According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs will increase 17 percent by 2018, and some 1.2 million of those jobs will go unfilled due to lack of qualified workers. Administrators at Boyle County Schools and the Danville Independent School District are working to ensure their students aren’t part of that statistic.
STEM-ulating the Curriculum
In 2014, the Boyle County Schools district received a $35,000 grant from Project Lead the Way, a national organization that partners with schools to develop programs aimed at preparing students to compete in a global marketplace. The district is using the grant money and the Project Lead the Way partnership to incorporate STEM into its elementary, middle and high school curricula – even as early as kindergarten. Superintendent Mike LaFavers tapped Maddie Larson, a 2013 Vanderbilt University graduate in chemical engineering and Boyle County native, to help coordinate the program.
“With the elementary school students, we’ll start with small projects – like building a paintbrush – to get them interested in STEM,” Larson says. “It gets them to think outside the box and to learn problem-solving skills through engineering.”
Larson says the middle school curriculum will build on the project-based learning model, and in high school, students will be able to choose from STEM electives, such as Intro to Engineering Design, during which students learn to design model trains using AutoCAD software and Computer and Software Engineering. The school system plans to phase in more courses at the high school level – including Biochemical Engineering – qualifying the school for Project Lead the Way certification, which allows high school students to receive up to six credit hours through the University of Kentucky College of Engineering.
LaFavers says the program will not only help prepare students for those STEM jobs in the future, but for whatever career they might pursue.
“They're not all going to be engineers,” he says of students, “but through Project Lead the Way, they're learning communication skills and problem-solving skills and those 21st-century skills our employers will need them to have – regardless of the type of job.”
Danville Independent School District works to instill in students those 21st-century skills – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication -- required for them to compete in a technology-driven society. The school system implemented a plan in 2014 to integrate technology into every facet of learning within K-12 classrooms. Beginning in kindergarten, students will be introduced to computer coding and STEM-related extracurricular activities. Both teachers and students are encouraged to bring and use personal tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices to aid in project-based learning.
"The Danville Independent School District believes in technological exposure, experience and integration across all content and beginning with the earliest ages," says Danville ISD Superintendent Dr. Keith Look. "While specific pre-engineering programs at Bate Middle School and Danville High School will sound more technology heavy, it is false to overlook its continuous, seamless, rigorous and cutting-edge application in elementary math, middle school English or high school science, for example."
The district’s focus on innovation encourages students to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and become problem solvers, rather than simply consumers of knowledge. Bate Middle School is an excellent example of the district’s commitment to innovative teaching techniques. Bate was named an Exemplar School by the Partnership for 21st Century Schools, a national coalition of business and education leaders and policymakers that works to give the country’s students a competitive edge for tomorrow’s jobs. Bate was recognized for redesigning the curriculum to incorporate critical thinking, collaboration and communication through student group and individual projects.
The Danville ISD was also praised for its implementation of the Danville Diploma, which in addition to Common Core requirements, ensures graduates are not only college- and career-ready, but also will have the knowledge and character traits to become responsible and productive members of the Danville community.