Be the Change: Wayne Randolph Makes Classroom Connections that Count

Wayne Randolph’s classroom thrums with anticipatory excitement. Teams of students are positioned around a makeshift arena, their Lego robots poised for battle. And though the atmosphere is convivial, there’s no doubt these teams are ready for some friendly competition. Under Randolph’s gentle guidance, students have spent weeks learning the mechanical, electrical and programming skills necessary to construct a working bot. They’ve put components together, taken them apart, tested, recalculated and tested again. Each team hopes its final design–with strategically-placed attachments like dumpers, forks, and jointed arms—will have what it takes to outmaneuver rival robots.

Welcome to STEM* Buddies, one of the most sought-after electives offered at Boulder Creek School in Redding where Randolph teaches eighth-grade math. Principal Tina Croes notes, “Wayne’s dedication to guiding students through an ever-changing world does not end in the math classroom.”

Randolph devised a mixed-age format for the elective class, which is unique among STEM programs. Each eighth-grader who signs up is paired with a fourth-grade buddy. “It makes for a friendly, fun environment,” says Randolph. “Different age groups all bring something to the table while working and creating together.”

A lifelong builder and tinkerer, Randolph says, “I always had an interest in how things worked, especially cars, and constantly took things apart. In third grade, I got in trouble when I brought toys and other things with electric motors to school. I liked taking them apart and making the motors run, but my teacher said I was wasting time.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Randolph took the longer, “scenic” route to his current profession. Though he was always a good student, he was disinterested in most coursework unless it involved math or hands-on experiments. Though his parents wanted him to be an engineer, Randolph says, “I’d already built my own ’55 Chevy pickup by the time I finished high school, and I knew I wanted to be a mechanic.” He worked on cars for 20 years before going back to school. In 2011, at age 44, he received a teaching credential from California State University, Chico.

Randolph says his work with students is inspired by his love of building, creating, and problem-solving. He also wants to provide the type of experience that would have kept him more engaged in school. In addition to STEM Buddies, he’s developed the afterschool STEM Engineering Club. Students use inexpensive materials to build and test creations such as catapults, cranes, roller coasters, rockets, gliders, bridges and mousetrap-powered cars. Randolph describes his approach as “a little instruction and lots of hands-on,” adding that “while their creations don’t always work, they’ve had the opportunity to try their ideas. Then I’ll give them guidance to see if we can make it work.” Another benefit? “They’re building with their hands in the age of screens, and that’s invaluable.”

But Randolph’s connection-building goes beyond switches and wires. He knows that kids learn best when they feel nurtured and understood. Longtime colleague Becca McKinnon says, “Wayne excels in building relationships with kids. He truly enjoys working with them, and he can reach kids across the board—the high-achievers as well as those who struggle.”

Croes adds that although there’s been much concern in the media about the gender gap in math and science, “Wayne’s elective and the club are just as popular with girls as with boys. In fact, so many kids wanted to do the STEM Engineering Club last spring that Wayne had to split it and meet two days a week. He didn’t want to turn anyone away.”

As a native Californian who has lived in the North State most of his life, Randolph enjoys outdoor activities with his students as well as his wife and two daughters. In the fall he coaches Boulder Creek’s soccer team, and he leads their Ski and Snowboard Club in the winter. “I have lots of hobbies and play constantly,” he says. “My family is into whitewater. We kayak and do multi-day rafting trips. I mountain bike a lot. I brew beer. I don’t sit still much.”

As a teacher of 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds, Randolph’s energy, enthusiasm, and natural curiosity serve him well. “The creativity of middle schoolers and their uninhibited thought process is a great creative engine. It makes our elective and club a joy to facilitate.” Providing a couple of examples, he says, “One time, two students decided I needed a desk I could stand at, and built it for me out of an existing table in my room. Another time, I listened to a whole conversation on what the benefits would be of having two thumbs on each hand!”

Back at the STEM Buddies Bot Battle, the action starts. Cheers erupt as one team’s bot flips another, and Randolph smiles. It’s the kind of class he would have loved as a kid

*STEM is the acronym for Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology. Students benefit from educational STEM programs, which strive to integrate the four fields using hands-on activities in real-life situations.

The mission of our Be the Change column is to feature community members from the North State who are actively making a difference
in community life. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to pn@northstateparent.com.

Ashley Talmadge
About Ashley Talmadge

​Ashley Talmadge has always shared her home with a variety of companion animals. Currently her family includes two opinionated cats and two aquatic frogs. Her two young sons like to think of themselves as “cat mind readers.”

Comments

  1. Brian Grigsby says:

    That is so awesome to see great STEM champions in our schools! Way to go Mr. Randolph!

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