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Curriculum Spreading Through Middle Schools

August 6, 2008

By Tiffany Shirley, News-Topic, Lenoir, N.C.

Aug. 6–When the Project Lead the Way program was introduced at William Lenoir Middle School last school year, students discovered a new way of learning. Teachers not only approached curriculum differently but also were able to demonstrate how to put that knowledge to practical use.

With proof of its success, especially in the areas of math and science, the next step was to expand the PLTW program to other students in the Caldwell County. Without additional funding, it would take some time to make that a reality.

Thanks to a recently awarded $410,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, reaching all middle schoolers in the county will be possible in a much shorter period of time.

“Project Lead the Way was considered under the Foundation’s Community Assistance Initiative, a grantsmaking process that allows Golden LEAF to work directly with citizens and local leaders to identify the key issues and economic struggles facing their community,” said Valeria Lee, Golden LEAF’s president. “Golden LEAF knows that the projects being supported under the initiative will have an immense impact on the communities they serve.”

Members of the Board of Education and Caldwell County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Stone have been advocates of the program since before it first was implemented at William Lenoir and are excited about securing the funding to expand it.

“We are thrilled that we have been selected to receive funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation in support of the Project Lead the Way program,” said Stone. “With this funding, we are now in position to expand the program to all middle school students in the county, including the K-8 schools.”

William Lenoir Middle School teachers Beth Fox and Sharon Everhardt became certified to teach the middle school curriculum, Gateway to Technology, during a training session at Duke University, and Dr. Caryl Burns, Caldwell County Schools associate superintendent, said she is excited about other local teachers receiving the training as well.

“We looked at this program and knew it would be the vehicle whereby we could improve math and science and all subjects at the middle school area,” she said. “We’re really looking to give these students some 21st-century skills.”

Although the program received positive reviews, Burns said they wanted to see it for themselves by placing it in William Lenoir during the 2007-08 school year and were more than satisfied with the results.

“It worked even better than we thought it would,” she said. “That was the information we needed, and we began looking for ways to extend it to all middle schools because all middle students need this program.”

And Burns said the Golden LEAF funding not only will help make this possible, but it will do so sooner rather than later.

“That is one of the reasons we went for the grant funding,” Burns said. “The biggest expense is computers and the programs to start with. This gives us that funding in order to do this. We feel like you’re going to see some positive results in many areas,” Burns said. “We are so happy to have this Golden LEAF grant because it gave us what we needed to get it in all of the schools, instead of just one at the time. It would have taken many of the school years, and we were starting out on that road.”

It will take a fiscal year, to get the equipment, which is the main part of the expense, in place at all of the schools and there also will be a need for teacher training.

And the funding will not only benefit middle schoolers, but it also will be introduced at the Caldwell Career Center Middle College.

“We are also expanding it into the Middle College,” Burns said. “That’s our first effort to push it into the high schools. It’s going to be an exciting program for students and they will really, really love it.”

The program not only will challenge students, but in order to teach the curriculum, teachers must have a background in instructional technology and undergo a rigorous training program.

Two of Caldwell County’s teachers, Libby Huff, of Granite Falls Middle School and Brad Bartlett, of Gamewell Middle School, recently returned from a two-week training session at the University of South Carolina.

“They cannot teach the curriculum unless they’ve been through this training,” Burns said. “It’s extremely difficult.”

Burns said the program is a great opportunity, and she feels the public will be very supportive of it.

“This is math and science the way you wish you could have experienced it,” Burns said. “Students will have a greater understanding of why things are done the way they are. We’re hoping we have some good results from all areas of abilities, and the aim is to get it into the high schools.”

The Gateway to Technology curriculum is comprised of four independent units, that are designed to be taught in addition to a rigorous academic curriculum.

“It’s been proven, and I believe it will motivate students more toward school,” he said. “I think there are a lot of mechanically-minded students who have the ability to become engineers. It will also help those students, who don’t always do well in their core subjects, to see the practicality of what they are learning.”

Huff said although PLTW is geared toward forging a new generation of engineers, the applications are valuable to every student regardless of what career field they choose.

“The program is geared toward engineering, but it’s applied math and science through engineering,” she said. “It’s a new way for students to look at learning.”

For two weeks, Huff and Bartlett spent nine hours each day meeting with instructors and had anywhere from one to three hours of homework to complete each night.

“We went through the entire year’s worth of the program,” Huff said. “Everything the students make or build, we had to do that.”

At the end of the second day of training, Bartlett said some other teachers began to question if they could do it, but with some hard work and perseverance eventually, things got a bit easier.

“We did a lot more than scratch the surface,” he said. “I feel confident to teach. You learn as you go, and you learn what works well and what doesn’t work with your students. We have a pretty diverse group of students and the program is structured well.”

One of the best aspects of the PLTW program, according to Bartlett, is that it will give students the problem-solving skills they will need to be successful.

“It is geared to give the students success and to challenge their problem-solving ability,” he said. “Most of the jobs that I can train students for now won’t exist when they get out of college because the pace of technology is much faster than we can teach. Students need to learn to solve problems, do creative thinking and look at something and analyze it to come up with a solution. I think it will give students a great sense of accomplishment.”

Huff and Bartlett already have spent a great deal of time familiarizing themselves with the program and are looking forward to sharing it with their students.

“I am really excited about getting it going,” Huff said. “I’ve been using my summer to figure out the curriculum and our schedule. I’m most looking forward to seeing the students actually get to do this stuff. They’re going to love it so much. I’m excited about bringing it to them and them being able to create something though the whole design process. The students are getting the math and science they need and can apply that to everyday life and in their other classes. It will help with test scores, and if a student can get the math and science, they can excel in other things and other subject areas.”

Another aspect of the PLTW program Bartlett is excited about that it will provide exposure in the engineering field to male and female students of all ethnicities.

“We need more female and minority engineers,” he said. “If you think about it, if one of these students doesn’t become an engineer, what might we have missed and what may not have been invented? My heartfelt goal for the upcoming school year is to help the students become better people,” he said. “I think that’s the heartbeat of every teacher.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, News-Topic, Lenoir, N.C.

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