“Project Lead the Way was originally only given to metropolitan-type schools,” said Max Heinrichs, HHS principal. “It was only in the Kansas City and Wichita areas.”
Then PLTW chose to branch out.
“They put out a feeler two or three years ago and said they had $200,000 in grants (for qualified schools),” he said. “We jumped on that because we were getting into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education). This just fit in perfectly.”
HHS offers 20 career and STEM programs backed by the Kansas State Department of Education, which makes PLTW a good program for HHS, Heinrichs said.
“Our plan at Hillsboro High School is to be fully implemented and certified with PLTW during the 2015-16 school year,” he said.
The decision to take on PLTW has been in the works under the direction of Heinrichs, HHS counselor Diana Holub and Superintendent Steve Noble.
“Steve, the board, Diana and the teachers have been backing this pretty well,” Heinrichs said.
The district will receive funding assistance from PLTW for two years.
For the first year, USD 410 applied for and received a grant of $57,800, Heinrichs said, that is being used to fund professional development for teachers and purchase equipment and software needed in the program.
Designated PLTW instructors at Hillsboro High include Lance Sawyer, mathematics; Sonya Roberts, agriculture; Creigh Bell, technology; and Ruth Baldner, biology.
“The thing that drew me to (PLTW) was just what Sonya, Lance and Creigh are getting to do—the teacher PD (professional development),” Heinrichs said. “They did their class in 10 days (of training).”
To prepare for their PLTW teaching assignments, Roberts, Bell and Sawyer each attended two-week intensive training courses taught by university professors. Each was required to prepare for the class in advance.
“I probably did over 20 hours of homework just to prepare, and it was all on the computer,” said Roberts, who joined a class of 10 taught at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in June.
“I made really good friends with a gal from California, a guy from Michigan and another gal from Iowa—all of us kind of hung out together,” Roberts said, the only agriculture teacher in the class.
Most taught biology, she added.
“So I was way out of my realm,” she said. “I’m an ag teacher, so my sciences are agriculturally based, and their science is not.”
When the fermentation unit was introduced, Roberts said, she felt more in her comfort zone.
“OK, this is my area. I can handle this.”
Her course, Biotechnical Engineering, focuses on engineering design problems in living systems areas such as biomechanics, cardiovascular and genetics.
Everything done in the course Roberts took will be part of the class she teaches at HHS.
“Actually, I was the student,” she said.
One unique aspect of the course, she said, is it only includes five units.
“But it’s a year-long course,” she said. “One unit might take you a whole nine weeks, which is really long for me.”
The course also involves plenty of lab activities.
“The kids are going to do a lot of research,” she said.
One assignment required Roberts and her peers to design an implant.
“We did a thumb, which already exists,” she said. “We took that and kind of modified it a little bit or changed the material that it was made of.”
Exercises involved designing and constructing 3D projects including a yeast mobile.
“You had to come up with the right kind of fuel to make your yeast mobile go,” Roberts said.”
They had different kinds of yeast and different kinds of sugar.
“We did several different experiments before we came up with what we were going to do to make the thing go.”
Roberts documented her coursework in an engineering notebook.
“That’s another thing they’re pushing, that our kids start using engineering notebooks—the proper way to use them,” she said.
Roberts views this BE course as being more student-driven than her ag courses, and she will facilitate learning.
“I think they’re going to do way more on their own than me actually standing up in front of the classes and traditionally teaching,” she said.
Bell took his two-week training at the end of July at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota with a class of five others who hailed from Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Bell said he spent some eight to 16 hours in readiness training before getting to St. Cloud to begin his coursework.
Plus, he added, he had to overcome some major snags with installing the needed software onto his laptop.
Asked about the timeline for implementing the Computer Management course at HHS, he said: “Honestly, I’m going to do what PLTW has planned and try to meet deadlines–do what they’ve asked and meet the timelines that they’ve set up, period, as best I can the first year.
“Second year, I’ll step back and ask, ‘OK, how can we refine this and make it work better for ourselves?’
“And by the time I’ve refined it on the third year, I expect us to be up between 90 or 100 percent.”
Bell’s CIM course involves computer aided manufacturing, programming and robotics.
In CIM, students will design a shape and set the machines to make the parts.
He said he’s looking forward to using the district’s computer-controlled milling machine and lathe in the CIM course. In the past, use of that equipment was limited mostly to extra-curricular activities.
“CIM really isn’t just totally about that,” he said, “but it has a section in there where it is all about that.”
Like Roberts, Bell said he put in some long hours at St. Cloud.
“We’re talking 14 to 16 hours a day,” he said. “Now, there were those who caught on to it and got the assignments done faster than I did. It was new process, new information.
“I just like to absorb things for awhile.”
At St. Cloud, Bell and his peers designed, constructed and programmed a robotic machine that put together Oreo cookies as their final project, he said.
In the CIM course, Bell said HHS students will design, construct and program some type of machine for their final project.
Sawyer’s two-week training to teach Introduction to Engineering Design was at Wichita State University last month. The foundational course introduces students to 3D software used to design solutions to particular problems.
“I thought the crash course was extremely beneficial to me,” Sawyer said. “It helped me be adequately prepared for teaching the IED course as well as gave me a network of teachers to bounce ideas off of.”
The PLTW curriculum for the course emphasizes using hands-on projects to understand particular design concepts.
“Kids will enjoy all the activities and will be able to learn while doing,” he said.
Sawyer recognizes teaching this curriculum for the first time will have inherent challenges.
“With any new course there will always be challenges understanding what works and what the kids will like best,” he said. “Having the network of teachers that will teach the IED program allows me to ask questions on what has worked best for them and what projects they have found to be successful.”
Heinrichs said the district has paid a $3,000 membership fee to PLTW, which includes software, a learning management system, all the networking and resources.
USD 410’s implementation plan for PLTW, which will require staff training in summers 2014 and 2015, involves introducing other courses for the engineering pathway, including the capstone course, he said, as well as adding a biomedical pathway.
PLTW also has a middle school program that Heinrichs said the district will consider, so when students enter high school, they will already have had their entry classes.
“It would be real nice to have IED down there,” he said. “It’s pretty rigorous. I don’t know if a middle school kid is ready for that rigor.”
Heinrichs said PLTW ties well into the common core curriculum adopted by the district.
“This is a really good program for where we’re going with that common core,” he said. “It’s going to ask the students to defend what they do. It’s going ask them to produce. It’s going to ask them to problem solve. It’s going to ask them for all those things.”
Heinrichs admitted introducing the PLTW curriculum has its challenges, especially for smaller schools.
“Our first year we will not be as good as we will be in our second year,” he said. “I believe (the teachers) will do a great job at what they will be doing
“We may not get it right the first time, but we’ll figure it out.”