Oltman students try out engineeringIt’s not just a new class to replace an outdated eighth-grade technology class; it’s an incentive for students to think in new ways.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
It’s not just a new class to replace an outdated eighth-grade technology class; it’s an incentive for students to think in new ways.
Last spring, with the help of a $40,000 grant from 3M, the District 833 School Board approved Design and Modeling, a new class from Project Lead the Way, for Oltman and Woodbury junior high schools to replace Exploring Technology.
Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit education firm that offers engineering courses throughout the United States.
Oltman math teacher Gary Kressin and Cory Oberdaus at Woodbury, were trained this summer to teach the class, which asks students to become engineers by navigating a software program led by teachers.
The goal of the lessons is to build a racecar model, but to do so, students must study how to create basic geometric shapes such as ellipses, cones, cubes and spheres and combine them. Computers can show the model from virtually a limitless number of viewpoints, according to lesson plans.
Students learn the basics of engineering by adding holes, slots and extrusions to their models.
But the atmosphere in Kressin’s classes is quite different from that found in traditional classrooms.
If he is not lecturing, students can talk to each other about what they are working on and help each other. It’s encouraged.
While in Kressin’s “No Gum Zone” at their computer stations, students are encouraged to make mistakes. “The ‘undo’ button is the most used button on the screen,” he told students in October.
The engineering software offers several ways to get answers and help students finish projects. “There is no right way or wrong way,” he said, in an interview after class on Oct. 20.
There are no textbooks. Students do all their work on computers.
Unlike lessons students do in language arts and social studies, not all sentences in student engineering notes are in paragraphs or complete sentences. Students are told to use abbreviations, symbols and personal shorthand.
During the last five minutes of the class, students, on their own, are encouraged to tinker with images they have made. Some are bolder than others but most of them learn how to change the size of an image and add color and texture.
After following Kressin’s instructions on their computers, there are frequent “oh my gosh” student reactions when figures on their screens move to three-dimensional models. Students are surprised. Some are delighted.
“It’s a great way to learn,” said Annie Bunton, without taking her eyes off her computer screen.
Bunton was learning how to make the three-dimensional box on her screen into a wedge.
“Show how smart you are,” Kressin told the class.
Student opinions about the class range from “pretty good” to not wanting to leave to go to their next class, he said.
Drew Osborn, like most students his age, gets information on home computers every day by navigating Internet sites, communicating with friends and playing games.
None of the students in Kressin’s afternoon class, when asked, has ever used an engineering software program.
Kressin got interested in bringing STEM to Oltman after spending half of his time last year as a math coordinator. He concluded classes needed to be more rigorous. “My passion is to improve math scores on state tests,” he said. “The same old, same old is not working.”
Test scores show students are weak in measurement and geometry.
Kressin found students did not know how to measure or estimate the size of objects.
When viewing a three-dimensional box on their computer screens, students could not see that the bottom of the box in the foreground is the same length as the top.
As the students proceed in the new class, their ability to judge how long or how high an object is should increase.
“We’re able to talk when we work on our computers and help each other,” said Lauren Funkhouser.
Serena Raasch likes the idea of being an engineer. “You learn how to make things in 3D,” she said.
“It’s my second favorite class,” said Kody Peterson, who made his cylinder the color of bubble gum. “Cool,” he said, looking at the computer screen. Math is his favorite class.
“I love it,” said Talila Burka. “It’s imaginative and creative. I can sketch things that are in my mind.”
Kressin said students need to learn how to think abstractly. They see the value of what they are learning. “They don’t ask me why they have to learn this,” he said.
Kressin took the lead to get STEM, said Becky Schroeder, Oltman principal. “We need to be offering something more for our kids,” she said. “This is the next step. It’s a big shift in what they are learning.”
Next year, Cottage Grove and Lake middle schools will also have STEM classes, according to Schroeder.