Amy Hamilton, the 2021 3DEXPERIENCE World model mania winner (using xDesign), is a Technology Education/Engineering teacher at Sleepy Hill Middle School in Lakeland, Florida. She is one of the few teachers worldwide teaching SOLIDWORKS to middle schoolers. In her third year of teaching SolidWorks (2014), 29 of her students passed the Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate (CSWA) exam. In 2018, 35 of her eighth graders passed it. Hamilton is especially proud of the year when twenty eighth graders passed the exam and sixteen of the students were girls.
Hamilton’s passion for technology and engineering was ignited in the early 1980s by her senior high school teacher. “Mr. William Lesser was perhaps the best teacher I ever had in my life,” Hamilton enthuses. “He was a master tool and die maker from industry.” After graduating, Hamilton wanted to make a career of drafting but found every single door closed. “Back in those days, they rarely hired women for that kind of work, even though I was at the top of my class,” recalls Hamilton.
The Call to Teach
Frustrated but undaunted, Hamilton continued tutoring struggling students while she looked for work. That’s when teaching became a passion. “There is nothing more satisfying when a student has the ‘aha’ moment of finally getting it right,” says Hamilton. She got her degree in teaching industrial arts/technology education with a concentration in drafting and graphic communications. “I can look at a 2D drawing and literally see it in 3D in my head,” says Hamilton.
In the late 1980s, Hamilton had to walk away from teaching due to so many cuts to industrial arts/technology education. She worked in the print industry for eight years before she returned to teaching. She first taught AutoCAD and soon settled into her Technology Education/Engineering teaching role at Sleepy Hill Middle School, where she has worked for over twenty years. “I started teaching the kids basic board drafting and engineering concepts,” says Hamilton. “That’s engineering with a little ‘e’ such as: How does an engineer think? What problems do engineers solve? How do engineers look at the world?”
The Wiggly Age
Hamilton teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grades (11 to 14 year-olds). As every parent can attest, middle school-aged kids are difficult to teach. And, with a topic as complex as engineering, how do you reach them so they want to listen and learn? “I call my kids my Energizer bunnies,” laughs Hamilton. She says anyone who teaches this age group needs to have a little crazy in them.
At Sleepy Hill Middle School, Hamilton has the same kids for all three grades, which she admits is one of the keys to her success. “I lay the groundwork of what engineering and technology are in 6th and 7th grades,” explains Hamilton. “Then in 8th grade they eat, drink, and sleep SOLIDWORKS.” If Hamilton can get her students excited about just one small technology or engineering fact, she knows she has their rapt attention from that point forward. She also requires that her kids solve problems in teams, which naturally spurs competition, which makes kids work even harder.
The Pandemic Pivot
Hamilton almost immediately got the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to deal with the remote learning challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. She taught three classes online and three classes in person. She set up her computer in the woodshop, which has big windows that face the student computer lab. This created a socially distanced teaching environment where she could feel safe with the kids.
“I had to figure out how to do what I do on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform’s xDesign app that I basically had only played around with for three months,” says Hamilton. Most of her students don’t have CAD-configured computers at home, so the 3DEXPERIENCE platform was more accessible by more students. “They can use the xDesign app from anywhere with an Apple computer, on the loaned school PC, or with their touch device at home.”
For teaching CAD, Hamilton had to tweak the SOLIDWORKS instruction book to show her students how to do the same thing in xDesign. “Now both my students and I know how to work on the platform’s CAD tool,” says Hamilton. Plus, the students learned how to bring their xDesign drawings and designs into SOLIDWORKS to complete assemblies. “Teaching CAD during a pandemic was a challenge, to say the least, and the platform helped us make it through,” says Hamilton. “It took a pandemic for us to see there were online technologies that could serve our needs now and into the future.”
Hamilton plans to teach her students to use the 3DEXPERIENCE platform again next year, although 90% of the class will still be learning to use SOLIDWORKS. “The cool thing is that kids can now work on their designs at home—regardless of the device—and then bring that design into SOLIDWORKS in class,” enthuses Hamilton. “The more tools in your toolbelt, the better opportunities for kids to learn to be flexible and prepared for the real world.”
Paying It Forward
Hamilton’s entire educational and career journey shaped her ideas about engineering and the associated thought process required to solve problems. “I didn’t have the math skills to become an engineer myself,” admits Hamilton. “My passion is to inspire the next generation of engineers.” Some of Hamilton’s students have come back years later to tell her that she inspired them to pursue engineering, that it was her industrial arts classes that planted a seed that grew into a love of engineering. “That’s my way of paying it forward to Mr. Lesser, my industrial arts teacher in high school,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton wants to teach life skills to her students whether they ever become engineers. “You will never fail in my class as long as you are giving it 100 percent,” continues Hamilton. “I tell my kids to keep trying and never give up because when you give up is when you fail.”
Hamilton is also involved in SkillsUSA, a partnership of students, teachers, and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. To learn more about getting SOLIDWORKS or xDesign for your school, contact your local reseller.