CLINTONVILLE — Alta Jo “AJ” Longware constantly circulates around her classroom at AuSable Valley Central School, her enthusiasm transferred to her students.
Though the diminutive educator is towered over by her young scholars, it’s obvious they look up to her.
“When we did our research, what did we see?” she asks, urging them to reflect.
Her connection with students is just one of the attributes that recently earned her the New York State Technology and Engineering Educators Association's designation as Technology Teacher of the Year.
FOCUS ON SAFETY
Longware's current classroom project is a vehicle powered by a mousetrap engine. Each vehicle is unique — one creation utilizes CD disks for wheels — designed by students, who get graded on its ability to make it approximately 25 feet down the hallway outside the classroom.
Safety is a primary concern because, for many of the students, this is the first opportunity to utilize tools.
“You need pressure on that corner; otherwise it will snap,” Longware tells one student.
Then she goes to the next, “Remember to cut away from your fingers.”
She helps another student tie a knot to the mousetrap.
“Kids don’t seem to go fishing anymore,” she lamented.
'MAKES IT FUN'
Student testimony shows why Longware is being recognized.
“It’s awesome,” ninth-grader Nate Manning says of Longware's class. "The projects we do are not only fun but I have learned a lot about measurement and bio-mimicry.
"She stresses that we get everything done but makes it fun at the same time. We have to do everything — brainstorm, make sketches and then have all the measurements labeled for the final draft.”
Classmate Lucas Perez feels “it’s a real good learning environment. She makes it fun for everybody.”
Alex Knapp adds, “I really like building stuff. It’s all about creativity. She’s very helpful. She doesn’t do it for you. She makes you do it, and then you can help other people.”
LOVE FOR OUTDOORS
Longware was born and raised in the Adirondacks, where she lives with her husband, Brad Caldwell, and two cats, in a timber frame home they designed and helped build.
As a child, she would ride with her father while he made oil deliveries in the area, and as a teen, she helped him clean furnaces and drain the plumbing of summer houses.
She grew up enjoying the outdoors — boating, fishing, skiing hiking and snowmobiling — and developed a never-ending love for the Adirondack Mountains.
Longware attended Clarkson College with expectations of a degree in electrical engineering.
“I was overwhelmed with the intensity and rigor but lack of relevance of the engineering curriculum and left college after five semesters with a bruised ego and distaste for the traditional engineering programs of the late '70s,” she said.
Later, Longware enrolled in management engineering technology at Erie Community College.
“On the first day of my summer internship at Chevy, Tonawanda, which was undergoing a change-over to manufacture the V-6 60 engine, my supervisor asked, ‘What do you know about car engines?’"
"I replied, ‘You turn the key and hope it starts.’”
As the manager's assistant, Longware provided daily updates on the progress of the change-over, including the status of all the machines and quantities of engine parts.
While working alongside the quality-control team, she built one of the first pilot V6-60 engines for the new Chevy Citation.
BACK TO SCHOOL
In 1980, Longware began working at Fisher Price Toys in East Aurora, Illinois. Her projects included the Wheelie Dragster, Woodtop Workbench, Husky Helper truck series and the FP cassette tape player.
While working at Fisher Price, she completed a bachelor's degree in industrial technology at Buffalo State College.
She returned to the Adirondacks as a production manager for the Leader Sports Company, producing swim, ski and other sport goggles. Next was a pre-production-manager position at a local newspaper.
In the late '80s, she returned to Buffalo State to pursue a bachelor's degree in technology education and began teaching at AVCS.
During her 21 years there, Longware has received more than $20,000 in grant funding for projects.
In 2001, she was awarded a $13,000 Christa McAuliffe Felllowship Award for It's All in the Design, a program for students in grades K-6 to design and build plant trellises, mag-lev cars, pneumatic animal habitats and wind-power towers.
Longware hopes to receive grant funding for "Optics and Design: Engineering our Future," which will introduce students to the importance of light in the natural and human-made worlds, prepare them to apply the basic principles of optics in engineering design and encourage them to explore careers related to optics and photonics technology.
Longware thinks that in the movement toward STEM education, "lots of attention is given to the science and math. However, the T (technology) and E (engineering) are overlooked.
"Technology and engineering education teaches students about the systems and processes that build and maintain our human made world.
“STEM, without the T and E, is just more science and math. I believe that it is important that all students experience technology and engineering in high school because it requires them to apply science and math to solve problems, encourages them to consider engineering and other technical careers, and helps to prepare them for college and a career.”
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AuSable Valley Central School Superintendent Paul Savage has nothing but praise for Alta Jo "AJ" Longware, who has been named New York State Technology Teacher of the Year..
He called her "an outstanding educator who brings great energy, creativity and dedication to the classroom and is most deserving of this prestigious award and honor.
"A.J. is a true student advocate who goes above and beyond for her students and always has the best interests of the students at the core of her mission and program.
"A.J. is a wonderful example of how important high-quality educators are to student success, and we are so very fortunate to have her as a member of the AVCS family.
"A.J. continues to be a great advocate of technology education in the state, and she has done a fantastic job at integrating technology into our school programs so that our students are best prepared to compete in a highly technological world.
"She brings out the best in her students day in and day out."