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Leading them there

Project Lead the Way gives students hands-on learning experiences

The sound of the 3D printers carries around the room, while the roar of students start to come together and put their brain into gear as they think of projects to change the world. This is Project Lead the Way, a course offered at the high school.

Project Lead the Way is a nationwide learning program that offers many areas of study to students to help prepare them for the real world, including classes in Computer Science, Engineering, and Biomedical Science. The high school offers engineering classes, led by science teachers Stephen Potter and Lisa Weise.

Senior Nick Hahn presents his Powerpoint to the panel of engineers alongside groupmates, as classmates watch. | Photo Credit: Ines Tomic

Potter and Weise alternate in teaching the students, so they manage to know them very well by the end of the third year.

“We’re following this cohort of kids as they learn all these things so that in year three, we know them really well, and when they are doing their projects, we have a lot of background information about what they care about and what they know,” said Weise.

The course teaches students all about engineering so that by their third year, they get to be on the path to solving a real-world problem they are passionate about, in a project they work on their entire third year.

It all came into effect three years ago when former administrator, Anne Coe, wrote a grant for the program to be put into place.

“We are in the third year of a $34,000 grant from GM to be used to put the engineering strand of PLTW in place,” said Weise.

Seniors Christian Giggy and Juan Ruiz-Ortiz listen and engage with the panel of engineers, for they just finished presenting their project Powerpoint. As part of their last year in Project Lead the Way, students work on one project throughout the whole year. | Photo Credit: Ines Tomic

Using this, the class has been a success for three years and is now finishing out the grant. The high school only offers a few courses in the engineering branch. However, there are nine total courses nationwide, including different kinds of engineering, such as aerospace and civil.

This nationwide program provides a hands-on chance for students to learn more about engineering, while providing them with a new thinking process, and showing them the uses of engineering in different situations.

It helps students to learn more about the real world, and shows them tools that, even if they don’t use them, could help them in life.

The panel of engineers responds at the end of groups’ presentations, giving advice and asking more information about their projects. The engineers visited Nov. 20, and will come again in January. | Photo Credit: Ines Tomic

“[We are] not only just making them aware of the different options they have within engineering, but also teaching them basic engineering skills, even if they don’t go to college and major in engineering,” said Potter.

The entire program includes different areas where students can learn about other fields, but here at the high school, it is focused on engineering.

Students start the class their sophomore year with the same people they will end the class with their senior year. The class has been going on for three years now at the high school, with the current seniors being the first to go through all three classes.

The first year of the program, called Introduction to Engineering and Design, is done similarly at the high school as it is throughout the nation. Students learn about the basic process of engineering using computer-aided design, or CAD, where they also design and create new things in groups.

“Some sections really kind of work alone cause they are drawing things in CAD. But there are still group projects where they draw separate parts that are assembled together,” said Weise.

As students go further into the program, the second year is focused on individual parts of engineering called Principles of Engineering. The class incorporates subjects more normally taught at the high school like math and science, while also teaching students about skills in engineering. They take a more in-depth look at engineering while learning more about physics and chemistry.

We do a little bit with mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and then we do computer programing, and while doing that, we learn a lot of physics and a lot of chemistry,” said Potter.

Senior Nick Hahn presents his Powerpoint to the panel of engineers alongside groupmates, as classmates watch.

In the third year, called Engineering Development and Design, students begin to focus on real-world problems that they care about and look deeper into what they could do with engineering in order to solve those problems. After students have conducted a plan, they present their solution to a panel of engineers who then provide feedback and ask for details about their problem. This project is called a legacy type project because students get to use engineering to actually solve a current problem.

Engineers pay attention as groups of seniors present their projects, to gain advice and information from the panel. They take notes and report out their thoughts at the end of each group’s presentation. | Photo Credit: Ines Tomic

Many factors of the program at the high school are similar to how the nationwide class is conducted, such as the three topics that are taught, Intro to Engineering and Design, Principles of Engineering, and Engineering Development and Design. Although when it comes to the nationwide aspect, there are many other detailed engineering courses that are taught.

Weise said, “it’s a really interesting curriculum cause they actually get to use engineering to solve a problem they care about.

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