A reorganization of Weyauwega-Fremont High School’s teaching staff two years ago resulted in an opportunity for two teachers from two different departments.
Those two teachers were Mike Hansen and Joe Gruentzel.
Gruentzel teaches technology education, while Hansen teaches science.
They wanted to work together in the classroom, and the staff reorganization allowed Hansen to move his classroom closer to the Tech Ed Department.
“The big thing is Joe knows how to make stuff, and I know the science,” Hansen said. “It’s awesome being right next door (to Gruentzel). If I have a problem, I can go to Mr. G’s and say, ‘Hey, what do you think?”
Gruentzel and Hansen work together on projects involving the students in Hansen’s advanced physics class.
They did so the past two school years.
Many of their ideas for the project based learning come from the Wisconsin Technology Education Association.
Gruentzel is a member of the association, and he attends the organization’s annual conference each year.
The conference includes vendors, presenters and also speakers, who talk about the future of technology education.
When Gruentzel attended that conference during the 2011-12 school year, one of the topics was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and one of the ideas was to make a foam plate speaker.
That project was presented by Steve Meyer, a technology education teacher at Brillion High School.
“He presented this as a project he does for one of his classes,” Gruentzel said. “I came back and said, ‘We should try this.’ It just kind of snowballed from there.”
It also so happened that Hansen knew Meyer, as the two taught together in Nekoosa, before accepting teaching jobs elsewhere.
In the classroom
Gruentzel and Hansen brought that project into the classroom, as well as another one Gruentzel heard about at the conference.
The second project was a Styrofoam mini-airplane.
“That was a challenge for all to get around,” Hansen said.
There were trials and tribulations as they tried to tie physics into it, with topics such as weight distribution and thrust, he said.
“It’s taking the theories and principles behind something and putting it into practice,” Gruentzel said.
Hansen said, “At first, we made the plane way too heavy.”
When the two teachers decided to work together on projects, they often had one of Hansen’s students do the projects first.
That student was Dustin Hanes, who graduated from W-F High School in 2013 and just completed his first year of college.
Gruentzel and Hansen talked to recent W-F graduates, who were involved in the projects, to find out whether what they learned applied to classes they had their first year of college.
Hanes told Hansen he felt well prepared and was glad Hansen had gone over certain topics.
Hansen said one of the biggest reasons why he wanted to start working with Gruentzel was because he noticed in his Physics I class that when it was time to take foam insulation and make a boat that would hold as much weight as possible, several valedictorian and salutatorian candidates said, “Can’t we just take a test?”
“I thought if I want to get better at teaching this way, I had to get working with Joe. My ideal classroom would be teaching physics in a tech ed classroom,” he said.
Even more ideally, it would be co-teaching the class with Gruentzel.
Gruentzel said there are some high schools that now have a tech ed science credit.
This past school year, Hansen taught Physics II second semester.
During the final weeks of the school year, students were in the high school gym for the plane project.
“You should see the kids when they get it, and it finally gets off the ground,” Hansen said. “They turn into elementary kids.”
Among the students in the class were Cole Ponto, Nick Handrich and Andrew Wild.
“I just enjoy doing hands-on stuff,” said Wild, who has an interest in engineering and will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall.
Ponto and Handrich agreed.
The project involved a lot of trial and error, said Ponto, who is preparing to study manufacturing engineering at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.
Like Wild and Ponto, Handrich also graduated from W-F High School in June.
He will study electrical engineering at Fox Valley Technical College and said the projects will be a good background for him and his fellow classmates.
Hansen said the new science standards include a lot of engineering.
When Gruentzel asks his middle school students what an engineer is, they often are unsure, because they have not been exposed to the career.
They hope to change that.
Gruentzel said some high school students have difficulty translating what they learn in math or science class into one of his tech ed classes.
He turns to Hansen when questions come up in one of his classes. They also use Meyer as a resource.
That happened first semester when one of Gruentzel’s students was building a gun cabinet with a lift mechanism.
“We bounce stuff off each other,” he said.
Hansen said, “He’s being very nice. He helps me out way more than I help him.”
“The biggest thing that I see kids doing is putting things into practice,” Gruentzel said of the projects he and Hansen work on together.
With a 45-minute class period, there are limits as to what they can cover and accomplish.
Their goal is to direct the students so they will be successful, while at the same time challenging them.
“It’s huge being right next door to each other and having the same prep,” Gruentzel said, referring to the fact that during first semester, that was the case.
Second semester, Hansen taught Physics II during the hour that was Gruentzel’s prep, allowing them to work together on projects.
“I see the potential going to the conferences and seeing what other people are doing. We can dream up our own stuff. The sky is the limit,” Gruentzel said.
Hansen hopes they can continue working together. “It’s a start,” he said.
The two teachers also talk about checking into the number of graduates who go into engineering and taking their lessons into elementary classrooms as well.
“I love being next door to Joe. Hopefully, we can do this for a lot of years. Right now is the tip of the iceberg. There is so much we can do,” Hansen said.