The Virtue of BIG: Why Complex Team Projects Teach the Best Lessons

When it comes to hands-on projects, STEM students like to think big!  At Power Mountain, we love big thinkers and big doers who enjoy making big things happen. Going big at PME means that building a fantastic machine is not the only thing we do; we teach bigger lessons:

  • Successful big-team projects achieve more than any single team member could have accomplished on their own. Result – The team develops a tremendous pride in doing something tough together.
  • Our big projects contain a collection of advanced technologies that are beyond the high-school curriculum and so lie outside the team’s knowledge base. Result – Individual team members must pick a single tech area of personal interest and teach each other the deeper details.
  • Big projects contain lots of parts that must fit together and work as designed. Result – Machine design and fabrication tasks are divided up among team members and are accompanied by intense communication between subgroups to make sure it all comes out right.
  • Big projects contain big failure risks that are reduced by prototype testing and analysis. Result – Subgroups are the best places to make lots of mistakes while finding the right answers from little experiments.
  • Having just a few people in each subgroup offers leadership opportunities, individualized skill-building instruction, and the freedom to express new ideas between like-minded teammates. Result – Shy students gain confidence in their skills and abilities.
  • Big projects need big management to finish on time and on budget. Result – PME projects are a real opportunity to learn formal project and schedule management, problem solving, critical thinking, cost control, communication and conflict resolution, while picking up a few negotiating skills.

For students interested in a STEM career, a big project is likely in your professional future.  Business and research solve hard problems with teams of people that take on difficult elements of a much larger task.

At Power Mountain Engineering, we believe in authentic project-based learning [1].  We also believe that high-school-age students are capable of doing advanced projects that use industrial fabrication methods and college-level STEM skills. PME volunteers show our students how professionals solve problems, while illustrating the purpose for the STEM skills they already have and show a clear need to obtain more.


Pursue your new career interests with passion and determination: “Go BIG, or Go Home!”


  1. John Larmer, Editor in Chief, “What Does It Take for a Project to be ‘Authentic’?”, Buck Institute for Education (BIE), 18 Commercial Blvd, Novato, CA 94949, May 24, 2012