Club goes beyond tech to teach life skills

The first rule of Tech Club is talk about Tech Club.

Science teacher Heather Howe wants the students who attend Wrangell High's newly formed program to share what they're learning and doing to interest more kids in attending.

The T3 Alliance -often referred to as Tech Club - is a program designed to supplement the U.S. Department of Education's Upward Bound program, which helps students increase their ability to complete a secondary education, whether college or a technical school. Not all members of Tech Club are in the Upward Bound program, and it's not a requirement.

"Trying to get students that maybe wouldn't have that background or support to get into a university to begin with, and specifically the T3 part, is through technology," Howe said. "The T3 stands for 'teaching through technology.'"

Howe and the students work with drones, 3D printers, laser cutters and Raspberry Pi computers, a computer kit that students can build and then program. They've also used the drones to create videos for the Wrangell Medical Center and Alaska Vistas tour company, taking the drones on glacier tour up the Stikine River, getting a birds-eye view of the scenery.

"The kids right now super into the drones. We've kinda been leaning toward the drone stuff more than the other technologies, but last year we spent a little more time learning each," Howe said.

T3 is based on three pillars, which include a growth mindset, STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and community engagement.

In addition to learning the ins and outs of gadgets and gizmos, Howe's students have also been delving into another somewhat scientific realm: home economics. One day will be dedicated to tech, the other to home ec.

"Home ec is really cool because we have all these kids who have never cooked for themselves at all," she said. "This morning we had a couple of middle schoolers that had come to join us. Both of them had said, 'Well, I don't know how to cook.' You're gonna learn today!"

They've made French toast, bacon and other breakfast foods, but it's all a part of learning basic life skills to help kids take care of themselves when they strike out on their own. "We're just learning through doing," Howe said.

Funding for the club comes from a federal grant through the Upward Bound program, and Wrangell High School is one of 10 schools in Alaska that receives that funding. Howe said the school works closely with the director of Upward Bound Alaska out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Word is getting around school to other students, whether sharing about the things they've cooked or flying drones down the hallways. Howe said it's helped attract other kids and increasing the club size to about 15 participants.

Students can also suggest projects for the club to get involved in, such as a marine debris cleanup effort in partnership with the Wrangell Cooperative Association. They used drones to spot debris, then went out as a group to clean up the trash.

"Heather's tech class and I hope to work together (again) to use drones to map out other pieces of large marine debris that might be located in areas that I'm unable to access on foot or in a timely manner," said Kim Wickman, IGAP technician with WCA. "The maps could then be used to form a plan to provide cleanup for these items."

Howe said there's still a lot of trash that needs to be cleaned up. Partnering with community groups like WCA is an important ingredient in connecting Tech Club kids with their community.

"We're trying to make those connections so we can start doing projects that make a difference and impact the place we live," she said. "That's the ultimate goal."


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