STEM school turns Manufacturing Day into week of learning

At Graham Middle School in western Ohio, building opportunities for students is Job No. 1. That’s why the school curriculum emphasizes preparing students for manufacturing careers. And, the fact that the school is in rural Champaign County isn’t lost on administrators and staff: They are using land around the building to incorporate agricultural education into classwork, too. To find out more about the myriad goings-on at Graham, including the recent Manufacturing Day activities, we contacted Principal Chad Lensman:

Q: Why an emphasis on manufacturing at a school in rural Ohio?

A: A focus on manufacturing in a rural area is very important as we work to meet the needs of our community. Many of our families are supported by manufacturing, and this in-demand field needs future employees. We must ensure that our students understand the needs and have the skills required for success if they choose that pathway.

The needs of the manufacturing field are changing as well. Employers want future employees who are collaborators and problem-solvers. This aligns perfectly with the type of learning we promote in our school.

Q: How have you injected manufacturing elements into the curriculum? What courses and experiences are available to students?

A: We have created classes to expose students to the design process. Students work on “failing forward,” solving problems and collaborating. These are skills that our community partners say their new employees must have.

Right now, Graham Middle School (GMS) offers STEAM 101 to all sixth-graders, exposing the students to each pathway available at GMS and Graham High School.

GMS offers four Project Lead the Way courses: Design and Modeling, Flight and Space, Medical Detectives and Computer Science for Innovators and Makers. Our staff has also designed courses to meet the needs of industry in our area. Students can take Google Apps, Design Thinkers, Coding and Robotics, and Environmental Engineering.

We also embed critical thinking skills into our core subject areas. Such thinking and learning cannot be put into a silo or restricted to one classroom. They are a part of who we are at GMS.

Q: Tell us about the recent Manufacturing Day events at the school: What went on, and what did the students learn? What community/business partners were involved, and what did they contribute to the events?

A: GMS expanded Manufacturing Day to Manufacturing Week. Our teachers planned activities throughout the week culminating in a station-rotation model on Manufacturing Day.

GMS hosted a variety of community partners to share information about their professions and the needs they face. Honeywell, Honda, John Deere, Elite Enclosure, Mark II Farm, Rosewood Machine and Tool, PhyMet, Fire and Marine, Alene Candles, Mercy Health and Hobart Institute of Welding Technology were all represented.

The goal was to expose students to the many opportunities available in the in-demand pathway of manufacturing.

Editor’s note: Manufacturing Day is organized by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute. You can read about the 2,000+ events that were a part of MFG Day 2018 at The 2019 event is planned for October 4.

Q: How have you incorporated the MakerMinded competition into your curriculum, and what benefits have you seen from participation?

A: MakerMinded has been promoted as a friendly competition with schools across Ohio and as a rich STEM resource for our teachers and students. It allows us to track and get rewarded for the great STEM activities taking place in our building, and it pushes our staff and students to try new things.

It truly helps build a collaborative STEM professional learning community with schools throughout Ohio.

Q: Tell us about your planned outdoor STEM classroom: What is involved, and how will it benefit the students?

A: GMS is lucky to sit on more than 40 acres of outdoor learning space that includes land lab trails, grassland, specialty crops, commodity crops, a retaining pond, greenhouse, raised garden beds, chickens and beehives that are all student tended. It all made us look at how we are using place, pace and space when it comes to student learning.

The ultimate goal of our Falcon Farms learning environment is to work with community partners to run a self-sustaining farm. Such hands-on learning will be invaluable as students consider their career pathway in high school and college.

In Ohio, 1 in 7 jobs is connected to agriculture, but less than 3 percent of those jobs involve traditional farming. We want our students to take ownership of this learning to make decisions that impact Falcon Farms. We know that there will be struggles and times when there is no crop, but those will be perfect learning experiences when students can learn to fail forward.

Q: How are your efforts at the middle school complemented by curriculum available at the district high school?

A: The middle school experience is designed so that students are exposed to the many pathways available at the high school. GMS students can decide which path they want to follow as well as what is not a good fit for them.

Often, figuring out what you don’t want is as important as deciding what you do want. It can be a big money saver for students and families in the long run.

Q: What advice would you give school administrators who want to incorporate more manufacturing experiences into their curriculum?

A: Do not be afraid to say yes. Teachers need to feel that they have the freedom to try new things and take risks. This is what we are asking of our students, so it makes sense that we give our teachers the same.

Reach out to local community partners to see the needs in your area. I can guarantee that they want to help but are not sure where to start or have never been asked. Each area will be different and have different needs. Reaching out will ensure that you are promoting the right type of learning in your school.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your efforts at Graham Middle School to expose students to manufacturing and STEM careers?

A: The biggest thing is, we are dedicating time to what we feel is important. We do not spend a lot of time dwelling on assessment. We understand it is there and that it is important, but we want to provide our students with opportunities that will impact their futures, ensuring that they have success today and are prepared for tomorrow.

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