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Vocational classes go virtual
When classes went online last spring, all teachers and students had to adapt. Many were able to use Google Classroom or similar platforms to transport their lessons into students' homes, but for others whose classes are traditionally more hands-on, educators had to get a little more creative. The career and technical education instructors in Sandy and Estacada were among those who had to find new ways to provide vocational lessons virtually.
Fortunately, Sandy High digital media instructor Andrew Schaffer was already prepared to take a lot of his curriculum online.
"I've been teaching for the past two years in a computer lab, so most of my stuff is already digital or could be made digital pretty quickly," Schaffer said. "Three years ago, I figured: 'Why spend money on a ton of paper when I can just deliver it to the screens that are already in front of (the students) — the screens that they want to look at anyway. So, luckily when we transitioned to this, almost all of my stuff was already digital, and I just had to make minor changes in terms of the actual curriculum."
Schaffer even found a new video editing program for distance learning that he will likely continue to use when back in-person.
There are still aspects of the classes Schaffer says: "we just can't replicate until students are back in the classroom," such as hands-on studio and camera work, however.
For departments like automotive and manufacturing, change was even more difficult. Sandy High automotive technology instructor Peter Craemer explained that while they can't replace the experience of being in the shop, he is happy that in 2019 he signed an agreement with Ford that has provided students with more online resources.
"These are programs that Ford uses worldwide to train their technicians," Craemer said. "It's also the same system that if you want to advance as a technician and move forward, you have to take these courses, so they opened it up to high school students."
Local dealership Suburban Auto Group sponsored the program at Sandy High, and Craemer has in the past, and plans to continue in the future, to use the program to supplement his more advanced classes.
Craemer said the lack of hands-on learning will still have long-term effects.
"The most challenging thing in auto has been no hands-on learning," Craemer explained. "70% to 80% of the classes normally have hands-on, and we're going to have to make this up somehow and I'm not sure how. If we go to the end of this year without it, that's a whole block of kids that somehow have got to get remediated. I get freshmen in here that don't know one screwdriver from another or really basic stuff and now all of them are going to be sophomores. Long term, if this goes on much longer, this is going to be really detrimental to them. There's only so much paperwork we can do."
"Students aren't able to weld any sheet metal or machine any parts," manufacturing instructor Paul Panula added. But, Panula has found ways to allow students to remote into the computer lab at the high school and design parts and apply machine processes and to use simulators.
"It's pretty slick that the kids get to see something physically happen," Panula said. "If they designed a part, that part can start off as a block and they run the simulator actually shows it happening. We are just kind of doing the best we can with what we have and making manufacturing as real as we can for them."
Though there have been several challenges and an ample learning curve to taking CTE classes online, teachers say there have been some benefits to the virtual format.
Sandy High computer science instructor Robert McGlothin says the online classes have created new avenues for students to learn from other students' mistakes and questions.
"Normally, I would pace around and be looking over kids' shoulders, so if they need a little help, I can be right there and see what's going on and troubleshoot," McGlothin explained. "Now (there's) that added time element. They have to share their screen with me and back and forth so we can diagnose (any problem). However, we're solving all of our problems very publicly, which is a good thing and that's a very productive way for kids to learn about how to solve these problems."
While teachers are eager to return to in-person classes, a few do see ways they'll continue to use new, virtual methods even when they can have students in physical classrooms.
Panula plans to continue to record his lessons in the future.
"I like the fact that everything is being recorded because students can access that," he said. "Sometimes I also think having the virtual class is forcing me to be a better teacher and explain things in better detail."
"I think it was time for education and what the traditional format of education has been in a different way," added Assistant Principal Sarah Dorn. "Not to say how we're doing it right now, everyone should go to that, but I think there's a balance, and I think that we've definitely moved in the direction where it's not a one-size-fits-all for every student. I think this forced everyone in education throughout the country to really look at what is the best way to educate our students now that we have technology that's more integrated into our lives."
At Estacada High School, Glen Nation's automotive students would typically spend most of their time in the shop working on vehicles. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, class has looked different since last spring when the district moved to comprehensive distance learning.
Some Estacada High School students have returned to the classroom for hybrid learning, but many are still participating in distance learning.
Along with Nation's automotive classes, Estacada High School is also offering CTE courses in culinary, agriculture and woodshop. A total of 120 Estacada students participate in the automotive program.
Nation has been teaching the online component of his courses using a digital curriculum focused on the ASE automotive certification. Topics include vehicle performance, breaks, suspension and steering.
"They learn the foundation and the vocabulary," he said, discussing the online classes. "There are some hands-on activities, but I tell them we'll do that when we get back into the lab because I have the fleet and the shop, and some kids don't have the tools and the equipment to do some of this stuff. They can check their oil, but I don't want them to be pulling the wheels off their parents' car."
Nation added that completing each of the online units has helped students learn additional time management skills.
"Now I'm seeing more people just do it (instead of putting the work off)," he said. "When they come back, they'll have so much of that content already taken care of, and they'll be able to apply what they've learned in the shop."
Nation's advanced mechanics and collision repair courses typically receive college credit, which was able to continue this year.
Estacada High School began phasing in hybrid learning in late February. When the process was in its first phase, Nation had 2-3 students in-person each class period.
Sometimes student engagement has been difficult while teaching online, but Nation looks forward to continuing to work with those in his class and eventually have more participate in hybrid learning.
"When everybody in the class shows up, we do a team photo where everyone wears their uniform. That hasn't happened yet this year," he said. "I'm looking forward to seeing who's in my class. (During virtual learning,) not everyone turns their camera on."
No shop, no problem
When the pandemic kept school buildings closed, Josh Pikop, the construction teacher at Barlow High School, got creative and decided if the students couldn't come to the construction class, he'd bring the class to the students.
He hit upon two projects, a Japanese lamp and a scale model boat, that could be modified to at-home construction.
Pikop assembled wood and the necessary hand tools into a kits. Students came and "checked out" the kits and got to work designing and constructing their projects.
"They're still getting their construction skills, such as math," said Elizabeth Maki, the CTE coordinator for the Gresham-Barlow School District.
Maki said CTE teachers at both Barlow and Gresham high schools creatively changed up their hands-on curriculum so students would still have muscular programs in career and technical education even if they couldn't get into shops, kitchens and labs in school buildings.
The new construction teacher at Gresham did a similar thing, creating home kits for students. The Gophers built a wall frame and wired it. The students took videos of the process and turned them in so the teacher could see their progress.
The Reynolds High School construction teacher had students design small projects at home and they turn in their plans. The teacher cuts the projects with a laser cutter and the project goes back to the student to assemble with minimal tools necessary.
Maki said the Gresham-Barlow district's culinary classes took a similar "make it at home" approach.
Barlow culinary teacher Samantha Mann said "To keep the hands-on element available to all of my culinary students, they each got to check out a kit of cooking equipment at the beginning of the term. Then each week I pack up all the ingredients they need for the week's recipe and students can pick them up or have them brought to a site near their homes."
The class cooks together via an online platform.
"It's been nice to still be able to provide a hands-on option to help break up the extended seated screen time we've all been experiencing this year," Mann said. "Cooking together, even while we're physically separated, has been the most engaging part of my class and really helps my students gain and keep the hands-on skills that are the main focus of culinary arts education."
She added that "cool bonuses of this technological shift is that my culinary students end the class with a digital portfolio of all the recipes they made as well as pictures of each item, so they have a cookbook of sorts to reference later on."
The budding chefs cooked via online lessons created by the teacher. Lessons were recorded to students can access them at any time and they can be used for years to come.
Reynolds High School's culinary teacher embraced home cooking, said Charlie Barker, the CTE department head at Reynolds High School.
The Reynolds culinary teacher encouraged students to "use what you have" to create family meals.
The Center for Advanced Learning, a career-oriented charter school for students in Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds and Centennial districts, also innovated.
Health sciences teacher Jessica Gallagher brought in virtual guest speakers from around the country who shared their health care experiences and took questions from the students.
One CAL graduate, now doing her surgical residency in California, not only talked to the students, but paid for suture kits for every student. She led the class in practicing suturing on fruit.
It's one thing to buy a spatula or a yardstick for student use, but quite another to supply expensive welding and metal bending equipment.
But Maki said metals teachers reworked their curriculum too.
"It was a bit more of an academic focus," she said, with metals students concentrating on the properties of different types of welds, for example. Metals classes worked with video welding simulations.
The Gresham High auto shop has a longstanding partnership with Gresham Ford, so the teacher exploited that connection during the pandemic school closures.
"The (auto) students are getting the same online training as the Gresham Ford technicians," she said. Students can work on auto repair simulations on computers from their homes.
Some design classes that use expensive computer equipment and software had students go back to designing things the old-fashioned way, learning needed skills along the way, Maki said.
The Gresham High School business department even used the pandemic as a teachable moment.
Teacher Danna Nelson reached out to small businesses in the area and had the owners meet with students in an online class to "explain the negative effects of the pandemic on their businesses and the problems they were running into," Maki said.
Students selected a business and put together proposals of how the business might alleviate the problem and presented their work to the business owners.
"These teachers did so many amazing things," Maki said.
At Gresham-Barlow, no CTE classes were canceled because of the switch to remote learning. Reynolds only canceled one small internship-type class where computer students practice their skills by helping out high school departments with computer problems.
Maki said changing up the curriculum had less obvious advantages. For example, some students had to go to work to supplement family income lost to pandemic layoffs. Some of the changes with remote learning allowed them to do schoolwork at times more convenient for them.
Reynolds' Barker admits that making the switch is "tough online." But he said the CTE teachers "are modifying a lot to make this work for so many students."
Barker said, "I'm really proud of all the teachers in my department. It's really impressive to see the work everyone has done."
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