In August 2013, State Representative Barbara Wheeler called Nick Low, Prairie Ridge computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering teacher, to suggest a hands-on project for one of his classes: a scale model of the McHenry lock and dam. After the Fox River flooded in April and June of 2013, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) struggled to explain the lock and dam’s mechanics to homeowners. Rep. Wheeler wanted a scale model of the system to demonstrate its function, so she asked Mr. Low to design a class project in which students would apply their lessons to build the model. Mr. Low agreed.
“That’s what engineers do,” he said. “They solve problems.”
At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Low’s Advanced Design class started configuring a scale model of McHenry’s William G. Stratton Lock and Dam from scratch. They visited the dam in October 2013, collaborating with staff and analyzing the structure’s original blueprints. Click here to read more about the class's first visit to the dam.
Seven months later on April 15, 2014, the students stood in front of McHenry County’s Board to present their finished model. They described their construction process and how they each contributed to the model’s design.
Prairie Ridge principal Steve Koch talked about the opportunity students got to apply their skills to a real-world project, and senior Mason Switzer said the project was a great introduction to the types of large-scale projects he might work on in college next year.
Rep. Wheeler thanked Mr. Low and the students, estimating a $10,000 price tag if the county had contracted an outside company to build the model.
The McHenry County schools and the DNR will use the group’s model to educate students and homeowners, especially those who live near Fox River, about the lock and dam’s functions and limitations during heavy rainfall.