From a Maker Fair to a Fab Lab: How a Western Wisconsin school district is helping students develop in-demand skills

By Timm Boettcher, Realityworks President & CEO

In the first of this two-part series for ACTE’s Industry Connect blog, we profile a Western Wisconsin CTE program that’s doing some exciting things to engage CTE students.

Excitement was palpable as Altoona elementary, middle and high school students crowded into the middle school gym on April 25. The students were there to display a variety of handmade, interactive projects for the Western Wisconsin school district’s fifth annual Maker Fair. For the participants, the fair was an opportunity to show off projects that many had made using skills learned in the district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, like graphic design, woodworking and coding. For the organizers, the fair was an opportunity to celebrate how far the district’s CTE program has come since their first Maker Fair in 2014.

“When I started in 2014, I was the tech ed department,” said School District of Altoona Technology Education Teacher Jeffrey Ballentine. “Enrollment had been declining steadily since the mid-90’s, and we knew we had to make some changes. A makerspace was the first initiative we started, and with that initiative came a Maker Fair.”

In 2014, Ballentine was teaching one section of CTE courses to fourth-and fifth-graders and one section of CTE courses to ninth- through 12-graders each day, while middle school students received no CTE instruction. He typically saw no more than 10 students per class, and coursework focused on a more “modular” approach.

“Back then, we’d set up stations – a hydraulics lab station, a woodworking station, etc. Students would complete small tasks at each station, but not usually a complete project,” recalls Ballentine. “While they learned skills, this approach didn’t seem to carry as much interest with students – it didn’t give a real-world experience for them.”

To give Altoona students more real-world experiences, renew interest in CTE programs and address a growing skills gap in business and industry, the district started shifting toward a more project-based learning approach.

“When I speak with industry leaders in our area, they’re saying they want our kids to be able to do things like use a ruler, a tape measure, implement math into a program to operate a machine – things that require hands-on learning experiences,” said Dan Peggs, Altoona School District Superintendent, who was principal of Altoona Middle School when the shift towards more project-based learning was made. “Project-based learning is a way to let students flex a variety of tech ed ‘muscles,’ learn needed skills, work with tools and technology… in a way that suits them.”

Grants Enable Program Growth

In 2014, the district applied for and received a $20,000 state education grant to enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) offerings for fourth- and fifth-graders, including a makerspace – and subsequent Maker Fair. This initiative gave Altoona students a chance to invent and create projects using resources like computers and audio/video editing tools.

“It’s a popular movement,” said Ballentine. “It’s about sharing how you made something and what your experiences were.”

The movement was so popular, in fact, that the next year – in conjunction with a $23 million referendum to remodel several district buildings – the School District of Altoona applied for, and received, a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The grant’s purpose: to create the Altoona Intermediate and Middle School Fabrication Laboratory, or Fab Lab, in what was previously an elementary school multipurpose space.

“We’ve received several smaller grants, and we get some donations from our community,” said Ballentine. “But without that WEDC grant, I think that our Fab Lab would have been turned back into a gym, and we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

A project-based learning environment designed to provide students with the skills needed to create products and develop skills needed to meet workforce demands, the Fab Lab initially began with a laser engraver, a 3D printer, a vinyl cutter and Lego robot. In addition to equipment, the grant also enabled the district to add a second CTE instructor, Bill Steinke, so courses could also be offered at the middle school in response to increasing demand.

“Our administration believes in hands-on learning, and as a technology and engineering teacher myself, I believe in providing educational experiences that engage kinesthetic learners,” said Ballentine. “Research shows that kinesthetic learning better engages learners and bridges the gaps between theoretical learning and practice.

More student engagement meant higher demand for CTE classes. According to Ballentine, enrollment in the School District of Altoona’s CTE program has increased almost 5 times since the Fab Lab opened its doors in October 2016. That year, 14 sections of CTE courses were offered; during the 2019-2020 school year, Ballentine, Bill Steinke and Sarah Steinke, who joined the department in 2018 to teach fourth- and fifth-graders, will together offer 20 CTE courses. Classes now range from metal fabrication, building construction and welding to graphic design, mechatronics and digital fabrication. Fab Lab equipment has been added to as well; recent additions include traditional tools like welders, as well as a vacuum former, a 3D mill and a plastic injection molding machine.

“Not only do we have more sections available, but we have more kids per class,” said Ballentine, explaining that the district is also seeing more female students enrolled in CTE courses than ever before. “The key is to get them in early, continue them in the coursework.”

Stay tuned next month, when this article continues with a review of the industry partnerships that are helping to ensure program relevancy and reactions from Altoona students, whose CTE experiences are growing

Schooled in ag: School gives students a hands-on education

By Holly Kays | Published August 29, 2019 for the Smoky Mountain News | Click here to read the original article

With a new school year just begun, the 300 students who participate in Waynesville Middle School’s robust agriculture program now have an array of new woodshop equipment at their disposal. “In two weeks this will be like Santa’s little helper’s woodshop,” Noal Castater, agriculture teacher at WMS since 2010, said in an interview the Friday before the first day of school.

The equipment, which includes 17 pieces of woodworking equipment and eight engines, was purchased last spring thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Carolina Farm Credit Corporate Mission Fund. Out of 100 applications, 40 received funding, with an average award of $3,800.

Woodworking, power tool use and small engine repair are lifelong skills, said Castater, and it’s important for students to gain at least a rudimentary grasp of them.

Continue reading the complete, original article on SmokyMountainNews.com by clicking here.

New research points to benefits of high school CTE programs

Originally posted by Daniel Kreisman and Kevin Stange for EducationNext.org | Click here to read the original post

Since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, policymakers and politicians have worked to stave off a perceived decline in the academic preparation of American students. Stubbornly low scores on international exams and signs that many U.S. graduates are ill-equipped for college and the workforce have lent urgency to this perception, and many states have made high-school graduation requirements more rigorous in response. As a result, American high-school graduates today complete more academic courses and more advanced coursework than they did three decades ago. At first glance, this seems clear evidence of progress.

Students from Aviation High School in Queens, New York, are some of the only high school students to compete against adult professionals in the annual national Aerospace Maintenance Competition.
Students from Aviation High School in Queens, New York, are some of the only high school students to compete against adult professionals in the annual national Aerospace Maintenance Competition.

But much of those gains have come at the expense of student participation in vocational, or career and technical education, classes—a broad category of coursework that encompasses everything from welding, to sports management, to computer science. Many praise this shift, arguing that vocational education in high school deters capable students from college and prepares them for “dead-end” jobs. Yet an opposing camp points to shortages in the skilled professions, noting that not all students are college-bound and that for some, vocational training may be the difference between high- and low-paying jobs. Pushing all students to concentrate on core academic classes at the expense of vocational study, advocates say, takes the focus off the occupationally relevant skills and credentials graduates need for a smooth transition to adulthood.

This raises a central question: What is the relationship between modern-day vocational or career and technical coursework and high-school graduates’ success in college or in the workforce? Is vocational education an off ramp to college foisted upon lackluster students, or a different and less costly path toward adult success? We examined high-school and college transcripts and labor-market outcomes for about 4,000 adults to find out.

Click here to continue reading the original post, which was published on EducationNext.org.

Tri-County gets 10k grant from Bayer to fund STEM project

Originally posted by Heather VanDenmark for the Herald Journal on July 27, 2019 | Click here to read the original post

REMINGTON — Employees from Bayer Crop Science of Remington recommended Tri-County Intermediate School receive a $10,000 grant from the Bayer Fund’s 2019 site grant initiative.

The funds from the grant will be used to improve the school’s hydroponics program, which offers students engaging experiences that will develop 21st century skills.

According to TCI Principal Brian Hagan, the funds will be used to purchase two vertical hydroponic systems. This will provide students the opportunity to learn a different type of hydroponics system for crops such as peppers and tomatoes.

This article was originally posted on July 27, 2019 for the Herald Journal. Click here to read the original post in its entirety.

At career camps, middle school students get hands-on experience with CPR

Originally posted by Rachel Alexander on July 9, 2019 for the Salem Reporter | Click here to read the original post

In mid-July, Sprague High School appears mostly deserted.

But one basement classroom teemed with excitement Monday as 20 students practiced chest compression, hooked up defibrillators and tried to listen to heart monitors over the din of people screaming, “I have an emergency!”

It was the first day of health services camp, a week-long program for Salem-Keizer middle school students taught by Sprague High School teachers.

At the start of camp, “most of them didn’t know each other. You could’ve heard a pin drop,” said health and sports medicine teacher Kimo Mahi.

Three hours later, the teens were working together to save the lives of their dummies while teasing each other.

Click here to read the original post, which was written by Rachel Alexander for the Salem Reporter on July 9, 2019

Career & technical education programs get funding boost to help fill need for workers

Originally posted on July 13, 2019 for abc27.com | Click here to read the original post

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – This year’s state budget includes millions of dollars of support for career and technical education programs. The goal is to help fill the high demand for skilled workers.

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is getting four million dollars extra this year, so it could expand its programs and train more students.

“If we had 1,400 employers with over 4,000 jobs seeking our close to 400 graduates, obviously most of them didn’t get the human resources they need, which means they can’t do the business that they need to do,” said Dr. William Griscom, the president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

Several chamber of commerces in Pennsylvania say the need for candidates with career and technical education is higher than ever.

“When you have an institution that has been turning away thousands of enrollees because they just didn’t have the room or the space, and at the same time you’re turning away thousands of employers who say, ‘I need welders for this and I need this’…to be able to finally be able to put our money where our mouth is,” said Sen. Scott Martin.

Click here to read the original article, which was posted on July 13, 2019 for abc27.com

How Hydroponic School Gardens Can Cultivate Food Justice, Year-Round

Originally posted by Robin Lloyd on July 7, 2019 for KUOW.org | Click here to read the original post

After a full day of school a few weeks ago, 12-year-old Rose Quigley donned gloves and quickly picked bunches of fresh lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, mint and oregano. But she didn’t have to leave her school in Brooklyn, N.Y., or even go outdoors to do it.

Quigley is one of dozens of students at Brownsville Collaborative Middle School who in the past year built a high-tech, high-yield farm inside a third-floor classroom. They decided what to grow, then planted seeds and harvested dozens of pounds of produce weekly.

The vegetables never stop coming because the crops are grown hydroponically — indoors, on floor-to-ceiling shelves that hold seedlings and plants sprouting from fiber plugs stuck in trays, each fed by nutrient-enriched water and lit by LED lamps. The students provide weekly produce for their cafeteria’s salad bar and other dishes.

Later that same day, for the first time, Quigley and several of her schoolmates also sold some of their harvest — at a discount from market rates — to community members. It’s part of a new weekly “food box” service set up in the school’s foyer. Each of 34 customers receive an allotment of fresh produce intended to feed two people for a week. Three students, paid as interns, used digital tablets to process orders, while peers handed out free samples of a pasta salad featuring produce from the farm.

Quigley’s passion for farming stems from Teens for Food Justice, a 6-year-old nonprofit organization that has worked with community partners to train students at Brownsville Collaborative and two other schools in low-income neighborhoods in New York City to become savvy urban farmers and consumers.

Originally posted by Robin Lloyd on July 7, 2019 for KUOW.org | Click here to read the original post

CTE in the news: Students in Tech Say Soft Skills and the Arts Set Them Up for Success

Originally posted by Emily Tate on June 12, 2019 on Edsurge.com | Click here to read the original post

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Dolica Gopisetty was applying for summer internships earlier this year, employers kept telling her that what they valued most in potential hires was strong communication skills and a willingness to learn new things.

And when Nathan Wallace was transitioning from college to the workforce a few months ago, he noticed a similar trend. “A lot of employers are looking for a well-rounded individual with multiple skills, including the ability to communicate effectively,” he said, adding that a penchant for experimentation came up a lot, too.

Gopisetty and Wallace are both in highly technical fields. She’s pursuing an information technology degree, with a focus on cloud computing, at Virginia’s George Mason University, and he’s a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s master’s program in technology management. Yet despite these technical backgrounds, Gopisetty and Wallace, along with four other students speaking on a panel at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington, D.C. this week, praised their experiences in the arts and the importance of soft skills as key to setting them up for success in their respective fields.

Click here to read the original post, which was published on Edsurge.com on June 12

Lessons On Career & Technical Education From America’s Oldest Trade School

Originally posted by Frederick Hess on June 18, 2019 on Forbes.com | Click here to read the original post

The nation is suffused in enthusiastic talk about career and technical education. Policymakers ranging from President Trump to Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders have called for more schooling that can equip students for in-demand, middle-class jobs. Well, a lot of the discussion is driven by advocates, academics, and elected officials. It seems useful to ask those with a track record of actually doing this work what they think.

Enter Sarah Turner, the president of North Bennet Street School (NBSS), a 138-year-old trade school in Boston. The school enrolls students from age 18 to 70, with a mix of high school grads, veterans, and white-collar professionals. A Fulbright Fellow who has studied Dutch contemporary applied art, Turner comes to the trades as an artist—giving her an intriguing perspective on the whole thing.

Click here to read the original post, which written by Frederick Hess on June 18 for Forbes.com

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