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STEM education revs its engines

GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNIN’—A typical class at  Tahoma High involves students working on separate machines, including a tire balancer. Instructor Luke Thompson also provides writing assignments. Documenting work, he says, is an industry standard for tasks such as repair orders.
GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNIN’—A typical class at Tahoma High involves students working on separate machines, including a tire balancer. Instructor Luke Thompson also provides writing assignments. Documenting work, he says, is an industry standard for tasks such as repair orders.

Mechanics can make at least $60,000 per year. That’s why schools have started fine-tuning their automotive tech programs to make them ideal vehicles for STEM instruction.

Using automobiles to teach science and math principles was the original STEM, says Trish Serratore, president of the ASE Education Foundation, which works to prepare the auto service workforce. “Educators have been teaching math and science principles in auto and technology classes since the get-go.”

In California, for example, the market for mechanics is expected to grow about 8.5 percent by 2024, according to the state’s employment development department. Many other states have revamped their automotive curricula to include STEM concepts.

Being relevant matters

The ASE Education Foundation offers a free e-book that discusses STEM and the importance of auto tech skills through lessons created by instructors.

Pass that wrench

In 2014, Tahoma High School in Washington updated its own program by successfully meeting and exceeding National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation standards. It now provides a variety of industry-standard tools, such as multimeters and automotive oscilloscopes.

“This gives the school a unique advantage and ensures that students are industry-ready by day one,” says Luke Thompson, the school’s automotive technology instructor.

Students at Tahoma High learn math and science concepts through instructor-led demonstrations and hands-on automotive experiments.

“We teach students about chemical reactions by showing them what happens when brake fluid spills on car paint or what happens to fuel trim when an ignition coil is unplugged,” says Thompson, who’s also an ASE master certified technician.

Student demand supports the program, while an advisory committee of local industry professionals and parents defines goals and helps with decision-making.

Schools can manage space and equipment by having a dedicated aid or para-educator, says Thompson.

Academic leaders should also work with CTE to build programs by bringing teachers from different disciplines together, adds ASE’s Serratore. “Together, they will provide students with the knowledge they need for employment.”