This academic year Willowcreek Middle School introduced the nationally renowned Project Lead the Way STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program to our seventh- and eighth-graders.
The program was initiated in two classrooms this year and was so successful that it will be required for all seventh and eighth-grade students next year.
Project Lead the Way has a storied background. The program began in 1997 in upstate New York with 12 high schools. The middle school program began three years later. As the program developed, so did the relationship between top engineering universities and school districts. Project Lead the Way has received numerous awards and endorsements from various individuals and outlets including the United States Department of Education.
Hillary Clinton has described PLTW as “(A) promising program that is both changing the lives of middle and high school students nationwide and helping to build a workforce that meets the needs of the 21st century.” PLTW is a data driven program that according to Associate Professor Robert Tai of University of Virginia, “(PLTW) offers a pathway to prepare and motivate students to enter careers in science and engineering."
In this course, students are introduced to a multitude of projects based in engineering. Students begin the program by learning about engineering and what constitutes an engineer as part of design and modeling. Throughout the program students are provided with the opportunity to demonstrate their prowess in numerous fields of expertise.
Once students learn the basics, they learn about sketching different items which allows them to understand blueprints or orthographic sketches. An understanding of the sketches allows for a seamless transition to the AutoDesk (AutoCAD) program. Students are provided the opportunity to work on AutoDesk which is the same software used by engineering firms around the world.
Providing an opportunity for the students to begin developing skills in 2-D and 3-D modeling allows them to grasp the great amount of detail that goes into the design of the world around them. One of the projects implemented this year was for students to create a piece of functional furniture. The students were able to project their ideas onto paper, create a 3-D image, and finally construct a design out of cardboard. Each project requires a design presentation at the end in which the students present to their class as if they were pitching the design to the public for consensus on their product.
The second class that has been brought to Willowcreek by way of Project Lead the Way is Automation and Robotics. Students begin by learning about basic mechanical gears and basic coding techniques. Students then move on to programing the robots that they construct, utilizing the skills they’ve already learned in class. The students learn to design, build, program and take part in an assembly line process. Each class completes a section which grants students access to a complete implementation of a factory.
The students have enjoyed the opportunity to demonstrate different strengths through Project Lead the Way – whether through creativity, mathematic talents, or strong kinesthetic learning.
The best way to describe how excited Willowcreek is to have PLTW would be through the words of an eighth-grade student, “My technology class in my favorite class. We use the AutoCAD program on the computer to design products to sell, which allows us to explore our imaginations.”
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.