Students at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton, Ill., are learning what it would be like to be a pilot, engineer, research scientist, or architect in an applied technology lab class. Labs like the one at Franklin are replacing the decades-old concept of industrial arts with simulations that offer a more realistic view of jobs for the 21st century.

The $170,000 technology lab, which uses space that once belonged to a woodshop still occupying a corner of the school’s basement, contains 30 modules to give students a sampling of communication, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and bio-related careers.

Franklin’s seventh-graders are required to take 12 weeks each of computer applications, life skills–an updated version of home economics–and technology lab classes. Eighth-graders can select two of the three options to continue more advanced studies for 18 weeks each.

In a flight simulation module, students begin with a computer lesson about the Wright Brothers’ development of the airplane. The seven-day unit is capped with a flight simulator program in which students “pilot” a plane taking off from a local field.

In an engineering module, students program a computer to apply stress on a piece of wood to determine how much force is required before it will crack–a skill a structural engineer would have to master.

Other modules let students assume the role of a robotics technician in programming a robotic arm to move materials, a television editor in putting together a video, and an architect in computer-aided design.

Franklin is the pilot school for a technology lab in the Wheaton Warrenville Unit School District 200, which may add the facility at its other middle schools also.