Students in a Wilson Middle School industrial technology class were not on the same page on a recent Thursday.
They weren’t seated in the same area or studying the same subject.
Some were at computer stations, clicking through on-screen “virtual architecture” drawings, while others were putting the finishing touches on miniature paper rockets or punching buttons to compose music on an electric keyboard.
“We watch a movie with the volume all the way down, and we have to make our own music,” said 12-year-old Vrej Bejanian, who was working at one of the 17 modules that teams of seventh-graders were stationed at during the class.
The disconnected atmosphere was not an indication of disorganization, but reflected a culture of responsibility that teacher Gerry Lancaster instills by giving teams of students assignments in different fields, he said.
“The trick with this class is getting these kids to solve their own problems,” said Lancaster, explaining that he gives students a chance to experiment with a variety of technologies, but holds them to their own standards in an unconventional approach to evaluation.
Students are graded in a real-world style that involves turning in assignments that they feel are complete and outstanding, without a standardized grading rubric to match up to, said Lancaster, adding that students who aren’t used to meeting their own standards often ask him if their assignments are “good enough.”
“Usually my answer to them is, ‘I don’t know, you tell me if it’s good enough,’” he said, adding that students usually decide to refine their work.
The class is also focused on giving students insight into a variety of technology-related careers, Lancaster said.
That sentiment was shared by students, who were eager to progress through the class modules, which also included video production, energy and power and mechanics.
Brenna Cancilla, 12, was clicking through an architecture and interior design program that allowed her to make her own blueprints, with rigid lines for walls, doorways, stairwells and even furniture.
Brenna was deciding what kind of furniture to place in a three-dimensional rendering of a living room, which she had already decided would have a style that was “sort of modern, but not super,” she said.
“Before, I was sort of interested in architecture, but not really, so I tried this lesson and now I really like it,” she said.
Brenna’s partner, Alicia Bermudez, 12, agreed and added that her exposure to architecture and design helped her understand what careers in the fields might involve.
Later in the session, students who had been painting their small rockets got a chance to fire them straight up into the air and then across the school field, using a compressed air launcher that shot most of the projectiles in straight and smooth trajectories, Lancaster said.
While assembling the rockets, the students had help when they learned about the advantages of a sleek design, 12-year-old Steve Lee said.
“If you have wrinkles on it, it decreases its performance,” Steve said.
Student success with assignments like rocket assembly came because they were self-motivated to explore and succeed with their projects, Lancaster said.
“My personal goal is to always inspire them to do their best,” he said.
KIDS TALK BACK
The Glendale News-Press visited an industrial technology class at Wilson Middle School and asked students, “What do you like most about your technology-centric class and why?”
“We all have different labs, which means you get to experience different technology.”
JIANI NAVARRO, 12
“Video production, because you get to make a video and it’s like a commercial.”
AALIYAH PATES, 12
“I would have to say structural engineering is pretty fun because you get to build prototypes of bridges and trusses and buildings.”
FINNEGAN HOLLADAY MCCARTHY, 12
“I learn something different from everyone else.”
MERVYN SALES, 12
“The teachers don’t tell us what to do. We choose what to do in the lab.”
ASLAN PETROSYAN, 12