For most readers, memories of shop class include coming up with an idea, drawing the plan out with pencil and paper, selecting the materials and then learning how to use a lathe, jointer, planer, table saw and jigsaw to bring form and function to the project.
Those skills are still taught today in “tech arts” which has replaced the tradition “shop” class, but at Red Rock Central School in Lamberton there is a real emphasis on the “tech” or technology part of the class.
In fact, a lot of what students are working with today in that school’s tech arts class would have been considered pure science fiction one generation ago. No one knows this better than Steve Wegman, who has taught shop/industrial arts/tech arts at Sanborn High School and now Red Rock Central for more than 30 years.
“We are using two different kinds of design or CAD (computer-aided design) software,” Wegman said. “We try to get the younger kids, the seventh and eighth-grade students, in to learn how to use the equipment, so when they get into high school, they can spend time designing things instead of figuring out the equipment.”
The equipment Wegman is referring to includes an ePlasma table for cutting out and manufacturing metal designs up to four feet by eight feet, a computer numerical control (CNC) table router that cuts out project parts from a standard sheet of plywood, an Epilog laser engraver, four different 3D printers, two different CNC mills – one that cuts out parts from foam block and another one that cuts out parts from light metals such as aluminum – and a special camera for creating 3D imagery to be used in creating projects.
“This isn’t just a lab for your standard shop class,” Wegman said. “Other departments use this equipment as much as or more than we do.
“The applications are limitless. The art class uses the equipment, and we really encourage the science classes to get in here and utilize this technology.”
There is a learning curve to using all of this new technology.
“The students pick this stuff up pretty fast, but I’m still learning,” he said. “I’ve taken classes on how to use all of this equipment, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new about what it can do or be used for. The students really get innovative.”
Wegman said that students use the 3D printers to create everything from scale models of World War II fighter planes to functioning mouthpieces for musical instruments, like for a trumpet or trombone.
“We’ve had students go on to college who end up in industries that use these exact same tools,” Wegman said. “These projects really make the students think. Not only do they design their project on CAD software, but once the project is done, they have to go through a review process, looking at the scientific method used to create the project in the first place.”
For those interested in working with equipment like is available at Red Rock Central’s tech ed class, Wegman said the school is planning on offering an adult evening class sometime after Christmas.