Lee Isley spent 15 years in the private sector as an aerospace engineer. But were he to build a rocket tomorrow and fly it to Mars, it wouldn't be as impressive as what he's accomplished in just three years as a teacher at Los Amigos High School: He's stopped teens from whining that they'll never use math in the real world.
Isley is the head of the engineering pathway at Los Amigos, part of the school's regional occupational program. He designed the curriculum three years ago after taking a robotics class, which he eventually brought to Los Amigos as a club. He now teaches two periods a day of robotics, as well as two- and three-dimensional drafting and product design.
"We're here showing the kids what's available out there and trying to get them to focus on in college, what they're actually striving for and what their goals and going to be," Isley said.
This is the second year Isley's engineering classes have been part of the school's curriculum. Traditional two-dimensional drafting is offered at most high schools, but the 3-D drafting class at Los Amigos is straight out of a sci-fi movie, complete with a 3-D modeling machine that will take students' designs and create them from plastic before their eyes.
Advanced students can take Isley's product design class, which takes elements from each of the other classes and integrates them into a practical process in which students design a product for a client from start to finish. But the most democratic--and arguably most fun--of Isley's classes are the robotics classes. It's in those classes where Isley's lessons about math and science's uses outside the classroom carry the most weight.
"Other than learning how to learn the tools, we're also reinforcing the math and science," Isley said. "Some of the basics, they go through that so fast, so we're here to reinforce that. We have a broad range of students now that it's a class. We have some who are very bright, and we have some who need a little more help. We show them where the math is, the calculations that are required to determine ratios and gears and such. We're showing the practical usage of the math and science."
Seniors Thanh Tran and Andrew de la Fuente are working on a robotic moon lander as part of a presentation for some local elementary school students. de la Fuente said he hopes to study engineering in college and eventually move on to bigger projects, but couldn't discount how cool it is to be able to make robots. Tran said he hopes to continue working in robotics and one day work for NASA.
"You can build anything you want to," he said. "You just need teamwork and effort."