“How Machines Work” Class Prepares Students for Multiple Career Pathways
Posted on

A new How Machines Work class is gaining positive attention for its relevant curriculum and hands-on skills in preparing New Berlin students for a multitude of career pathways. The class is in its flagship year after an Industry 4.0 community night in May raised awareness about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


The program was designed to prepare students for multiple pathways by exposing them to technology and hands-on skills for engineering, automation, machining, computer science, and more. It’s all part of a broader academic initiative that started six years ago when the School District of New Berlin developed Academic and Career Planning pathways for their students. 

How Machines Work student operates a FANUC teach pendant on Roboguide software

Superintendent Joe Garza remarked, “As a state, we need to go beyond the traditional measures of College and Career Readiness if our students are to succeed in the projected economy. It is our collective work to help students develop a diverse set of talents that can fuel innovation and job creation while supporting projected workforce needs.”

How Machines Work is a course that resulted from this initiative – but it is just a part of the greater pathway for a Manufacturing student at SDNB. Other other career readiness options include Project Lead the Way classes, TechKNOW, Applied Data Science, CTSO, work experience, MSSC Independent Study, and post-secondary coursework.

The course structure and subjects were informed partly by a white paper published by the Milwaukee 7 Regional Talent Partnership: Preparing M7 for Industry 4.0.

Laura Schmidt was on the M7 board that drafted the white paper and was instrumental in putting together the manufacturing student pathway at SDNB.

“Digital disruption affects every industry,” she said. “As we were redesigning the manufacturing course, we knew we needed to align both the current and future needs, and industry feedback confirmed this. How Machines Work supports pathways in traditional manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, IT and applied analytics. It was the right next step.”


How Machines Work is broken up into multiple segments. First, students learn basic manufacturing practices, safety and procedures. Then, they get 10-hour hands-on rotations on a number of modules including turning, mechatronics and applied fluid power, CNC and manual milling, vacuum thermoforming and fluid power concepts, and automation and robotics. The course wraps up with a section on Industry 4.0 and connected systems, including IIoT, cybersecurity and data analytics.

70 students at two district high schools – Eisenhower and West – are taking How Machines Work this year. And in an effort to promote student choice in multiple pathways, the class is open to all high school grades and contains students with vastly different future plans.

At a recent open house event for community partners, students from 9th-12th grade demonstrated each piece of equipment, how it works, what they’re learning, and what they’re making.

Two freshman boys worked on the FANUC robot simulation software, using a teach pendant to program the robot to spell letters.

How Machines Work student demonstrates Amatrol's Tabletop Mechatronics System to community partners

At another station, two seniors demonstrated Amatrol’s Tabletop Mechatronics system. Luke, one of the students, explained each module and sensor for each station of the system. “I like that we learned each process individually so we could build the unit and see the entire system come together,” he said.

He also likes that, after learning the ins and outs of the mechatronics system, one class will come in and reprogram it so the next class will have to troubleshoot and adjust. Luke plans to get a four-year Civil Engineering degree and likes how this class complements the engineering courses he’s already taken.

Blair, also a senior, is already in his second year apprenticeship in the workforce and is using his experience as a student-aid in the How Machines Work class. During the open house, he shared with community partners how his apprenticeship has given him the knowledge to benefit his peers and excel in the new class. He is open to several career pathways next year, including continuing to work full-time and getting a degree from WCTC to supplement his skills.


Soon, the students will begin applying their technical knowledge to Industry 4.0 skills. Pindel Global Precision, a key industry partner in the creation of the program, will come in to teach about data sets and have the students work through them.

In January, the class will spend a day at Waukesha County Technical College where they will have the opportunity learn welding and program a FANUC robot.

Dana McLaren teaches How Machines Work and is especially enthused about the relevance of the coursework – including the trip to WCTC and tours of industrial facilities.

How Machines Work student presents to a room of community partners

Students are given the opportunity to learn industry-specific machines and programs, so when they get the opportunity to go to facility tours, they’re asking in-depth questions about the equipment being used, ” she commented.

The program’s success is due in part to support from community partners. In addition to Pindel and WCTC, contributors include Husco International, the National Fluid Power Association, Dynatek, LAB Midwest, SpinGroup, Stanek Tool, Foxconn, the Waukesha County Business Alliance, and a Fast Forward grant from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Whether it’s donating funds, providing equipment, bringing in data and teaching, or providing scholarships, each of these partners’ contributions sets a precedent for success in career pathways.

Seeing the community backing of the new program is inspiring, but it opens dialogue about how Industry 4.0 technologies are changing more than just manufacturing.

“Moving forward, we need to better understand, and subsequently articulate, how this impacts other industries as well,” remarked Laura Schmidt. “We cannot adequately prepare students to effectively navigate higher education and work if they do not understand this.”

As Industry 4.0 education continues to adapt and conform to industry needs, schools districts like New Berlin are helping to lead the way into the future.

Share this: