Roosevelt's Ruff named STEM teacher of year

Roosevelt's Ruff named STEM teacher of year
Posted on 05/18/2015
ruff aviationWhile some students work on mapping electronic circuits in Karl Ruff’s class at Roosevelt High School, Ruff asks others to get behind the controls of their airplanes.

“What I’d like you to do is to go above Mercer Island at about 800 feet headed south, and land at Renton field,” Ruff instructs the five students in Aerospace Engineering. They engage their flight simulators and take off.

Ruff’s innovative, industry-based teaching approach has earned him the K-12 STEM Engineering Teacher of the Year award this spring from the Puget Sound Engineering Council. Under his direction, Roosevelt is the only PRIME-designated school in the state, meaning it is recognized as a leader in manufacturing education by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Cleverly employing student leadership, Ruff juggles roughly half a dozen courses in one period – and he does it five periods a day. In any given period and in the same room, students may be enrolled in beginning or advanced levels of Aerospace Engineering, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Digital Electronics, Engineering Design or Project Management.

For each course, he asks students to elect a “subject matter lead” who takes attendance and keeps track of tasks. Students even make the classroom rules such as the hall pass policy.

“I’m in charge of curriculum and safety, that’s it. I’m not in charge of the daily routines; they are,” Ruff says. “If you treat people in this room like adults, they’ll step up.”

When Ruff isn’t pulling small groups aside for mini-lessons, he walks behind the banks of computers, monitoring student progress on various assignments and troubleshooting when students get stuck.

Ruff designed the system seven years ago when he ran into a big problem at Roosevelt, shortly after leaving his 16-year career at Boeing to teach. Back then, he taught two different courses offered in separate periods, but kept losing students to scheduling conflicts.

“I went home and expressed my frustration to my wife, and she said, ‘If you don’t have the [enrollment] numbers, then you’ve got to teach them at the same time.’”

Now any Roosevelt student in grade 9-12 can take any of his courses almost any period of the day. Ruff also advises four student clubs: the Iron Riders First Robotics team, the Girls Rocket Club, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers student chapter, and the Technology Student Association.

In class, Ruff incorporates real-world software and scenarios as often as possible, from having a student project-manage each class to requiring industry-level professional presentations to something as simple as cleaning. Each day, one period of students is tasked with spending a few minutes cleaning the room.

“In industry right now there aren’t a lot of custodians. That is the experience in the engineering and manufacturing workplace. You clean your area. You just do.”
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