Project Lead the Way Engages Young Students in STEM Fields

The national program provides K-12 students activity-, problem- and project-based curriculum to help prepare them for life after high school.

by Jamica Whitaker, Henderson Daily Dispatch / December 22, 2015 0

(TNS) — OXFORD — Project Lead the Way is engaging students and letting them know that being wrong is part of the learning process.

Some students in J.F. Webb High School of Health and Life Sciences are a part of Project Lead the Way, a national provider of K-12 STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs that use activity-, problem- and project-based curriculum to help prepare students for life after high school.

Stan Winborne, director of the Career and Technical Education program for Granville County Public Schools, said he learned about the program at a CTE conference in Greensboro.

"Immediately I knew that our administrators and teachers would be drawn to the hands-on and challenging nature of the courses," he said. "Regardless of where or what these students go on to study, it prepares them well by teaching them how to solve problems, design solutions and know what to do when they don't don't know what to do."

The School of Health and Life Sciences offers Project Lead the Way's biomedical science program, a four-course sequence of advanced Career and Technical Education courses that gives students the opportunity to engage with concepts in human medicine, physiology, microbiology, genetics and public health.

"The program allows 10th- through 12th-graders the chance to investigate the roles of biomedical professionals in a hands-on fashion," Angela Salisbury, J.F. Webb High School of Health and Life Sciences principal, said. "Students engage in problem-based STEM activities as they study the structures and interactions of human body systems."

The school currently offers two of the four classes, principles of biomedical science and human body systems. Salisbury said soon they will offer the remaining two courses, medical interventions and biomedical innovation.

Educators who teach within the program undergo 80 hours of training at Duke University to become certified to lead Project Lead the Way classes. Wendi Leas teaches principles of biomedical science and said the training puts the teachers in the students’ seats.

"You do all of the activities because it's much easier to help the students and to troubleshoot and anticipate for the students if you've done it as a student," she said. "Project Lead the Way is more student-centered. We set up a situation, but they are responsible for their learning mostly. They problem solve through the activities, and we bring it together at the conclusion."

Leas said most of her students struggle initially because they are accustomed to being fed information and aren't always challenged to find multiple solutions to a question.

Jennifer Howard, a Project Lead the Way teacher, said these courses aren't information memorization and regurgitation; instead, they serve as a pathway to much more.

"They're actually researching. They're learning on their own," she said. "They're doing hands-on models, hands-on labs, and that makes a huge difference in how they see the information and retain it. It exposes them to so many career areas."

Sable Clark, a senior in the School of Health and Life Sciences, plans to become a nurse practitioner. She said she's taking part in Project Lead the Way because she wanted to take as many medical courses as possible in high school.

"I love it. It's taught me a lot," she said. "I've learned so much that I probably wouldn't have learned in regular science classes. I'm more engaged in this class. I don't know why, but I'm more engaged."

Nour Elkhatib said initially the program was cool because they learned about crime scene forensics. As the semester continued, Elkhatib said she learned about a topic that was close to home.

"My dad has diabetes, and I didn't know anything about it until I took this class," she said. "We're always making things with them (teachers). Like with diabetes, we made diagram out of puff balls, and it was really cool. If we didn't do it that way, I would have never learned it."

After dissecting a heart in class, Elkhatib said she wants to become a heart surgeon.

Megan Radford, a classmate of Elkhatib, said she enjoys the course, and working in groups makes it feel more like a genuine lab environment.

"Ms. Howard especially, she repeats the concepts until you learn them. You'll learn about them in different forms then learn about how they work together," she said. "You're always learning something new."

They all agreed that having room to get the wrong answer, and learn from it, is pivotal.

"It's important for them to see that it's OK, that they're not going to fail if they're wrong. It's a learning point," Leas said. "By the end of PBS (principles of biomedical science), they're more open to that and they try to be different from each other. They get more creative; they get more resourceful, and I see them change."

Elkhatib said in Project Lead the Way, learning is actually fun.

"The whole class you're kinda wrong," she said with a smile. "You're always wrong, then you learn something new."

Leas is in her 13th year as an educator and said Project Lead the Way is different than any curriculum she's ever seen.

"A lot of the skills that they're doing in these classes are things that a lot of kids don't see until college," she said. "It's making their college transition easier. They've had a heavy workload. They've been challenged. They can think for themselves. They can take criticism. I feel like all around it's a fantastic program."

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