Hands-on learning applies knowledge from classroom

By Lisa Phelps
Posted 2/13/24

GUERNSEY – When some teachers asked if there was a way to have a program that integrates math with various trades, Guernsey-Sunrise School principal and curriculum director, Liesl Sisson, helped find a way to make it happen. As a bonus, students can also get college credit in some of the courses offered at the high school.

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Hands-on learning applies knowledge from classroom


GUERNSEY – When some teachers asked if there was a way to have a program that integrates math with various trades, Guernsey-Sunrise School principal and curriculum director, Liesl Sisson, helped find a way to make it happen. As a bonus, students can also get college credit in some of the courses offered at the high school.

In its second year, the Applied Math and Technology classes with instructors Jolyn Hillen and Troy Reichert, have integrated head knowledge with real-world, hands-on skills. Designed to have student-led projects, last year the students created a design and small-scale model of a Viking mascot to learn the process of taking ideas from the brainstorming phase into reality. The scale model was used to make sure the formulas and measurements were correct, and after some tricky 

math problems were sorted out and applied (the helmet was one such culprit), the students were able to practice their technology skills, with a heavy emphasis on welding, to put together a full-size statue for the school. Since it was such a big project, the construction went into the second year of the program and was completed last fall, then erected on a cement pad at the front entrance of the school.

“I have always wanted to teach a class like this,” Hillen said. She explained it is much easier to get kids excited about math when they can see how to apply the algebraic formulas and geometry to actual projects. “We’ve done some amazing things,” she added.

This year, there have been several projects undertaken by the students that will help them build up their skills and interest with smaller projects, including mouse trap cars, bird houses, and their current project of making picnic tables for the school, which they will also engrave with a design. Plus, before the end of the year, the students will also be making functioning catapults.

Under the guidance of Reichert, the Industrial Technology students have been working on a Viking boat that will be placed in the commons area. The idea came from the students. Two class members, Tristan Hohnholt and Aiden Noggle, explained how they made their choice: “We have something outside, now we need something inside.”

Further, they both agreed there’s plenty of math involved, but their favorite part of the class is to be able to use their hands to make things, and to learn skills that can be used for a job when they finish school.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids,” Sisson said, adding it’s also good for kids not taking a fourth-year math class. “Now they will get real world skills and the opportunity for college credit.”

There are other programs at Guernsey-Sunrise School that have been added to the curriculum in which students can not only get college credit, but also gain skills for use in life after graduation.

“Last fall we launched an internship program,” Sisson said, explaining the seniors pitched the idea to her and Superintendent Lisa Weigel last October, asking for the opportunity for to have internships within the school and community and have the potential to be paid for them as well. “They were very thorough in their presentation – they even had a power point,” she said.

In response, the school administration identified several positions in the building which could meet the students’ needs and interests, and the internship program began. Currently, students are interning with the Janitorial and Food Service Staff, Maintenance, and as aids in the elementary classrooms. There is also opportunity for these students to have college credit through this career readiness curriculum that includes evaluations with employers.

“The students had to interview with the staff and superintendent, and have had follow-up interviews to assess their progress,” Sisson said. “The interviews have been fantastic. The skills the kids have shown have been really top-notch.”

Sisson said she is working on getting kids placed with internships in the community, but there are some hurdles to overcome. Some of those are the logistics of getting certifications and approvals for students to work in medical fields, and if there are enough students interested, Camp Guernsey is also willing to participate, but there is a minimum number of students they would have to have to make it work.

“The feedback on the internships have been fantastic,” Sisson emphasized. “The kids prefer to get their hands wet with what they want to do for their future.” She gave the example of a student she has had who is wavering between interest in two completely different career fields, who has benefitted in being able to try out each one to see which one would be the best fit. “[It’s a great program because the students can] get a feel for what they like to do.”

Another hands-on opportunity in the school is the culinary baking class. Currently students are preparing to go to a competition in Cheyenne, where they will demonstrate their acquired cooking skills in baking bread, cakes, and culinary dishes. The Student Council is also applying the skills needed to run a business with their coffee shop, in which they sell drinks to the staff two days a week. They are learning how to prepare and order supplies, perform customer service and deliver product to their customers. The Applied Math class has also assisted with an internal staff fitness challenge, measuring areas of the school and diagramming walking paths that calculate how many laps around various paths equal a mile.

In a further opportunity for Guernsey-Sunrise High School students to get real-world experience, Sisson explained she was notified in December that a grant from the Workplace Discovery Grant through the Wyoming Department of Education was approved for GSHS, providing $5,100 for interested students to get a Commercial Driver’s License. Any cost above that will be covered by the school. The three students who expressed interest had two weeks from the time they were notified of the grant approval to get their pre-qualifications completed before they could be enrolled in the program: a drug test, DOT Physical, and learner permit exam. “That’s a lot for 18-year-old students,” she said.

The school has further provided the participants an internship hour during school for the required online study for the CDL program facilitated by Eastern Wyoming Community College. Students will go to EWC in Torrington for on-site training on Fridays, and after passing those portions of the program, will spend three weekends in March doing their actual driving training required to obtain a CDL.

During the spring, Guernsey-Sunrise School hosts a course fair for their students in which staff set up stations to “sell” their classes for students to sign up for in the coming school year. For the internship program, Sisson said they will meet with students to explain that program and answer questions prior to the course fair.

Currently, Sisson said the administration of Guernsey-Sunrise School is seeking to be part of Governor Gordon’s RIDE initiative, piloting hands-on learning programs.

“It’s about getting kids learning and getting kids doing things out of the box,” Sisson said.