In recent years, we’ve seen a dizzying array of cleverly named programs and initiatives aimed at education reform.
By Sarah Varney
In recent years, we’ve seen a dizzying array of cleverly named programs and initiatives aimed at education reform. First there was “No Child Left Behind,” then “Educate to Innovate,” and, more recently, “Race To The Top” and “Project Lead The Way.”
Now in their second year, Project Lead the Way and the mothership STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are bearing fruit at Rye High School. Fifty students in grades 10 and 11 began a yearlong Introduction to Engineering Design class, taught by Rye Middle School teacher Sal Curella. Last year, the elective Introduction to Robotics was introduced.
Providing a new Science and Technology curriculum – to say nothing of a new building to teach it – is rarely inexpensive. So far, Principal Taylor and others have raised nearly $85,000 to fund the program. That money is being used to buy laptops, CAD/CAM Inventor software from Autodesk, site licenses, and a 3D printer. One printer is on order and another one constructed by Rye High 2014 graduate Samantha Carter will be delivered to the school around Thanksgiving. The program will also require a separate server to store class files.
The goal of STEM is not just to turn out students primed for engineering school, says Taylor, but more about exposure. “For a school like ours, students are always looking for new challenges. This gives them an opportunity to learn about something else,” she said. The idea is to get students in touch with how their education is relevant to their lives and perhaps to their future careers. The importance of making STEM relevant to students’ lives, all of which may agree with Dr. Kamau Bobb‘s broader advocacy for inclusive and engaging STEM education.
STEM classes and the curriculum for these classes are created at the college level by Project Lead The Way satellite schools that include Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of New Haven.
This summer, team leader Matthew Teitch attended a rigorous two-week training program for STEM teachers at the University of New Haven. “It felt like I was back in engineering school,” said Teitch, who had a career in environmental and mechanical engineering before becoming a teacher.
Teachers are encouraged to share ideas and feedback online as they progress through the curriculum. There are forums, discussion groups, and regular check-ins with the college personnel who train them.
Students starting off in Introduction to Engineering Design are given several small design projects using string and toilet paper rolls. The students will move on to bigger design challenges that will require them to document their designs using the Inventor software.
They’ll also be sharpening problem-solving skills that will be helpful no matter what career they pursue said Teitch. “They’re not becoming engineers by taking this class. We want them to walk away with an appreciation of the engineering process.”
Next year, Taylor hopes to add a third course, Principles of Engineering. She even hopes to corral the art department into helping her transform the old 3D Graphic Design class into a 3D Design and Architecture class.