Tech education classes provide hands-on engineering projects
If you walk into Jordan Eccher’s room at Bellefonte Area Middle School, it’s set up a little differently than most other classrooms.
For one, there are three different areas to support the multiple means of education in his classes. In one area is a computer lab; another is a wood shop; and there is also space for the graphics lab where Eccher said students make adhesive graphics for projects as well as T-shirts. It’s also used to explore zSpace, an augmented reality computer that allows students to interact with simulated objects in virtual-reality environments.
It’s where the technology education teacher meets daily throughout the school year with sixth- through eighth-grade students for classes that introduce students to basic tech ed concepts used in business and computer science through collaboration, communication, evaluation, innovation and reflection.
He also teaches a class called Project Lead the Way that is nationally recognized in pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade to provide students with a rigorous and interactive classroom environment to help students develop in-demand knowledge and skills used in the real world. According to the campaign website, PLTW is a national nonprofit to promote STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – while providing support for the teacher or instructor with special curriculum and resources needed to execute a successful program.
It was brought to the school about seven years ago under a former superintendent and taken over by Eccher when he started in 2016.
“We use engineering-based curriculum based on problem-solving and a lot of different Project Lead the Way curriculum, so they understand the concepts of what they’re doing” Eccher said. “Basically, (they) have a problem, design a solution for the problem, test it and then evaluate it.”
His seventh-grade class is working on a project to make a cube using a variety of wooden puzzle pieces. The students design the model using SketchUp, a free 3D modeling software. They then use plastic pieces that fit together to test their design and then put it into the computer for 3D modeling before going to the wood lab to make the wooden cube pieces. Eccher gives the students a choice between black walnut, maple or cherry cubes, which mainly come from scrap pieces of wood.
“They get the best of all the steps, and it’s graded heavily on the dimensions and drawings so they know what they are doing when they recreate their pieces from the actual wooden cubes,” Eccher said. “They take sketches and use dimensions to make the project that leads them into the next project, which is to design their own woodshop project.”
Their next design, scheduled for later in the school year, will require students to make any kind of design they want as long as it’s a wooden amplifier-type creation that they can place a mobile device in to amplify sound. It’s done using general size limitation, front view sketches with full dimensions, and the chance to use the bandsaw, drill press and sanding machines.
“The kids use everything they have learned and apply it to this project,” Eccher said. “This is a very broad project, but it gives them the opportunity to take a lot of pride in their project because they made it how they wanted.”
In the past, students have made models shaped like a fish, dog bone and concaved faces; and others with Lexan plastic and Plexiglas tops so the inside pieces – such as volume control, epoxy inlays with beads and glow in the dark pigments – were visible.
Eccher’s other tech ed classes are similar in that they’re based on problem-solving and creativity. He said he starts sixth-grade students with a predesign project and progress from there to give students the chance to create something functional. By the time students reach eighth-grade, they can choose special classes like electives. Eccher’s yearlong engineering class is project-based that allows students to learn the basics of lamination, while using as many technical skills as possible.