GRAHAM, NC (WGHP) — At Southern Alamance Middle School, Technology teacher Ryan Miller loves getting his kids hands on with their learning and helping them accomplish things they never thought they could.

When we visited him in February, he was having his students take apart their computers, and then put them back together again. The lesson at that time was that failure only builds you up to succeed. “After they fail, they tried over and over again. They finally get it. To see that confidence light up in their face and to see them know, ‘Hey, I can do this’, is a cool thing to see with the students,” Miller said.

At the end of the school year, you could say their success was so evident it was glowing.

Miller had taught them to design and construct LED signs using plexiglass and LED lights. The project was done so well, most of them look professionally made. Miller says the students used many of the same techniques and programs the professionals use. “They used a CNC router to carve into the Plexiglas,” he says. “And  they actually designed the images through a program called Easel and V carve.”

Once their designs were coded, the work on the base began. The students really get into that because as Miller said “We use power tools. So, I’m teaching them how to use the power tools on it. And so we’re using scrap wood, one by fours and other stuff. We cut them and stain them. We’re using routers, jigsaws, power tools, power saws on them. And then once we have it cut, then we start with the electrical part.”

The students learn basic wiring. According to Miller, “It’s a troubleshooting process too, because all the students, a handful of them, if they don’t wire it correctly, either get one light or you get no lights or you might have to get green or blue. It tells them, okay, well now what? Then they have to decide, well, what are we going to do next to fix this? So, they want me to tell them right away and I won’t tell them. And I tell them why do you think it’s doing that? Why is it only blue, or why is it, you know, showing up blue when you’re hitting red on the remote?”

He says that’s where troubleshooting comes into play. “The first couple ones we did, we shorted out the chargers on them. And so we had to figure out, well, what did we do? Like where did we cross the wires? Where did we do that?” Miller says he tries to be creative in order to teach his students that with CTE, the world of possibilities is open to them. 

“I just want the kids to kind of explore their options,” he says. “Creativity is the one is the number one thing too. We can talk about it and I’ve shown videos of 3D printing and CNC routing. But for them to actually do it and learn the steps, learn how to troubleshoot things is probably one of the most important steps that I like to have them do.”

Plus, it’s a lot of fun, and he says his students love it!