mast blacksmith 2

mast blacksmith 2PHOTO: Cadet Cameron Kline (l) and Cadet Laim McGuire (r) 

SANDY HOOK – Technology instructor Christopher Zrada implemented an innovative means of introducing students at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, to different ways of working with material, while at the same time providing them with an historical perspective.

Taking a page from Princeton University, where its School of Engineering and Applied Science hosted a similar project, Zrada hosted an open forge meet, and brought in blacksmiths from the Farmingdale local of the NJ Blacksmiths Association (NJBA) to demonstrate blacksmithing skills and have students demonstrate how they can be incorporated into activities of the 21st century.



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Zrada said he was first made aware of Princeton’s event when he was working with one of the professors there, and saw it as a good experience for his students at MAST.

He designed the program to incorporate into his overall lesson plan which involves modifying projects and introducing new ones that introduce students to design and engineering concepts through project based learning. The teacher believes this measure provides both theoretical and practical applications of the concepts taught.

“The course is run in a way that attempts to model real experiences in a design field,” Zrada explained.

“The intent is to prepare the students for their Senior Capstone and college coursework, which is far more independently driven than a traditional classroom.” As an example, he said, in this forge meet the students were given instructions based on the equipment available in the school shop concerning materials processing, or parts being removed from a larger piece, such as by cutting. By using blacksmithing as an option, forging provided the means while at the same time providing the historical perspective on how some materials, particularly steel, were processed before the industrial revolution.

The course was offered to all the junior students, Zrada said, but several second-year students also participated and observed when possible. An estimated 70 students at MAST tried their hands at forging and participated in the program.

Zrada, who holds a master’s degree in Education from the College of New Jersey and has been a faculty member at MAST three years, said acquiring the coal for the forge was difficult to source. With most companies only delivering no less than a full truckload of coal, it took some investigating to purchase the 300 pounds the event would require. Bruce Freeman of the NJBA came to the rescue, he said, and provided him with a company where he could take the purchase, and Association members further offered to purchase additional coal should it be needed.

mast blacksmith 1PHOTO:  MAST cadets with the blacksmiths 

With forging an experience both faculty and students termed a success in both interest and education, the students are now working on designing balsa bridges. Shortly, they will begin to cut material to build their bridges and test them to the point of destruction. They will then be able to compare the weight their bridges held to the estimates they have calculated for their designs.

“I like to think of it as learning in action, “ Zrada said. “Students get to walk through each step of the design and can then see the result of their work and reflect on the quality and what may have caused the failure.” Ideally, he continued, students will build a bridge that is perfectly designed and manufactured and only fails at the absolute limit of the balsa wood.

“In future projects over the years, I hope to introduce more advanced methods of construction or components to be integrated into their designs and will build their knowledge of manufacturing. If I stick with the same projects as last year, the students will see a direct connection between this event and the projects they have completed or have yet to complete. Later in the year they will see how terminology is important and how it applies to materials and/or processes, such as forging steel.”

Introducing innovative means of teaching theory broadens the minds of students to new possibilities and even possible new career paths or fields of study, Zrada continued.

MAST is the oldest of the five career academies in the Monmouth County district and was established in 1981. The district accepts students for the four-year high school without discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, orientation, religion, disability or socioeconomic status. Students are required to be active members of the Navy Junior ROTC program during their high school years, though there is no recruitment nor requirement for military service after graduation.


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Muriel J. Smith

Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, in...