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Exciting STEM course ignited curiosity at the middle school this past school year

Jolene Spears, Elijah Bolen, and David Terry work on their puzzle design

A new six-week rotation class using Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Gateway curriculum was successfully implemented at the Wayne County Middle School this past school year. It was so popular and stimulating that it was not uncommon to see students wanting to finish their work instead of go to lunch when the bell rang to switch classes. 
    Students engaged in creative problem solving related to real-world challenges during their rotations. The hands-on curriculum is designed to help students better understand STEM concepts in an entertaining way, so they might be inspired to pursue STEM opportunities in their futures. There are vast job opportunities in STEM occupations including everything from aerospace engineer and zoologist to computer programmer and architect. Unfortunately, students talented in math and science do not always pursue STEM in college so that creates shortages in the workforce for these high paying jobs.
The school district made the decision to purchase the PLTW program and invest in all three levels of the curriculum for elementary, middle and high school students, gradually implementing it over the past three years.
This past school year, veteran Science Teacher William Allison genuinely sparked his students’ interest and curiosity through this new teaching approach and subject matter. Students were intrigued and anxious to apply steps in the design process in his introduction to engineering class. The class incorporated valuable Science concepts and pushed students to the next level.
    “This is very difficult content, but it is designed in such a way to be fun,” explained Allison. “I really enjoyed teaching this class (this past school year) because it was such a good opportunity for students to be able to learn by doing hands-on projects instead of being lectured to in a traditional style classroom.”
    On a daily basis, students were able to work in small groups on their designs after Allison introduced the assignment, teaching them how to go about the project. Then students opened up their Chromebooks to continue their work as the instructor worked his way around the room to help answer questions. The PLTW website offered students a very good interactive program with clear instructions and videos to explain the problem they were tackling. 
The classroom looked like a lab with students busily focused on the assignment, excited to use their creative skills and imaginations. At times, they might be found sketching three-dimensional shapes and designs on graph paper to make initial designs of a future product. They built puzzles and made basic technical drawings to meet exact proportional dimensions.
Middle School student Paige Allen found the class very interesting. She aspires to be an anesthesiologist and believes the class is setting her on a pre-med pathway. She was proud to learn how to build things and put into three-dimensional shapes. “We looked at things more in depth and not flat,” she explained.
“We can all be good at it if we want to be,” said Allen. “I just depends on how hard you try.”
Middle School student Zack Hesse said the course work reminded him of building things when he was younger. “Me and my brother had a lot of Legos when we were little,” smiled Zack. “This class is really fun. We are actually creating stuff. We’re not just making it on the computer, but you are making something like a three-dimensional cube, for instance.”
By being exposed to the rotated course, the young pre-engineering students realized that you could not just make something…you have to design it so others can also build it using your design.
Allison said they don’t realize they are learning some really important skills. “This exploratory class is extremely beneficial.”
“While this is not a traditional Science class, it supports the concepts within the Next Generation Science Standards,” noted Allison. “This is what they want us to teach – the practical side of Science.” 
 “The Project Lead The Way (PLTW) exploratory class provides an opportunity for students to learn skills that they will be able to use in a real world setting.  Instead of just learning how to answer a math problem or draw a sketch, they learn how to use math skills to measure objects.  They learn how to create three-dimensional drawings that can serve as blueprints for objects that they will be able to create,” said WCMS Principal Melissa Gossage. 
 This school year, the seventh and eighth graders will benefit from other subjects from the Gateway curriculum as the relatively new program expands. 
“As the program continues we will add other PLTW courses so the students will learn even more skills that will prepare them for high school and give them real-life working skills they will be able to use outside the classroom,” said Gossage. 

Tye Preat is drawing his isometric drawing of the solution to his puzzle

Hayden Lewis is drawing a multi-view sketch of a puzzle piece

Chase Kilburn is assembling his wooden puzzle cube

Angelina Wise - Building her wooden puzzle based off of her plastic block prototype

Kimber Phelps, Jeremiah Mikel, Trey Pyles are building their ankle foot orthosis (AFO)

Koltan Bell, Kendall Phillips, Kent Guinn, and Adeline Heatherly are presenting their Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO)

Trevor Martin and Bryson Shelton are assembling their puzzle cubes

Jolene Spears, Elijah Bolen, and David Terry work on their puzzle design

David Terry is using a dial caliper to take precise measurements of a wooden cube while his teammates Jolene Spears and Elijah Bolen work on their puzzle design

Hunter Criswell, Jase Horton, Leah Jones are working on their Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO)

Esther Prater, Aubrey Sexton, and Hayden Bertram are working on their AFO

Project Lead the Way Design and Modeling

The design and modeling course is a class that serves, to a degree, as an introduction to engineering.  In this course students are introduced the engineering design process.  The process is very similar to the

Scientific Method, which they are already familiar with, however rather than answering a scientific question this process focuses on designing and building solutions to fix real life problems.  The first project that the students tackle is designing an AFO   Ankle Foot Orthosis.  The AFO is a brace intended to be fitted for a child with cerebral palsy. The students work in teams of approximately four. The students are told the purpose of the AFO brace and are then given specific design restraints.  Their job is to use available materials to design a working prototype of this device.  After designing and building their AFO they present their work to their peers and then evaluate the effectiveness of their model. 

The students then learn even more about the engineering design process and see how they might have been even more successful with their teams if they had better understood the engineering design process, or if they had created team rules and norms prior to designing their model.

After this project the students learn the importance of being able to accurately draw and use precise measurements so that their ideas can be put on paper in an understandable way and then models can be built based on their drawings.  Students learn to do three-dimensional drawings using isometric graph paper.  This special paper and specific style of drawing allows students to draw objects in such a way that three sides of an object can be seen on one drawing.

After practicing with 3-D drawing students then learn how to take accurate measurements using the US customary system (inches and fractions of inches), the metric system (centimeters) and finally using dial calipers that allow precise measurements to the thousandth of an inch.

The final projects is for students to create their own puzzle cubes, complete with precise drawings and dimensioned sketches.  These drawings serve as blueprints that will enable someone else to create an exact duplicate of the puzzle cube.

This class gives students the opportunity to see the way that engineer work and think and to see how an idea can originate as a problem that needs to be solved, to an idea within a team, to a planned design that is accurately drawn and finally to a finished product that someone can use.

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