Parenting NH featured a piece on school-business partnerships in New Hampshire and the growing influence of STEM (and STEAM) in our schools. For almost 20 years, New Hampshire tech leaders have participated in the Department of Education’s Pre-Engineering Technology Advisory Council (PETAC), a leadership team that helps develop and update pre-engineering curriculum to keep up with an ever-changing world.
PETAC works with schools to develop pre-engineering coursework, or schools can participate in Project Lead the Way: a multi-state curriculum that includes computer science, biomedical science, and engineering.
In both cases, schools work with their local Career and Technical Education centers (CTEs) to create pathways for students. This way, students can take courses that build on each other, and eventually directly prepare them for college level classes.
Integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) into schools doesn’t just prepare students for the careers of tomorrow. It also helps engage students and helps them foster creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills–what educators collectively call “21st century skills,” since they’re what our kids will need to succeed in our tech-driven world.
Pre-Engineering in New Hampshire Schools
Forty-eight New Hampshire schools are involved with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national effort to foster an interest in STEM in grade school. The program provides curriculum, access to materials, course software, access to technical and student support, and professional development for a flat fee.
But, schools aren’t required to participate in PLTW if they want to participate in the grant program for their pre-engineering courses. The PETAC helps schools develop curriculum that aligns with what colleges and businesses are looking for in graduates, to ensure the smoothest transition possible to career and college life.
“I could bring that skill to the table”
Dover High School alumnus Patrick Hoeing told Parenting NH what the pathway meant for him:
His middle school science teacher had encouraged Hoeing to consider engineering as a future career path, but Hoeing didn’t know much about the field.
“When I read at Dover they had classes that were pre-engineering, I realized I could take those classes and test the waters before I went to college, to decide if that’s what I wanted to do,” said Hoeing.
From freshmen to junior year, Hoeing attended pre-engineering courses developed by the national education nonprofit Project Lead The Way that exposed him to engineering fundamentals, analysis, technical writing, coding, electrical circuitry and his favorite: computer-aided design or CAD.
“That was huge to get access to that software for three years and get experience and familiarity with that program,” said Hoeing. “We also got access to 3D printers, laser cutters, routers and got to practice with them.”
When Hoeing interviewed for summer internships, his CAD experience was the skill that stood out most to employers, who took a double take at the years of experience on his resume – after all, he’s only 22 years old.
“I got to do the CAD work for the layout and do the planning for that, so I was able to bring that skill to the table,” said Hoeing. “[Project Lead The Way] gives you a tangible skill and helps get you involved in a lot of projects and makes you a valuable team player.”
Expanding the program
Right now, the Department of Education’s pre-engineering program and funding is only available for grades 6 through 12. But a bill that would expand the program to K-12 already passed the House and is in the Senate.
Elementary school teacher Heather Drolet says that expanding the program to the younger grades has been helpful in keeping her students engaged, and can help students in other areas aside from engineering:
“It’s really engaging,” said Drolet of the curriculum. “There’s not a single kid that’s disinterested and disengaged … The program is good at meeting the kids at their level. Every project or problem they have to solve is a story, and the characters are the same from grades K-5.”
Since implementing the program, “We’ve seen a huge increase in interest among our kids in engineering, especially after we do engineering week,” said Drolet.
“The way of thinking Project Lead The Way has brought us has helped us grow in other areas too,” said Drolet. “We call them the four C’s: creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.”
Changing the learning format has also flipped the classroom dynamics, said Drolet. Students who are book learners and relied upon direction are challenged to analyze problems and develop solutions, while students who are not traditional learners thrive in a different setting.
“Our kids could really benefit from this type of funding because they’re definitely capable of learning these skills at a young age,” said Drolet.
Read the full article here.