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Gaining valuable skills for life outside the classroom

Laser printingDistrict middle school students are practicing real-life skills and are gaining an understanding of many of the engineering and trade skills necessary for life outside the classroom.

The engineering and computer-aided design (CAD) classes taught at Centennial Middle School and Valley View Middle School are part of the district’s career and technical education (CTE) program. Through instruction and class projects, students are gaining an understanding of engineering design, small group communication skills, machine and power tool operation, measurement, tool safety, mechanical drawing, applied math, applied physics, technical reading and writing, laser and 3D printer operation, soldering, and more.

“CTE classes offer a lab experience where students get experiences that enable students to learn the skills necessary to be prepared for employment or post-secondary training,” said Brian Burdon, the district CTE director. “The lab experience is important because, without getting to put knowledge into practice, you can't become skilled in what you are learning. Think about driver’s education – how good would you feel about new drivers on the road who have only learned about traffic laws from a book and never had any actual driving practice? These classes help students build confidence using machines and tools that can be used outside of the classroom and school.”

Recently, in the Exploring Engineering I and II and Foundations of CAD classes at Centennial Middle School, teachers Jim Wilson and Chad Steinbaugh are instructing students how to make trebuchets, Halloween lanterns and candy dispensers. Students design their projects using CAD software on the computer, cut out and engrave their pieces using the laser printers , and assemble using tools and materials in the school “shop.” The trebuchet project is a design that goes back to the Middle Ages and was used in siege battle.  During this project, students worked with a partner to design, build, test, and refine a small trebuchet.  The goal was to throw a projectile as far as possible by calculating the ideal fulcrum point and building a structure that can withstand the stress of a 10-pound counterweight. Later in the school year, the Centennial Middle School students will construct monster trucks, air rockets, edge-lit LED light stands, pinball machines, folding step stools, wind spinners and more.

The middle school engineering pathway classes are designed to engage students in a variety of subjects and extend to the manufacturing production and manufacturing design pathways in high school. The classes also include guest speakers from industry, as well as in-person and virtual fieldtrips. Students in these pathways typically seek post-secondary training in manufacturing or engineering at a two or four-year college or enter the workforce after high school graduation at a local manufacturing company.

“Students gain an understanding of design, building, power tool operation, and measurement that translates to many engineering and trade skills outside the classroom,” said Steinbaugh. “Students build confidence using the machines and tools that can be used outside of school in their everyday lives.”

Steinbaugh added that CTE classes offer students learning opportunities and styles that are different from traditional core classes. “Kinesthetic and tactile learners who might struggle in a core class sitting down and learning from a book or laptop often find success in a CTE classroom,” he said. “This is especially true at the middle school level where energy is high. Students need that movement and hands-on learning that CTE classes foster.”

In addition to the CTE classes, many students also participate in after-school clubs to meet with peers, make new friends, and continue further develop their skills that will help them outside of school. Learning how to work with others, leading a team in project planning, and using technology effectively are important to student learning. In addition, CTE classes also include important job skills, such as learning how to write a resume, conduct or participate in an interview, and researching various careers.

“Both the leadership skills and the career skills in CTE classes enable students to be more prepared to be successful during and after their time in secondary school,” said Burdon. “We want all students to thrive by helping them provide 21st-century, academic, and technical skills necessary for their futures.”

Additional photos of middle school engineering class activities are available by clicking here. 

Learn more about the district’s CTE classes, programs and offerings at