WHAT DOES A WELL-ROUNDED education look like in our technological age? I’m not an authority on the subject, and answers to that question abound with no lack of conversation when it comes to philosophies. But it is intriguing to note the answer and corresponding activity of one school in our community.
Clark Fork High School (CFHS) is doing something unique with their students. They’ve started a series of “tracks”; classes from which the students can choose to focus their study one day each week. Students and staff spend 38 days out of the classroom following one of four tracks: the Arts Track, the Culinary Arts Track, the Tech Track, or the Outdoor Track. While very different topics, each track incorporates public speaking and writing into its course.
The track system originated as a creative solution developed among the faculty. They found that, after meeting certain mandates, they had a good deal of time remaining with the students. They were determined to create areas of in-depth study to offer students an experiential style of learning. Each track is meritorious, giving kids the opportunity to thoroughly explore areas of interest in ways that the traditional classroom could not facilitate.
Marty Jones is the mind behind TechTrack at CFHS. He teaches science and technology, and on those special track days, he assists kids in “designing and building...things.” TechTrack is not your basic high school shop class. These kids are in fact designing and building things such as an electric bicycle, electric scooters, an electric motorcycle, and a farnsworth fusor (the latter is worth a search on the old Internet).
These projects seem ambitious. The key to their accomplishment, besides an invested teacher like Mr. Jones, is the track approach. Mr. Jones commented, “If you try to do this stuff in a regular class schedule, it’s tough to get anything done. You get in there, you get them [the students] settled, you give them some instruction, they have ten minutes to work, and then it’s time to clean up. Now they’re working on a variety of projects. They have enough time to focus and get stuff done, to learn new skills. I’m there to show them how to use new tools, how to make things.”
Not only is Mr. Jones teaching the kids new skills and instructing them in the use of new tools, he’s working to put cutting-edge tools at their disposal.
He restored a neglected CNC router belonging to the school. More recently, he won a competitive grant, enabling the school to purchase a 3-D printer. Right now, he has his sights set on a GlowForge, a wireless 3-D laser printer that fits on your desktop.
In order to fund the purchase of a GlowForge, Mr. Jones set up a gofundme.com campaign. When I spoke to him recently, they had raised about a third of the money needed to purchase the equipment. But that did not last long. I received a phone call from Mr. Jones not long after our conversation and he said that thanks to an anonymous donation, the students of CFHS tech track will get their GlowForge.
Jones said that they will share the new equipment with the Art Track. He explained, “For a lot of the kids, that’s their future, working with technology. It unhinges their creativity.” I also spoke with the principal of CFHS, Phil Kemink, who said, “What a sweet opportunity for kids to work with emerging technologies.” His excitement about the TechTrack and the GlowForge was obvious.
Observing the capabilities of GlowForge, there seems but a fine line between art and function. Artists and inventors are not limited by their ability or understanding of the manufacturing process, nor are they hampered by economies of scale. How many budding artists will find themselves inventors? How many aspiring inventors will discover they are artists? Perhaps the distinction is only a matter of means.
Students at CFHS have a unique opportunity to receive a hands-on education, one that challenges them to solve problems and interact creatively with the world through the use of technology. If you are interested in donating to the TechTrack, please contact Clark Fork High School directly. The gofundme.com campaing is still active at www.gofundme.com/zem6duxw, but the school gets 100 percent of money donated directly.
To learn more about the TechTrack at CFHS, check out their blog: techtrackcfhs.blogspot.com.
If you’re interested in learning more about the GlowForge, visit their site at glowforge.com.