Smithfield High's star instructor: Technology teacher Mike Starring

Smithfield High's star instructor: Technology teacher Mike Starring

SMITHFIELD - Technology classes with Smithfield High School's Mike Starring aren't easy.

Whether they're charged with building bicycles or creating computer programs for robotic devices, students are continually challenged in his classes.

But that's to be expected from Starring who last week was announced as the winner of the Rhode Island Technology Teacher of the Year award.

Starring came to Smithfield High in September after five years teaching technology at Lincoln High School. He received his award at a conference for New England technology teachers in New Hampshire last weekend, presented by the Rhode Island Technology & Engineering Educators Association. He was chosen by vote of his peers - fellow technology teachers in the state - for the honor.

Starring said he is delighted and honored by the award but in an interview this week he modestly gave credit to his colleague, Jeff Macari.

Macari, who won the same award two years ago, is also president of RITEEA. A lot of what he's done in the classroom, Starring said, he learned from Macari when he student-taught at Smithfield High about six years ago.

"My work in Lincoln was modeled after what Jeff did here," Starring said.

Starring was recognized at the School Committee meeting Monday night, when Supt. Robert O'Brien and Chairman Richard B. Iannitelli both made a point of noting that, when it comes to technology teachers of the year, Smithfield's batting 1000, with Macari and Starring making up the tech faculty.

O'Brien called them "the dynamic duo."

The two will present examples of their student projects at the next school board meeting, Dec. 2.

Starring's position, in fact, was a late addition to the school budget, funded by an extra allocation the School Committee obtained from the Town Council in the last fiscal year.

"I can't thank the School Committee enough for supporting this position," O'Brien told the board Monday night.

Starring, 43, a Burrillville resident, was destined to be a teacher perhaps. He is the son of Ellsworth Starring, now retired, a former professor at Rhode Island College for almost 30 years. The younger Starring obtained his two bachelor's degrees from RIC, one in industrial technology and one in technology education. He began teaching at Lincoln High in 2007-08, before coming to Smithfield High this year.

"I love it," he said of Smithfield High. "I finally feel I'm home. It feels like there's a lot of creative freedom here to explore potentials that's not afforded to other educators in other high schools."

As Starring talks, he is showing a visitor from The Valley Breeze & Observer around the three technology classrooms at Smithfield High.

In the design/engineering lab, 24 sleek new computers, black with flat screens, are arranged in rows, ready for use. Starring teaches five classes, including mechanical design in this room.

A key project, he explained, is to have students work in teams to build bicycles, so they can learn various aspects of metal fabricating such as welding and metal-bending.

"It gives kids a chance to design something and apply it as they would in the real world," Starring said.

Bikes are not necessarily made from scratch because bikes donated to the school (for tax write-offs) are cannibalized for certain parts.

Starring ushers a visitor into another room that looks exactly like the garage of your local auto repair shop, complete with a (donated) motor vehicle on a lift, a tall tool box and equipment scattered around the room for welding, sand-blasting and other heavy-duty work.

When it is mentioned to Starring that this room does not look like what most people imagine a technology workshop would be, he chuckles. He points out that, to ancient cave-dwellers, a stick used to light a fire was an example of technology. Although most people equate technology with computers nowadays, "technology is really anything people use to improve their human condition," he said. "That's what we teach."

The third technology classroom is the wood shop where, in a closet among various wooden creations, Starring takes out a gray and white gizmo with four wheels, about six inches square, made of hard plastic, resembling a truck or military tank.

It is a Lego-based robotic device, completely autonomous. Students create a program on a computer that is sent to the device's "brain system," Starring said, which then executes that program, ordering the device to do any number of things from rolling around in a circle to racing down an aisle between desks.

Creating programs to teach the robotic device new tricks "is not easy stuff" for the students to do, Starring said, "but we expect a lot and we push them." In the same vein, people think a bicycle is a simple design, but bikes actually are quite complicated, especially when you try to build one. "It's really a monumental task," Starring said. "But (the students) do it."

Starring is married to Bethany Starring and the couple have two young daughters, Stella and Lily.

Comments

Kudos to Mike Starring for a well deserved award. And just to add he is another in the growing number of well respected escapees from the Lincoln School Department