Students who talk out loud, engage in heated discussion, and even argue in Lance Sawyer’s technology innovation classes probably will not be sent to the principal’s office.
“I encourage it,” the Hillsboro High School teacher said. “I try to get a lot of collaboration going between students, and conversation is necessary.”
Sawyer, who teaches calculus, geometry, and technology innovation classes, said he likes to utilize different methods of learning in all his classes, but especially encourages student interaction in the technology innovation.
“I always enjoyed math as a student, but in college I got into a class that I really struggled with,” Sawyer, a Kansas State University graduate, said. “Because of that struggle I really gained a different perspective on how people learn.”
Sawyer likes to use white boards in his classroom so he can watch while students actually work through their assigned problems.
“I like group learning situations and competitive games,” he said. “We play a lot of games with rewards, like going over and throwing some darts if you get the problem correct. The kids seem to enjoy it and their test scores are reflecting that they are learning.”
Sawyer said he also likes to show his students how information or formulas from math, algebra, calculus, or geometry are useful in real life.
“In geometry, if we are working on triangles, I show them how the Pythagorean theorem can be used to build a privacy fence. If we are talking about parallel and perpendicular lines, we also talk about their usefulness on football fields and putt-putt golf courses,” he said.
Sawyer said one of the things that really drew him to Hillsboro a year ago was the opportunity to put his competitive nature and critical thinking skills to use teaching technology innovative classes.
“We did a lot of small projects at the beginning of the year and recently finished up a design and creation unit on projectiles,” he said. “Now some of my students are working on self-propelled vehicles, while others are working on inventions.”
Over the past four or five weeks, Sawyer’s students used their skills to measure distance, calculate velocity, and write out instructions. Now many of them are working out the schematics of motion, using everyday items such as records, compressed air, tennis balls, gears, and axles to move a vehicle across the gymnasium floor.
“I give them a grade based on their growth,” Sawyer said. “The end result is not always the most important part, but rather I like to see how much they learned.”
Random inventions created by students in Sawyer’s second technology course include a de-icing shovel, games, fashion pants, and a self-propelled sled.
“The kids here are so good, so amazing at what they can come up with,” he said. “The support we get from the administration here for these hands-on types of programs is just great.”
Sawyer said enrollment in his math-based technology classes was on the increase.
“I only had seven and nine in the tech classes my first semester,” he said. “This semester I have 23 in one of my classes. We don’t have a maximum yet, but we may need to do that in the future.”
In addition to teaching, Sawyer is the head high school football coach, head basketball coach, and weight room coordinator. He also is a student, taking an engineering design course at Wichita State University this summer, then continuing with online courses at Emporia in the fall.
“I’m trying to get an engineering degree or a Master’s in Mathematics,” he said. “I want to be ready to teach engineering concepts as we get into more Pathways courses next year.”
Sawyer said that in addition to teaching interactive skills to his students, he certainly appreciated working with other teachers at Hillsboro.
“I feel real lucky to be able to work with Mr. Bell, utilizing his craftsmanship in technology, as well as cooperating with Mrs. Roberts in using metals shop tools,” Sawyer said. “I think next year even more kids will want to take advantage of the hands-on learning techniques we are able to use here.”
Prior to coming to Hillsboro in the fall of 2012, Sawyer taught at White City Schools for five years. He grew up in the Inman area before going to Manhattan and Kansas State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.