Teaching in the field of technology and engineering can be a challenge because the curriculum changes quicker than the time it takes to boot up a computer.
Unlike math, grammar or history, little stays the same for long.
There’s always a new way to accomplish a task that is faster or more efficient, but that’s what makes the field exciting and worthwhile, said Seymour High School teacher Bob Sexton.
“I am not sure I would teach a subject that was the same year in and year out,” he said, “Each year is challenging just keeping up with what is new today and what is coming in the months ahead.”
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Eleven years ago, Sexton introduced a program at the high school to help prepare students for careers in engineering, technology, advanced manufacturing and even robotics.
Considered a pre-engineering sequence, Project Lead the Way has become an award-winning curriculum that allows students to explore and advance their interests in engineering and technology while in high school, leading many to earn college degrees and land high-earning jobs in the field.
Project Lead the Way curriculum is now being taught at Seymour Middle School and at other high schools in the county.
Recently, Sexton received the 2015 John E. Gray Meritorius Teacher award from the Engineering and Technology Educators of Indiana for his dedication, talent and achievement in engineering and technology education.
One of those nominating him was fellow Seymour teacher Jeremy Wischmeier.
Sexton was presented the honor during the annual Association for Career and Technical Educators conference Friday in Indianapolis.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “I had planned on going to the conference to learn from other educators. I didn’t think I would be going to receive an award.”
The recognition means a lot to him personally and reflects the level of education students receive at his school, he said.
“This award means other educators around the state noticed the technology department at Seymour High School and what we have achieved,” he said. “It has special meaning since it is named after John Gray, a teacher I knew well.”
Sexton said Gray and many others who influenced his own career, including former Seymour teacher Gary Christopher, have been innovative educators who “go beyond the norm.”
And that is what he strives to be with his students, Sexton said.
“Mr. Sexton is an educator who is deeply passionate about the experience students receive when they walk into his classroom,” said David Schaffenberger with E/TEI. “He has been instrumental in forging a state-of-the-art manufacturing lab from the outdated and dark ‘shop.’”
By carefully crafting a curriculum of realistic content and experiences, students are exposed to the same work environment that workers would have at a job site, Schaffenberger said.
Sexton said the best teachers help students discover and use their interests and potential by making learning fun and rewarding.
He said he does have an advantage, however, because his students get to play with robots.
Seymour High School continues to develop its VEX Robotics program and has added robotics competitions to spark involvement.
“Our goal is to compete on the state and national levels with our VEX teams,” he said.
He takes students on fields trips to tour local industries and businesses, giving them an opportunity to see engineering and technology up close and how it’s used in the workplace. The trips also build relationships between the students and the businesses, he said.
Last year, he took students to Indiana Department of Transportation’s district office in Seymour.
“It proved to be much more than what the students expected,” he said. “They were not expecting a lab for testing asphalt and aggregate, civil engineers designing intersections, bridges and roads.”
He has helped develop internships with local companies, and one of his most recent graduates is now part of an apprenticeship program at Cummins Inc.
“Getting involved in AutoDesk Inventor and being hired by Cummins for an internship is a big deal for students,” he said.
Teaching a robust manufacturing and engineering program has helped put Sexton at the center of interest of schools across the country, Canada and Mexico, which are modeling their labs and curriculum after Seymour’s, Schaffenberger said.
He has watched Project Lead the Way continue to grow and this year has teamed up with Ivy Tech Community College to offer dual credits to students taking Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics courses. That means those student who earn a C or better in the classes will receive both high school and college credit.
Continuing to provide opportunities in engineering and technology to students is how high schools such as Seymour can help address the current skills gap being experienced in the U.S. today, Sexton said.
“Our students are going to have the opportunity to earn certificates, dual credit and internships in the coming years more than ever in the history of SHS,” he said.
Sexton began teaching in 1988 at Clarksville High School. His position included teaching a publications class and using computers, which was a first for the school at that time. Seymour is the third school district for which he has worked.
“Each school I worked for required me to take what was handed my way and move it to the next level,” he said. “It is easy to become complacent, something I hope I never fall into during my career.”
Sexton also said he owes a lot of his success to his family, including his wife, Melinda, and children, Mikayla and Isaiah.
“I am thankful for my wife and children, who are the support for everything I do in the classroom, for listening to my lesson plan ideas long before they become lessons in a classroom,” he said.