Guest Blogger and Manufacturing Instructor Larry Farrell Shares Insight

The following article was contributed by a manufacturing instructor with decades of experience. He shared some of his wisdom, insight, and tips and tricks related to tech education to keep students engaged and prepare them for life outside of school—with practical experience gaining real-world skills.

My name’s Larry Farrell, and I’ve been teaching technology education for 25 years now. For several years, I taught computer-aided design (CAD), basic mechanical engineering, and architecture. From there, I moved into teaching Transportation/Automotive and Manufacturing/Woods classes at Frank Scott Bunnell High School in Stratford, Connecticut. My goal with these classes is to teach as many 21st century skills as I possibly can.

Right now, we are moving towards using more CAM in our school. We’re building a CNC lab to house our 4-foot x 8-foot CNC router and 20 seats of Mastercam software, and we try to blend CNC throughout everything. There’s a little in Woodshop with cabinetmaking, and there’s some in Auto Shop where we include STEM projects, such as building electric motors for boat races or building hydraulic arms for Robo Wrestling in between auto projects. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that help my classes run smoothly.

Keep Your Students Interested

Bunnel Speaker

As students in an elective class, most of the time my classes are already motivated when they get here, but I do try to find a good balance between theory and hands-on work so that they stay interested. My plan is to get at least two days of hands-on work for every day of theory. It keeps them engaged, knowledgeable, and it also keeps them focused on the project at hand. Like so many other Technology Education teachers, I also incorporate mini lessons then send them off to work to apply the skill.

Make the Most of the Buddy System

Bunnel Buddy System

In my introductory manufacturing technology class, my students build cajon bongos. Most of them take to Mastercam very quickly, but some need more help. I’ve noticed that when we’re first getting started, those students are more unsure of themselves than anything else. What I’ll do is team up some of the more proficient students with those who are straggling behind. They’re able to learn from their peers and see that they can accomplish things without my help. I’m amazed at my second-year students and how quickly they can work through projects.

Streamline Your Process

Bunnel Classroom

One of the things I like to do is have my file uploaded and ready at the start of a new project. Some students will set up offsets, fixturing, and run the job, while others will make all the geometries, set up the toolpath parameters, verify, and post. Then rotate. The whole time, I keep the machine running while they’re doing the work. Previously, I tried taking each student to the router as they finished geometric construction and toolpath parameters to make their part, but that can become inefficient when a couple students finish at the same time and have to wait on the machine. With this approach, I can get them in and working on one part of the project and then, as soon as they’re finished, they can go to work on the other. Ultimately, they complete all phases of the project.

Connect with Your Students

Bunnel Guitars on Router

One of my favorite projects is one where the students build their own guitars. It’s especially fun, because this project is usually completed around the end of the year. I recently broke out my old bass guitar hoping to sit in with my students and play a bit with them after they’d finished. I’m more than a bit rusty, but we are starting to attract some accomplished players, so I’ll have to step up my game. It means a lot to me, and I think to them as well.

To learn more about Larry Farrell and his students at Frank Scott Bunnell High School, read the story featuring some of their accomplishments making guitars and bongo drums on Woodworking Network.

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