Adopting STEM Strategies to Build 21st Century Skills

May 27, 2014 Education

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) will grow 17 percent by 2018—nearly double the growth for non-STEM fields. By 2018, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs because there will not be enough qualified workers to fill them. STEM is where jobs are today and where the job growth will be in the future.

Brian White, Ed.D., Superintendent at Chartiers Valley School District (CVSD), takes these statistics to heart. That's why, in 2012-2013, CVSD launched the high-school based Engineering Academy and Certificate Programs in conjunction with Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a leading provider of STEM programs that provides curriculum and teacher professional development.

CVSD also has implemented a PLTW Gateway to Technology program for all students in the middle schools.

The Engineering Academy is comprised of rigorous and relevant courses from Chartiers Valley and Project Lead The Way (PLTW). This project-based curriculum is designed to provide students with the foundation they need to become the next generation of leaders and innovators in our community and beyond. The curriculum incorporates the "A" for Art in the broader STEAM acronym. Students have access to visual communications teachers, graphic artists and programs such as the Adobe Creative Suite.

White says that STEAM education is critical. "Many students are unaware of how many fields are available," he points out. "They don't get deep into a problem solving activity in a math/science arena. This program pushes their assumption of how things work and how things are made. It helps them frame resources."

For example, in the 7th grade Gateway to Technology program, students study energy use. The CVSD has a wind turbine and access to a solar array, so students can monitor the energy use and compare it to energy bills from traditional energy sources.

As successful as the program is, White wants to make it better.

CVSD is considering launching the PLTW Biomedical Science program. In April, the district hosted a workshop with 50 participants —including prospective employers — to determine if the program made sense.

At the same time, White has started to build a consortium of teachers and school districts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to work together on a regional basis and share best practices. He is also encouraging other colleagues to consider registering for the program.

"The most exciting part of PLTW is that it integrates all of the component of STEM – the integration of math skills, technology skills and science skills into a hands-on project-based learning experience for real world application," explains White. "The idea is to break down the silos, and have subject integration and quick relevance for the students."

And how do the students respond to PLTW? Enrollment has increased, which White attributes to the fact that teachers are passionate. "The program took teachers that were good and made the impassioned. The students are feeding off of the energy level and the pride. Kids like to be around success."