Skip to main content

Corona High School invested a large portion of their Career Technology Education grant money on state of the art robot systems and 3D printers.

Corona High School was established in 1896, and CNC West featured them in an issue back in 2014. Their technical education department has changed so much since then that it warranted a revisit. One thing that hasn’t changed is Eric Lee. Mr. Lee has been a Corona High Panther since 1991 and has taught everything from metal shop, graphic design, computer science, engineering and architecture. He chairs the engineering department, and together with fellow engineering instructor Kristian Johnson, they are the leaders of Corona High’s STEM Academy of Engineering.  Kristian is a US Airforce Veteran, an advanced mathematics and engineering instructor.

Corona High began their partnership with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) six years ago as an addition to their Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways program. The principal at the time was looking for a way for Corona High to make a splash in the district and stand out from other high schools. “Our principal came to me and said there is this program called Project Lead The Way, and I think it would be great for the school,” Eric Lee recalls. “I was familiar with it, but not what you would call a fan. I fought the idea originally, but after implementing the program I saw firsthand how amazing it was for students. Kristian Johnson had taught PLTW at another school and came on board here to bolster our program. We are six years in, and I have 100% [drunk] the cool-aide. I think it’s the absolute greatest curriculum for teaching engineering. Our program is heavy in science, math, and physics, but we teach the students how to use every single machine in this manufacturing lab. PLTW is the only nationally accredited engineering curriculum and our students benefit greatly by having this program available.”

Kristian and Eric designed the manufacturing lab to simulate a makerspace for high school students. They have a little bit of everything for wood, metal, and plastics. These mini shop areas are all part of the lab that also houses lasers, robots, 3D printers, CNC mills, and CNC lathes, and routers. “We’ve invested a lot in 3D printing technologies and in robotics,” details Eric Lee. “We have several different types of 3D printers ranging from SLA and FDM to a new FormLabs Form3 that prints upside down using liquid resin and laser technology. We have half a dozen Dobot Magician robots as well as a $39,000 industrial robotic arm that is part of a Flexible Manufacturing System.”

The PLTW program is a four-year investment, and students must start as freshmen and remain in the STEM program until graduation to meet the requirements. Every student in the STEM Academy starts by taking Mr. Lee’s Introduction to Design class. Sophomores take Mr. Johnson’s Principles of Engineering course before securing a choice of options as juniors. Juniors can take Mr. Johnson’s Aerospace Engineering class or Computer Integrated Manufacturing with Mr. Lee. Seniors then complete the program with the Engineering Design Development course. Students benefit from enrollment and completion of the Corona High School STEM Academy in many ways. They can earn dual college credit from either Rochester Institute of Technology or Missouri University of Science and Technology for a relatively small transcript fee. Students also get priority enrollment at Norco Community College for their Engineering AS degree as well as preferential interviewing for the Internship program through Norco Community College. “You ask around at any of the local universities and they are all well aware of this program,” adds Kristian Johnson. “They look forward to getting our graduates in their engineering programs because of the knowledge base they left high school with.”

The manufacturing lab has a fully automated flexible manufacturing system which includes a laser, build stations, robotic arm and a multi tool mill.

9th Grade Introduction to Design

Introduction to Design provides a foundation of engineering knowledge and professional practices to be used throughout the student’s career. They learn principles of engineering and how that relates to the design world. Students are tasked with determining how to design something that an engineer can manufacture. They develop skills such as concept sketching and setting up and maintaining an engineering notebook/portfolio. Students dig deep into the engineering design process, applying math, science and engineering standards to hands-on projects. They work both individually as well in teams to design solutions for various problems using 3D modeling software. Course units include: Design Process, Technical Sketching and Drawing, Measurement and Statistics, Modeling Skills, Geometry of Design, Reverse Engineering, Documentation, Advanced Computer Modeling, and Design Challenges.

“The class is filled with design challenges,” explains Eric Lee. “The first challenge of the year comes as a surprise for students. They come into class, and I will spend 5 minutes talking about strategic shapes. What do they think is stronger—a square, a triangle or a cylinder. We spend five more minutes discussing what I just told them. Then I give them all a single sheet of mylar and two blocks of wood to build the longest bridge they can. No tape or adhesive of any kind just span the longest gap without it touching the surface. The record is 63” from one 8.5”x11” piece of mylar. My favorite challenge is a little harder and is called the chore master. They have to invent a better way to do a chore than how they are doing it now. Students get different materials every year depending on what I have and how much I want to mess with them. Essentially, it is random materials like cardboard, scrap wood, popsicle sticks, straws, rubber bands, fishing line, and paper clips. They get one day to brainstorm and sketch it out for my approval. Once I approve it, they have two days to build a visual prototype and do a sales presentation to the class. One of the better ones this year was a stackable washer and dryer combo with a trap door, so you didn’t have to wait for the washer to finish and throw your baseball uniform in the dryer.”

10th Grade Principles of Engineering

Principles of Engineering exposes students to some of the major concepts they will encounter in a postsecondary engineering course of study. Through problems that engage and challenge, students explore a broad range of engineering topics including mechanisms, the strength of materials and structure, automation and kinematics. By solving rigorous and relevant design problems using engineering and science concepts, students hone their interpersonal skills, creative abilities, and problem-solving skills. Course units include: Group Roles and Leadership, Energy and Power, Mechanisms, Energy Sources, Energy Applications Design Problem – Energy and Power, Materials and Structures, Statistics, Material Properties, Material Testing, Design Problem – Materials and Structures, Machine Control, Fluid Power, Design Problem – Control Systems, Building Design Statistics, and Building Design Kinematics.

“In our civil engineering unit, students learn about trusses and force vectors and how the triangle is a strong shape because of the way it dictates forces,” explains Kristian Johnson. “We have students build trusses and then break them [to see] whose project can take the most force. It is a lot of fun, and the students really get into it. Environmental engineering is the theme for our end of year project. Students must design and build an automated recycling machine that sorts based on different properties. We simulate that with different material marbles. There are seven different materials: plastic, clear plastic, glass, wood, aluminum, rubber sand, and a steel ball. They have to sort 3-5 of the materials to pass. They get to choose which materials they want their machine to sort. All the marbles are the same size except the glass marble is a tiny bit bigger. They have to figure that out. I drop 18 marbles into their machine and their design needs to sort them. They get a month to build it before presenting it for grading. Students use mechanical separation and well as sensors to accomplish their sort. After it is all done, I make them disassemble the project completely. Some of them are so happy to be rid of it, but others are really sad that they spent so much time on it only to be dismantled in the span of a single class period. As the due date approaches, I will have a full classroom of students after school past 6 p.m. working on the project. They don’t have to be here, but they are so dedicated and really want to succeed.”

Eric Lee is the engineering department chair and has taught at Corona High since 1991. He teaches Introduction to Design, Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Engineering Design Development.

11th Grade Computer Integrated Manufacturing

Computer Integrated Manufacturing introduces students to the high-tech, innovative nature of modern manufacturing. It provides a basic overview of manufacturing processes, product design & development, robotics, and automation. These focus heavily on design process, fabrication techniques, manufacturing costs, and the cost of quality. The course incorporates finance, ethics, manufacturing history, safety, quality, and efficiency. Students respond to essential questions like: How do we use automation throughout the world and why. Is it for safety, better profit, or because some things like DVDs can’t be made by humans. “Why” is a big part of the class and correlates directly with the “how.” Course units include: History of Manufacturing, Control Systems, Cost of Manufacturing, Designing for Manufacturability, How We Make Things, Product Development, Introduction to Robotic Automation, Introduction to Automation Power, Robotic Programming and Usage, CIM Systems, and Integration of Manufacturing. 

“One of the first projects has students learning and building automated guided vehicles (AGV),” explains Eric. “The AGV has to carry a load, follow a path, stop at intersections, and stop if someone steps in front of it. They get bonus points for attributes like extra load capacity, load dumping accuracy, and making a 180 turn and returning to its origin. These are actually difficult tasks.” He continues, “For example, it took Mr. Johnson 9 hours to figure out the programming. He teaches robotics, is a very smart person with loads of experience, and it took him a while. Now, imagine being 16 years old and tasked with this challenge. This part of the year has students working on a transfer system. What I love about this project is that they have to be ultra-aware of costs. I give them a pricing sheet with the cost of every item they can use. They have to log every purchase. To win the challenge they have to build the cheapest transfer system that will build 5 parts in the shortest amount of time. It’s exciting because it’s automation plus human involvement. They start by building 1/3 of a part, and they set it on the conveyor. The conveyor then has to move to a certain spot and stop. They pull it back off and add another set of components. It goes to another 1/3 area where it has to count that part somehow and drop to a storage area.” 

Eric continues, “Second semester we get into programming CNC machines. Students work mostly in Inventor, but some of the more advanced ones use Fusion or MasterCam. I teach them G & M code, and tooling for mills and lathes. We start with baby steps drawing their initials using G code and then advance to programming the fully automated flexible manufacturing system. Our system has a laser, build stations, a robotic arm, and a multi tool Intelitek Pro Mill 8000. One of the things that really sets our program apart from others in Southern California is that we have adopted the new Industry 4.0 model. In a nutshell, it is a system-based approach that deals not only with individual components (machine), but also with industrial training (in silo) by bridging the gap and incorporating networking and communications. It’s about teaching students how to make various technologies talk to each other through handshaking and creating a flexible manufacturing system.”

Kristian Johnson teaches 10th grade Principles of Engineering and 11th grade Aerospace engineering as part of Project Lead The Way’s curriculum.

11th Grade Aerospace Engineering 

The Aerospace Engineering class deepens students’ knowledge within the context of atmospheric and space flight. Aerospace engineering is one of the specialization courses of the Project Lead The Way Engineering program. Students explore the fundamentals of flight in air and space as they bring those concepts to life by designing and testing components related to flight such as an airfoil, propulsion system, and rocketry. They learn orbital mechanics concepts and apply these by creating models using industry standard professional software. They also apply aerospace concepts to alternative applications such as wind turbines and parachutes. Course units include: Introduction to Aerospace, Evolution of Flight, Physics of Flight, Flight Planning and Navigation, Aerospace Design, Materials and Structures, Propulsion, Flight Physiology, Space Travel, Orbital Mechanics, Alternative Applications, Remote Systems, and Aerospace Careers.

12 Grade Engineering Design Development

EDD is the capstone course in the Project Lead The Way high school engineering program. It is an open-ended engineering research course in which students work in teams to design and develop an original solution to a well-defined and justified problem by applying an engineering design process. Students perform research to select, define, and justify a problem. After carefully defining the design requirements and creating multiple solution approaches, teams of students select an approach, create, and test their solution prototype. Student teams present and defend their original solution to an outside panel. Students work closely with experts to continually hone their organizational, communication, and interpersonal skills. Course units include: Project Management, Research, Design, Prototype and Test, Evaluation of Project and Process, Reflection and Presenting the Design Process, and Going Beyond EDD. Eric stresses that the going beyond EDD portion is very important. “Many opportunities exist for students to receive tangible value for their work outside of the classroom walls. Opportunities range from competitions to scholarships and university notoriety to interest from businesses to continue developing the ideas created in the EDD class.”

Marchelo is a senior in the STEM Academy and his group’s EDD project is creating a cost effective and eco-friendly solar charging system for students on campus for their mobile devices. Basically, their system is akin to freeway emergency phones, but visually more in-tune with a school campus. “Part of our research phase was getting investors and knowing exactly what it was the consumers wanted to see in our product,” Marchelo explains. “With more and more classes relying on mobile technology, we found that students needed to charge their devices all the time. Our goal is to have these charging stations around the lunch area so students can charge at breaks and between classes. One of the biggest obstacles for us was deciding if we wanted the solar panels to be motorized or not. It took a lot of research to determine that having a system that tracked the sun and optimized the angle was more efficient and yielded the best overall results even after factoring in the energy needed to power the motor. Our design uses photosensors to evaluate the best angle and maximize the amount of sunlight hitting the solar panels. Once it determines that the sun is gone it resets to the optimum angle for sunrise the next morning. Part of the project is including experts, and fortunately, I speak German, and there are a couple of German YouTubers that have done extensive research on the topic. We are only halfway through the year, but I have high hopes for our project.”

Students in the Principles of Engineering class work on working on their Engineering Fair Project in class and hurry to get tweaks done before the bell rings.

Programs like these come at a cost, and Corona High School is fortunate enough to be in a district that sees value in providing students avenues to succeed. According to Eric, their financial support is credited directly to Dr. Gina Boster, Director, Career Technical Education at Corona Norco Unified School District. “Dr. Boster taught for many years in this district before becoming an admin and eventually head of CTE,” Eric explains. “She went to every vocational teacher in the district and asked how old our equipment was and what did we need/want to improve the student’s education. She wrote a grant and got the district $7.9 million dollars over three years. It was the second largest grant in the state. We are not the second largest district in the state by any means, so this was a huge accomplishment. That was five years ago, and we made a wish list. I started with a physical upgrade to this room. We opened up walls and created this amazing 21st century manufacturing lab. I asked for $600,000 worth of materials and got $500,000 to spend. That got us upgrades like computers, 21 MakerBot 3d printers, 2 specialized printers, and one industrial 3D printer. I can honestly tell local businesses I am training my students on machines that you use in your facilities.”  They also purchased laser engravers, two CNC mills, and a robotic arm that is all part of a flexible manufacturing system. The state was so impressed that they invited the district to apply for an additional $2.6-million-dollar grant. Eric used that first chunk of money from the new grant to acquire six Dobots with various attachments and accessories and purchase the latest in 3D printing technology—the Stratasys F370. “Dr. Gonzalez was AP here at the time we started PLTW, and now he is our principal,” adds Eric. “Having an admin that was part of this program since its infancy is an asset. So often there is an adversarial relationship between students and teachers, teachers and admins, admins and the district. Here we function as one cohesive unit where the single objective is student success.”

“We take great pride in our college & career readiness pathways,” touts Corona High School principal Antonio Gonzalez. “Our students get to work on industry-standard equipment and in many cases, are doing the work that exceeds that of college-level programs. Our dedicated teachers and staff ensure that we have partnerships with industry leaders that provide our students with unique opportunities to truly have a genuine perspective of what it means to be in STEM fields. We are fortunate to be in a district that believes in this type of education for our students. Without their support, this does not happen.”

Corona High School is always looking for community partners. A partnership can mean anything from guest speakers, mentorships, job shadowing, tours and field trips, curriculum and classroom support, internships and professional development, scholarships and financial sponsorship, or even donations to their STEM Academy. “If someone in the community wants to be a part of our program, we have many ways companies and individuals can get involved,” concludes Eric Lee. “I encourage your readers to check out our program in person and come talk to the students. They will be impressed.”