Steve Sweigart, lead engineering teacher for Fulton County Schools in
Atlanta, says cloud-based collaboration and professional development among
the district’s 13 engineering teachers is “the reason the quality of
teaching is improving every year and the quality of learning is going way
up. What we are doing now in career tech engineering is so far ahead of
what we were doing five years ago because of the collaboration.”

With jobs forecasting showing the need for more engineers, Fulton Schools
transitioned from tech ed to engineering ed ten years ago to promote
interest in engineering careers. Students study subjects such as robotics,
computer aided design, electrical systems, structural engineering,
pneumatics, plastics, thermal and mechanical systems, and material and
mechanical engineering. Hands on modules teach students the content needed
to design and build projects such as a can crusher, solar vehicle, mag
lev train, hovercraft, handicap assist lifting device, or drawbridge. Many students are
active in the Innovations Club and other CTSO’s (career tech student organizations) for
students interested in architecture and engineering.

After the second year of the program, teachers saw the need to collaborate.
Sweigart has led teacher training every summer for the cohort staff,
initially set up as a curriculum review. “We go over the teaching curriculum
and Georgia Professional Standards. We stress safety, important new
modules, and share what works. We pretend we’re students and do the
hands-on modules and projects ourselves, so we know what to expect.”

Initially, the follow-up was by email. “We had public folders with email,
but space was limited through Outlook, and if the system was down we were
out of luck. It was troublesome to collaborate and share. We needed a
better portal to share documents and photos and videos, upload easily, and
have easy access at home.”

In the fall of 2011, the sharing ‘went viral’, with online collaboration among the 13
teachers through a popular cloud service. “Now we have a cloud for our
engineering teachers with a login, and we share files, photos, videos,
project ideas, and pictures of projects that work, such as reviewing other
schools’ hovercrafts before building our own. We troubleshoot students’
projects, and share ideas. We also coordinate and share calendars and tips
on classroom management. We like the cloud approach for its easy access, and
we can even open files on our phones.”

Benefits of the cloud-based collaboration are broad. “Never have the
teachers had so much in their briefcases,” says Sweigart. “New teachers get
up to speed so much faster seeing the whole program illustrated with
step-by-step examples. They are more involved more quickly and know what
works. Timelines are better for everyone. Even clerical matters are
important to share as it makes us all more efficient.

“Quality of teaching improves every year because of the inner happenings in the cohort
meetings, followed up by online collaboration the entire year. From this
collaboration we even developed an annual hovercraft competition hosted at
different schools.”

After four years of hands-on engineering courses, “students can’t thank us
enough, they are so far ahead. The projects and training puts them way
above the other first year engineering students.” Roughly 1500 students
are enrolled in courses in 13 high schools, which were designed with input
from Georgia Tech and Southern Poly University. A 3-year course of study and
successful testing earns a student a Pathway Completion certificate.

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