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Training the Teachers Who Teach
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Training the Teachers Who Teach

The training is very personal and hands-on. Here, Richardson helps an instructor program during the 5-axis class.

It is in this classroom where one really sees the community created by Richardson and his team.

Much ado has been made about trade schools and vocational education in recent years with public school systems, community colleges and universities scrambling to develop curriculum to help fill the widening skills gap. While this activity is focused on the students, one question that comes up is who is training the teachers? One company in Findlay, OH, has carved out quite a niche in this territory, focusing their curriculum on the teachers themselves so that they can share their knowledge in a way that is conducive to learning.

Located about 20 minutes southwest of Toledo, FASTech, Inc. was founded in 1988 to provide CAD/CAM products and solutions to manufacturers throughout Ohio and eastern Kentucky. Part of the Mastercam (CNC Software) CAD/CAM software reseller network, the company's team is comprised of professionals who have worked in actual machine shops, talking to the people who not only use the software but also hire people to use the software. Kevin Richardson, Scott Harding and Josh Commet are road warriors, traveling throughout the state providing onsite instruction, annual Mastercam Rollouts for customers and help for the company's customers. And, when they cannot get there, customers can demonstrate their issues via GoToMeeting or GotoAssist by way of links on the FASTech website. The commitment to education, though, is woven through company culture.

There are no shortages of technical schools and community colleges adopting manufacturing technology programs in the Midwest. FASTech forged strong relationships with them over the years, with one person, Todd Tracey, handling most of the educational sales and service. Richardson recalled filling in for Tracey at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center where he noticed the gap between industrial training and educational training. This was further reinforced during his frequent travels throughout the region. "I noticed that there was missing information that educators were searching for in different locations throughout the state," he said. "Rather than visiting each educational institution, it made more sense to gather them together to share ideas and content. I tailored the content to what the educators were looking for while including the latest programming techniques and other things we were seeing on the industrial side of machining."

They kept the curriculum simple the first year, providing an overview on how to navigate through the software's menus, focusing on design and milling techniques. The weeklong training session cost $50 per day. Eventually, the team moved to a weeklong training event free of charge to any qualified instructor during the month of August, guaranteeing the newly learned content was top of mind when the instructors hit the classroom a few weeks later.

Currently spread over a three-day period, the Teachers Training agenda is tightly packed and yet allows for some semblance of flexibility. Instructors choose the courses they need based on their own schools, curriculum and shops. Prior to the event, Richardson surveys instructors to determine what aspects of the software are important to them and where the gaps are, then he creates the curriculum around that. For example, Design Fundamentals, taught by Harding, covers navigating through Mastercam menus and how to use fundamental drawing techniques using wireframe and solids functions inside of the software. Commet demonstrated the Fundamentals of Mastercam Mill during his class, preparing the instructors to work with multiple selections of geometry to create toolpaths for actual machining. Lathe with Simulation, taught by Richardson, is designed for the instructor who wishes to teach students how to program and simulate operations for multiple types of CNC turning machines.

"The training is very personal and hands-on," said Troy Spear, Instructor, CAD & Engineering Technologies, Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School Career Technical Education (Kent, OH). "Each instructor is equipped with new skills at whatever level they are operating and then shown new tips and tricks with how to get things done that will work for each instructor's lab and equipment. It is personalized and customized to each participant while highlighting other programs and instructors' uniqueness and capacities."

The holy grail of classes is the 5-Axis Intro, taught by Richardson at the FASTech headquarters just a mile or two up the road from Owens Community College's Findlay campus, where all other courses and meetings are held. In a classroom lined with PCs downloaded with the latest Mastercam software, instructors take up every seat available for the opportunity to program live for a 5-axis machine. FASTech has a Haas VF2 SS with TRT 160 trunnion mounted for true 5-axis and a 5-axis NC machine onsite. It is in this classroom where one really sees the community created by Richardson and his team.

"We have many instructors who keep the pulse on the community and what aspects of the software they want and/or need to learn," said Richardson. "We also submit a survey near the beginning of the new year on what content and products each of the institutions would be interested in learning. For many learning institutions, they know the biggest investment is time. Educators have to deal with so many criteria at the state level on what is being taught and tested. As their students achieve great success with the Mastercam software, the manufacturing sector welcomes them with open arms."

The education personnel at CNC Software are in sync with the instructors and with the FASTech approach.

"The way Kevin does it, it is more than just a training session," said Clint Smith, Senior Education Market Specialist, CNC Software. "He is really building a community because he has teachers from all over the state of Ohio in the same room. So not only are they learning the latest Mastercam techniques from a top reseller, but they also get to communicate with each other and share ideas on what they are doing in the classroom, the different projects that they are working on and best practices."

Richardson said the community came together easily because of their shared passion for learning and teaching their students: "They become great friends and stay in touch with one another during the year. We do our best to keep the course fresh and give them content to take back to practice and use for their classroom environment."

The FASTech team is not the only one to have noticed.

"The benefits of attending FASTech's teacher training is at least three-fold: networking with other CNC/manufacturing teachers from around the region, learning new skills and how to implement them not only software and machining but also to benefit student learning which, in turn, makes students more marketable and beneficial to industry and provides a feeling of satisfaction that you are still learning new things and new ways to do things," said Spear.

Community building extends beyond the classroom for both evenings. With the classroom hours behind them, instructors can catch up, joke and grab a beverage with each other and the FASTech team. Richardson takes the instructors out two nights and treats them like family. It really does form a tight community among the educators in Ohio, said Smith. Some instructors have attended for several years and the history they have built together is obvious. The ease with which they talk with each other, the familiarity with each other's programs, and their shared challenges in the classroom is fostered by an environment created for just this type of relationship building.

The Bigger Picture

According to Smith, it is important to ensure that teachers know what is happening in industry and that they are comfortable with the technology: "It is such a critical part of the education process in general. If the teachers are well-trained on the processes and industry standards and best practices, then they can translate that knowledge to the students which makes better manufacturing employees."

Conventional approaches to teaching for industry do not always account for the fact that, unlike professional Mastercam programmers, teachers do not spend each day programming parts for hours at a time. Sometimes, they are lucky if they use the software one day per week. It is because of this that teachers can find themselves falling behind in class or just needing more explanation during a lesson. "I think the biggest difference in the teacher training approach is being able to be in a group of your peers who are in a very similar situation as you, who have a very similar schedule as you. I think all these teachers are more comfortable training together in that environment," said Smith.

When speaking with various instructors, a few themes come up, but a common thread among those who moved from industry to teaching is that they just did not realize how much they did not know about the software itself.

Joe LaFevre, a Precision Machining Instructor with Knox County Career Center (Mt. Vernon, OH), made the transition from industry to teaching, bringing with him experiences with salespeople who did not quite know the intricacies of the product they were selling. He had no idea of the extent to which the FASTech team was different than their counterparts. "I didn't realize the depth of knowledge I was going to learn at their training sessions," he recalled. "The fact that they offer this service to teachers says a lot about what they wish to accomplish. It was impressive to me that they cater to the different levels of teachers as well. For instance, I was a beginner, but they had a solution for me and other beginners without slowing down the more advanced users. They have real world salesmen with real world background in the field, and real world Mastercam training to pass on."

Gary Weaver, Supervisor, Tooling Services at PTI US (Holland, OH) and an Adjunct Instructor at Owens Community College, echoed LaFevre: "I have been an adjunct instructor at Owens Community College for several years now teaching mostly CAD classes. Last summer I had the opportunity to teach a Mastercam class," recalled Weaver. "The training was very intensive, well planned out and covered a wide range of material. One of the best things about this training is they went at a pace for everyone to keep up and there were always extra hands around to answer any questions."

As a Mastercam Reseller, FASTech also has the fast track to the Application Engineers at CNC Software, the very people on the cutting edge of toolpath development. It is because of this that answers to even the most challenging questions can be answered. This is beneficial not only to their industrial customers who often experience difficult machining tasks, but also to instructors who have their own set of challenges with students.

"Kevin has created a very thought-provoking, in-depth curriculum that challenges beginners and reinforces the most advanced users," said Matt Arnos, Stryker Local School District Career Tech Education (CTE) instructor and FFA advisor (Stryker, OH). "FASTech shows time and time again that training is at the forefront of its business. The employees at FASTech are willing to solve all the Mastercam questions quickly and effectively."

The team is in it for the long haul. They believe that they are fortunate to work with educators who want to stay up-to-date on fresh techniques and to continue to learn to bring their knowledge to their students.

For more information contact:

FASTech, Inc.

1750 Westfield Dr.

Findlay, OH 45840


CNC Software, Inc.

671 Old Post Road

Tolland, CT 06084



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