Will Walls - Technology and Engineering Teacher at PPHS- by Mario Morone
posted: Jun. 09, 2022
Will Walls is a Technology and Engineering Teacher at Purdue Polytechnic High School, currently located at 1405 Broad Ripple Avenue [I11 on map
]. He recently discussed his career and the experiences that led him to teaching.
Will Walls teaching a class at Purdue Polytechnic High School.
image courtesy of Will Walls
"As an undergrad, I went to Purdue for Engineering Technology Education where I worked as an undergrad researcher focusing on the connections between manufacturing industries and schools. I started a project that aligned welding equipment donated from a large trailer manufacturer to a local high school, creating a talent pipeline of welders that has been pretty successful over the past few years in placing talented, trained students in high-paying positions right out of high school. I student-taught at Avon where I coached their lacrosse team to a perfect 0-14 season (we didn't win a game, but had a lot of fun). After a summer of working for an educational technology company creating curriculum and other educational materials for their products, I attended graduate school at Purdue. In grad school, I worked with the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) to design and set up makerspaces in local elementary schools. My thesis focused on how students perceived manufacturing. I focused on a specific experience in which students toured a large automotive manufacturing company and participated in activities related to the skills that the company was looking for. In my experience, students - and most people for that matter - don't really understand what manufacturing is, or the careers that are involved. Many of us were taught in school about the industrial revolution and the moving assembly line, and that's how we still view manufacturing. Manufacturing today is no longer a dark, dirty, and dangerous job, but instead an extremely competitive, safe, and high-tech sector," he explained.
His initial work proved to be a stepping stone to the next phase of his career.
"From there, I took a sales job in Minneapolis where I sold high-end 3D printers, lasers, furniture, CNC Mills, and just about anything else you would need to start a Makerspace. Turns out, taking a sales job in education in a city I've never been to during a lockdown wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be. After 6 months, I was looking for other jobs when my graduate advisor, Greg Strimel, reached out about PPHS. He was working with the school and told me they had an opening at the North campus in Broad Ripple for the following year. The job was a perfect fit, and they called me 30 minutes after the interview to give me an offer," he said.
His work at PPHS has led to many creative ventures. "While I started as an Engineering Coach (we all go by coach here, and of all the semantic changes we make as a Charter School, that is one I think is nice,) I quickly changed roles to teaching Design Team full time, which is one of the two unique classes that we offer at PPHS. All Freshmen and Sophomores take Design Team, and in it, students work with a local industry to identify and research a problem, prototype a solution, and pitch their ideas, Shark Tank style, to a panel of judges. This has evolved over the course of the year as I really try to focus on getting feedback and iterating the process and class. I believe that giving students a voice and choice in the areas they want to learn about can better build their self-efficacy and in turn, their confidence to solve whatever problems they may face in the future. Currently, I have teams working on setting up a fashion show, designing an escape room, building an on-the-go streaming box, creating a video game about cats, and starting a root beer company. Through that, I can teach students about concepts that help them learn how to research a problem area through interviews, research papers, polls, and experiments. During the prototyping process, I can focus on teaching skills in 3D printing, woodworking, and other rapid-prototyping tools. Finally, I get to teach them how to present and have fun and engage others during a pitch. These presentations are where I have seen the most growth this year."
Students from Will Walls' Tech 120 class, pitching at Purdue University against college students
image courtesy of Will Walls
The nascent academic school, soon to be at 1115 Broad Ripple Avenue, has several noteworthy projects. "Our school, though small, has some tremendous resources for the hands-on portion of the class. Students can 3D print in resin or with FDM, and have designed and built everything from a model weather probe to a self-watering vertical garden. In the woodshop, students have built desks, flower boxes, and hydroponic gardens, all while learning how to use power tools safely and with confidence. The woodshop is my favorite room in the school, and many students need to do something with their hands and have realized that woodworking can be therapeutic and help build confidence," he described.
Their curriculum is unique from other technical schools as Walls noted, "The other class that sets us apart from traditional schools is Passion Project. Every teacher has a Passion Project on their schedule at the end of each day in which they can teach about something they're passionate about. My Passion Projects this year include: Makerspace Redesign, Painting with Bob Ross, Broadcasting, Learning CAD through Furniture Design, and Intro to Woodworking. Through a partnership with Indy Urban Hardwood, we have some incredible wood to work with to create everything from cutting boards to a dining room table. Some of the other Passion Projects this year include Backpacking, Music, Martial Arts, Cross-Country, and Comic Book Creation. We have some tremendously talented teachers here, and the students seem to really enjoy the passion projects, and some have even developed new hobbies and interests."
This work bench was built for the Makerspace Redesign Project at Purdue Polytechnic.
image courtesy of Will Walls
As technology requires consumers and employees to adapt, Walls finds the teaching aspect of his career rewarding. "My job is constant chaos and fortunately, I thrive on chaos. The most rewarding part of the job has got to be seeing the transition of student's from just "doing school," to students that take ownership of their projects and actually seem to enjoy working with their team. If I can get them to see that design problems are complex and hard work and responsibility are inherently enjoyable, then I can sleep well. As for specific moments, I feel the most alive when I'm brainstorming with students, and ideas are flying around the room and students are being silly, creative, and open about the things they find interesting! I love my job, and I think what Purdue Polytechnic High School is doing is important, unique, and rewarding."
He mentioned a current project. "We're working on creating a show to document Design Team, and I will have a promo in the next few weeks and will be recording a full pilot next year."
At Purdue Polytechnic High School, Will Walls is educating future engineers today for tomorrow.