Technology Teacher Speaks Out on School Design

Teachers and other school faculty members are a good resource for those in the school construction industry because they can provide a first-hand look at what improvements can be made in school design and construction. One such resource is Jim Deitrich, a technology education teacher at Liberty High School in Eldersburg, Md.
In December, Deitrich won the High School Technology Education Excellence Award from Technology & Engineering Education Association of Maryland. Previously, he taught for 12 years at Westminster High School, also in Maryland, before joining Liberty High for the past eight years. Most notably, he has helped improve the state and national curriculum and currently works as a trainer for the International Technology and Engineering Educator’s Association’s Foundations of Technology curriculum. Another one of the key reasons Deitrich was chosen for the award is his hands-on approach in the classroom — engaging students through the engineering design process and problem solving.
Because of Deitrich’s 20-year teaching history and prior experience working in air conditioning and refrigeration, he has some helpful insights on how architects and contractors can improve school design, especially by means of technology. School Construction News speaks with Deitrich about his teaching background and the advice he has to give our audience.

Q: What made you want to become a teacher?
Deitrich: I found that when I was working in the trades, air conditioning and refrigeration, what I enjoyed the most was sharing my skills with the new young helpers I would hire. Both of my parents started their careers in teaching, and I realized that there was a teacher in me as well. I got an opportunity to return to school and get my degree in education.
Q: One of the reasons you won the High School Technology Education Excellence Award is because of your hands-on approach to teaching. What exactly does that entail?
Deitrich: Facts are cheap in the 21st century. Today’s students can find information in seconds on the Internet using their cell phone. Technology Education is about having students use tools, materials and information to solve problems. Things are going really well in my classroom when I can facilitate the independent investigation, design and creation of my students’ solutions.
Q: How can architects, contractors and manufacturers improve their approach to designing for the needs of students, staff and faculty?
Deitrich: The basic philosophic foundation of the Common Core educational movement is that reading and writing should not only be taught in English class. They need to also be taught in science class as students read and write about the science subject matter. In the same way, each subject should be reinforced throughout the school as the common skills students use are incorporated into each different subject’s curriculum.
As we move forward in the 21st century, there is an increased need for teachers to work together in providing lessons. Classes need to be able to communicate with other classes. Buildings need to facilitate this communication somehow. For that matter, education is an information and communication activity. Designing for an increased flow of electronic information in and out of every area of the building is an important consideration. Also, the potential for distance learning — as schools in other states or even countries collaborate — may influence architectural design.
Q: What are some design strategies you have witnessed that seem to be working in schools?
Deitrich: Traditionally, technology education classrooms were located in a remote part of the school near the custodial area and the loading dock. This was done to facilitate the material delivery and handling that the curriculum required as well as power distribution to the machinery. Our current educational emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has led to technology education classrooms being placed in the same area of the building as the science and math classrooms in the most modern of school building designs. This is very helpful to the educational process.
Technology education reinforces the lessons of the science classroom by applying them to real-world engineering problems. Mathematics is used throughout the process. As my students are learning physics in the science classroom, I am having them solve mechanical advantage problems as they construct a mechanism in my technology lab. Close proximity allows teachers to collaborate and helps students to be aware of the common foundation of the knowledge used.
Q: What technologies could architects, contractors and manufacturers incorporate into school designs that would help improve learning as a whole?
Deitrich: The optimal technology classroom in the 21st century needs an instruction and research area, with a computer projection capability and a computer with high-speed Internet access for each student to conduct research and data analysis. Adjacent to that room should be a fabrication and experimentation area with workbenches and hand tools and power machinery. Few high schools in our area are adequately designed and equipped.
Q: What kinds of technologies are currently needed to teach your technology curriculum?
Deitrich: Modern computers and connectivity are needed. The fabrication lab tools and equipment are designed to modify wood, metal and plastics.
Q: What kind of technology or equipment would you want in order to improve or advance the technology curriculum?
Deitrich: It would be nice to have access to better drawing and designing software. It would be dream-like to have access to computer-controlled machinery and 3D printers.
Q: What does the perfect classroom look like to you and how can architects, contractors and manufacturers deliver on this concept?
Deitrich: The perfect technology classroom is [made up of] several adjacent areas. It includes a presentation area with projection equipment for the sharing of knowledge. It includes a research area for individual and student team investigation and design. It includes a fabrication and experimentation area with tools and machines for project work. Ideally, instructors would like to be able to monitor all three of these areas at the same time to maintain student safety while fabrication debris is kept out of sensitive electronic equipment.