Comment: The lessons are virtual but the learning is real

A Snohomish High manufacturing teacher describes how Core Plus Aerospace curriculum is being taught.

By Matt Johnson / For The Herald

The joy of teaching Career and Technical Education — in my case manufacturing — through the Core Plus Aerospace curriculum is that I get to watch students come alive through hands-on learning.

When my students learn how to rivet or explain the physical properties of materials, they are applying math, science and English concepts in a way that engages them. Every day they develop skills that will enable them to graduate with options, whether they want to enter the workforce, college, an apprenticeship or the military.

I have taught manufacturing at Snohomish High School since 2012. Students sign up for my courses for a variety of reasons. Some want to work with their hands. Others want to explore career options. Others want to build a foundation for postsecondary learning. Many want to achieve all three. As their teacher, I am committed to delivering meaningful and engaging coursework for them all. The pandemic has increased the complexity around doing that, but I am more committed than ever to getting students the skills they need.

My students adapted to extreme circumstances last spring. They demonstrated resilience as they watched how-to videos, completed projects, went on virtual tours and met virtually with Snohomish High School alumni working in industry. I believe we were successful given the challenges we faced. But I also knew I wanted to do more to support them — and students at other high schools and skills centers — if remote or hybrid instruction is needed this fall.

With support from the state and local industry, I teamed up with veteran teachers from Bellingham and Renton to adapt some of the Core Plus Aerospace manufacturing curriculum already in use across the state. Our goal was to customize the foundational elements of Core Plus Aerospace for use via remote or hybrid learning.

Ten units of the Core Plus Aerospace curriculum are ready for remote or hybrid instruction, and available to Washington schools. The units deliver the fundamentals of manufacturing, focusing on topics such as safety, standard operating procedures and materials science. The units follow a “Read, Watch, Do” format, allowing students to absorb key information then put their knowledge to work.

Students start by reading a modified version of the original industry-developed presentations. The content is modern, accessible and designed to minimize distractions.

Next, students watch videos — filmed by me or another veteran teacher — that reinforce information they read and demonstrate core skills, proper use of tools and tips and tricks for hands-on projects students can complete once they return to the classroom.

Lastly, students complete an at-home activity: such as modified versions of hands-on projects typically done in school, a safety test, a quiz, discussion assignment or research. The adapted curriculum continues to meet Washington State Learning Standards. It also may allow us to collect more evidence that students are doing close reading and reflection.

As teachers and students go back to school this fall, many if not most are doing so through remote instruction. The goal is to continue building skills and then hit the ground running when it is safe to return to the classroom.

I am encouraged and excited by the adapted Core Plus Aerospace content. This is not an “off-the-shelf” or band-aid approach. It is real and relevant content created by Washington teachers for Washington students, delivering skills that Washington employers demand.

The effort to develop this curriculum in time for the 2020-21 school year is one example of Washington putting its best foot forward during the pandemic. I do not believe this is an isolated case. In fact, I hope we will hear much more about the great work teachers and students across Washington are doing in the weeks and months ahead.

Matt Johnson teaches manufacturing at Snohomish High School and is a past recipient of the Washington Industrial Technology Education Association Teacher of the Year Award.

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