'Shop class' goes high-tech at East Middle in improvised, shoestring lab

April 12, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

A few years ago, students in shop classes made birdhouses out of sawed wood.

Now, they're on the cutting edge of technology in a pilot program at Westminster East Middle School, emerging with skills in computer graphics, drafting and aviation.

"We're trying to make all kids technology-literate," said Marjorie Lohnes, supervisor of career education for Carroll County Public Schools.

"All of us are affected by technology in our lives," she said. "It affects what we buy and the cost of what we buy."

The technology classes are taken by all students, in all grades. The youngsters rotate through home economics, technology and shop units throughout the year.

The catch phrase replacing the generic term "shop" is "tech ed," or technology education. It includes the remnants of wood and metal shop classes, but only as part of a process that focuses more on the technology of computers, other electronics and robotics.

"The move toward technology education is not new," said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education for Carroll schools.

"Technology education is so important that it's being infused into not only the middle school, but also the high school program," he said.

In the shop, or manufacturing, side of the program, students might still make small wood projects. But the emphasis is less on a finished product than on the process of getting there by reading blueprints, understanding scale and using math and science, Mrs. Lohnes said.

At East Middle, veteran teacher Ed Horgos and first-year teacher Scott Tobias teamed up to create a technology lab in an old metal-shop room. Mr. Tobias teaches in the technology lab, and students sometimes go next door into Mr. Horgos' shop, for example, to saw wood for a model car they are designing.

Mr. Tobias and Mr. Horgos and the school's maintenance workers built the counters and cabinets needed to make work stations.

At one station, eighth-graders Melissa Chesney and Michelle Jenkins were producing calendars, cartoons and letterhead with computer desktop publishing program. At another, classmates Cristy Kuznik and Brad Sawtelle were making a stop-action animation video, using a video camera and color monitor.

Around the room, students were building rockets and bridges, working a robot arm and building a carbon dioxide-powered dragster. Other stations focused on electronics, electricity, aviation, computer drafting and applied physics.

Like her classmates, Melissa chose six projects and fed them into a computer, which randomly assigned three or four for her to work on in the next nine weeks.

Computer graphics/animation, which Cristy and Brad were working on last week, was the most popular.

Cristy likes the self-directed learning.

"You're the one who's reading the manual every day," she said. "You learn more. It's like hands-on experience."

Neither she nor Brad had used a video camera before.

And neither Melissa nor Michelle had ever used a computer before.

"I was afraid I'd break it," Michelle said. "But not anymore.

Mr. Tobias said discipline problems are practically nonexistent.

"These are activities the students enjoy, and because it is such a structured program, there are activities for them to do all the time," Mr. Tobias said.

Eventually, all the middle schools will get similar labs. The plans for the new New Windsor Middle School include an area designed specifically for a technology lab. The lab will have smaller desktop models of the large saws in Mr. Horgos' room.

Projects will be on a smaller scale, Mrs. Lohnes said. Mr. Horgos wants to make sure students can read a blueprint and understand the standard symbols and arrows that indicate how to interpret data in three-dimensional terms.

He doesn't care so much if they don't sand their wood perfectly and apply a stain, he said.

"I tell them, 'Wood is just the medium -- it replaces the book,' " he said.

The technology room at East Middle was put together on a shoestring: Mrs. Lohnes' predecessor, Dave Miller, managed to collect computers from other schools as their equipment was updated and funneled them to East Middle.

The teachers worked weekends, holidays and after school to get the room ready by March.

"That was the only way to get it done," Mr. Horgos said. "It's something I think we have to do. It's important, and we were trying to do it economically."

As a result, they have an improvised but functional lab that might have cost $100,000 otherwise, Mr. Horgos said. That's what the Virginia middle school where they went for training spent on its lab.

South Carroll High School also will be building a technology education room, Mrs. Lohnes said.

High schools across the county will be offering new technology courses. Beginning with next year's freshmen, under state rules, students will have to complete one credit (one year) of technology education.

It will take time to get the technology program into all middle schools, as well as to offer the needed courses for high school students.

"We don't have the resources to put a $40,000 tech-ed lab in every school every year," Mr. McDowell said.

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