Models of robotic loaders stand next to an operational 3D printer, and a miniature milling cutter is beside a microscope that can magnify objects invisible to the naked eye hundreds of times over. This is not a modern production facility, but an engineering class at a Moscow school.
On 1 September 2015, the city launched its Engineering Class in Moscow Schools project, which involves local schools, 16 technical institutes and universities, innovation creativity centres and over 100 high-tech enterprises. The programme involves 148 city schools. Moscow’s schools, universities and production facilities cooperate in line with bilateral and trilateral contracts. The project aims to acquaint young Muscovites with engineering careers and to promote pre-professional education here.
Schools to receive cutting-edge technology
All project participants focus on engineering studies and technical study groups, elective courses and so on. State-of-the-art equipment is being gradually installed at city schools, so as to elevate pre-professional training to a new level. In all, 50 educational institutions are to receive high-tech equipment for their engineering classes before the year is out, including digital laboratories, 3D modelling equipment, systems for studying the structure of materials, mapping and surveying devices and nano-technology complexes. In all, Moscow schools will receive over 70 types of equipment, including atomic-force microscopes, electron guns, architectural modelling kits and kits for studying the basics of electrical engineering.
All these devices will help school students to master the basics of nano-technology and nano-chemistry, computer drafting, mapping and surveying, industrial optics, the development of super-conductors and much more. They will learn how to use and programme modern production equipment. Apart from school teachers, they will be taught by university professors and experts of partner enterprises.
These advanced training courses will help students enroll in specialised universities and study to be engineers or any other technical experts. Most importantly, these courses will help them understand whether this is the best choice for them. The project makes schools look like genuine engineering laboratories because all equipment that is installed at schools is used by professional engineers.
What is a digital laboratory?
A digital laboratory is an advanced modern classroom. Multi-sensors have replaced wobbly, obsolete scales that cannot stay balanced for a long time. And tablet computers are playing the part of notebooks with hand-drawn graphs and pie charts.
Each multi-sensor kit has three sensors resembling small boxes. But each of them contains several sensors for measuring pressure, temperature and acceleration. They are attached to the experimental object using special rods, and USB cables connect them to tablet computers. The sensor automatically measures various parameters and displays them on the device’s screen.
A digital laboratory studies various physical phenomena. Children using this laboratory can conduct numerous experiments using high-tech equipment.
A digital laboratory makes it possible to implement the following projects:
- Laboratory work, such as measuring the operation of electric currents and power levels, air humidity and calculating specific ice melting heat temperatures;
- Practical projects, such as calculating the pressure of liquids, studying the isothermal process and the distribution of luminescence intensity around an electric lamp;
- Demonstrations, such as heat generation during friction and impact, the propagation of sound waves in different environments and showing an electric magnet in action.
A guided tour of an engineering class
Some schools, including Gymnasium No. 1540, have already received new equipment and are already using it. People who studied in the 1980s, 1990s and even the early 2000s would hardly believe that an ordinary classroom now resembles an industrial design studio.
A table is filled with models made by children using a Lego-type construction set, sensors and controllers. A miniature robotic loader can drive in various directions and turn on a dime. The robot is activated by a preset software package inside its micro-controller.
Another table features an unobtrusive device which is, in fact, a microscope worth five million roubles. This microscope can magnify objects shorter than a light wave, that is, less than a 760-millionth of a millimetre, or 760 nano-metres. For example, school students have displayed an enhanced CD image on a large screen. The image shows the CD’s data-recording grooves.
A small numerically controlled milling cutter is operating nearby. Next, we can see a 3D printer churning out a plastic component. Another unobtrusive object resembling two panels is a 3D scanner. According to school students, it is possible to convert any object into a 3D online model using this device and special computer software. Most important is that the object should be rotated several degrees after each scan. This makes it possible to create a 3D image on the computer screen.
Many other sets demonstrate all kinds of physical phenomena. The Magdeburg hemispheres show the immense power of atmospheric pressure, and spherical aberration provides an insight into the mechanics of a camera lens. The Van Der Graaf generator makes it possible to observe an electrical discharge, and a wave-generating pool shows how mechanical oscillations are converted into waves.
The classroom also boasts a magnetic-electric machine, also called a direct current (DC) generator. These machines are used in hydropower engineering to transform mechanical energy into electricity. Children also use equipment sets for studying electrostatics and observing alternate current. Other equipment makes it possible to study kinematics, statics and dynamics, thermodynamics and molecular physics.
Generating and implementing project ideas
An engineer always develops new solutions or streamlines old ones. While working on a project, Moscow school students act as professional engineers.
First, they generate an idea. After that, they plan and design an object and the system’s structure. This is followed by mathematical and 3D modelling. At this stage, school students build a visual model of a device, mechanism or system. Research or prototyping comes next, with 3D printers making various components. After that, devices and systems are studied and tested accordingly. If everything is in order, school students start manufacturing them using a milling cutter, a turning-lathe and other machine-tools.
What do technical universities gain from this?
Technical universities are actively involved in the project because, more than anyone else, they are extremely interested in highly motivated prospective students who will not drop out during the second or third year of their studies. Therefore universities cooperate actively with the schools they patronise. Professors conduct some lessons, with school students working at university laboratories and implementing projects. They also write research papers under the guidance of scientists.
Those school students who have completed pre-professional training enjoy an advantage when enrolling at technical universities. They regularly participate in various Olympiads, forums and workshops and gain extra points that are added to their overall Unified State Exam scores. In addition, almost all major universities have established technological education support centres where school students work on various projects.