Coal Ridge High School’s industrial technology class gives students hands-on experience through project-based learning |

Coal Ridge High School’s industrial technology class gives students hands-on experience through project-based learning

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

NEW CASTLE ” Mr. White’s industrial technology class at Coal Ridge High School isn’t your father’s shop class.

Ozzy Schoonover and Stephen Cooper stood just inside the doorway and looked up toward the ceiling.

“There’s a problem with the electrical system,” Schoonover said.

Cooper agreed with that diagnosis. The two smooth-faced carpenters lowered their eyes, and Schoonover exited from the unfinished wood-framed smart house the two have been building since the start of the school year.

Cooper remained inside; he still had to complete installation of electrical outlets and lights inside the approximately 40-square-foot structure.

The two sophomores at CRHS have been building the smart house since the beginning of the school year, and they are more than ready to be finished. A neighboring team of students is building its own smart house on the adjacent piece of tiled real estate in the large technology classroom.

There’s still quite a bit of work to be completed on both houses: hanging drywall, painting, getting the lights working, fixing the automatic door that opens when approached, putting the security system in place, and installing the robot arm that will pour and hand a glass of water to whomever enters.

The electrical problem Tuesday morning had to do with the auto-opening front door.

“It might be a problem with the sensor,” Schoonover said. “We’ll just wait until the other group gets theirs working. That will tell us if something is not hooked up right, or if it’s just a bad sensor.”

This type of project-based learning program is in its infancy at CRHS, but it’s growing, and with much enthusiasm from students. Most students are sophomores or juniors in this tech 2 class. There are eight class levels in all, providing enough options that one student could take White’s tech class each semester throughout high school.

“A lot of the time, students don’t realize what they are learning while they are doing the projects,” said CRHS technology and math teacher Rich White. “But later, when they approach a problem in their job or wherever, they remember learning about it here.”

And that is the point of having students, like Schoonover and Cooper, building smart homes during their first-period class.

“The purpose is to get some experience working with the tools and learning the techniques. They are also learning how to work with others and problem solving,” White said. “A lot of what they learn is about how much does it mean to have the walls ‘square’ and how important is it to be accurate in measurements.”

Schoonover and Cooper both know the importance of the measurements.

“We messed up a lot on the framing of the house,” Schoonover said. “We had a couple of issues, but I think the most important thing we’ve learned through this process is to measure twice, cut once.”

A sarcastic smile punctuates his statement.

The class is set up with several projects for students to choose from. Each comes with a kit complete with a goal of what should be accomplished and some materials used in construction, like the power outlets. The students have to devise a material list, make blueprints and develop a plan of attack. Then they need to follow through and build what they’ve designed.

If at first they don’t succeed, it’s back to the drawing board.

Junior Alex Weerts enjoys the class for its unorthodox learning environment.

“Just being able to build things,” Weerts said. “It’s a lot like shop, but it’s a lot more difficult.”

Weerts and his teammate, sophomore Trevor Chapman, were taking apart their balista (similar to a catapult) Tuesday morning because the throwing arm of the apparatus needed to be a little longer.

“We’ve had to rebuild this thing at least six times,” Weerts said.

The pair, along with the others in the class, are hoping to have their projects complete by the end of the school year. And though it’s the hands-on aspect students respond to best, it’s the subjects and skills they learn that has White excited.

“They learn so much more about how things work through these projects,” White said. “They actually learn that math isn’t just something taught on a blackboard in school, but that they can really use it in daily life.”

A bright outlook from the man who teaches the shop class your father dreamed of.

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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