Students Revved Up About Learning
A New Advanced Career Curriculum

Blog post Gene Bottoms, SREB Senior Vice President
Gene Bottoms, SREB Senior Vice President

SREB and its partner states have long advocated students will respond to rigorous assignments that engage them cognitively and challenge them to use high-level academic skills to complete. Assignments that require students to struggle, think critically and try numerous approaches to solve complex projects take learning to a new level.

That describes SREB’s new Advance Career (AC) curriculum, Automated Materials Joining Technology (AMJT), developed in collaboration with the state of Ohio. All nine AC STEM-based curricula are grounded in hands-on, real-world projects that allow students to test drive careers in high-demand fields. These curricula introduce students to new career opportunities and enhance their motivation while in school.

My blog is based on interviews conducted by Advanced Career Project Manager Beth Green with teachers and administrators who have implemented AMJT as a pilot program in the 2017-18 school year. I urge you to read it and see how teachers and students, initially concerned about the complexity of assignments, were surprised at the shifts in their attitudes and abilities once they worked through the projects. The AMJT curriculum may meet the needs of some of the industries in your communities.

Two forward-thinking schools piloted the Advanced Career (AC) Automated Materials Joining Technology (AMJT) Course 1 curriculum during the 2017-2018 school year with the purpose of increasing the rigor of traditional career- and technical education pathways. Pennsylvania’s Fayette County Career & and Technical Institute and Ohio’s Collins Career Center participated via their welding and automotive collision technology programs of study.

Fayette County Career and Technical Education Consultant Marie Bowers says the district selected the AMJT curriculum because it meets the competencies for Pennsylvania’s welding program of studies and “goes beyond the existing expectations.”  

Advances in technology require modern workplaces to change their production methods and use new materials. For example, automobile, aerospace, medical device manufacturing and other technology companies design and build products that require the use of materials with challenging criteria, such as functioning in extreme conditions or molding to shape easily.

The AMJT curriculum helps students explore new processes, materials and innovative uses for new materials to prepare for success after high school. Students completing the Advanced Career program of studies and a strong academic core are much more likely to graduate prepared for college, careers or advanced training.

Career opportunities in the AMJT field include avionics technician, control systems engineer, computer programmer, materials joining engineer, metals and plastics machinist, project manager, robotics welder and more.

Bowers describes the change from traditional programs to Advanced Career AMJT:  

We see AC AMJT as a way to build a ladder to student success. This is not easy. It challenges students. We instituted AMJT because we want students to move up in their careers rather than stay at entry-level jobs.” — Marie Bowers, Fayette County Career and Technical Education Consultant

Workers desiring career advancement must understand material science to join various products to design and/or build products. The AMJT curriculum requires students to research, design products using industry-standard software, test products and materials, collect data, and build and rebuild a variety of products needed by business and industry. Students use programmable logic controllers to manipulate automation utilized in the assembly process.

Students found the change from a traditional career and technical education to a more rigorous AC program that connects technical studies and academic concepts challenging at first.

“Students resisted at first. They said, ‘I’m here to weld, not do math.’ They were surprised at the math in the projects. Over time, they began to understand using mathematics is necessary to complete projects and knowing academics will provide better opportunities.”   Nate White, Fayette County AC teacher

Fayette County enlisted the help of software teacher Steve Forsythe to help students through the first few projects. The project-based learning method gradually releases ownership of the work to students as they become more proficient. Forsythe says, “Now I help students as needed. We have some shining stars in the group who own the projects.” Fayette County AC teacher Fred Oravets explains he and some automotive collision technology students were slow to accept the method of learning and the challenges in the beginning:

“At first, I thought this was chaos, but we stuck with the project until we finished it. This way of teaching is a life lesson, teaching resilience. The projects required students revising their products a few times before they got it right. I saw a positive attitude change when students designed an object using software and printed it using a 3D printer and held the object in their hands. After that, they didn’t want to quit.

At first, they had to create products once or twice. Now, they will ask me for time to redo products sometimes five times to get it right. They say, ‘I want to get this done. I don’t want to quit.’ When they get it right, they are ecstatic! What was once insurmountable is now achievable.”  — Fred Oravets, Fayette County AC teacher

Dave Davenport reports students had challenges adjusting to a new way of working. He says, “Students had to adjust to the new way of working, but now like it.”

“Kids would rather do this than traditional curriculum. Students are working at a higher level. They are excited and enjoy the work. They became more engaged in school. When they finish a project they say, ‘Look what we’ve done!’ AMJT adds a dimension of designing. This opened the possibilities of a career path. Many students are now interested in design careers.” — Dave Davenport Collins Career Center teacher

Now that the schools have completed a year of field testing, they plan to expand the programs — enhancing their industry and postsecondary partnerships. Fayette County will create a pre-apprenticeship program for seniors with a local industry. It is enjoying students new understanding of connecting academics and career and technical education.

“AC is a way to modernize and elevate our programs. We intend to adopt other curriculum areas.” — Marie Bowers, Fayette County Career and Technical Education Consultant

For more information about this new Advanced Career curricula, contact Zach Riffell; zach.riffell@sreb.org  or Jim Berto; james.berto@sreb.org.