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Real-world projects guide magnet school students

BUILDING A BETTER VEST—Students at Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Multi-Magnet school engineer bulletproof vests as part  of a project-based curriculum.
BUILDING A BETTER VEST—Students at Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Multi-Magnet school engineer bulletproof vests as part of a project-based curriculum.

Real-world passion projects inspired magnet school students in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to design sturdier bulletproof vests and faster sails, among other innovations.

The students attended biotech, engineering and IT-focused academies at Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Multi-Magnet High School.

The research- or design-oriented assignments enable students to focus on their hobbies and interests. And senior students must design a real-world engineering or media production improvement that will make a positive community difference.


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One student created an asymmetrical, movable spinnaker that allows sailors to avoid a wind “dead zone” and gain more speed, says Jay Lipp, principal of the aerospace/hydrospace engineering and physical science school.

Another team added a component to a bulletproof Kevlar vest to better distribute a bullet’s energy and prevent the pain and internal damage that can be caused when hit.


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Students used an “oobleck” mixture—made from cornstarch, water and Mod Podge—to produce a prototype integrated into the vest.

They also sketched out ideas for how the vest could be made lighter.

Students must determine the technology, supplies and information they need.

“Part of their projects is also to talk to real engineers in the field in order to gain insight into the real-world challenges and even if their ideas are feasible,” says Lipp.

Students present their final capstone project in front of experts, such as local manufacturing association officials or Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation engineers, who offer constructive criticism.

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