Instructors at Lomira School District are passionate about giving their students access to authentic automation, robotics, and advanced manufacturing equipment as early as middle school. They were using Project Lead the Way curriculum already, but they wanted to give students hands-on experiences.
Shanna Martin, 8th Grade Social Studies instructor and Personalized Learning Coordinator for the district, said her background in project-based learning was motivation to get a makerspace or STEM lab for the school.
“We want to give the kids an opportunity to open up their eyes and see what’s out there,” she said.
That’s when they found Metalcraft of Mayville, Inc., an Original Equipment and Contract Manufacturer that has invested in several schools in the region, including West Bend and Palmyra.
Randy Gloede, President at Metalcraft, said the company’s investments in local schools “is intended to inspire [students] toward rewarding careers in industry and to equip them with the skills they will need in the quickly evolving world of advanced manufacturing.”
Lomira is getting students in the lab as early as 8th grade to learn on FANUC Roboguide and CNC Simulators. This strategy coincides with research by the Manufacturing Institute, which found that a vast majority of students will choose a career path based primarily on their experiences in middle and high school.
Martin is especially passionate about utilizing the potential of middle school curiosity.
“I am really excited to see middle school students engaged in and applying real skills they can use later on in the workforce. We are very grateful that Metalcraft has provided these tools to Lomira School District. The equipment challenges student learning while giving them hands on skills that they can use in a future career.”
And she’s helping her middle schoolers connect the dots, too. The students performed investigative research on jobs and salaries available to skilled positions using the very skills they’re learning in the classroom. Many came away both surprised and excited about career pathways they didn’t know existed.
For students whose parents work in manufacturing (and many do), the lab is an opportunity for children to relate their hands-on learning to tasks performed by their parents in the workforce. The connection fosters familial conversation and is an asset when these parents volunteer in the Tech Ed classroom.
The generational connection is inspiring, but it is also crucial. With manufacturing in the US growing, unemployment rates dropping, and much of the current workforce preparing to retire, a pipeline of skilled workers needs to be cultivated.
An October 2018 report by the National Science and Technology Council argues:
“to prepare the STEM workforce for future manufacturing jobs, national investments should prioritize life-long STEM education–across elementary, high school, career and technical education (CTE)…–and include diversified platforms for hands-on learning and self-directed learning.”
Lomira School District is doing just that. Hands-on technical education begins in middle school, but there is a clear progression through the high school level. The department’s 5-year plan impressed Metalcraft, and it’s already impacting students.
8th grade students work with instructors Shanna Martin and Blake Bogenhagen on FANUC CNC Simulators, ROBOGUIDE software, even the CERT Cell. In high school, instructor Jon Marx works with the students on higher progressions with the curriculum and introduces the Robotic Weld Cell.
Within the progression, the ROBOGUIDE curriculum allows for individualized learning so students can work at their own pace. While the students will admit it’s not easy, they take to the technology rather quickly. Yet the independent structure allows instructors to assist students as they need it on certain tasks, more advanced students are able to move through the lessons on their own time.
And this is just the beginning for Lomira’s lab. “The kids will learn the basics here but there’s always room for growth,” remarked Martin.
Early exposure to hands-on skills, trips to tour Metalcraft and local manufacturers, and integration of new technologies into the lab are all part of the program’s growth plan. With this trajectory, students of Lomira School District will someday be leaders of the advanced manufacturing workforce.