Engineering 1 Syllabus

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Charlottesville High School



A sample Engineering 1 project

Engineering is the intersection of science and humanity. Da Vinci, Newton, Einstein, Tesla, Ben Franklin, and Steve Jobs were as much humanists as they were scientists. They sought to unlock the secrets of the universe – its elegant and mathematical underpinnings – but also cared deeply how their discoveries would affect mankind. It is one thing to discover atomic fusion, electricity, or the iPhone, but it is at least is important to consider how the adoption of these advances into society will alter its course.

Many of the world’s most intractable and urgent problems can be thought of as engineering problems. An engineer is an expert in meticulously deconstructing a problem, understanding the interconnected facets of a system, leveraging available resources, overcoming impediments, creatively designing and assessing strategies, and carefully implementing solutions. In short, engineers are problem solvers. And the world needs more of them.

This course is an introduction to the engineering profession, the engineering process, and the engineering mindset. It is also a pretty good answer to the question you may have asked in Algebra, English, or Chemistry class: “Why do I have to know this stuff?” In addition to the definition above, engineering can be thought of as the holistic application of knowledge. A typical engineering project will require you to draw on your knowledge of math, English, history, and science and apply that knowledge in a completely novel way. Warning: coming up with something novel is difficult. It will require creativity, discipline, persistence, and probably some sweat.


The objective of this course is to introduce students to the foundational skills, understandings, and experiences that will prepare them to continue through more advanced engineering studies. In particular, students should begin to build proficiency and understanding in the following topics:

  • Computer Programming
  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Advanced Manufacturing (3D printing, CNC milling, laser cutting, etc.)
  • Circuits and Electronics
  • Physics, Statics, and Materials
  • Project Design and Execution
  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
  • The Engineering Profession


Most of what we do in this course will be different from your typical class. For example, there are no quizzes or tests in Engineering and very little homework. But make no mistake – that doesn’t mean this class is easy. In fact, I personally find it a lot easier to study for and get a good grade on a quiz than to maintain excellence throughout a four-week project.

We will be learning by doing in this class and your grade will be a reflection of how seriously you are taking that endeavor.

And here's the part that's new for a lot of people. Your end-of-year grade will not be a numerical average of your four quarter grades. You will get quarter grades, but they are simply periodic checks of how you are doing. Your final grade will be the final average of your projects, classwork, and professionalism. The main motivation for this is to avoid artificial deadlines throughout the year. To receive credit in a particular quarter, the work must be submitted at least one week before the end of the grading period. If you spend the whole first semester working on some crazy project but don't quite have it done by the end of the 2nd quarter, that's fine. Your 2nd quarter report card will go out with that grade not factored in. That date will come and go and you'll just keep working. That said, there are due dates. If your project is not done by the due date, you will receive a zero for that assignment until it is turned in. While no points will be deducted for late work , late work will be not be graded until current assignments have been completed.

Projects – 50%

Most of your grade will come from your finished projects (roughly one per quarter). Your projects will vary based on your interests and background, but they will be judged by the same standards. In particular, I will assess your performance in terms of the following criteria:

  • Planning
  • Fit and Finish
  • Documentation
  • Optimization
  • Schedule
  • Does it Work?
  • Level of Difficulty
  • Cleanliness
  • Time Management
  • Safety

Your project grades will depend on how well you document them. Almost all of the writing and documentation in this class will occur on the class wiki. It’s the 21st century; the internet and open source technologies have democratized who gets to be creators of knowledge. Wikis are prime examples of this. Not only does wiki software enable users to quickly create organized and slick online content, but they are eminently democratic. They are not owned individually but represent a collective knowledge.

For more information, see the Sigma Project Grading Rubric.

Classwork – 20%

True to the Engineering profession, you don't get to just work on your main project all of the time. There will be ancillary assignments and other tasks. Some of them will be awesome and thoroughly educational. Some of them will seem pretty menial at the time. But they will all be done with care and with a smile.

Professionalism – 10%

10%. That is an entire letter grade. Your's will start at 90%, and based on how you conduct yourself, will either rise or fall from there. You signed up for a course called engineering; engineering is a profession and one goal in this course is to practice professionalism. That means

you arrive to class on time and you push in your chair at the end of class. You will ask for help when you need it, and you will help your classmates when they need it. You use your time wisely and remain on task during the entire class period. You are respectful to your peers, your instructors, the equipment, and even the furniture. You clean up after yourself. And above all, you are safe.

Exams – 20%

You have a midterm and a final exam, each worth 10% of your final grade.


For grades and other stuff, we will be using an online open-source Learning Management System (LMS) called Canvas. I think "Learning Management System" is an ambitious description, but it is truly a sweet set of tools. You can log in here.

Powerschool will simply be where your average grade will be displayed, for any specifics, please refer to Canvas.

Classroom Environment

What You Need

We have this fancy new lab full of wonderful equipment, so you don't need to bring much. I will supply the materials and we won't use a textbook. You probably won't even need your student Chromebook; the Sigma Lab has its own computer lab. I will occasionally need you to write something down, draw a circuit diagram, or sketch something, so a notebook and a pen or pencil is required, but that's it.

Care and Cleanliness

This is a big one. The new Sigma Lab was built for you. Seriously. When Charlottesville City granted CHS with the funds to build this amazing lab, it wasn’t for the School Board or the principal or for Dr. Shields. It was for you. It was so you (and the students who will come after you) could build things and have experiences not available to 99.9% of high school students on the planet. So, please treat the lab as your own. Take care of it and keep it clean. Honestly, we don’t have the money to repair or replace most of the equipment in the lab if it’s not cared for.

And here's the important part. If you use a drill bit, you put it back when you're done. If you drop a screw, you pick it up and put it where it belongs. If you get out the wire cutters, you put them back when you're done. Not doing so is one of the easiest ways to lose Professionalism points.


There are things in the Sigma Lab that will kill you. The easiest way to fail this course is to not take safety extremely seriously. You might work really hard all year, get perfect grades on every project but, if on the last day of the year, you use a power tool in a dangerous manner, or without permission, you will fail the course. And probably face disciplinary action beyond that. This is a zero tolerance issue. If you need to use a tool that you don't know how to use safely, then talk to your teacher or the lab assistant, so we can help teach you.

There are strict safety regulations for every square inch of this lab and every machine in it. If you are not sure what they are, please ask your instructor.

Cell Phones

Okay, here we go… I can't believe I'm saying this, but if you have a cell phone, I'd love for you to bring it to class. A major expectation in this class is thorough documentation of your work and your cell phone camera will often be the quickest and easiest way to document certain parts of your projects. The first time you get your servo to behave, you will probably want to grab your phone, shoot a quick video and turn it into a GIF to share with the world. I get that. Additionally, there might be a phone app, like a resistor identifier, that serves a unique educational purpose.

That said, if we are going to have a room full of cell phones, we need to practice proper cell phone etiquette. This next part is super-serious. I cannot overstate how important it is for society to figure out how to coexist properly with these little devices. We will either use them to enhance learning, communication, and living or they will be the death of us all. I am not kidding. Driving in a car texting your friends and then sitting around a restaurant table while fiddling with your phone is not living. It’s dangerous and signifies the possible end of real human interaction. And sitting in a classroom trying to pay attention while Twitter, Facebook, text messages, Snapchat, and games are constantly calling to you isn’t learning. So, here are the rules for Engineering:
  • I hope you bring your phone to class, but I should almost never see it. During class time, it will only be out if you are taking pictures or video of your project or using it for some other specific and approved instructional purpose.
*I have zero issues confiscating your phone. I also have zero interest in seeing what's on your phone. I will never snoop or interact with your phone in any way, other than turning it off or silencing it. So, if you are asked to give up your phone, please don't make a scene. It's still your phone, it's just sitting in my desk until the end of class.
  • If you are asked to give up your phone, but you refuse to be separated from it, there will not be a fight. You and your phone will be taking a walk to the front office.
  • If you are not using your phone for a specific and approved instructional purpose, it is on silent and put it away. And by put it away, I mean in a backpack or a pocket or somewhere where it is not visible and is not calling out to you “Touch me! Play with me!” And, if your phone is one of those phones that vibrates as loudly as it rings, then turn it off.
  • The instant the bell rings to begin class, you are not on your phone.
  • I am assuming that 99% of the text messages that you are just dying to send can wait until after class. Practice restraint. If for some reason, there is an emergency, then just ask me.
  • Games are never okay in class. I will confiscate your cell phone and I will probably accidentally drop it in the toilet on the way to the office.
  • Note 1: While Mr. Helmstetter or anyone else is talking to the class is never an appropriate time to be using your phone.
  • Note 2: While Mr. Helmstetter or anyone else is talking to the class is never an appropriate time to be using your phone.

Failure to practice proper cell phone etiquette will result in confiscation of the phone and a discipline referral. I am not kidding.

Attendance, Tardies, and Hall Passes

Nice hall pass.
This is slightly new this year (or if you attended CHS 20 years ago, it's basically going back to that system), so listen up. You are not allowed in the hall during class time without a signed yellow hall pass. Period. Some specifics:
  • If you need to leave for any reason, like to go to the bathroom, go to the hall pass station and tear off one hall pass. In pen, fill out the pass completely, except for the teacher signature blank (see sample to the right). Then, when I'm not busy, present me with the pass in one hand and a working pen in the other. I'll sign it and off you go.
  • If you need to leave, wait for an appropriate time to do so. You’re smart; you can figure out when it is appropriate to get up and leave. FYI: we are often engaged in independent or small group work. That is a great time for a quick trip to the bathroom. When the teacher is in the middle of explaining today's lesson is not a good time for a trip to the bathroom.
  • Our class will usually start promptly at the bell with important announcements, information, or warm-up activities. Do not come to me 1 minute before the bell and ask if you can run to the restroom, the water fountain, another teacher, or any other location. Be in your seat ready to go when the bell rings. Wait for a natural break in class, at least 10 minutes into class, to ask to leave. "Hey, the bell hasn't rung. Can I run to fill up my water bottle?" will predictably be met with "You can do what ever you want. But, if you're not in your seat with your phone away, and ready to get started when the bell rings, you're late."

Announcements, Moment of Silence, and the Pledge

  • Please be silent during morning announcements, afternoon announcements, or any other time someone is speaking over the PA system. This rule should not require explanation.
  • Moment of Silence – key word: “silence.” I take this seriously. Our smartphone world is practically devoid of moments of silence. But research shows that the young mind must have periods of quiet and relaxation in order to grow. Take advantage of the few precious moments you are given to just be quiet.
  • If you have a good reason for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s fine, I respect that. But be prepared to explain your reasons to me. If you don’t have a good reason for not standing, why not stand and take 30 seconds out of your day to stand up, face the flag, and think about how nice it is to have free public education


If you’re taking a class called Engineering, you’re probably smart enough to cheat on most high school assignments and not get caught. With a smart phone, you don’t need to write answers on your hand anymore; you can Google them. If you haven’t figured it out by now, high school is a good time to realize that no grade is worth more than your integrity. The word integrity has the same Latin root as integer, meaning whole. A person without integrity is not whole; half of them is a polite high-achieving student but the other half is someone who will cheat to gain an advantage. They are the same person who uses cheat programs to play Words with Friends or doesn’t pick up litter when no one sees them drop it. Live with integrity. Don’t get into the habit of cheating in high school. It will not serve you well in life.

Our school's honor code:
"On my honor as a student,
I have neither given nor received
any unauthorized aid on this assignment."


This is also new this year, so listen up. We have some super-serious food allergies in this building. Unless you're some kind of sick sadist you'll understand that this means we just can't have food in the building except for a couple of specific well-monitored areas. Sorry, that's just the brakes this year. No food in the Sigma Lab. No food in the classroom. No food in the comfy chairs. No food in the Board Room. No food in the Machine Room. No food in the Project Rooms. No food in the Mechatronics Room. Get it? Yes, I know we have a kitchen. But that's just for a fridge and a coffee-maker, not for eating.


  • No frilly bits on the edges of your papers. I hate that.
  • I actually mark people tardy. Don’t be late for class.
  • Only keep things in your bin that you will use this week and I should never find tools in your bin.
  • I expect chairs and tables and tools and other equipment to be back where you found them at the end of class.
  • Join BACON

Extra Credit

Rather than providing opportunities for extra credit, there will simply be opportunities for doing things right. If you try your hardest and still blow an assignment, then we will work out another way for you to show me that you have learned what was being assessed before the end of the grading period.

Tentative Schedule

Quarter 1 Week 1 Introduction to robotics and programming
Week 2 Arduino programming (loops, functions, if/then), sensing, web publishing
Week 3 Arduino programming, basic circuits, motors/servos, LEDs, web publishing
Week 4 CAD (sketches and constraints) and Arduino
Week 5 CAD (3D features) and Arduino
Week 6 CAD (assemblies) and Arduino
Week 7 Advanced manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling)
Week 8 Advanced manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling)
Week 9 Advanced manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling)
Week 10 Complete and publish project 1
Quarter 2 Week 1 LCD Screens and other output
Week 2 Buttons, switches, potentiometers
Week 3 CAD and Arduino
Week 4 CAD and Arduino
Thanksgiving Break
Week 5 CAD and Arduino
Week 6 CAD and Arduino
Week 7 CAD and Arduino
Winter Break
Week 8 Cad and Arduino
Week 9 Advanced manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling)
Quarter 3 Week 1 Advanced manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling)
Week 2 Advanced manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling)
Week 3 Complete and publish project 2
Week 4 Final projects
Week 5 Final projects
Week 6 Final projects
Week 7 Final projects
Week 8 Final projects
Week 9 Final projects
Quarter 4 Spring Break
Week 1 Final projects
Week 2 Final projects
Week 3 Final projects
Week 4 Finish final projects
Week 5 Testing and refine final projects
Week 6 Testing and refine final projects
Week 7 Final exams
Week 8 Final exams

Virginia Career and Technical Education

Course Competencies

Engineering 1 is aligned with the competencies of Virginia Career and Technical Education course 8450 - Engineering Explorations I.

Related Virginia Standards of Learning

To review how the course competencies align with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) click here.

Industry Certification

Students in this course will have the opportunity to earn the Workplace Readiness Skills for the Commonwealth industry certification. This is a VDOE board approved industry certification.

Career and Technical Student Organization

Students in this course will participate in a co-curricular Career and Technical Student Organization, BACON (Best All-around Club of Nerds). Participation includes, but is not limited to learning the purpose and goals of the student organization, understanding the benefits and responsibilities of participating in a professional organization, and participating in activities such as meetings, programs, and projects.

Non Discrimination

The Charlottesville City School Division does not discriminate with regard to sex, gender, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, ancestry, age, marital or veteran’s status, physical or mental genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political affiliation, or any classification protected by applicable law.