There are only really 3 issues that can completely destroy a lab and a Tech Ed program: Targeting the wrong kind of student, Lack of supplies and equipment, and poor teaching practices. Let’s discuss these 3 problems and how administration can make or break your program.
Targeting the Wrong Kind of Student
Technology Education is an academically challenging course. It is also a course that has a lot of fragile and dangerous equipment. These things should be taken into consideration when scheduling classes. If a student is known to be reckless, perhaps putting him or her into a classroom filled with expensive equipment, knives, and dangerous power tools should be reconsidered. Students who can not read well or who do not do well in self-directed activities might also do better in another elective course that does not rely so heavily on these two skills.
I am not saying that Tech Ed is only for advanced, well behaved students. On the contrary, my program has been the bright spot in many academically challenged students day (and report card). What I am saying is that it should not be used solely as a dumping ground for students that do poorly in everything else as the classic Industrial Arts programs were used (or should I say abused?). Your class rosters should represent a fair sampling of the entire student body- not just the “bottom end”. This ain’t your dad’s woodshop class- if a kid hates science and math, Industrial arts classes may not be the best places for him or her anymore.
Lack of Supplies and Equipment
Technology Education is an expensive class to build and run. There are supplies needed to complete projects, equipment needed to run the lab projects, and many dangerous pieces of equipment. The administration must be committed to keeping the lab supplied with the materials needed to complete the projects they want students to participate in. If you buy woodworking machinery, you’re going to need to keep buying wood to work with. Supply requirements for a Technology Education class are much higher than the standard elective classroom.
Secondly, there must be enough equipment for students to participate in projects. When building the lab, there should be an idea of how many students can effectively work on a project or piece of equipment at a time. If all of your modules are built for teams of two, and you only have 10 modules, then the class should be limited to 20 students. If you want to place more students in there, then there needs to be room and money for an additional project’s required equipment.
I once voiced concern when my lab, built for 30 students, had over 40 students in it. The administrator had a fit, and said that there was “nothing special about Tech Ed, every class was overloaded! We have an english class with 38 students in it, and they are only supposed to have 32 also.” I responded, “I see your point, but a student can’t saw off their hand with a paperback novel. Power tools and dangerous equipment make Tech Ed special in that sense. Also… Every student in that class has a book and paper. If you can provide another 10 computers and the software required to complete the projects, then we can discuss how that will work” It didn’t end there, but a few days later after a discussion with the principal about the safety issues and materials budget, the class sizes were dropped to a managable (but challenging) 32 students. I created a problem solving activity that used inexpensive supplies and solved the problem. Overcrowding will kill a program. It taxes the equipment, eats up supplies, and makes the lab a dangerous place.
Poor Teaching Practices
Of course, the Administration’s job is not only to make the teacher happy in the lab. The students must be happy, also. Poor teaching practices, lack of classroom discipline, and lab management can also destroy a lab. I know of a school where the CPU and RAM was actually stolen out of the computers by students during class. Every lab will have a little attrition of equipment due to theft or vandalism, but it’s usually smaller equipment and supplies like LED’s or magnets or other minor items that kids think are fun to play with. Occasionally you may even have some vandalism. But It is completely beyond me how students can open a computer case and steal the CPU and RAM chips without the teacher noticing. It doesn’t take long to swipe a laserpointer or lego motor or something, but disassembling a computer and stealing a CPU is an involved process that takes time and more opportunity than should ever be afforded in a Tech Lab.
If you are an Administrator, you can help a struggling teacher with some training, mentoring (or partnering with a successful program), and even some scheduling help. It’s really hard to be a first year Tech Ed teacher. Go easy on them for the first quarter. Let them learn the ropes with smaller, academically successful, well behaved students. Make room in the budget for organizing supplies to help them keep track of materials. Team them up with a really organized teacher who can help them keep track of the materials.
If your’e a teacher, try all of the things above. Partner with someone else who is more experienced and organized. Develop a program and plan for keeping track of all of the materials in your lab (this is a MAJOR job).