Middle school students get early look at career choices
By B.C. Manion
The students in Jennifer Warren’s “Exploring Communications Technology” class get a chance to do fun stuff like launching rockets and programming robots while being exposed to a broad range of career choices.
The class, which Warren teaches at John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel, includes 12 learning modules, covering such areas as audio communications, laser technology, computer-aided drafting, energy and power, research and development, flight technology and robotics.
It typically takes 2.5 weeks to complete each module. The semester is 18 weeks.
Initially, they spend time learning about the lab, rules and procedures.
Warren said she tells her students such things as: “it is better to wear goggles for 5 minutes than to be blind for the rest of your life,” and “if you walked in with 10 fingers, than we want you to walk out with 10 fingers.”
She also gives them specific examples of incidents she has seen in the past and pointers on how to avoid accidents.
Besides completing modules, the students complete team-building exercises because working well with others is important in the workplace.
“I tell them your first boss isn’t going to ask you who you want to work with,” she said. Indeed, the boss “will tell who you need to work with and you need to figure out a way to get along.”
The class also covers such topics as scholarships vs. loans, various educational opportunities and ways to get student loans forgiven. It also covers the possibility of having an employer cover the cost for an employee to seek an advanced degree.
Students also complete a number of projects. For instance, at the moment, students are building a bridge that is 10 inches long, 2 inches wide and 1.5-inches wide. They are constructing the bridge using 60 toothpicks and glue.
A weight will be placed on the bridge to test its strength. The bridge that can support the most weight will be judged as having the best design.
The class also recently finished a software program called Building Homes of Our Own. It took the students through the process of building and selling a home.
They have to look for clues, solve the problems on the lot after they purchase it, apply for a permit, build a home sticking to the theme of the community, select and place landscaping, write an ad, and then sell the house for a profit from a qualified buyer.
Other activities include completing interest surveys and doing career research.
As they work their way through each module, they learn about the history of that particular topic and complete associated lessons in mathematics, science, technology and reading, Warren said. They also keep a journal.
On one recent day, 13-year-old Rebecca Pierce watched as Warren guided a block of wood beneath the blade of a whirring saw.
Then the eighth-grader gave it a shot.
She followed the pattern as if she’d been using power tools for years.
The girl was obviously in command and, she was enjoying herself.
“I like it because it’s stuff you don’t get to do in a normal classroom,” she said.
Besides working with a band saw, a drill press and a belt sander, the students get to do all sorts of things with computers and other tools.
They get to learn how to use AutoSketch to design a two-bedroom house with furniture; how to measure bore and stroke; how fiber optics travel through water; and, how to create beams and trusses out of balsa wood and test them for their efficiency.
During one recent class, 13-year-old Josh Spence and 14-year-old Julian Leon were testing out a beam.
“We just got done testing a beam,” Leon said.
“To see how much force it takes to break the beam,” Spence explained.
At a different pair of desks, 14-year-old Tyler Courtney and 14-year-old Kyle Johnson were learning about electricity.
“It’s definitely interesting,” Johnson said. “It’s hard, though.”
Warren, who began her teaching career as a woodshop instructor a dozen years ago, said the class gives students an early look at lots of career possibilities.
Each module has at least eight associated career options, she said.
For instance, people interested in structural engineering might find careers as architects, chemical engineers, contractors, surveyors, civil engineers, or building inspectors.
The class is short on lectures and long on learning through doing.
And, that’s right up Warren’s alley.
“I love hands-on,” the technology teacher said.