PBL and STEM at Work in Arlington Tech

Arlington Tech is a brand new, bustling high school program at the Arlington Career Center. Its two main focuses are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and PBL (project-based learning). One of the most substantial uses of PBL is for students to use hands-on learning and critical thinking. With the advantage of hands-on learning, students can simulate real-world projects by collaborating with other students on engaging projects. Career Center teachers work hard to create PBL assignments, but it’s up to the students to embrace them as their own. Throughout the year, students were asked about their favorite projects from 2016-2017 and why they enjoyed them.

While one may expect to see one or two consistent answers from the students, each person had a different answer from all over the building and various classes. In fact, no two of the students interviewed listed the same assignment or class for a project as their favorite.

IMG_0292Grayson Trumpfheller, a 10th grader, stated that his favorite project was his 9th grade science fair project that he completed with his another 10th grader, Thayer Smyth. Hardwood, acrylic, plywood, cardboard were all cut with lasers. These two students created a science project together,  and they came up with the idea of using lasers to cut certain materials like hardwood, acrylic, plywood, and cardboard to see which material had the most resistance to being cut.  Grayson reflected, “We liked getting to see what would cut and what wouldn’t cut and getting to work with the laser cutter.” The science fair, in its very nature, is student-made. Many students joined together to create projects and execute their own experiments. For the most part, it was a student led and made event.

IMG_0298Emilio Tognelli, a 9th grader, spoke of his album cover from graphic design. He liked this project’s ability to be personal and to be an expression of the person who made the cover.  Emilio loved how he got to express himself and imagine what his mixtape cover would look like. As he said, “For my album cover, it was really interesting because we got to use all our creativity to put, like, a picture of us in an album cover. We could design and make it look really professional, and I thought it was cool because we could put whatever design aspects we chose, and we used all the things that we learned to incorporate it into the album cover. Yeah, it was really fun. It’s my favorite project because we got to do whatever we wanted pretty much. It was free realm, and it was so much fun I made three album covers, so yeah. It was pretty great.” Mr. Woodhead, the photography and graphic design teacher, said that he wanted to let students learn to love and embrace graphic design. He speaks of how his students are always begging to create another design for his class, and that’s something he loves and finds amazing about his art media projects.

Steven Rochard, another 10th grader, reported liking a wind turbine building project he created last year in engineering class. He had the opportunity to design blades for a miniature wind turbine, digitally designed them, 3D-printed his designs, if he so pleased, and soddered for the motor to connect with the wires. The motors were hooked up to little machines that recorded their voltage. At the end of it all, the students had a race of sorts to see whose design could reach the fastest wind speeds, and the group with the best score got an A while everyone else was graded based on that score. “It was pretty amazing because we got to work with these electronics and weld and build these super cool supports. I remember that someone designed theirs like a zombie apocalypse had happened,” he said. Even now, many of the students can remember the content that they learned during class. Not to mention the excitement of getting to 3D print and learn how to work with electronics.

IMG_0296Abby Dhakal, another 9th grader, even mentioned her World History World Religions project. In this project, the students were assigned a religion picked by the teacher, Mr. Schwind. They researched their assigned religion, got to learn what their guiding rules were, and delve into their long and rich history, often taking students all across the world. After they’ve obtained the information on the religion, they took their CTE, or career and technical education, classes, which are some of the classes available as AT electives, and they integrate it in some way to represent and show the religion they were assigned and explain their choices. As an end-product, they present to the class, and they all get to learn about all the different beliefs from all around the world and how they became what they are today. Abby was quoted saying, “My group did a video based on Christianity, and that was really fun because we had an opportunity to learn about our religion in which we usually wouldn’t have spent as much time in-depth with. My group decided to make a video. That was the fun part because that used my filmmaking skills and the outcome of the project was a product that I was definitely proud of.” When asked, Mr. Schwind told what inspired him to assign this project. He spoke of the divisions we have currently in this country and around the world based on preconceived notions and false portraits of whom certain groups of people are. He spoke about Islamophobia, the hatred of people who are part of the Islamic faith, and how it’s separating us. Mr. Schwind expressed his want to educate students – “these young, malleable minds” – and teach them the ways of being more open and accepting of others within our diverse world and community.

Arlington Tech students obviously love learning on another level where they learn through doing, researching, creating, developing. They embrace and take pride in this educational program and what they do here. Whether it’s graphic design or world history, engineering or science, students find what they love and pursue it with passion.

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