A Look Into Marlboro High School’s Engineering Program
By Taylor Dowd
Marlboro High School offers an elective engineering program with three course levels. Thomas Fassell, who has taught the program for more than ten years, teaches freshmen through seniors at the school. The structure of the program differs from a traditional instruction model. After the first year course, Engineering & Robotics, Fassell modifies the courses to best suit his students’ interests within the field. He actively seeks student feedback to structure a program that teaches necessary areas of study while keeping students engaged in the work they do. For levels two and three, Fassell teaches Raspberry Pi and Advanced Robotics.
When Fassell began teaching the program, there was only one course section. Now, there are two sections of the level one course and one section of each upper level course. He attributes the growth to the hands-on nature of the course. “It’s a very student-centered class. I’m trying to get away from the direct instruction model. I let them set the pace and set the tone.” Currently, he has a group of seniors heavily focused on computer programming (specifically Raspberry Pi and Python). Another group of students chose to begin working on circuits. Level one focuses on statics–structures that should not move–such as bridges and the forces behind them. Later in the year, the focus shifts towards mechanical gears and functionality. He teaches students to make their own RC airplanes and how to fly them. Now, students are finishing construction of spaghetti bridges. Students are exposed to various units in the program, with one common theme among everything they learn. “It’s all about manipulating the variables,” says Fassell. Because the courses are electives, Fassell does not have to follow rigid schedule structure and the courses do not require Regents exams. He enjoys the focus on the students and the hand-on, project-based teaching he does. “It’s liberating,” he says.
Marlboro High School currently operates on a hybrid schedule, which allows only half the students to be physically present in the classroom at once. Fassell says this model allows for small groups of students to work together on tasks and he can give students individualized feedback. Much like the struggles of being a student during a pandemic, Fassell emphasizes the trial-and-error nature of the courses he teaches and encourages students to experiment and be willing to fail. “Nothing will go according to plan. It’s not gonna be perfect, it’s not gonna be what you expect, but how are we gonna make it work? I want them to be able to change and adapt depending on the scenario. I’d like them to keep building and keep perfecting it.”
Fassell speaks highly of the program’s partnership with Rob Engle and Sono-Tek, a Council of Industry member. It offers students the opportunity to learn first-hand from a local manufacturer. Fassell says a recent online fieldwork experience with Engle and Sono-Tek employees allowed students valuable insight virtually. Before the pandemic, a soldering technician came to the school for a demonstration on a drone project, providing feedback and answering student questions. Fassell says Sono-Tek’s support has only improved his school’s program.
Additionally, Fassell thanks the Marlboro administration. “The flexibility and support I’ve been given from my administration has been amazing,” he says. “If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have this program.”
To follow along with the Engineering & Robotics class at Marlboro, follow their Twitter, https://twitter.com/MHSEngineering1