My post secondary training is in lasers and fiber optics. I entered the field under the advisement of my Chemistry teacher, Mr. Rhode. He suggested it based on my apparent comprehension of Science. I wasn't great at Science. I got A's, but that's because I loved Math and much of what it took to make it in Science in high school was the ability to apply Math to Science.
I got out of the laser business in 1991. I moved from working in a photonics research lab to becoming a Unix System Administrator. While that might sound like a step down, it was the career that led me into training and curriculum development. Even better, I actually got to talk to people.
Fast forward 14 years and I got into the laser business again, but this time I was offering a laser class for middle school students of my homeschool group. The first class was right before I had my fourth baby. I had seven kids attend and it was a lot of fun. I've overhauled the curriculum each time I've offered it. Then, this spring I found teachengineering.org and saw they had a curriculum. I did make one change to the curriculum, which was to change the premise of the story. The original curriculum was protecting a mummified troll and the students were required to build a security system to prevent its theft. We just changed it to protecting relics on display at the Cathedral. Other than that, it was perfect for my needs, so I chucked what I had written and offered this new class to my two middle-schoolers and one other high school bound young man from our homeschool group.
Yesterday was the "project day" they had earned after enduring demonstrations and lectures about lasers and light from me (based on the teachengineering.org curriculum.) Their job was to design and build a laser security system in a three dimensional space in order to protect a "relic."
I dumped a laser, twelve mirrors (nine of which were on adjustable bases), clamps, rubber bands, painters tape and duct tape (which holds the universe together) and cardboard on the floor next to the enclosure frame they were to use and told them to have at it. Oh, and then there was the photo-sensor.
Just a tip if you decide to use the curriculum...I ordered the photo-sensor recommended on the teachengineering.org website. Be forewarned that there is "Some Assembly Required" or more like TOTAL Assembly Required. I have to admit it was a little bit of fun assembling and soldering all 50+ parts on the circuit board. And, I'm proud to say it worked without any "rework." I was a little worried since it had been at least 22 years since I've picked up a soldering iron. I guess all of my time spent in Mr. Worden's electronics lab paid off, finally.
They did a great job and they tried some interesting things like trying to expand the beam to make it easier to get into the tiny photo-sensor. They had a lot of fun illuminating the beam with cornstarch to see the laser grid produced by using 8 mirror surfaces. Even better was when they realized they'd gone just a little overboard with the cornstarch, getting the mirrors so dirty that not enough light was reflecting into the sensor, thus setting off their audible photo-sensor alarm security system!
It's days like these that I am thankful I get to teach my kids at home. To see the thought process, the cooperation of all, leadership of some, comedy of errors that occurred at times and the sense of pride and success when they accomplished their task is amazing. And they had a really good time. That, my friends, is what makes this job worthwhile!