Last month, a small group of students from our middle school had the privilege of attending the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) National Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. Ten years ago, PLTW was designed to promote learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and was piloted in a dozen schools in New York. Today, almost 4,000 middle and high schools participate in this program and more than 350,000 students will take a PLTW course this school year.
Students in PLTW are encouraged to use imagination and creativity, as well as scientific processes and mathematics skills, in the classroom and then connect these learning experiences to real-life problems. The team of four students from our school investigated the problems and concerns of our playground and then used a Design Matrix to develop a realistic and innovative solution to the problem. While in Washington, D.C., the team shared their project with other student groups from schools around the country. In addition to their presentation, the team participated in the VEW Robotics Competition and toured various sites in the Capitol.
Over and over again, we, as Ohio teachers, hear how our students are falling further and further behind – behind other states and behind other countries in the world – when it comes to academics and technology. According to an annual ranking by NEWSWEEK, eighteen of The Top 100 Schools participate in the PLTW program. In 2010, only two Ohio schools made the Top 100.
All students in our middle school take a 9-week PLTW course. Some of these students may have never engaged in activities of this kind. By providing this program to everyone, students have a chance to try something new and perhaps, find something they have a passion for. Students are able to continue PLTW courses at the high school level if they choose. Again, the ultimate goal is to see an increase in enrollment in college programs that surround STEM.
The benefits of a program like PLTW are both immediate and long-term. Daily lessons and activities are engaging and promote interaction and creativity. Hands-on learners can experiment, investigate, and problem-solve in the way that best suits their learning style. The connection between the academic content in their core classes and real-life situations is made through meaningful, purposeful activities. But perhaps most important is the indirect teaching of interpersonal skills.
Communication, collaboration, and relationship building are all life-long skills that can be gained from a program like PLTW. The students who attended the conference in Washington, D.C. had the opportunity to work with students from all over the country. The opportunity for interaction, conversation, and social networking provided an experience that many of these participants will not soon forget. It should be no surprise that these students are fostering these newfound friendships on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Teenagers need to learn how to work together, how to collaborate, how to communicate, and how to come together. Imagine the potential of the students who gathered together in Washington, D.C. last month. These teenagers, the ones who roam our hallways today, will soon grow up to become the adults who will be responsible for leading our country. By providing experiences in a “project-based program that engages the hearts and minds of thousands of middle school and high school students,” we are lighting a fire that could fuel the future.
By Melanie Krause, Dover Education Association