Industry 4.0 technologies are rapidly transforming how people work in manufacturing, engineering, computer science and other sectors. New technologies increase productivity by connecting cloud-based data analytics software to smart devices.
With these changes comes a need for education to respond at all levels, preparing students for Industry 4.0 careers.
Middle School is the Critical Age
Middle school is a critical age: studies show that a majority of students will have already decided whether or not to pursue a STEM career by 8th grade. A study published by the Manufacturing Institute found that 63% of students said their own interests and experiences were the number one factor in determining their future pathway. (For reference, the next highest-scoring factor was parents, coming in at 32%.)
So here we have a clear vision of the future workforce: all industries will be affected by connected technologies, making Industry 4.0 skills more important than ever. And educators have a clear mission: get more students to stick with STEM education by integrating experiential, hands-on learning of new technologies into middle school curriculum.
Industry 4.0 Solutions
Industry 4.0 Foundations is an education solution for 5th – 8th grade that provides an opportunity for middle schoolers to explore topics related to pathways in advanced manufacturing, robotics, engineering, computer science, electrical technology, and more.
The curriculum focuses on a number of key topics: basic mechatronics (including electricity, fluid power, mechanical systems and controls), autonomous vehicles and drones, smart sensors and devices, robotics and automation, computer science and coding, 3D printing, data analytics, and alternative energy.
Basic mechatronics teaches engineering design, computer science, and electrical technology. The capstone robotics project guides students to build a humanoid robot using intelligent servo motors, bluetooth controls, sensors, and software for coding, flowcharting and robot motion editing.
In the automated guided vehicles and aerial drones units, students build drones and AGVs while learning the science behind each component, including sensors and servos, variable force and motion, drone coding, physics of flight, and more.
The alternative energy unit provides experiments for understanding concepts in alternative and renewable energy, including photovoltaics, wind power, hydro power, electric mobility and fuel cells, all while allowing students to use creativity, data logging and analysis.
Students also get an introduction to 3D printing, including design, materials, and projects for printing components that can be used in tooling, mechatronics, robotics, and more.
The program is excellent for teachers because it provides full LMS platforms, teacher training, ready-to-go kits, student-led projects, assessment tools, and is scalable to any size program.
Students Get an Advantage
Random Lake Middle School is already implementing curriculum and engineering robotics kits from the Industry 4.0 Foundations program.
Mike Trimberger, Superintendent for Random Lake School District, said the decision was made after months of consulting with employers in the community about what students need to know when they enter the workforce.
“As we see the increase of devices that are connecting to the Internet every day, our students will have an advantage over others if they understand the IoT and Industry 4.0 as it relates to careers they are interested in for the future,” Trimberger remarked.
At RLSD, students learn about mechanical systems, sensors, and coding as they put together the ERIK robot (Educational Robotics Invention Kit).
Industry 4.0 Foundations provides a framework that can be built upon in high school and beyond, including the four-course Industry 4.0 Fundamentals program that’s already being implemented in high schools and technical colleges across the Midwest.
But most importantly, it gives middle schoolers the chance to see firsthand what a STEM career could look like. And with demand for STEM skills growing in all industries, this early exposure is crucial to our students’ futures.