EATON — Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is Ohio’s premier STEM program and is being featured at Eaton’s Middle School for its pilot year. Eaton was one of three area schools chosen to pilot the program, with Northmont and National Trail also trying it out.
PLTW is described as “a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of science and technology graduates in the United States.”
They have both a middle school and a high school track, but only the middle school is being offered in Eaton.
The Miami Valley Career Technology Center (MVCTC) was looking to pilot the program in different schools in the area and Eaton expressed interest. The three schools selected showcase different sizes in the area: National Trail being a small school, Eaton being a medium sized school, and Northmont being one of the larger area schools.
MVCTC hired the teacher (Harold Niehaus) and supplied all the needed equipment. Eaton Middle School supplied the room. Principal Derek Flatter pointed out they were lucky they had a large science room available.
The school knew right away this program would be a good fit for Eaton Middle School, according to Flatter.
“It goes well with a lot of local businesses, so we’ve been looking to partner with them,” Flatter added. “We had an advisory committee that has a few representatives from local businesses here. They’re engineers.”
This program gives Niehaus an opportunity to speak with middle school students about nontraditional job opportunities.
“We find that the middle school is the first opportunity we have to talk about possible interest in jobs,” Flatter said. “We wanted some other opportunities for them to explore.”
He added, “This is more of what I would call a nontraditional learning environment. There are other ways to learn than just reading materials and then regurgitating that information or something working through math problems. It’s an opportunity for students to have success, who maybe in a more traditional way haven’t experienced success. I want them to learn there are job opportunities very close to home, that can be very lucrative and hopefully something they would love to do on a daily basis.”
Jobs are such a focus in this course that Niehaus actually has groups mirror roles one might find in the work force. For instance, one student would take the role of supervisor.
In the classes, students work on 2D and 3D drawings to start with. Then they have the ability to “have them come to life.” They might start by building a house with everyday items like marshmallows, then they would graduate into making a product with the 3D printer.
They work on scale drawings, first with paper and pencil and then digitally.
Principal Flatter added, “We just wanted to all kids to have some sort of experience with this hands-on learning.”
The program is currently in its pilot year with Eaton Middle School. Being the first year, the program is slightly different than Flatter hopes it will look in the future.
“Our goal is to have every middle school student have the experience of being in the first class,” he said.
Currently, all students in grades 7-8 are required to take the Modeling and Design class. Some sixth graders, if they needed an additional elective, are also taking this class.
Next year, all seventh graders will take Modeling and Design, but eighth graders can choose whether they want to take the next class in the series. Robotics and Automation is not currently offered at Eaton Middle School, as current eighth graders are just now taking Modeling and Design.
Next year, Modeling and Design will be a seventh grade class, while Robotics and Automation will be offered to eighth graders.
It’s not known currently whether sixth graders will have the option to take the modified Modeling and Design class next year.
Through the curriculum director, Eaton Middle School and High School are having discussions about ways to keep students interested in technology in high school. Currently, there is no program like Lead the Way at the high school level. There is the Robotics club that students can join, but no actual class they can choose to take.
Flatter believes the program owes its success to Niehaus.
“I think it’s very important to have the right teacher, and we do,” he said. “That’s a very important piece. Someone who likes to get their hands dirty, and allows students to be somewhat noisy and active, yet organized. There are so many working pieces all the time, with materials and computers and students working at different paces. It’s really a different kind of classroom. That’s real important for people to know — you have to have the right people leading these types of programs or else they are not going to go very far.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH