Project Lead the Way fosters interest in engineering 2010.12.08

Written by David Green.

school.hoffman.jpgBy DAVID GREEN

Morenci Middle School teacher Dan Hoffman says he didn’t have much interest in engineering until last summer. That’s when he took part in a Project Lead the Way training program that focuses on engineering education.

“I went in without any knowledge about engineering,” he said.

In fact, he says he’s been somewhat of a non-technology guy. He was slow to come around to computer usage, and then one year scheduling changes put him in charge of a middle school computer class.

“The best way to learn it is to teach it,” he said. “Saturate yourself with it.”

That’s what happened over the summer during an intensive two-week training program. Classes from 8 to 5. Homework until 11.

“I felt like a college kid again,” he said.

When the program concluded, he was sold on Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

“It’s a good class,” he said. “It’s what we should be teaching kids.”

Filling the gap

PLTW started in New York state in 1998 in an effort to attract more students into college level engineering programs.

The program is described as hands-on, with real-world applications. It helps students understand how the skills they’re learning in the classroom may be applied to everyday life.

The goal is to make mathematics and science relevant, and in the process, Mr. Hoffman says, to get students interested in the field.

It’s no secret that U.S. manufacturing jobs are disappearing.

“If we’re going to get our economy going, we’re going to have to develop something else.”

According to PLTW, two-thirds of America’s economic growth in the 1990s resulted from new technologies, and a shortage of engineers is expected.

“Engineering goes into everything,” Mr. Hoffman said. “It’s really wide ranging and we’re trying to get kids’ eyes open to it.”

Last week GM and Chrysler announced they’ll hire 2,000 engineers in the next two years. In another direction, Mr. Hoffman said, alternative energy projects will require large numbers of engineers.

“I think there’s potential,” he said. “We need to put some serious emphasis on this. If we’re going to compete in the global economy, we have to go beyond manufacturing.”

The class

Mr. Hoffman just started teaching the class in the second trimester. The middle school version of PLTW—known as Gateway to Technology—is designed as a nine-week course. Morenci’s trimesters are 12 weeks long, but two eighth grade classes are meeting every other day.

“I’m not sure how far I’ll get this year,” Mr. Hoffman said. “There’s way more curriculum than you could ever use, so you get to pick and choose from what they offer.”

Students already like the class, he said, but he expects the enjoyment to grow when he introduces them to Autodesk Inventor—a software package used by engineers to design parts and put them together digitally.

In Mr. Hoffman’s summer program, teachers designed playground equipment for a park. There’s a project for students where a dragster is designed, then modified to make it better.

Morenci isn’t alone in adapting PLTW. Lenawee is the first county in Michigan to have all of its schools involved in the program. Mr. Hoffman’s training and the purchase of laptop computers was paid for by a grant.

Mr. Hoffman will return for more training next summer and he expects a high school teacher to join in. The program is designed for fifth grade through high school.

Scheduling is a problem already this year since the program does not take the place of regular science classes.

“It’s real world and I think it’s going to address real world issues,” Mr. Hoffman said.

He also thinks it’s going to capture the interest of many students.

“Some kids aren’t excited by traditional academics,” he said. “If you find something that kids excel at, the success often carries into everything else. I think this will reach some kids where it’s going to turn a light on.”

It’s another alternative, he said, and it’s an important one.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016