An Uncommon Interface: Little Kids, Big Kids, and Computer Technology

A few weeks ago,  the children who attend McCutcheon High School’s pre-school class (Creative Corral) and the high school students in Computer Repair and Maintenance (CRAM)–the students who fix the computers for everyone else in the school–came together for a morning of activities the teenaged students called “Pre-TECH.”

Mrs. Arrika Yoder’s Early Childhood Education class at MHS meets every day. In the morning, the students work in the pre-school that is housed in the high school building. In the afternoon, they learn about careers in education, plan lessons, discuss issues, and gain as much exposure to the world of education as they can. These students are on track for careers as educators, day care providers, pediatric nurses, and child psychologists. Some will retake the lab portion of the class next year; some will become cadet teachers in our elementary and middle schools.

Mrs. Christina Bennett’s CRAM class meets every day in a classroom that, years ago, was the school’s only computer lab. Hers are the students who repair the Chromebooks and laptops that students at MHS carry with them from class to class and take home at night. The CRAM students are exploring careers in the computer technology industry: They will become our programmers, technicians, and web designers. They will be the individuals the rest of us will rely on to stay connected, current, and cybersafe.

The collaboration between these two groups really began a year ago when Mrs. Yoder asked the CRAM students to show the pre-schoolers how to use the apps on the iPads in the pre-K classroom. This year, the CRAM students, under Mrs. Bennett’s direction, decided to go giant steps farther and set up learning stations—a format the pre-schoolers would understand—to show the children more about technology.  Just like teachers would, the CRAM students spent one day each week for three weeks clarifying their learning goals and then designing and setting up their stations.

On the appointed morning, the preschoolers, accompanied by Mrs. Yoder and the Educational Careers students who are their teachers, filed into the CRAM room.  Tables had been set up for snacks, and various computer parts—a motherboard, a flash drive, a keyboard, a chip—were used as table decorations. As the children munched on their snacks, one boy explained the function of each computer part. “The motherboard is the heart of the computer,” he told them, and encouraged the preschoolers to play with the decorations. They immediately picked the items up and began manipulating them. 

One boy transferred the keyboard directly to his lap right away. He began moving his fingers across the keys in imitation of what he’d undoubted seen adults do. “What are you typing?” I asked him. 

“My password, “ he replied knowingly.

He didn’t share it with me.

After snacks, the students rotated through the five stations: Coding, Virtual Reality, Fiber Optic Cabling, Repair, and Customer Service.

At the Virtual Reality station, students donned 3-D viewers to experience 360 degree vision. The CRAM students in charge of this station had found a Virtual Reality roller coaster game for the students to view and play.

At the Repair Station, the pre-schoolers used screwdrivers to remove the computer cases. At Customer Service, they learned how to check in a computer for repair and then to check it out again. 

 

For the Coding Station, the CRAM students had gone to Code Academy to find a game that was user-friendly for pre-schoolers, age appropriate, and still would teach the children the fundamentals of coding. What they found was a game that used blocks. Using a simple set of instructions, the children moved the blocks around on the computer screens.

Most complex of all, though, was the Fiber Optic Cabling Station. There, the pre-schoolers encountered plates of jello squares with cookie cutters beside them.  The CRAM students illustrated the way light travels through a cable by directing a laser light through the jello. When the pre-schoolers cut the jello squares, the light was trapped by the twists and turns of the shapes. Even a knife mark on the jello altered the line of light. The effect was even more pronounced when the youngsters entered a tent set up under the table. The pre-schoolers were intrigued. They understood that a straight, stable cable with no impurities or kinks was needed to transmit information. They also noted that the orange jello worked the best, the green not so well.

Before the morning was over, the CRAM students conducted a mini-evaluation of their learning stations, asking the pre-schoolers to rank order the Pre-Tech learning stations. The Virtual Reality Station came in first: The pre-schoolers thought it was the most fun. The jello station came in second; Computer Repair, third.

During their time in the CRAM room, Mrs. Bennett took a Polaroid photograph of each pre-schooler in a photo booth that was decorated with discarded CDs. As they were leaving at the end of the morning, each child received a bag of favors.  Mrs. Bennett had saved the anti-static bags in which computer parts are transported; these became the treat bags. Inside, each pre-schooler found his or her photo glued to a discarded floppy disc, a computer coloring page, 1 big marshmallow and 8 little ones (1 byte = 8 bits), licorice ropes to remind them of cabling, and a few other clever souvenirs of all they had learned that morning. Undoubtedly, computer talk dominated dinner table conversations that evening! 

Later, when I interviewed the CRAM students, I asked what they had learned from the experience.

Zach told me that he was surprised by how much the pre-schoolers already knew about technology. I smiled, remembering the boy who had so quickly put the keyboard in his lap.  

Nikaya was amazed at the children’s reactions to the laser light. “They were so excited,” she said. “I was not expecting that.”

Malachi said he had learned how to interact with kids, and that prompted a discussion about the emphasis Mrs. Bennett has put on learning how to talk to people with different levels of understanding of technology and with people of different ages. “Your audience could be anyone,” she tells her students. “You have to be able to communicate with people with all different levels of experience in ways they’ll understand.”

Mrs. Yoder said that her high school students, who spend a lot of time designing and sequencing instruction themselves, were impressed with the lesson planning the CRAM students had done.  

Mrs. Bennett confirmed that and summarized the experience for the CRAM students this way: “They had a great time because the kids did.”

That’s the wonderful thing about this uncommon interdisciplinary collaboration: Not only was this a great learning opportunity for all of the students–the Educational Careers students, the CRAM students, and the pre-schoolers–it was a whole lot of fun as well!

At the Customer Service counter

 

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Engineers Ourselves

Problem: The spare tire installation process on the assembly line at Subaru takes too long. How can we cut the time?

Solution: Put the high school students from the Engineering Design and Development class on the problem.

The students from McCutcheon High School watched the team at Subaru struggle with the tool they were using to bolt the spare tire to its housing in cars coming off the line. The wrench twisted, making the lock insecure and the process unreliable. The boys thought they had the answer: Redesign the tool.

They created a prototype of polymer plastic with metal pins that clamped the bolt securely and cut the time it was taking to install the spare tire in half. The problem was solved and the tool was fabricated and put into testing.

The two young men who solved the spare tire installation problem were at Subaru under the auspices of their Engineering Design and Development (EDD) course, the last in the STEM/Project Lead the Way (PLTW)  sequence offered at our high school. The class is a 2-hour block class offered to seniors who have completed the prerequisite PLTW courses. The students travel to one of two major manufacturing companies in Lafayette, Caterpillar and Subaru, two-three afternoons a week. There, they are assigned to a project engineer who guides them through the process of solving real problems that confront the company—on the assembly line or on the floor, even in quality control.

Nineteen students participated in the EDD program this year. Last week, singly or in pairs

Madison holds the prototype of a manifold caliper she created on the job at Caterpillar.
Madison holds the prototype of a manifold caliper she created on the job at Caterpillar.

or trios, they presented a summary of their activities—the problems they dealt with and the solutions they found—to an assembly of project engineers and executives from Caterpillar and Subaru; their teacher, Mr. Gary Werner; and other school personnel, including Central Office personnel and the Career and Technical Education coordinator.

“We liked seeing the real-world process,” the boys who redesigned the wrench said at the conclusion of their presentation. “We became engineers ourselves.”

It wasn’t the only problem these and other students worked on during their semester at Subaru. Nine students in all worked on In Process Control (IPC) issues with uniformity of paint color, reliability of welds, pacesetting for processes on the line, and safety monitoring. The daily routine for Logan  was to investigate a problem and assign it to an area that could resolve the issue. Loose or missing parts. A rear gate that wouldn’t close properly. A defective air flow sensor. “It was detective work,” he said, “and it gave me practice in auditing, investigation, and problem-solving—skills I’ll use all my life.”

John shows us the Engineering Notebook he was required to keep while at Caterpillar--a preview of what will be expected in college classes and in the field.
John shows us the Engineering Notebook he was required to keep while at Caterpillar–a preview of what will be expected in college classes and in the field.

Another ten students were assigned to project engineers at Caterpillar. This is Caterpillar’s 6th year working with students from McCutcheon.  This year’s crop worked on a variety of problems, including:

  • Creating a level to make sure that the turbo air tubes are all uniform in degree
  • Designing a suitable cover for the engine block so that stray items don’t drop through during assembly
  • Creating a lever that applies pressure evenly to the air manifold on the engine
  • Redesigning the layout of the line desk
  • Designing a fixture to hold a water block
  • Designing a dowel that will prevent people from hammering their fingers
  • Creating a shadow board to keep tools orderly and easily accessible
  • Redesigning the employees’ entrance
  • Redesigning the system for tagging items at lock out/tag out points

Notice the verbs I’ve used to list these projects: as every educator will recognize, they’re words used to designate upper level thinking skills.  Students applied ingenuity and expertise to real world problems, developing in the process solutions that are in active play at Caterpillar and Subaru today.

The skills they learned involve math, computer applications, and presentation. Critical thinking. Problem-solving. They learned to work in teams and to follow company protocols. To take direction, but to think independently to resolve issues.

“We learned a lot,” said James and CJ at the conclusion of their talk. “We learned responsibility. Other employees depended upon us. And creativity. We learned how important that is in problem-solving.”

This school year was the first time Subaru had teamed with the high school. The engineers liked the program, liked working with the students. “It’s a pipeline for us,” they said, and indeed it will be, judging by the newly announced college interns at Caterpillar. Two of those interns, from Purdue University, are graduates of McCutcheon’s Project Lead the Way program who did their EDD work at Caterpillar.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you’ll recall the piece I wrote about the middle school STEM class, Anything but Random.  That was the exploratory STEM class. EDD is the culminating course. It’s a path worth following for students with an interest in engineering, for students who value hands-on learning, for creative and critical thinkers who want to solve real-world problems.

My colleague Gary Werner had the idea seven years ago to approach Caterpillar and arrange these min-internships for the EDD class.  A year of planning and curriculum writing followed. The partnership with Caterpillar that my colleague forged goes beyond the national EDD curriculum by putting kids in a real-world situation where they can “see it, feel it, touch it, breath it,” or as Mr. Werner loves to say, in a “hands-on, minds-on experience.”  The course has been a success all around, and compliments were extended by the students to their project engineers as well as to their teacher. In their presentation, seniors John, Michael, and Adrian thanked their Caterpillar mentors and commented that “School only goes so far.”  It’s been good, they said, “to see their projects in use.”

Indeed, thanks to this STEM program that has partnered successfully with local industry, nineteen  more students became engineers themselves this year.

 

Dining In at School

The busboy: “I can feel it in my back.”

The plater: “My feet hurt! Our teacher told us to wear comfortable shoes.”

The restaurant manager: “I’ve been under high stress all day…”

On-the-scene remarks from students in Mrs. Laura Cole’s Advanced Nutrition and Wellness class, spoken by students who had just finished serving full course meals to 70 people in the space of two hours in a restaurant they’d created from scratch. Another class would repeat the experience two days later—this group preparing meals for 65. Teachers, secretaries, principals, aides–all building staff and even district office personnel receive the menus in advance, make reservations, and on the days of the restaurant, enjoy a thirty-minute lunch period in a setting very different from the usual brown bag, microwave, and cafeteria tray ambience.

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McCutcheon teachers enjoy lunch prepared and served by students.

These student-operated restaurant days have been a tradition at McCutcheon High School for at least thirty years. The program has spread to Harrison High School, too, and the staff  at both high schools have the chance each semester to enjoy a relaxing lunch with colleagues and observe proud, though nervous, students in a completely different setting. For the students, it’s an opportunity to discover the many challenging aspects of operating a restaurant and to apply the culinary skills they’ve learned in class.

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Mrs. Jami Mosley and teachers at Harrison High School enjoy lunch served by students.

I’ve enjoyed these lunches for years and I’ve often wondered how my colleagues, Mrs. Laura Cole at McCutcheon and Mrs. Jami Mosley at Harrison High School, do it. How do they take students from objectives projected on the whiteboard to a full service restaurant?

To find out, I asked to be a fly on the wall during the instructional phase of Mrs. Cole’s class and then take pictures in the kitchen on the days the restaurant was in operation.

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Students folded construction paper to make these floral centerpieces.

When Mrs. Cole introduced the project,  I learned along with the students that they would find recipes online, propose a menu, cost out the meals, and then make final choices based on selections that could be prepared economically and in volume in a short amount of time, meals whose artful arrangement on the plate and utter deliciousness would be irresistible. Mrs. Cole explained that the students would select a theme for the restaurant and transform a classroom area in the FACS department into a welcoming space with soft lighting and themed wall and table decorations. They’d learn to work as a team and see the absolute necessity for each person to responsibly carry out his or her role: managers, servers, expediters, platers, bussers, and dishwashers.

My colleague showed the students sample menus that went back thirty years—I remembered some of those earlier lunches—and opened her closets to reveal centerpieces, vases, and decorative objects that could be used again if students were interested.  She talked about some of the problems and successes of the past, warning students of the necessity to plan ahead and think large-scale–larger than they’re used to anyway.

On the day of the restaurant, she continued, everyone would be involved in food preparation from 7:30 until 10:30. Then they’d diversify, each student carrying out the responsibilities of the role to which they’d been assigned. The students told me, when I interviewed them on the day the restaurant was open, that they had had some choice in this: They indicated their top three preferences and then Mrs. Cole took it from there. One of the students, the busboy, confided, “I’m the only one who wanted to do this job, so I got it.”

In the meantime, they watched an episode of Top Chef, viewed a video called Restaurant Nightmares, looked up restaurants online to get ideas, and did the math for a number of different menus.

I was there the day of the Great Dessert Cook-off.  Working in teams, the students chose a dessert, prepared it, plated a sample, and shared the remainder with the rest of the class. Afterwards, students evaluated the desserts on cost, appearance on the plate, taste, and ease of preparation in high volume  in a small amount of time. One of the best desserts, Crème Brulee, didn’t make the cut—not a practical offering on a large-scale basis. In the end, two of the many chocolate desserts won out: Peanut Butter Brownie Trifle and Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball with Graham Crackers.

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I was struck, on the day of the restaurant, by the efficiency and calm in the kitchen. The atmosphere was harmonious and focused. No hanging out, no hanging back, and certainly not any hanging on. Everyone was concentrated on making the teachers’ dining experience perfect in every way, but no one seemed frantic, even the manager, who did confess to being stressed. He told me that he has a job in a carry-out pizza establishment. “They don’t have a dining room,” he explained. “I’m used to the back-of-the-house, but this front-of-the-house part is stressful!”

The entrée was chicken quesadillas. At one station, a team of cooks prepared them on anIMG_7372 array of electric griddles. The cooks even asked to try an innovation they’d seen in a cooking show: melting cheese on the griddle so it formed a tasty crust on the outside of the tortilla. Delicious!

IMG_7385Another girl— a tiny girl who wants to be a professional chef, the one whose feet hurt—wielded the chef’s knife, cutting each quesadilla into perfect triangles.

The others at her station added Spanish rice and chips and salsa to the plate, and then the expediter delivered the plates to a side table where the servers picked them up. The manager hovered over them all, taking his job very seriously:

“A little more lettuce there!”

“Don’t forget the chips on that plate!”

“Watch the sour cream!”  Someone appeared with a wet paper towel to wipe a smear on the side of a plate.IMG_7370

Servers rushed into the kitchen: “We need five more desserts!” Instantly, the platers went to work, the expediter picked up the desserts and passed them to the servers, and the waitresses were out the door.

The second day—with her second section of Advanced Nutrition and Wellness—Mrs. Cole repeated the process. This time the menu was loaded potato soup, garden salad, a cheddar bay biscuit, and for dessert, that Peanut Butter Brownie Trifle.

For teachers, restaurant day has always been an event to look forward to, especially during the gloomy days of winter. It’s a chance to see the students shine and a chance for them to impress us. But there’s always a cost: The food is  so delicious we leave nothing on the plate…and that means extra walks in the days ahead to burn the calories away. That’s okay. These lunches are worth every bite.

At the end of her meal, one of the teachers asked her waitress: “Is the manager coming out?”  In the “back of the house,” I witnessed just a moment of panic when the message was relayed. The manager stepped into the dining room to discover not a disgruntled customer, but one who wanted, of course, to compliment the chefs and all the other restaurant workers, too.

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Mrs. Cole directs the student restaurant project at McCutcheon.

Mrs. Cole has been orchestrating this project-based learning experience for several years. The restaurant project means hours of grocery shopping for her and a great deal of planning, but it’s worth the extra time, she says. “While the restaurant project can be stressful, it is very rewarding.  Students work hard to plan their restaurant and menus.  Since students have so much freedom of creativity, they really take ownership of this project.  It is amazing how well they come together to be an effective team to carry out their vision.  While most are exhausted by the end of the day, they are also very proud.”

Indeed, the whole production is a recipe for success for her students: an impressive blend of content knowledge and culinary skill mixed together with math, literacy and problem-solving, flavored with creativity, and topped off with teamwork. Five stars!

Auto Shop: Way More than Grease Monkeys

“We do our homework in the garage.” That’s the tag line on my colleague’s business card.

He’s an Automotive Service Instructor, of course, and an ASE Master Technician.

The course Rob Jakes teaches—Automotive Service Technology–is the second in a two-year program that can culminate for high school seniors in acceptance into a vocational college or an immediate job in the local work force.  “I have students in the automotive repair departments of dealerships all over town,” Mr. Jakes told me, “and some students are already at Subaru-Isuzu.”  Many of his students attend Lincoln Tech, the University of Northwestern Ohio, and Ivy Tech, to name a few post-secondary schools near our community.

The day I visited his class, Mr. Jakes’ students were working on the wheel assembly on a faculty member’s car.  I watched and took pictures, tried to follow the language when I couldn’t get close enough to the action: ball joint, brake pad, piston, fuel injector, torque wrench, axle. The students handled the language and the machinery with ease.

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“They learn the language in the first year course,” my colleague explained. “No room for not knowing it here.” In that first year course, there’s so much vocabulary that the teacher uses Quizlet to help the students learn. They take an engine apart in much the same way they’d dissect a frog in biology to learn anatomy and physiology.  The Automotive Service Technician program is a sequenced learning program with an academic as well as mechanical focus.

IMG_7237In their second year, the students work on actual vehicles. One of our local industries, Subaru-Isuzu Automotive (SIA), donates “dead cars” to Mr. Jakes’ program. The students bring them back to life.  Once a week, the students work on faculty vehicles, and on Fridays, they can bring in their own cars and work on problems that can be resolved in a two-hour class period.

While 70% of the time students are engaged in hands-on work with vehicles, this class is nothing like the “auto shop” stereotype of twenty-five years ago when Mr. Jakes first began teaching.  In the first place, the students use an online textbook. “In the day,” Mr. Jakes told me, “there were no textbooks.  A student would once in a while look in a service manual to figure out what was wrong with a vehicle and how to fix it.”

Because cars today operate on computers, service technicians must have sharp reading skills and advanced technology skills to diagnose and repair the vehicles that come into a shop. Repairing cars is no longer a trial and error business, and a laptop computer is a standard part of a service technician’s toolbox.

When a car comes into the auto shop at McCutcheon High School with a problem, the first thing the students will do is check their own laptops for a TSB—Technical Service Bulletin—on the vehicle. If there’s no TSB, they might visit a technical chat room to learn whether the problem has occurred somewhere else in the country and how another technician has dealt with it.

For example, one day recently, the outside mirror on our principal’s car was loose. It is a new car, but when he was driving down the highway, he noticed the mirror vibrating. He brought the vehicle into the shop and one of the students, Cody, went right to an online chat to find a solution for the problem. He found the fix: Toggle the button inside the car three times to tighten the mirror. Think what might have happened in a shop if the service technician hadn’t had the initiative, and the critical thinking skills, to look online for a solution. The customer might have been told he needed a new mirror. $300.

Cody, who is enrolled in Mr. Jakes’ class for an optional 3rd year, plans to save money for college next year and then enroll in a technical-vocational program after that. Right now he works after school at a tire store where he uses a computer to diagnose problems with pressure and balance.

I asked him how long he’s known he wanted to be an automotive service technician. “Since middle school,” he said. “My initials spell CAR,” he added with a smile.

Before he finishes high school, Cody will have logged three years in the Automotive Service Technician program and received at least six hours of dual credit with our local community college. He will also have the opportunity, at the end of his senior year, to earn student certification in four areas: brakes; electrical; steering, suspension and alignment; and engines.  He’ll need at least two years of work in the industry to be eligible for just one of the eight advanced exams needed to be a Master.

IMG_1852Thanks to his mentor, Mr. Jakes, and this challenging Career and Technical Education  program, Cody is well positioned to pursue his goal of becoming an ASE Master Technician himself.

Project Runway

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  • Betsey Johnson
  • Calvin Klein
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Anna Sui

Just a few of the names that top the list of celebrity fashion designers.

Fashion is a consuming interest for many high school students, and these are names that brand-conscious teenagers recognize. They’re eager to know more about the industry itself, and for most, the first step is learning to sew.

But here’s a deplorable fact: In many parts of the country, sewing is no longer taught in school.

The rationale? People don’t sew any more. The implication being, who would want to?

Yet, every year at Harrison High School in Lafayette, Indiana, teacher Michelle Coors’ students pull off a runway show that has become an event in the community.  This year, the 28 students in her Fashion and Textile Careers classes took this complex project–the runway show–from an idea in their minds to a full-scale fashion production. On a mid-December evening, 137 different models paraded 159 designs on a 52-foot runway in front of parents, peers, and well-wishers. Stage lights illuminated the runway, and during the show, music and explanatory slides played in the background. This year, every seat in the house was taken and scores of attendees crowded into the little standing room that remained.

I was one of those people standing in the back. I had come to support my colleague, whose classroom I had visited many times and whose students I had photographed as they used a computer program to design wardrobes for “paper dolls”; as they cut cloth for the first time for pants, capes, and tote bags; and as they worked on their fashion merchandising research projects. Cutting fabric

Fortunately for our school district, most of our middle school teachers still have sewing machines and incorporate the fundamentals of construction into their curriculum (License to Sew). In addition, some students learn to sew through 4-H or learn at home from their parents. But about one-third of the students who enroll in Mrs. Coors’ classes do not have prior sewing experience, so she accommodates her instruction to reach students with a range of skills. Students who have never sewn before make tote bags and basic “fancy pants” in the Textiles and Fashion Foundation course first, and then they’re ready for the Fashion and Textile Careers class, the one that puts on the runway show.

HHS2014fashionshow_140Mrs. Coors offers her advanced class students the opportunity to create a magazine, a video, a movie—but they always choose the runway show. That means designing and constructing the fashions; finding the models; planning the lights, the music, and PowerPoint backdrop; constructing the runway; creating the programs; handling the publicity; arranging for a photographer; setting up for the program and taking everything down at the end.

Effective educators are skilled at organization, multi-tasking, differentiating, and sequencing instruction so that every student learns the skill he or she needs just as having that skill becomes a necessity. In Mrs. Coors’ classes, where the comfort level with needles and thread, bobbins and the presser foot varies from student to student, one-size-fits-all lessons will not work. Mrs. Coors plans her instruction so that students are always busy and on task, not all doing the same thing, but all engaged in a construction project appropriate to his or her skill level. Some of the students’ designs are simple; others are more complex. But the students are relaxed, self-confident, and engaged—after all, they are working on a project they have designed themselves, and they meet with success regularly.

And if they aren’t in the midst of a hands-on sewing project, the students are working on their Career Snapshot binder, a research project that more than meets the standards for Literacy in Technical Subjects, another layer of learning required in every subject area across the curriculum.

Students identify a specific fashion industry career that interests them and then explore that job and the  allied careers—the professionals whose job description and skills they’d need to know and rely upon to be successful at their own. I looked at some of these binders: pages of writing, including a reflective piece at the end.

IMG_1768 Croquis DrawingEach binder includes photographs and freehand drawings that illustrate the development of the students’ final design from inspiration to croquis drawing (those sketches of models with elongated—10 heads high—legs, the industry standard) to the sewn item on an actual model.

After the runway show ended, after the stage was disassembled, after the designers had collected their clothes from the models (Some let the models keep them!), the accolades poured in. And for 10 of the young designers, a contract: A local philanthropic organization commissioned them to recreate their “line” to be featured at another runway show, this one to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.WishGala.Poster2015

So, don’t tell Michelle Coors or her students that “no one sews anymore.” Indeed they do, and this Project-Based Learning class more than illustrates the career opportunities that are open to  people with skills in garment design and construction.  In fact, it’s only February, but already many of these students have been accepted into prestigious art and design schools across the country.

Not to mention this: When the audience applauds and the photographer’s flash captures the models showing off the work of these young and aspiring designers, it’s a source of genuine pride for everyone involved.  For that night, Harrison High School students are the celebrity designers–and who knows what will happen in the afterglow?

 

 

Biomedical Innovations: Redesigning the ED

students in scrubsWe could see there’s a problem with too many visitors in the patients’ rooms sometimes.”

Heads nodded.

“We’ve devised a badge system that will eliminate that overcrowding problem.”

The administrators jotted down the details.

“You definitely need another door at the triage desk.”

More heads nodded.

“The nurses told us there’s a flow problem with the storage rooms. You have to go to two different ones. If you had a universal storage system—one central room with two entrances and supplies shelved identically on either end–then you’d improve efficiency.”

People took notes.

One afternoon this week, fifteen seniors from McCutcheon High School presented their plan for redesigning the Emergency Department at IU-Arnett hospital to an audience of seventeen IU-Arnett nurses, educators, technicians, and administrators. The students are members of Mrs. Abi Bymaster’s Biomedical Innovations class, the fourth and capstone course in Project Lead the Way’s Biomedical Science sequence. One purpose of Biomedical Innovations is to give students a hands-on, real world experience designing an efficient—and thus, effective—emergency room. Mrs. Bymaster challenged her students to take the assignment to the next level—to work not in the abstract, but with a real hospital with a real problem. The IU-Arnett facility is only a few years old, but already, Emergency Department demand has exceeded capacity. The hospital will soon be hiring a professional design firm to develop a blueprint, but in the meantime, these high schools students offered, in an engaging and highly polished presentation, a plan whose details clearly resonated with the experiences of their audience.

The students commanded the attention of the hospital personnel, including the Director of the Emergency Department and the Director of Facilities, for an hour. During their presentation, not one student stumbled and not one seemed even uncomfortable.

The students had been oriented to the hospital by a representative from the Human Relations Department, who had come to their class at the high school on two occasions. In advance of their actual visits to the ED, the students were required to have a flu shot, verify that they’d had a schedule of vaccinations, and sign liability and HIPAA papers. Over a period of three months, the students–recognizable in the eggplant-colored scrubs which they’d chosen to purchase—were allowed to float and watch events unfold. When they arrived, the students checked in with the charge nurse who would assign them to someone on the emergency department team—a nurse or a technician—whom they interviewed and shadowed. In the end, each student visited the Emergency Department four to five times, at different times throughout the day.

Back at the high school, the students reported their experiences to each other in class discussions, drew preliminary designs on the classroom whiteboards, and conducted online research into the operations of other hospitals in Indiana and distant cities. They worked in teams to identify innovations that could be made in four areas: structural design, storage, communication, and security.

“We think the nurses could communicate with each other and with others in the hospital if they had iPhones instead of the bulky calling devices they’re using now. Those devices are loud and intrusive.” As if on cue, a nurse’s portable phone rang—loudly. And more than once. Everyone laughed, but the point was accentuated.

The students assured hospital administrators that the iPhones could be equipped with “parental controls” so that their usage would be limited to internal communications, and they offered suggestions for a number of useful apps that would increase the functionality of the devices: Evernote—to replace the notes they had seen nurses making on random slips of paper; Epocrates—to identify medicines; Medical Spanish—a spoken medical dictionary that can ask patients questions in Spanish; and Telemed IQ—a text messaging system that is HIPAA-compliant.

Asked about those cell phones in the Q-A session at the end of the presentation, the students explained that iPhones are being used now in some big city hospitals and that the apps are secure and HIPAA-compliant. The students had done their homework and anticipated the question.

No presentation, it seems, goes without a technology hitch, and although the one these students experienced was crushing, they didn’t miss a beat or even make a face. One of the students, who had a background in civil engineering classes, had created a CAD drawing of the architectural redesign, but a software licensing glitch prevented her from showing it to the assembled hospital personnel. However, she also had produced a blueprint, and at the conclusion of the presentation, explained the changes her team had envisioned to a group crowded around a table. P1040754

It was the students’ professionalism throughout the entire presentation that set the stage for serious consideration of their ideas. They were dressed professionally, first of all, and the presentation itself reflected every speech and language skill their teachers had ever stressed and which my colleague had clearly set as a fundamental expectation: not a stammer nor a hesitation in speaking, not a single distracting movement, only carefully chosen words–precise and concise. Even when the phone interrupted her speech, the student talking about the iPhones maintained her poise, merely smiling at the comic relief the noisy ring provided and then deftly using the opportunity to underscore her message: iPhones would be less intrusive.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the Director of Facilities remarked to the students: “I’ve seen college kids who were not so good. I was impressed with your logic—how you’d thought things out.”

The Emergency Department Director had just returned from a week-long training. She commented that that she hadn’t come away from that with so many ideas as the high school students gave her. “And your demonstration was perfect!” By pretending to be nurses picking up supplies, the students on the Storage Team demonstrated in real minutes the time that would be saved if the hospital implemented their design.
“I was impressed with your presentation and your ideas—you seem to have enjoyed the process,” the Emergency Department Manager said. “You have blown me away.”

Biomedical Innovations is an example of the project-based learning approach that characterizes Project Lead the Way courses: Students have the opportunity to design solutions to real engineering problems—in this case, in the health field industry. Project-based learning integrates learning, calls for teamwork in solving problems, and prepares students for the world of work.

“My boss isn’t going to give me a worksheet and tell me to get it done,” said the young woman who had created the CAD drawing. “He or she will give me a project instead.”

The students learned so much, they told me:

  • The inter-relationship of technology, storage, and room arrangement
  •  How necessary it is that the environment facilitates communication
  •  The discovery that so many little things go into the big picture
  • How much time and effort the nurses give to the patients
  • All the work that goes into creating an efficient system

Most of the students in this class were already were thinking about a career in the medical field when they registered for the Biomedical Innovations course, but as one student said, “This program finalized that!”

At the end of the presentation, another student, a spokesperson for the group, thanked the hospital personnel for giving them so much help with this assignment. “Many of us want to go into medicine or a field related to medicine. Thank you for providing a positive experience for us.”

I began observing the students in the early stages of this project. Early on, I had asked their teacher what benefit there would be for the hospital: “Why would a hospital let a crew of teenagers shadow their nurses and interview everyone who works in the Emergency Department? That’s unheard of.”

“Well, they’ll get some free advice,” she said. Mrs. Bymaster went on to explain that she had worked closely with the hospital’s Education Outreach Department to design the assignment and establish its parameters.

Judging by all the head-nodding and note taking that went on throughout the hour, the audience heard more than just some gratuitous advice: They listened to a polished and thoughtful presentation that professional hospital designers are going to be hard-pressed to match.

More than that, the students gave current practitioners a glimpse of the future. Patients will be in good hands, whether these students ultimately become nurses, lab technicians, doctors, biomedical engineers, researchers, physician assistants or train for one of myriad other medical P1040748occupations. These future medical professionals understand the complexity of health care systems and know already that, along with compassionate care, efficient systems are critical in the mission to save lives.

Here’s the blueprint: IU Arnett 2d wc backup nov 12

CRAM: A Whole Lot More than Fixing Computers

IMG_6541Literacy across the curriculum. Why is it so important? What does it mean for instruction? And what does it look like in a course like Computer Repair And Maintenance (CRAM, for short) where, as far as most people know, students just make repairs to the laptops their peers carry around and use every day?

When my district made the decision in 2011 to issue laptops to every high school student in the district, it was clear there had to be a way to maintain those computers. Hence, the CRAM class was born. Today, the CRAM classes at our two high schools enroll about 35 students each semester.

Interested students sign up for a two-hour block: One hour every day is given over to instruction. Students learn to troubleshoot problems, make simple repairs, configure the devices, install programs, and a whole lot more. The students are staggered throughout the day for that second hour in CRAM. That’s when they man the helpdesk. When students bring their laptops for repair, the CRAM students get hands-on experience with technology and they also build the interpersonal skills that are so critical for customer satisfaction.

But it’s the whole lot more that makes this class an example of what literacy across the curriculum is all about. I had the opportunity to observe my colleague’s CRAM class at my high school a couple of weeks ago. The students were making their weekly presentations about information they glean from reading about hot topics in technology. My colleague supplies the students with a list of tech websites and the students select articles of interest to them. Their assignment is to distill the information and update their peers in a brief, but formal, presentation. All of the students speak from a podium and use the ENO board to highlight the main points in what is really a professional roundtable discussion. Often, on the day I observed, they stepped away from the podium, and they all used gestures and facial expressions that complemented their remarks. They were highly articulate and spoke from a position of comfort and authority. Naturally, they managed the technology with ease. A speech teacher would have been proud.

The topics—mostly mysteries to me—included 5G (the coming standard for wireless), the Linksys wrt199ac wireless router, even a history lesson from a young man named Eric: “Ten Things You Didn’t Know about the Ethernet.” He included a poem he’d found, a parody of Housman’s “I Think That I Shall Never See”:

I think that we shall never see

A graph more lovely than a tree,

A tree whose crucial property

Is loop-free connectivity.

Their peers asked questions, made connections to prior discussions, debated the pros and cons of a particular issue. The questions from the students were serious and largely technical. When a presenter concluded, my colleague opened the floor for discussion.

James, for example, updated the class on AT&T’s mobile router. She–their teacher–asked, “How would you use this router?” and a discussion of its pros and cons ensued. Responses were immediate; there was none of the delay or reluctance to speak that sometimes happens in a class. These students were comfortable with the content and eager to share their thoughts.

An explanation of the Heartbleed bug was another topic. “Will it really destroy the internet?” asked my colleague.

“No,” said Bailey. “In terms of physical destruction, no. But loss of trust is the consequence of malware and Heartbleed and other viruses.” That’s a thoughtful reply and indicates the upper level thinking skills that conversations in this class demand.

The discussion wasn’t deadpan, though. Though they were always respectful and professional, these kids have a sense of humor: Tongue-in-cheek, one boy asked Jonathan about a piece of hardware he was touting in his report, “What color does it come in?”

“Carbon fiber black,” was Jonathan’s quick reply.

During these presentations, other high school students approached the helpdesk with their malfunctioning laptops. Whenever that happened, a designated CRAM student quietly removed himself from the discussion to service the client. He spoke in low tones, and the student needing help followed suit. IMG_6554

A week later, I returned to the class to observe the students, seated in a circle, conducting a formal discussion of net neutrality, a hot topic from the week before that had struck everyone as deserving more attention than a tech report. Their teacher (using a problem/solution format that was formerly utilized in an event called Discussion in National Forensic League speech competition) directed the students to outline the problem and the aspects of it that are unalterable, present a variety of solutions, and then select the best one. The discussion lasted for a full class period—in fact, it went over to the next day.

I was amazed by the range of the students’ remarks, by how aware they are of the world beyond high school. I heard them say

  • ISPs could starve out a website.
  • ISPs are more likely to target big businesses.
  • Let’s be frank here: The Supreme Court is an older generation and the justices don’t understand the impact they’re making.
  • This is kind of like gas prices: People notice, but the increases are gradual and people get used to it.
  • ISPs can affect not just our economy, but the global economy.
  • We need to create a new FCC.

There was much talk about customer bases, profits, Fortune 500 companies, and VPN workarounds—a connection several made to the Arab Spring and the way that protesters got around their countries’ internet blocks.

Each person presented what he felt was the best solution; others responded. One boy, for example, said that we ought to direct the FCC to call internet providers “common carriers.”

“But remember,” said another boy, “We want to connect to other countries.”

Another solution: “We should Install a VPN on every computer—then the ISPs can’t block anyone.”

And the response to it: “Pirates will break it.”

Finally, Bailey pointed out that web neutrality is a multi-faceted problem requiring a multi-faceted solution—a recognition that bespeaks maturity and a thoughtful, in-depth consideration of the issue. How often do even adults view an issue as black and white when really, whatever the topic under consideration, it’s complex? IMG_6552

In the end, their “best” solution was indeed a multi-layered one: Forming a Technology Standards committee, which would be made up of highly qualified IT professionals, that would have the power to create regulations, much like the FCC. It would receive its power to implement those regulations from the federal government. The committee would submit its proposed regulations to a public vote to ensure checks and balances. The first two proposed regulations would be a) creating more local ISPs to eliminate current ISP monopolies and b) developing standard tiered Internet usage guidelines to ensure a continued free exchange of information while allowing the ISPs to earn a profit.

Well, I was impressed. Who wouldn’t be?

The students considered the issue from multiple perspectives and arrived at a solution that addresses multiple concerns. This entire project is a demonstration of the kind of learning the new standards encourage: informed debate, reasoned responses, credible evidence. IMG_6549

Students come to the CRAM class with different levels of knowledge and experience. They receive elective credit for the course, and at the end of the year, they can choose to take a test over the skills they have learned: the CompTIA A+ Certification exam (the computer industry standard). Passing that exam yields an industry standard certificate that can lead to employment. Students can retake the class another year if they choose—the only problem is fitting it into their already crowded schedules. Nevertheless, next year students will be able to take an advanced class—Network II—that will culminate in an opportunity to demonstrate advanced career skills on the Comp TIA Network + Certification exam. At one of the high schools, because of a partnership with Vincennes University, students can receive dual-credit for both years of study.

“If only this had been possible when I was in high school,” remarked my colleague. “Potentially, our students can graduate with 8 college credits, two industry standard certificates, and two years of work-related experience.” IMG_6547

My colleague at the other high school explained a different benefit of the CRAM class: Students gain hands-on experience with laptops. “Many individuals in the IT world do not know how to repair laptops,” he told me. “In fact, our students gain experience that can lead to expertise in small device repair—like cell phones—that other technicians lack.”

He went on to list what he sees as the other top benefits of the CRAM class: Obviously, the certificates; definitely, the interpersonal skills. “Our students learn to communicate,” he told me. “They have to support others, and that means they have to communicate effectively.” IMG_6556

The newly-released Indiana Academic Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects mandate the integration of reading, writing, and speaking skills in technical disciplines. The CRAM class is already equipping these aspiring IT and Computer Science experts not only with the technical skills and experience they need, but with the literacy skills that are so critical to success in post-high school coursework and in the workforce. CRAM is a whole lot more than computer repair: It’s real-world learning at its best.