Students Get Hands-on with Robotics in Mod Tech Class

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – A classroom inside Jackson-Milton High School looks like something out of a NASA research center, with two rows of computers and tables adorned with brand new electronic equipment, including a robotic arm.

It’s here where students receive first-hand experience in electronics, circuitry, pneumatics and robotics as part of the school’s new Mod Tech program. Students learn the fundamentals of working with this equipment, as well as with coding and programing software and workplace safety, says instructor Derek Joy.

The class is based on the Industry 4.0 curriculum, which allows students to learn at their own pace and get hands-on with the projects.

“A lot of students have become independent learners because of the nature of this class,” says Joy, who stresses troubleshooting and problem-solving as key skills in his lessons.

Pictured: Jackson-Milton High School Principal Dave Vega, senior Ben Dexter, Mod Tech instructor Derek Joy, senior Kadin Rader, Superintendent Kirk Baker and sophomore Ava Darney.

That can be a shift for students who are used to the teacher-led classes, he says, particularly students coming from junior high school. But for the students who already have an interest in robotics and electronics, they take to it very well, he says.

The class has given Ava Darney, a sophomore, experience she can put toward her eventual career path into engineering, she says.

Darney hopes to pursue mechanical engineering and says the class improves her familiarity with robotics, as well as the software used to program them.

“I feel like it’s a good start to what I want to do,” she says. “Before coming into it, I really didn’t know anything about robotics or even technology.”

Ben Dexter, senior, agrees. Working with robotics and circuitry have been the most interesting parts of the class so far for Dexter, who says he can apply the knowledge gained to a future career as an electrician.

Without the class, the students wouldn’t have an opportunity to use this type of equipment, Kadin Rader adds. Almost daily, students are expected to work with their hands, which he says helps him absorb the lesson better.

“It’s a lot easier for me to focus when I’m working hands-on,” he says.

Mod Tech allows Rader to explore his passion for science and robotics, he says, which in turn gives him a better idea of what he wants to do after graduation. Rader aspires to be a computer programmer, and he says another computer programming class he takes at the school complements what he’s learning in Mod Tech. 

“Before this year, I was thinking about doing aeronautics,” he says. “I didn’t have a full plan yet. But this class and my programming class really settled me down.”

Skills gained can lend themselves to careers as electricians, computer programmers and other jobs in industry, Joy says. He graduated from Youngstown State University last year with an education degree focusing on science, and took the job because of how different Mod Tech is from other science classes.

“I thought this was a cool opportunity because I’ve always been interested in STEM stuff,” Joy says.

Jackson-Milton Local School District added the program to provide additional electives for students, says Dave Vega, principal. The high school has a few STEM-related courses, “but nothing that falls in the line like this,” he says.

“This is very unique to what we have,” Vega says. “We felt we needed something that was a bit more hands-on for them, and also gave them some choices as far as our electives.”

The district invested some $160,000 for the equipment, such as robotics components and training modules for electronics and pneumatics, as well as the instructor salary, says Superintendent Kirk Baker.

Based on the Industry 4.0 curriculum, the district looks to expand the Mod Tech program into four classes, the superintendent says. Students who complete the program can earn three industry credentials for graduation.

“It gives them a great opportunity to see what they might want to do in the future, what trade school they might want to go to,” Baker says.

There are nine students enrolled in Mod Tech 1 between two classes: three students in the robotics class and another six in an e-sports class. Interest is increasing, Vega says, as another 18 students are set to enroll in Mod Tech 1 next semester.

To drive that enrollment further, Joy will preview the class with eighth grade students before they schedule classes for their freshman year, Vega says. “We want them to be excited about it, but also know what to expect,” he says.

Next year, the school looks to expand the program and make connections with area businesses and educational entities to provide internships or apprenticeships for the students, Vega says. 

“We’re not there yet, but we have a few other things in the works right now to augment our curriculum and give the kids more electives with that hands-on approach,” he says.

Businesses or educators who have questions or are interested in working with Jackson-Milton’s Mod Tech program can contact Joy at [email protected].

Pictured at top: Ava Darney, a sophomore at Jackson-Milton High School, programs a robotic arm in the Mod Tech 1 class.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.