California Educator

November / December 2016

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T his year, Jason Diodati's upper-level engineering students are building and battling drones. "They ' ll have to rebuild the ones that get destroyed," says Diodati, who teaches physics and engineering at Templeton Hi g h S ch o o l i n Temp l e ton , n e a r S a n Luis Obispo. Students create and repair the drones and other gadgets using the school's vast array of Maker gear, includ- ing 3-D printers and carvers, vinyl and laser cutters, and high-end computers and software. When he came to Templeton in 2012, Diodati, who has a degree in biology, had never heard of or taught engineering at the high school level. With a passion for alternative energy and the Maker move- ment (the burgeoning tech-influenced DIY culture), the Templeton Teachers Associa- tion member was given free rein to create his own curriculum. That year h e had stud ents c onver t a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300 to run on bio- diesel, using vegetable oil collected from local restaurants and processed into fuel. He starting hunting online for classroom technology grants from organizations and companies for equipment to make things like signs with the school logo and parts for various projects. He taught himself along with his students. As he and his students became more a dv a n c e d , h e a c q u i re d m o re s o p h i s - ticated gear, such as an experimental "mind-readin g " sy st em (w hich moni- tors electrical activity in the brain for computer functions and programs) with a grant from NEA. As well as contributing to in-class proj- ects such as electric go-karts and robots, Diodati's students work off-site on their own projects during the year, and show- case their work at Templeton's annual Maker Fair. (Templeton now also boasts a STEM Academy offering certification in general STEM and specialized strands such as environmental , chemical and mechanical engineering, computer and molecular sciences, and health careers.) " I l i k e p r o j e c t - b a s e d , h a n d s - o n application curriculum that works for multiple levels," says Diodati, who pre- viously taught chemistry at an East Los Angeles charter school , where he also created curriculum " from scratch." He switched jobs and moved back to the San Luis Obispo area, where he was raised, after he and his elementary schoolteacher wife started their family. D i o d a t i h a s b e c o m e s o m e t h i n g of a grant expert, and the grant process to fund class projects is incorporated into his teaching. "Last year I got a career tech- nical education credential for engineering, which opened up $60,000 in California grant money," he says. "I teach students how to write grants — I want it to be their grant. In the past five years, we've received $30,000 to $40,000 in student- written grants. If they don't get a grant, I have them try to find out why." Diodati is now helping share the wealth and build up science at the district's ele- mentary and middle school levels with equipment and curriculum. He's working with middle school teachers to learn and take on instruction of the new tech. " We play to the educator's strengths," h e s a y s . " O n e t e a c h e r i s m o r e i n t o fabrics and t extiles, so we purchased sewing machines." He's eager to help other educators as well. "I would love to help other schools set up programs like this," he says, envi- sioning "a community helping to improve society as a whole." Maker Man Educator takes a hands-on approach to engineering 33 November / December 2016 Templeton High School engineering class with their drones (drone bodies are 3-D–printed or laser-cut). At right, Jason Diodati holds a mirror with the school logo — etched with the laser cutter behind him.

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