Project Lead the Way comes to CH-UH middle schools
According to its website, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a national K-12 program designed to “engage students in hands-on activities, projects, and problems; empower them to solve real-world challenges; and inspire them to reimagine how they see themselves.”
Recently adopted as a course for CH-UH middle school students, it is offered as an elective for seventh- and eighth-graders at Roxboro and Monticello middle schools. Because the two schools are currently operating under one roof, the PLTW classroom has combined as well, with Amy Statler and Dianna Neal team-teaching the classes.
According to Statler, PLTW takes a human-centered approach, and the projects are challenging. One recent assignment asked students to design an orthopedic shoe for a patient with cerebral palsy who has specific medical and lifestyle needs.
To kick off the orthopedic shoe lesson, a specialist from the Veterans Affairs Hospital visited the students to talk about patients with cerebral palsy and how shoes and orthopedic devices can improve a person’s ability to lead a full life. “The students really had to think about what a patient might need or want to do, and then design the shoe specifically for [the patient]. They were particularly inspired by the stories about children,” said Statler.
In addition to mastering the steps of the design process, students learned how hard it is to bring their ideas to fruition. “I had a great idea for the shoe project,” said Jervon Cole, a seventh-grader, “But I was focused too much on comfort and it didn't help the person the way I wanted it to.”
Eighth-grader Graham Anderson-Reitz had a similar experience, when he designed a wallet for a classmate as a get-to-know-you project at the beginning of the year. “It turned out better in my head than it did in real life,” he said.
Despite some real-world disappointments, students are enthusiastic about the class. Olivia Gettis said she enrolled because she’s “more of a visual and hands-on learner than paper and pencil.” Cole said he chose it because he “hopes to be an architect or engineer or something of that nature” when he grows up.
The course has changed how the students look at the world around them. Devyn Etling, a seventh-grader said, “You might look at an object and think it was easy to build, but when you actually break it down and think about every little step, you realize how much time and effort it took.”
Both teachers hope their students will continue PLTW coursework when they transition to the high school, where it’s offered as part of the Career and Technical Education program, and includes opportunities to earn college credit.
Meanwhile, Neal is excited for the upcoming Pringles project, in which students are asked to work with peers to design packaging for mailing a single Pringles potato chip, with minimal damage to the chip.
“Students will mail their Pringle [to a school in California] where it will be evaluated based on the amount of damage the chip sustained. Then we’ll receive their Pringles and have the chance to evaluate the effectiveness of their packaging designs,” explained Neal.
Because the course is project-based, students often work in groups and use their hands to manipulate materials that have been donated or purchased with grant dollars.
Jack Keller appreciates the fact that the teachers “trust us to use real tools, like Exacto-knives” and that students have the opportunity to take apart and explore everything from old telephones to computer towers.
The door to the classroom is often open to the hallway, and Statler reports that many students walk by and poke their heads in to ask, “What’re you guys doing in there?” This brief glimpse at their friends and classmates engaged in designing, building, and exploring is the best possible recruitment tool for Project Lead the Way.
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this article appeared at www.chuh.org.