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Crucial life skills, eye-opening career choices at Central Plains High School
Dustin Robison walks Central Plains High School students through steps for checking tire pressure, oil and other fluids on the family car Wednesday afternoon.

CLAFLIN —  Theresa Strobel is the councilor at Central Plains Junior and Senior High School. Last year she learned about the Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab sponsored by Wichita State University Technical College.  Bookings were filled for the year, so this summer, as soon as the school began reserving dates for the lab, she was one of the first in line.  

“For them to come this far, they wanted to spend three days in the area,” Strobel said.  She began making phone calls to area principals.  Wilson Junior and Senior High School and Ellinwood Junior and Senior High School both agreed to host a day.  

Central Plains doesn’t operate on block scheduling, so coming up with a way for all students to have a chance to visit the lab posed a challenge. Brainstorming with teachers during a planning day, a plan developed. 

“The teachers all came up with the sessions,” Strobel said.

Skills taught were simple but useful, and often overlooked or forgotten.   

By the end of the day, students not only learned about new career possibilities, they learned how to organize a closet, sew a button or tie a tie, along with car-care tips, yoga, cooking and money tips. 

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Students wore 3-D glasses and used a virtual reality tool to solve a design problem on computers supplied by the Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab. Computer Aided Design is one of the career skills students were able to experience Wednesday at Central Plains High School. - photo by Veronica Coons
 Steady hands a plus

The mobile lab arrived in the Central Plains parking area Wednesday morning, equipped with actual and virtual tools used in STEM (science, technical, engineering and math) careers throughout Kansas and the rest of the country.  

Students in grades 7-12 visited with Future Maker instructors each period throughout the day. Presenters shared that high school seniors could take advantage of a program offered by the State of Kansas to pay the tuition for career courses at various technical colleges around the state while they are still in high school, including the summer after they graduate. 

Groups split in two, with half visiting the mobile lab while the other half were invited to work through a fun Computer Aided Design problem at a bank of computers in one of the classrooms.  

Each station included a pair of 3D glasses and a controller students held in the air like wands.  

“In the real world, a lot of the time you’re given a little bit of information and you have to figure out the rules of the game just by trial and error and seeing what works and what doesn’t,” WSU instructor Shea Zuckerman said. “So, failure is not only acceptable, it’s a good thing. That’s how you learn to do stuff.”

Using trial and error, they were invited to build a virtual game. The goal: to get two balls into their respective baskets placed at different heights. The students could adjust the height and pitch of ramps and pathways until they met the goal. But it took some students several tries to get used to handling the virtual wand. Once they did, they were invited to adjust their game to work in the different gravities of other planets. Most students found some level of success before their time was up.


Over in the Mobile Learning Lab, students learned how to weld, apply paint, and secure rivets using real and virtual tools. Students virtually welded a bead on a piece of metal and virtually applied spray paint to an aviation part, and learned neither skill was as easy as they thought it was. Steady hands and attention to detail resulted in higher scores.  

Students also experienced setting rivets as they would with aviation assembly through layers of airplane aluminum. Again, detail was important. A steady and even pull of the trigger resulted in a properly applied rivet. Some mistakes could be drilled out and redone, but when one student “pancaked” a rivet, damaging the metal, an important lesson was learned.  

“Sometimes a panel that you’re working on is as long as this trailer,” the aviation assembly instructor said. “If I make one mistake like that, that whole piece of metal, $500,000, would have to be thrown away.” 

It was a good lesson in quality control. 

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CPHS/JS counselor Thersa Strobel watches as an eighth-grade boy sews a button, one of the life skills sessions taught Wednesday when the WSU Tech Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab visited the school. The lab visited Ellinwood on Thursday and Wilson on Friday.
Skills for living

Over in the automobile shop, students learned not only how to check tire pressure, but also how to properly fill tires with air. With the recent dip in temperature, teacher Dustin Robison addressed how tire pressure could appear low early in the morning, but higher after driving or later in the day. He encouraged students to use a high-quality gauge and get an accurate tire pressure reading. If more air is needed, he instructed students to grip the air hose firmly with their thumbs behind the nozzle and push firmly for good contact. One second per pound of air pressure needed is a good way to estimate how long to fill, he added, particularly if a tire was only a little low.

Next, the fine points of checking oil were provided.

“When is the best time to check?” Robison asked.  Students answered “when it’s off,” “before a long car trip,” and “when it’s warm.” 

He went on to explain the vehicle needs to be turned off long enough for the oil to settle. After checking the dipstick and determining the oil was low, he asked students how much oil he needed to put in. Guesses ranged from none to three quarts.  

“From the bottom to the top (of the end of the dipstick) is one quart,” he said. Each vehicle is a little different, so he advised filling a little, then checking again. “If you overfill it, you’ll need to crawl underneath and open the oil drain plug and drain it out and try to get the plug back in with oil draining out.” 

Aaron Gonzalez teaches eighth graders at Central Plains Junior and Senior High School the fine points of tying a tie.

In the art room, students were sewing on buttons. They threaded needles, then started the process of up and down, over and through until the button was secure. For some, sewing was nothing new, but for others, it was a first-time experience. The pride felt in accomplishing the task at hand was visible, regardless of their experience. 

Tying a tie was an interactive experience. Students paired off and picked one from the large pile of colorful ties. Then, teachers Aaron Gonzalez and Susan Barker led students through the steps of a basic Windsor knot.  With no mirrors handy, students first practiced tying on their partner; then, if time allowed, on themselves.  Results varied, but practice makes perfect. 

One of the most valuable skills of the day, how to save a life, was taught in the lunchroom. Pam and Pat Stiles and Jeff Potter introduced students to the Department of Homeland Security “Stop the Bleed” program ( Then they learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques on adults and children. Several CPR dummies were laid out on the floor, with pairs of seventh graders practicing chest compressions and keeping time, then switching.   

“When some of our high schoolers were in here earlier, it was almost touching, you know, just seeing how serious they were,” Strobel said.  

The Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab visited Ellinwood on Thursday and will be in Wilson on Friday.  

Teachers and Skills

• An Oiler’s Closet: Lou Ann Clark & Carrie Schmid

• Buttons 101: Bambi Freeman & Terri DeWerff

• Saving Lives (CPR): Pam & Pat Stiles & Jeff Potter

• Tying a Tie: Aaron Gonzalez & Susan Barker

• Car Care Tips: Dustin Robison

• Yoga: Rhi Weber & Joan Klug

• Cooking: Sandy Barton & Bridgette Leteourno

• DIY Money: Michelle Beran* & Lisa Crites

• WSU Tech Futuremaker Lab: *Shea Zuckerman

*outside speakers