketing tool to attract both businesses and manufacturers to Alabama. Attached is a draft of the documentary. This project/unit has grown beyond the walls of the school. Last year I was honored to mentor some material engineering students from UAB as they challenged themselves to further reduce the weight of the prosthetic leg and at the same time increase its functionality. The improvements that they made were revolutionary. My students and I further advanced UAB's student's research by creating three-dimensional drawings and assemblies using SolidWorks. We also had three-dimensional models created on a 3D printer at Jefferson State Community College, Birmingham, Alabama. Currently this design has been sent to Vincennes University, Vincennes, Indiana, where “Wounded Warriors” are machining twenty of these legs in plastic for the Calera students to take to Honduras during the summer of 2014. The prosthetic leg is inexpensive, light weight, and allows the amputee to wear the prosthetic into the shower, swimming, and to the beach. This leg gives the amputee an opportunity to participate in activities incapable with existing prosthetics. Paul Teutul, Jr., star of the television program, “Orange County Chopper,” a nationally syndicated show, contacted us and wants to partner by helping refine the design and assist in machining of integral parts which we do not have the capacity to do in our facility. It is exciting to observe this unit spread beyond the classroom but it is more exciting as a teacher to watch my students witness a miracle happen as a result of their labor and studies in the classroom. The Students Invent a Hydroelectric Power Plant While in Honduras I noticed the lack of reliable electricity. I further noted that there was a natural river flowing near the clinic. With this information, I challenged my students to design and build a hydroelectric power plant capable of supplying reliable electricity to the clinic. The students used SolidWorks to model a six-foot diameter paddle wheel that they affixed on a twenty-four foot pontoon boat. The student's drawings were printed and cut out on a CNC plasma cutter. The students were excited to see their art go from print to part. This boat/hydroelectric power plant will be anchored in the river next to the clinic. As the current flows under the boat/power plant, it will turn the paddle wheel allowing us to convert the rotational energy into reliable electricity. After my students researched the rivers flow rates, we were concerned about the hydroelectric power plants effectiveness during the dry season; therefore my students are enhancing the power plant effectiveness by placing four 200-watt solar cells onto the deck of the boat. This will make reliable/green energy regardless of the weather. It further exposes my students to cutting edge hydro, solar and electronic technology. Teamwork During a summer camp/work sessions, I paired my students with two mentors, Tim Foster, Vice President of Alabama Municipal Electric Authority and Robin White, Product Manager for Alabama Power. The students used welders, the CNC plasma cutter, and the Foundry-in-a-Box to stimulate their interests in engineering. I escorted the students to tour a local hydroelectric power plant. Here the students were able to compare and contrast their unit to a full-scale fully operational power plant. This summer I will once again have the opportunity to escort a team of Calera High School Engineering students to Honduras. While in Honduras my students will work as a team installing their hydroelectric power plant, fitting amputees with prosthetics that they designed, delivering a utility vehicle that will be used as a school bus; and will help in the construction of an addition to the local school. We have raised the necessary funds to finance the addition of two rooms to the existing school. This addition will allow the school to offer middle and high school courses. Currently the students have to commute to a larger town for both middle and high school education. Because of the expense in this depressed economic area, students drop out after elementary school. Office Depot will be partnering with us by providing the new classrooms with needed school supplies. We will be setting up the equipment that will allow my class and the class in Honduras to video chat via SKYP. This will allow my students to learn/practice speaking Spanish and in turn allow the Honduran students to learn/practice speaking English. None of these projects could be completed without the students working together as a team to solve problems and make a significant difference in the lives of others. Teamwork is demonstrated through the changes made in the lives of the students and the lives of others beyond the classroom – “Children Changing the World.” The practical experience of students learning they can have a greater impact by working together is evident. Building on the strengths of others enhances the ability and skills of each by increasing the scope of their projects. These projects include: • Basic utility product line – ambulance, truck, transporter, cultivation, school bus • Functional prosthetics benefiting amputees • Creation of electricity to third world clinic through hydroelectric/solar power • Drilling fresh water wells in Honduras • Construction of classrooms • Creation of electric powered cars used in competition • Designing and developing tandem bicycles for special needs students • Enhancing wheel chairs, making them more functional • Developing a biodiesel lab converting cooking oil into diesel fuel • Creating a biodiesel car that will run on cooking oil fuel • Constructing a children’s playhouse for Safe House (home for battered women/children facility) • Using technology and high tech equipment to complete projects • Team with in-school and out of school personnel and businesses to expand their learning • Completing projects and expanding skills by using high tech computer and rapid prototype programs • Designing and developing projects in the in-school foundry • Creating assembly manuals, bills of material, project cost analysis, and defense of projects through oral presentations These projects cant be completed without the ability to work together and share the talents of each other. Leadership The Establishment of a High School Electric Car Competition Another technology focused lesson began a movement throughout the state of Alabama. Three years ago I had a vision of starting an Electrathon (Electric Car) competition in Alabama. By partnering with Cawaco RC&D we were provided a $10,000 grant to purchase four Electrathon kit cars. Calera High School kept one of these kit cars and distributed the other cars to schools in central Alabama. The purpose for these kits and this competition was to provide students with exciting lessons that exposed them to both technology education and green energy. Students had to research alternative energy, aerodynamics, friction/resistance, and energy efficiency in order to build the most fuel-efficient car possible. We partnered with Alabama Power and Zoom Motorsports who sponsored and hosted a competition at Barbers Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. A total of four teams competed in its inaugural year. Last year Cawaco provided an additional $10,000 grant, thus allowing the purchase and distribution of three more kit cars to schools in central Alabama. The 2013 race grew from four cars to fourteen cars, which attracted teams from as far away as Florida. This year we have received another grant from the Alabama RC&D for $35,000. This allows us to expand the project by distributing ten kit cars to ten more schools across the state. The State RC&D and legislators goal is to further expand this program during 2015 by providing a grant that will purchase seventy-five to one hundred more kit cars to be distributed to schools throughout the state. Their vision is to include every school district in the state in this technology education competition within the next three years. Because of my leadership in developing the Electrathon program, I have been asked to coordinate this statewide effort. In addition to the Electrathon competition my students are also working on a custom hybrid electric car that they desire to take on a cross country trip the summer of 2015. Uniquely this hybrid car is outfitted with a diesel engine that will run on bio-diesel fuel. All of our bio-diesel is made by students in a state-of-the-art bio-diesel lab in my classroom. Not only does this spread Technical/Environmental Education throughout the state, but also spurs state economic development. I envision this project will spread throughout our state, thus automotive manufactures will recognize a skilled knowledgeable workforce trained in our public high schools. I believe these manufactures will desire to locate their new hybrid manufacturing facilities here in Alabama. This will essentially put more technologically advanced graduates to work. This year a computer-programming engineer is mentoring the Calera High school students and adding custom programmed instrumentation and telemetry to their vehicles. This will allow the students pit crews to monitor things like voltage, current, speed, and position. Students Invent a lift Wheel Chair and Special Needs Student Bicycle Another project allowing my students to utilize technology was a concept/need that was identified by my wife. My wife is a manager of a radiological facility at a local hospital. One of our counties high school students was interning at her facility. She witnessed him struggle to reach office supplies that were stored in upper cabinets, as he was bound and confined to a wheel chair. My wife asked if a lift wheel chair could be invented to help out her intern and many others like him. My wife identified a need and once my students heard the story they were challenged to fill the need. The students have formed into design groups and are producing three dimensional drawings, assemblies and models of their concepts. They will present their concepts to the class using presentation software such as PowerPoint. The students will then refine their ideas and export their CAD files to a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) robotic plasma cutter we have in the shop. The CNC plasma cutter will cut out parts to fabricate their final product. During this exercise the students are applying their knowledge of SolidWorks. Coupling this with new advanced measuring tools, robotic equipment, hand and power tools, as well as teamwork they are solving a real world problem. They will unveil this project to administrators, school officials, hospital staff, and the media once completed. My students have also invented a tandem bicycle for Shelby County Schools’ adaptive physical education department. This is two bicycles that are joined side by side allowing a handy capable student to ride beside an adult teacher. This provides special needs students with the feeling of normalcy. This activity fills these students with joy and happiness as many of these students have never been able to ride a bike before. This project required my students to work in teams, create three dimensional CAD drawings of special parts, CNC plasma cut parts, and the use of state of the art welding equipment. My students and I are fortunate to be exposed to and be able to use the technology that we have here at Calera High School. One of my personal goals has been to attract more girls to the engineering program. This goal has pushed me to revamp the curriculum in my Engineering Applications class. In this class we are going to dive deeper into the Rhinoceros software. This will be further expanded by the software plug-in entitled Matrix. This will allow my students to design jewelry, class rings, trophy toppers and more advanced/intricate mechanical parts. These parts will then be able to be printed on our new 3D rapid prototype printer which makes wax dies for making jewelry. The students will then take their wax prints into the shop where they will be able to cast them in our new technically advanced investment-casting foundry. I believe that we are the only school in the state to own and teach this advanced concept. The students are and will be mentored on this project by a local jeweler. My students are encouraged to “think outside the box” using their creativity, problem solving, research, and teaming with others to solve real world problems. This is the objective of a STEM program in preparing the students for the world of work. Scholarship Due to the successes of the technology program at Calera High School, we have established partnerships with Office Depot, Adopt a Classroom, and SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) Education Foundation. In 2013 SME Education Foundation named the Calera STEM program a PRIME (Partners Response in Manufacturing Education) school. This designation gave two of my student's collegiate scholarships. One student is studying manufacturing at Wallace State Community College and the other student is studying engineering at Auburn University. Thanks to SME Education Foundation more scholarships will be available to other students. Over the past two years the SME Education Foundation has given $36,000 to the Calera High School Engineering program and has committed future support and student scholarships. Office Depot featured the Calera engineering program in a short commercial for the Adopt-A-Classroom program. The video commercial can be viewed at the following link. In 2012, business/industry supported Calera students by donating $90,000 creating scholarships that fully funded the Calera students and chaperones travel expenses to Honduras. For the past three years, CAWACO and the state RC&D has funded the purchase of seventeen Electrathon kit cars allowing me to give them away as a scholarship to seventeen schools around the state. My teaching has been further enhanced since I have received a Promethean Board courtesy of PEOPLE’s Magazine teacher of the year program. Technology is an integral part of what I teach at Calera High School. I firmly believe that electronic technology is essential in student learning; however, it is only a device until the students understand the practical application of the device, coupled with their knowledge, and use of it in a manner of accomplishing a task primarily using technical processes. The students at Calera High School are exposed to many cutting edge technologies but the true success of teaching technology is how students use it. Technology should be a tool that is used to improve ones life or the life of others. A technological advancement isn’t always high-end electrical devices but it could be a new use for an old technical part that allows an amputee to walk. For without this device or technology their future may be somewhat in question.


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