It took five years for Mark Hoffman to see the results of a presentation on why Liberty High School needed a new, million-dollar STEM curriculum. Then, the physics teacher was joined by colleague Beth Guarriello in front of the unconvinced Bethlehem, Penn., Area School Board. Last August, 160 students walked through the door of a newly outfitted high-tech classroom for an introduction to engineering elective course, part of the new Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program.
How did it happen? Hoffman walked us through the process.
First up: convincing the Board it was worth the investment. “This did not take place until the district realized that similar STEM programs were being offered at other local private and charter schools,” Hoffman says. These offerings were attracting the community’s best and brightest away from the school. They then signed a four-year contract with PLTW, one of many ready-set-go curricula designed for public schools.
As the district worked out the funds, some from a local business, the rest from a 5 percent school budget increase, they also hammered out a marketing program.
“It was introduced at the middle school level,” Hoffman shares, with the intent to attract the attention of students—girls especially—who would be enrolled at the high school in the next few years.
Space was allocated for the new computer lab and conference area, which would be set aside for group work. PLTW provided a spreadsheet of all materials, parts, and equipment the district would need to support the new curriculum.
This past summer, prior to the launch of the engineering classes, Hoffman says, three teachers trekked to Bucknell University for a two-week engineering boot camp. Guidance counselors were also educated about the program so that they could better assist students as they registered for classes. This fall, the school offered six sections of the introduction to engineering course. Though mainly freshman are enrolled in it, it was open to anyone who had an interest in the subject.
Next year, he says, “Liberty High School will also offer a bio-medical program through PLTW…and plans are being put into place to offer courses in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, and digital electronics.”
For Liberty, and for students across the U.S., the introduction of programs like PLTW is a huge step forward.
“It provides high school students with exposure to design principles, experience with 3-D modeling software, and problem solving skills, that will give them an advantage in college, over those students enrolled in engineering that were not exposed to these programs in high school,” Hoffman tells us. “In addition, by exposing students to STEM programs at the high school level, students will have an opportunity to see whether engineering is the right career field for them, and will be in a better position to make career choices when they are in college.”
For those districts not yet offering similar programs, Hoffman urges teachers to talk up technology summer camps offered by local colleges as well as state-funded Governor’s Schools to students with an aptitude or interest in the possibilities of STEM. And to bring science, tech, engineering, and math to your classroom right this second, why not start a STEM club? Here’s how!
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