Moving forward: How new technology is changing STA’s industrial arts

Kristen Hemann and Craig Christensen watch as the plasma cutter goes to work.

Over the last few years, industrial arts in St. Ansgar have underwent major upgrades, having added new technologies that are redefining what it means to be in “shop class”.

Teacher Craig Christensen has done his part to modernize the program, which now offers equipment and technology not often found at other area schools. In recent years, the program has added a laser cutting/engraving machine, a virtual-reality welder, a computer-controlled plasma cutter and immersion printing.

Senior Alyssa Powers said she didn’t have much interest in shop classes before, but with Christensen’s new curriculum, more students are finding their niche in the industrial arts program.

“I want to break the stereotype that shop is only a class for boys,” Christensen said.

While the typical shop classes like welding are still offered, Christensen has broadened the horizon of opportunities available allowing each student to pursue their interests.

“Each kid gets to pick their own project,” Christensen said, adding that the new technology and equipment available lets students tackle a broad range of projects.

Christensen and other St. Ansgar teachers have started looking at ways to combine curriculum. Art teacher Luke Nielsen’s design classes are already work- ing along with some of these projects, and ways are currently being looked at to pull accounting and marketing classes into the fold.

Christensen (Right) shows Alyssa Powers the proper technique on the virtual welder. EJ Photo/TravisCharlson

The combining of classes, Christensen said, will help students once they graduate and pursue their own ventures.

“We talk about ways to market and sell their projects,” Christensen said. “This is kind of my way of showing the kids there is a lot more to running a business than just showing up to work.”

While more students are discovering a new-found interest in industrial arts, Christensen hasn’t forgotten

about the students who have always enjoyed shop classes. One of the most recent additions was the virtu- al welding machine, which allows students to perfect their technique using the computer-run simulator before using the real thing.

“Studies have been done, and they found that students can actually learn 40 percent faster using [the virtual welder] first,” Christensen said.

The machine measures all aspects of the process such as material type and wire feed settings. It gives instantaneous feedback to students, allowing them to complete more welds during a class period.

The simulator has many advantages, Christensen said, as it allows students to get comfortable and learn proper technique before picking up a real welding gun, which in turn cuts down on spent material and injury risk.

The school was able to purchase the technology with help from grant money, and St. Ansgar is one of the first high schools in the area to have such a machine.

Funding for the industrial arts program also comes from the students’ very own projects, as a few local businesses and individuals have commissioned or purchased projects from students.

Dealing with clients, combining lessons from multiple classes and marketing and managing their own projects is the experience that St. Ansgar students are getting, and it is all made possible with the new tools and technology.

But most importantly, the students can gain valuable confidence and have fun doing it.

“You never know,” Christensen said. “Maybe [students] will be wanting to remodel [their] house one day, and [they’ll] have the confidence to tear into something.”

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