Northwestern students put critical thinking skills to work
Projects created by construction, manufacturing and engineering students can be found throughout the community.
MAPLE — The technical education classrooms at Northwestern High School were buzzing with activity April 27. Most of the items under construction will one day be on display in the community.
On one table, students painted a new welcome sign for Lake Nebagamon. The double-sided design was created by students, approved by the village board, and is well on its way to completion.
“It’ll be a great feeling when I can drive by it and see it done. It also inspires me to really take the time to get all the little details right. I know it’s going to be under community scrutiny for hopefully many years,” said Thomas Shamla, a senior.
A Dr. Seuss-themed Little Free Library was being built nearby, an entry for an East Central Energy contest. The Intro to Construction class came up with the concept for the library, then handed it off to the Construction I class to build.
“I think they nailed it in terms of theme,” said technology and engineering teacher Laurence Charlier.
Carter Armstrong, a senior, was engraving inspiring quotes on a set of metal Maple leaves in a neighboring room. Made of 14-gauge mild steel with a copper-colored powder coating, they will adorn the boulders at the Price of War Memorial in Brule. The 16 leaves Armstrong is constructing will be added to the ones last year’s students made.
He’s also building a detailed guide on the process for future students, in case more leaves are needed. The ones that haven’t yet been powder-coated shuttle back and forth with him in his backpack.
“At first, this was a job offered for Tiger Manufacturing, but this has significance to it. There’s a reason I’ve been working at this weeks after Tiger Manufacturing was over,” Armstrong said. “There’s no grade.”
He said it’s important to honor those who have served in the armed forces and, more importantly, those who died in that service.
“This is more of a civil duty than it really is for school or anything else. So for me this is a chance to be able to give back to those that have been able to protect us in service and be able to be the arms for a society that kind of takes everything for granted,” said Armstrong, who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Superior to study computer science.
Breaking the mold
Technical education students at NHS don't make cookie-cutter projects, Charlier said.
“The way we do it is we create a community-based project, then they break up into teams, pick one of the problems and try to use the engineering design process to develop a solution to it,” he said.
When they move on to the next level class and build their own projects, students use the same process.
“And it’s not just a design process. I think it’s a great way of just thinking, just teaching, a decision making processes,” Charlier said.
Whether the students are following the construction path, the manufacturing path or the new engineering path, that critical thinking piece is a constant.
“To see that these guys and gals are having an authentic experience is really valuable,” said engineering teacher Charles Nolt, and it’s something they can carry with them whatever career path they take.
The byproduct of their critical thinking can be seen throughout the community—medals for the Northern Pines Sled Dog Race in Iron River; wooden signs for the Brule River Forest; the signs for the After Hours Ski Trail, as well as most of the furniture there; the signs at Amnicon Falls State Park; and the Brule Fire Department sign were all designed and built by NHS technical education students.
Senior Elle Katzmark was sure there had been some mix-up with her schedule this year. She was put in the Tiger Manufacturing class even though she hadn’t taken a technical education class since her freshman year.
“I tried to drop it at first and they didn’t let me, so I got stuck with it,” she said. “I did enjoy it."
She proudly brought out her finished project—golf trophies for Poplar Fun Days. The senior had to learn how to use a plasma cutter, laser engraver and other tools to turn out a trio of designs for event organizers to pick from.
“I do actually enjoy the challenge because I like learning new things,” Katzmark said.
The experience helped shift her career goals. Instead of becoming a forensic pathologist, the senior was preparing to interview with CMC Construction.
Shamla said he learns best by doing, and the skills he’s gained in technology classes have been useful at home.
“We have a small beef farm north of Brule. Ever since I learned to weld in these tech ed classes, all of a sudden welding jobs are just coming out of the woodwork. Bucket cracks or implement breaks and, they call me up, ‘Thomas, can you come weld this?’” Shamla said.
This fall, he’ll attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout to pursue a mechanical engineering degree.
Solutions on display
The applied engineering class at NHS has been working in groups to solve a real-world problem of their choice. They researched the problem, brainstormed solutions and built a prototype, which will be presented to the public from 5-8 p.m. May 25 at the high school. The event will begin with an open house in the commons with products on display, followed by on-stage presentations in the auditorium.
This year's projects include one focused on creating a more comfortable deer stand, and a group seeking a more efficient way to bottle maple syrup.