Carter Jenatscheck started working with robots while taking Introduction to Engineering at Pardeeville High School, and almost right away something clicked for the senior.
It was fun — who wouldn’t want to work with robots? — but now it’s more than that.
Technology education shaped his career prospects.
“I’d come in during my lunch periods, I’d come in after school, whenever I could, just to work on it,” the senior said Monday standing next to his Skills USA partner, Russell Bush. Together, Jenatscheck and Bush will enter a robot into the student organization’s regional competition Friday in Fennimore, a robot with a camera to help them locate and move blocks, a robot with perpendicular wheels that allow almost any movement. Students, gripping remote controls, will compete for the fastest time.
“I’ve always liked being hands-on with whatever I’ve done,” Jenatscheck said. “With this robot, everything is hands on.”
The students agreed skills gained through the school’s revived technology education program — back after a two-year break — will help them in years to come.
Jenatscheck will study mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Bush will be a radio operator in the U.S. Marines Corps, likely before a career in construction as a general contractor.
And if you ask Hunter Jerome, another senior, technology education led to his decision to pursue a career as a train engineer.
“It’s not just out of a book, which I like,” Jerome said of classes taught by technology education instructor Jonathan Koehler. “I see all this stuff as being very important, because it teaches welding, woodwork — traits people need to know or learn, in life.”
The school’s partnership with Madison Area Technical College for dual-credit opportunities returned for the second semester of the 2014-15 school year, and that partnership led to the hiring of Koehler, a part-time teacher at MATC.
Dual-credit courses available at Pardeeville cover a range of areas: Advanced Accounting; Introduction to College Writing and Reading Strategies; Algebra Applications; Medical Terminology; Introduction to Health Care Careers; and Introduction to Manufacturing. Pardeeville will also offer up to four dual-credit classes in agriculture-science next school year.
Koehler teaches several technology education classes at the school, including Introduction to Technology Education; Advanced Computer Aided Design; Introduction to Engineering; and Introduction to Drafting.
What you see in his classrooms today, he said, is part of the school’s attempt to bring more engineering and science into the mix. “Typically, technology education up until this point has been wood shop, metal shop, welding, and has usually been very outdated, using 1950s era technology.
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“A lot of the kids interested in working with their hands are interested in becoming engineers and scientists, so we’re trying to make it about all things related to manufacturing and technology education,” Koehler said. “We’re preparing kids for multiple avenues, multiple ways to get into the tech field.”
Students in Koehler’s Advanced CAD class, for example, have worked to build a ‘Quad-copter’ — essentially a do-it-your-self drone, he said. The students designed it using CAD applications and later worked with a vendor, Midwest Prototyping, for the 3D printing. Working with Midwest Prototyping provided the students with “real customer contact situations.”
What’s learned in Advanced CAD, Koehler said, translates to “employable skills immediately after high school” for students who seek jobs as mechanical design technicians.
This semester Koehler will teach Power, Energy and Electricity, a class where students will learn about renewable energy sources — like solar, hydro and wind — and the students will actually build energy cells. In 21st Century Home Maintenance, Koehler will, in essence, teach students how to use “all that stuff you’d buy at Home Depot.”
“We’re trying to replace the traditional Home-Ec class with a class that teaches you how to be a good homeowner: How to clean your gutters, how to attach gutters, how to repair drywall, paint, install wood flooring. We’re trying to teach kids how to do DIY projects to save money.”
Pardeeville High School counselor Crystal Huset said the need for schools to adapt their technology education departments is evident in the numbers, noting 54 percent of jobs hired in Wisconsin are for middle-skill workers.
“Those are the positions struggling to provide workers, and it’s important for industry right now,” said Huset, who also works as Pardeeville’s school-to-work coordinator.
Huset recently helped the school create and submit a three-year plan in hopes of obtaining a fabrication laboratories grant that would provide $25,000 for technology in the first year, and $75,000 overall. Purchased technology would include 3D printers, laser engravers, a new saw stop and a grinder, she said.
“So many things are automated now. It’s a lot more advanced than when I was in school,” she said.
Principal Jason LeMay said the whole point of revamping technology education was to find something “sustainable and marketable” for students, an effort jump-started by $80,000 earmarked for technology education from the 2014 referendum. ‘Explorer’ classes for middle school students also factor in the program’s development, offering those students a chance to “get a taste” for high school tech-ed classes in nine-week cycles.
If the school gets the Fab Labs Grant, he said, technology education at Pardeeville will only get stronger.
“These are such fast-paced, changing fields, that a lot of times things get stagnant,” LeMay said of technology education. “The days of traditional ‘tech ed’ with your wood shop are pretty much gone.
“The big thing is to be fluid, adaptable.”