A dynamic teaching duo in Blaine County, Idaho, has revolutionized the technology programs at their local schools, allowing students to conduct state-of-the-art experiments using equipment usually available only to the science community.
Terry Thode, technology teacher at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum, and her husband Brad, technology teacher at Wood River Middle School in Hailey, are taking elementary and middle school students to the cutting edge of science in their efforts to give them a practical understanding of the technological world.
Together, the two teachers expose children to such advanced concepts as robotics, fiber optics, integrated circuits, biotechnology, thermal system design, and superconductivity.
“I don’t want kids going home saying, ‘I didn’t learn anything today.’ I want them going home saying, ‘I learned to build an airplane’ or ‘I learned to grow hydroponic tomatoes,'” said Terry.
Stepping into Brad Thode’s gym-sized middle school classroom is like stepping into a hands-on museum of science and technology. The first thing visitors notice is what looks like part of an airplane cockpit hanging from the ceiling.
“We jokingly call it the ‘barf machine,’ but it is a flight simulator. It helps kids learn some of the physics aspects of flight,” explained Wood River Middle School Vice Principal Ray Grosvenor.
Visitors are likely to find a few students tinkering with a full-sized, spider-like robot they modeled after one used to explore volcanoes. One student might be testing his ski tuck in a human wind tunnel, while another might spin around and upside down on a zero-gravity machine, testing his thought processes while he experiences high-stress conditions.
In other parts of the classroom, students can be found operating a robotic arm in a simulated space capsule, communicating through the use of laser technology, and using computer programs to design earthquake-proof buildings.
Despite more than 20 years of teaching, Brad Thode continues to innovate. With the support of other teachers and students, he’s converting a former photography dark room into a “clean room,” where students will be able to design and work with microchips, fiber optics, and lasers.
Both Thodes believe that students are the real innovators. “I don’t even try to keep one step ahead. I show them what they need to do and how to do it safely. Then I take a step sideways and get out of the way,” Brad said. “Education is not about doing the same thing I’ve already done. It’s a test of whether you can take information other people provide you and put it to use.”
The Thodes’ commitment to technology education has been a district-wide effort. “We have technology classes in all our elementary schools and we really use them to enrich the science experiences for our kids,” said Grosvenor, who added that Terry’s technology-rich elementary school feeds directly into Brad’s middle school, where all sixth-graders are required to take technology classes. Seventh- and eighth-graders can take technology as an elective.
The Thodes are not content to repeat last year’s experiments when new ones wait. In the evenings after school, they walk along the bike path near their Hailey home pondering ways to introduce tomorrow’s science to today’s students.
When airbag safety became an issue, Terry had her elementary students design cars that would protect an egg in a crash. And when the Hubble space telescope became a big deal, the Thodes and their students built a planetarium and spent the night watching the moon.
Students are so fascinated by the hands-on projects in the Thodes’ classrooms that many of them show up a half-hour before school starts. Some 68 parent volunteers also flock to Terry’s class; others attend her husband’s class.
Among them is Ketchum attorney Andy Parnes, who admits he was scared of science before he began assisting with Terry’s class. Now, “I’ve become fascinated by science,” said Parnes. “This class makes you want to keep on learning.”Hemingway Elementary School
Wood River Middle School