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Highland High School Agriculture Teacher Selected for National Educator Award
Shared by Julie Fritsch, NAAE Communications/Marketing Director

LAS VEGAS – Curtis Willems, agricultural educator at Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., is one of only six individuals nationwide who received the National Association of Agricultural Educators Ideas Unlimited Award at the NAAE annual convention in Las Vegas on December 3.

It can be difficult to realize the dangers of working with machinery and tools with moving parts while in the classroom without a visible demonstration. Willems uses simple tools — just a yardstick and a reaction time chart, to create a “safety stick.” It is applicable to any safety lesson about tools or equipment a person could accidentally get struck by, caught in, cut by, or fall from. Students are using math skills as well to calculate circumference, rotations per minute, or feet per second, to understand human reaction time and equipment power.

Implementing Willems’ safety stick is simple. Students measure reaction time by having one person drop the safety stick vertically while a second person catches the stick. Students can see the difference in their reaction times when the scenario is repeated when they are distracted, anticipating the drop, or completely unprepared. This relates directly back to how accidents are unpredictable and can happen at any time. This lesson is also applicable to adults in workplace settings where equipment and machinery are used.

Willems uses this lesson to help students fully understand how they must take safety precautions in the shop. Students can calculate the speed of a rotating tool, such as the cutting wheel of a grinder, and compare it to the measured reaction time found in the stick dropping demonstration. Giving students a tangible example of potential ways to be injured while working makes them appreciate safety protocols that can be overlooked by young, inexperienced workers.

Each of the six regional Ideas Unlimited winners was recognized at the NAAE convention in Las Vegas.  National Geographic Learning | Cengage Learning sponsors the Ideas Unlimited Award.  NAAE is the professional association for agricultural educators.  Its mission is “professionals providing agricultural education for the global community through visionary leadership, advocacy and service.”  The NAAE office is located in Lexington, Ky.