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The Shift to STEM: Project Lead the Way

By June 9, 2015eNews

by Hilary Mahan, MBEF Board Member

At the forefront of STEM education is Project Lead the Way (PLTW). Currently reaching students in over 6,500 schools nationwide, PLTW is the leading provider in comprehensive STEM programs. Using activity, project and problem-based curricula, PLTW gives K-12 students the opportunity to identify problems and apply their knowledge to find unique solutions. Students are challenged to lead their own learning, preparing them for the real world.

In an effort to expand the STEM focus within the district, MBUSD is committed to bringing PLTW to students in the 2015/2016 school year. Over the next three years, the implementation will touch elementary students through the science specialists, middle school students through current science and wheel classes, and high school students with new specialized courses. Many teachers will begin the PLTW training this summer. PTLW provides a three-part professional development program – readiness training, core training and ongoing training. In the readiness phase, basic skill and content knowledge is the primary focus before moving on to the pedagogy of project-based learning and unit-specific STEM content in core training. Finally, in the ongoing phase, teachers will take advantage of live eLearning resources at their own pace.

The PLTW Launch program for K-5 students is aligned with Common Core State Standards for Math and English, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards that MBUSD students will be expected to master. Our existing Science Specialists,who are also supported through your investment in MBEF, will have the flexibility to introduce the 24 tested modules in conjunction with the grade-level standards, allowing the students to make connections across disciplines. For example, in one unit, students will use structured approaches, like the engineering design process, to learn that it is okay to take risks and make mistakes. As students learn and discover together, education becomes far more engaging. Specific modules include: Light and Sound, Animal Adaptions, Science of Flight, The Human Brain, Robotics and Automation and much more.

Middle school is the ideal age to embrace the student’s natural curiosity and imagination to challenge and inspire more than one solution. Science teachers and specialized wheel teachers will engage students with industry-leading technology to solve problems while gaining skills in communication, collaboration, critical-thinking, and creativity. PLTW Gateway is divided into independent, nine-week units that include foundation units like design and modeling as well as specialized units on topics such as flight and space, automation and robotics, green architecture and medical detectives.

At the high school level, teachers will begin training in year two. PLTW provides programs in three significant areas: Biomedical Science, Computer Science and Engineering. As our district has just introduced a different Biomedical curriculum at MCHS, it is likely that our leadership and teachers will be assessing the Engineering and/or Computer Science curricula, to be implemented in the 2016/17 school year. Each of the programs encourages students to take the lead in learning, and helps them to delve deep into subject matter that is relevant to today and future marketplace demands. PLTW Engineering is about applying engineering, science, math, and technology to solve complex, open-ended problems in a real-world context. Students focus on the process of defining and solving a problem, not on getting the “right” answer. They learn how to apply STEM knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to make the world a better place through innovation. Students have said that PLTW Engineering influenced their post-secondary decisions and helped shape their future. Even for students who do not plan to pursue engineering after high school, the PLTW Engineering program provides opportunities to develop highly transferable skills in collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, which are relevant for any coursework or career.

Results from the last MBEF survey have proven that the expansion of STEM programming is a high priority for our community. The possibility of strengthening our STEM curriculum K-12, expanding the MBMS STEM electives and increasing hands-on project-based educational opportunities throughout the district is within the reach. Project Lead the Way is a step forward in that direction.

At this year’s Wine Auction, the Paddle Raise will be focused on funding the expansion of STEM programs and implementing Project Lead the Way. One of MBEF’s corporate partners is providing a significant matching gift to support the effort, so any funds raised at the wine auction will help MBEF realize the full match and ultimately benefit all MBUSD students. Now MBEF supporters who believe in moving our students towards the future can help support a program that will do just that. For more information on Project Lead the Way, please click here. If you are not coming to the Wine Auction, but would like to make a directed gift to support STEM and Project Lead the Way, please call or email Farnaz at 310.303.3342 or [email protected].

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