Archive for Wednesday, November 20, 1991


November 20, 1991


— The days when industrial arts class meant making bookends have given way to classes where students build rockets, program robots, assemble engines and construct model airplanes.

For the third year, Tonganoxie Junior High School eighth-graders are taking part in "Explorations in Technology," an innovative course that introduces students to various aspects of technology in a changing world.

Chris Weller, industrial education teacher, said a school in Pittsburg was the first to implement the program, followed by TJHS and five other schools the next year. He helped the district secure a $20,000 state grant in 1988 to set up the new technology course.

"The whole idea of this concept is the United States is way behind Japan in technology," said Weller. "People say our kids are lazy and they can't learn. That's completely false. They do extremely well in here."

STUDENTS IN the class spend eight days at each of 10 modules, where they learn about a specific aspect of technology. Each station features a book of instructions, and quizzes or tests either on paper or on a computer. Some include audio cassettes, videos, and additional reading.

At the Lego-LOGO module, they build a car, merry-go-round, or other object out of Lego blocks, which they hook up to a computer. They then write a computer program in the LOGO computer language to make their object perform a function. For example, they can make the merry-go-round play music or the car drive on one wheel.

"This is by far the favorite module," Weller said. "What's great about this is it uses math ratios, it uses science, it even gets into a little history. And they don't even realize they're doing math."

IN THE SMALL gas engines module, students study history, memorize engine parts, and disassemble and reassemble a small gas engine. The robotics module has students write a computer program to lead a robot through various movements, "assemble" a robot on the computer with a limited budget, and learn to function a robotic arm so it can shoot a miniature basketball. "There's a lot of creative problem-solving going on," Weller said.

Other modules in the classroom are hydraulics, pneumatics, gears and pulleys; rocketry; printing; electronics; flight technology; drafting; and Think Tank, a station that focuses on engineering principles and bridge building.

Weller, who designed the curriculum for all 10 modules, plans to add a simulated radio station and a darkroom module next year. The class will take place in the district-owned West Haven Baptist Church, which currently is being remodeled into classrooms.

DURING THE last part of the semesterlong class, students head to the shop for a taste of more traditional industrial arts training. They learn to operate machines such as the bandsaw, electric miter box, routers and drill presses. Students also mass produce a wooden item for sale, while seeing first-hand what it takes to run a business.

This year, the eighth-graders made wooden musical reindeers that played "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" when its nose was pushed, Weller said. Sales of the product generated about $1,000 in profit, which will go to purchase a new piece of equipment for the shop.

Weller said the technology class concept is the wave of the future for industrial arts, and many schools across the state have implemented such a program or are considering doing so. "It gives kids the ability to think more on their own," he said.

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