STEAMtraxPLUS High School Curriculum


Project Background

I joined Polar3D as Director of Product Development in May of 2016. In late 2016, the company pivoted away from hardware and embraced a more software-driven product line. As a result, I had the opportunity to combine my interests in design and education to develop Polar 3D's first four high school curriculum modules. These modules are available online to STEAMtrax ( license holders.

Previous STEAMtrax modules (K - 8) were project-based but still relied heavily on presentations from teacher to students and made minimal use of the iterative design process with which industrial designers and product developers are intimately familiar. In developing the new high school modules, I took advantage of the greater maturity of high school students to create a series of four modules that are strictly student-directed and project-based. These modules employ an interactive development process based on a compromise between the processes I have employed professionally and the simplified STEAMtrax Engineering Design Process used in earlier modules.

Each STEAMtraxPLUS high school module is project-based and thematically focused. Each combines digital and physical attributes, including online course material and a kit full of the components needed to exercise the hands-on activities associated with that material. Each is built around the Innovator's Notebook  — a multi-page PDF that guides students through the project and acts as a repository for the learnings they master.

Every module includes an explanation of the different types of prototype and an exercise to develop a Proof-of-Concept prototype using multiple CAD platforms, including BlocksCAD and TinkerCAD. Future modules will harness more advanced CAD software, including Fusion 360 and Solidworks. This exposes students who complete more than one module to multiple tools for 3D development.

Following this, students develop and rank product requirements. This basic introduction to requirements-driven design is a critical kernel of learning that is often overlooked. Once complete, these requirements serve as the foundation for concept ideation.

Because every design problem and team is different, it is important that students learn multiple ways of ideating toward a solution. As such, each high school module teaches a new method for concept ideation, including: sticky note brainstorming, SCAMPER, the possibilities matrix and web-diagramming.

Because of the importance of requirements-driven design and the need for concept selection to be driven by these requirements, the criteria-based matrix (or Pugh Matrix) is reprised in each of the four modules.

— Dr. David Thornburg, Co-Author of NGSS Standards, Inventor of Touchscreen


The Innovator's Notebook is the heart of every module. It is the document that provides guidance to the students as they apply the STEAMtraxPLUS Engineering Design Process to iterate toward a solution. The Innovator's Notebook for each of the four high school modules can be downloaded by clicking the images or links below.

Electromagnetic Impulse Car (Click here to download)

In this module, high school students learn about the background, history and technical attributes of drag racing and iterate to create a set of electromagnetically-propelled drag racing toys. Students are introduced to Sticky Note Brainstorming for generating new ideas.



In this module, high school students learn about the history and technical attributes of hydroelectric turbines, including reaction and impulse turbines. They work collaboratively to develop new rotor designs for an impulse turbine and measure the output of their turbines using a multimeter. Students are introduced to the Possibilities Matrix for generating new ideas.


Truss Bridge Design (CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD)

n this module, high school students learn about various bridge designs and the geometric attributes that make truss bridges so efficient. They work collaboratively to develop model truss bridges and test these bridges to failure. They then refine their bridge using ideas generated using the SCAMPER method and compete head-to-head against their classmates to see whose bridge can support the greatest load.


Fibonacci Sequence (CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD)

In this module — the first to centered around Art — high school students learn about and discuss the fascinating and controversial attributes of Fibonacci Numbers. Students work individually to develop original 2D and 3D art inspired by the Golden Ratio and create a set of Golden Ratio calipers to check their work. Students are also introduced to Web Diagram Brainstorming and the process of formal critique.