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The Infinty Project Newsletter
October 2004 : Volume 2 - Issue 1

Educators Are Piling On The Applause
By Tammy Richards
Executive Director, The Infinity Project
“All teachers know that the thing kids ask the most is, ‘When am I ever going to use this math and science?’ And I love the experience that I had as an engineer of being able to say, you know, we did use this. This course lets students not only see examples, but actually experiment with them and try them out.” –  Teacher from Baton Rouge, La.
“The thing I’ve liked the best about the training has been the camaraderie. I think the instructor is really good at allowing input from the different teachers and allowing us to ask questions.” –  Teacher from Austin, Tx.
“It can turn students on to a lot of possibilities that they may not have thought of otherwise.” – Teacher from Grants Pass, Ore.
“I would recommend this program to each and every school that I have knowledge of in this country.” – Teacher from Killeen, Tx.
With feedback like this, it’s no surprise that during the last year the number of schools adopting the Infinity Project has jumped 50 percent. There are now 120 schools in 22 states and the District of Columbia that are using the project to get students excited about engineering.

Of course, behind this growing success is our ability to prepare teachers through the program’s Professional Development Institute. Last summer, 78 teachers participated in four sessions on the campus of Southern Methodist University. In fact, there were so many teachers who wanted to participate that we had to add another session to accommodate everyone.

Infinity’s tool kit for teachers also continues to expand. We have added a Daily Lesson Planning Guide, a CD demonstration of the Infinity software, a student lab manual and other superb materials that bring engineering alive and make it even easier for you teach.

Increasingly, teacher input is driving the Infinity Program to be better and bigger. Those of us who are passionate about education know there is nothing more valuable than the endorsement of our peers. See what one teacher in Alabama had to say by reading the article “When Are We Ever Going To Use This?” that appears later in this newsletter.

I invite you to get on board. Contact us today to find out how Infinity can broaden your classroom horizons.

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New Teaching Materials Get Rave Reviews
Preparing to teach a course has never been easier.  The Infinity Project team has been hard at work developing curriculum materials that eliminate the stress instructors sometimes feel while preparing for a class.  Now, instructors will be able to spend more time working with students instead of spending hours preparing daily lesson plans. 

Keeping your needs in mind, we are proud to introduce a first-ever student lab manual to accompany Engineering Our Digital Future, the course textbook.  The eight-chapter, 350-page manual complements the textbook and provides students with a step-by-step guide on how to complete the lab exercises.

The manual reinforces concepts presented in the text and allows students to develop creative, hands-on solutions to problems.  For more information visit http://classroom.infinity-project.org/labmanual.html.  A hard-bound version of the manual will be available the first quarter of 2005 from Prentice Hall. 

In addition, Infinity has developed a Daily Lesson Plan for instructors.  The guide provides instructors with a complete strategy for presenting the classroom material, outlining key objectives, topics for discussion, in-class activities and exercises, and recommended homework assignments. The Daily Lesson Plan is available through the Infinity Project website at http://classroom.infinity-project.org/lessonplans.html

Chapter Training Slides
are also available in PowerPoint format to assist in presenting textbook material.  The slides correspond to each chapter in the Engineering Our Digital Future textbook, and a list of recommended slides for each lecture is contained in the Daily Lesson Plan. Take a look at the materials by following the link http://classroom.infinity-project.org/training.html.

All of these training materials work in conjunction with the Infinity Technology Kit, which includes the hardware and software that serve as the foundation for the course.  The software was recently updated to increase ease-of-use.  Now, students can sort through the directory faster and access the information they need to complete assignments.  For more information about the Infinity Technology Kit visit our website at Technology Kit section.

Providing easy-to-use curriculum materials to instructors and students is our goal. And, according to at least one teacher, we have accomplished just that. Here’s what Jack Nelson, a teacher at Richland High School in North Richland Hills, Texas, had to say:

“I just checked out the slide shows and other materials on the CD and all I can say is WOW! I am not easily impressed and often do major tweaking to any information I am given, but this is so complete and thorough, I can't yet imagine what I would have done differently had I done it myself. I was sure I would have to do the math outside of the slideshow, but even it is in there.

I have worked in corporate and professional training for many years and have a long list of professional trainer and even train-the-trainer credentials.  I can honestly say that this entire set that you give us (e.g. books, slideshows, PDF's, training manuals, student guides, tests, keys) is the very best I have ever seen.”

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High Schools Gather for Texas BEST Championship
Thousands of cheering students, teachers, parents and friends will converge on the Southern Methodist University campus this fall when the School of Engineering hosts an Olympic-style robotics contest.

The November 12-13 event will mark the first time the university is the site of the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Championship. Sixty teams of middle and high school students, winners of local competitions held earlier, will come from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and New Mexico.

“It’s a mix of science fair and sporting event,” said Ted Mahler, a Texas Instruments engineer who co-founded the competition several years ago with a colleague at TI. “Teams build their own robots and compete against each other.”

The BEST process begins in September when student teams across the region are given an assignment to design and build a radio-controlled robot to accomplish a defined task. Each team receives an identical box of odd parts, fasteners, materials and a radio-controller for motors. The winning teams from the local competitions advance to the Texas BEST Championship.

This year’s assignment for the competing teams will focus on the medical technology field and the use of gene therapy to repair DNA.  In recent years BEST competitors also have built robots for scenarios representing toxic waste disposal, space travel and blood cell repair.

On two playing fields at the university’s Moody Coliseum, four teams at a time will face off, scoring points tracked by referees and cheered on by spirited fans, cheerleaders and pep bands. Mahler said the atmosphere builds throughout the day and takes on the excitement of a basketball finals game.

“The thrill of the event has been a big attraction,” Mahler said. “We started in 1992 with 14 schools and 221 students. Today the competition has more than 700 schools and 8,000 students.”

Mahler and fellow Texas Instruments engineer Steve Marum created the competition, inspired by a similar event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Industry and academic coaches act as mentors for the students, but the students are the primary decision-makers and builders.

“The beauty of the contest is that it parallels the real world. A new product must be built on time and within budget, just like these robots.” said Mahler. “BEST gives students a feel for what real-life engineering is all about.”

In addition to Southern Methodist University, major sponsors of this year’s event are Texas Instruments, The Boeing Company and Raytheon. The day-long championship will be held on Saturday, November 13, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Moody Coliseum.  The event is free and open to the public. For more information, go to www.texasbest.org.

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When are we ever going to use this?
By Mark Conner
Master Teacher
The Infinity Project
Teachers are still asked the age-old question by their students: “When are we ever going to use math and science?” Now they have an answer. The Infinity Project gives them an immediate opportunity to apply what they’ve learned to the engineering design process.

For three years, I have watched students come to the realization they can “do engineering” as they work through the Infinity Project curriculum.  I know from personal experience that high school students from all sorts of background – not just the elite students – are capable of understanding the engineering concepts that are presented and applying them in very creative ways to solve problems.

My first exposure to the program came in 2001, when I participated in a one-week teacher training course. I was amazed at the depth and breadth of topics covered using digital signal processing technologies as the springboard.  The material was well thought out and presented at a level that was “infinitely do-able” by high school students. 

Since adopting Infinity into my own teaching, I have found students enter the course with different expectations and goals.  For some, the course has confirmed the decision to pursue engineering.  For others, engineering has been marked off of the list.  All of them, however, have walked away with a sense of accomplishment, a new found confidence to tackle open-ended problems, and an appreciation for the creative side of engineering. 

As I participated in the teacher training course, however, I was aware that I was seeing it through different eyes, those of a mechanical engineer. I looked around the room and wondered how the information was being received by traditional math and science teachers.  Was it possible to enter the training with no engineering background and absorb enough to be able to teach the course a month later?  Could the curriculum be successfully implemented by teachers who weren’t trained as engineers?  The answer is a resounding YES! 

Since its inception, the success of the Infinity Project has demonstrated that pre-engineering courses are no longer solely for magnet schools and elite private institutions. Nor are they reserved for the tiny percentage of high school teachers who, like me, come from an engineering background.  Regardless of background, any teacher who is a learner and loves to challenge students can teach engineering principles -- in the inner city, the suburbs, and in schools where most students are minorities. 

For the last three summers, I have had the privilege of training teachers during Infinity’s week long Professional Development Institutes. It is an amazing process to watch the teachers become the students. The training is intense and participants experience a range of emotions -- from frustration to excitement and insecurity to confidence. Their wisdom comes not necessarily from having mastered the material, but from realizing they can help students learn at the same time they are learning.

In fact, at times I am more amazed at the success of the teachers than I am at the success of the students.  As teachers, we’re used to entering class as the subject-matter expert. To teach the Infinity curriculum, however, we have to be willing to step outside our comfort zone and enter the classroom as yet another student. We have to be fearless, unafraid of giving a genuine answer like “I don’t know.” Most students respond well to such authenticity. They recognize and appreciate teachers who are willing to take risks and bring something innovative into the classroom.  And the Infinity curriculum is definitely innovative!

As someone who has experienced it first-hand as both a teacher and a student, I know the extent to which it can impact minds and open new doors of possibility. It is a phenomenal way to make math and science come alive.
Mark D. Conner has been teaching high school in Birmingham, Ala., since 1996.  He received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1991 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, winning the Charles T. Main Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers as the outstanding mechanical engineering student in the United States. He received his M.S. (’93) and Ph.D. (’96) in Mechanical Engineering from Duke University. Recently Mark was named the 2004 recipient of the IEEE (the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) Pre-College Educator Award.  He is currently developing a four-year engineering curriculum that is being implemented in the Engineering Academy at Hoover High School, where he serves as the Director of the Engineering Academy. As a Master Teacher for the Infinity Project, he trains high school math, science, and technology teachers to implement this state-of-the-art engineering and advanced technology curriculum into the classroom.

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Golfing Robots Use Infinity Technology
The Infinity Project has found a home in the classroom of Professor Marc Christensen – especially when it comes to building robots that golf. Their toolbox? The Infinity Technology Kit, which became the “brain” behind a recent competition.

The Southern Methodist University teacher assigned his students the task of designing a device that could putt a golf ball in a controlled manner toward a designated hole. Working in teams, they also were asked to design a vision system that could determine the distance between the golf ball and the hole.

In practical terms, their goal was to place their putt closest to a hole and make the fewest putts in a three-hole mini-course,  

“I want students to experience engineering in a hands-on way as early as possible in their education,” says Christensen, who teaches electrical engineering. “The technology kit jump starts that process.”

The professor views the Infinity Project as a “persuasive tool” to get young people thinking about a career in engineering. His lab assignment to build putt-putt devices challenged his students in a way that many had never considered. In the framework of fun competition, it also underscored the hands-on aspect of engineering.

“The contest mirrored the real world because there was a practical application for an engineering design,” he said.

The contest also illustrated the interdisciplinary aspects of engineering. Christensen teamed up with colleague David Willis, who teaches mechanical engineering at the university. Students from both classes formed the design teams. Christensen says it is important to train engineers at an early age to collaborate.

“Engineering professionals usually work in interdisciplinary teams,” says Christensen. “Frequently, for example, there is an electrical component involved in manufacturing, which involves the skills of a mechanical engineer.”

Christensen also uses the Infinity Project curriculum in his classroom. He uses a compressed version (taught in one semester and with a higher level of math) when teaching Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering to incoming freshmen.

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Infinity Hits the Road
Interested in meeting the people behind the Infinity Program? Then stop by our exhibit booth at these national gatherings. We’ll be there to answer your questions and provide live demonstrations of the program’s teacher-friendly software.
T3 Conference (Teachers Teaching with Technology)
March 18-20, 2005
Washington, D.C.
National Science Teachers Association
March 31-April 3, 2005
Dallas, Texas
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
April 6-9, 2005
Anaheim, California

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Reserve Your Space Now for Teacher Training
Instructor training is a very important element of the Infinity Project. Through the Professional Development Institute, a 40-hour course, instructors receive extensive training that prepares them for the successful implementation of the program. The training program covers every area of The Infinity Project curriculum and gives hands-on instruction in using the text, the technology kit, all hardware and software.

After training, instructors have instant access to a special instructors-only Infinity website that contains discussion groups, sample exercises and a wealth of resources that help maximize the Infinity experience for students.

The course is taught by Master Teachers.  Moreover, it provides 35 hours of Professional Development Credit.

Professional Development Institute dates for the 2005-2006 school year have been tentatively scheduled as follows at Southern Methodist University:

June 20 - 24, 2005          - Institute I
June 27 - July 1, 2005     - Institute II
July 11 - 15, 2005           - Institute III
July 18 - 22, 2005           - Institute IV
July 25 - 29, 2005           - Institute V
Aug 1 - 5, 2005               - Institute VI
Aug 8 -12, 2005              - Institute VII

Arrangements are also in progress for the institutes at the University of Houston, University of Texas at El Paso and University of Michigan. Please check the website for schedule updates and locations.

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