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Science participation up throughout Tosa public schools

STEM offerings continue to attract students' attention

Nov. 15, 2011

As it enters its fourth year of implementing Project Lead the Way, the Wauwatosa School District continues to see considerable growth in student participation in the program, as well as in its expanded offerings of related extracurricular clubs.

During an update on the district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program, Bill Anderson, supervisor of student learning, on Nov. 14 provided the School Board with information about current course offerings and the addition of new extended learning opportunities at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

The STEM education model focuses on project-based instruction, problem-solving and solutions, utilization of scientific inquiry to support learning of math concepts, and interconnections between subject areas. Project Lead the Way serves as the primary curriculum tool to support that model in the district.

STEM pathways include the Elementary STEM Charter School, the Gateway to Technology program, now in its first year at the middle school level, and Tosa School of the Trades, tech ed courses and an eight-course Project Lead the Way offering - including the possible addition of aerospace engineering in 2012-13 - at the high school level.

With the district now undergoing a K-12 science curriculum review, STEM initiatives are important to consider, Anderson said, as they support the addition of engineering and technological design as a fourth domain of science academics, beyond the three that have traditionally been focused on: life Science, Earth science and physical science.

Nearly 460 students throughout the district are now participating in STEM pathways, according to numbers presented by Anderson.

More activities than ever

Just as important as learning opportunities provided during the school day, especially for students who may not be able to enroll in Project Lead the Way courses they wish to take, are the supplementary extended learning activities offered outside the school day, Anderson explained.

A district parent with an electrical engineering background, Jerry Merz, has volunteered extensively to support and further STEM efforts in the district. Merz said the purpose of STEM Club activities is to promote creativity, improve problem-solving and presentation skills, enhance team-building and teach general skills in the areas of interpersonal relations, tools, design and computer application.

Activities now in place include First Lego League and Destination ImagiNation teams at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and a Bots IQ team at East High School - programs that focus on robotics education, teamwork and problem-solving.

This year the district would like to begin offering Future City at the middle school level, and National Fluid Power, which Merz indicated will help teach much-needed skills in the area of hydraulics, at the middle and high school levels. Beginning this week, students at West High School also will be forming a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest team.

About 161 kids are participating in after-school activities across all levels.

A significant contributing factor to the program's growth has been the establishment of several community partnerships, Anderson said.

Partnerships matter

When the district first started the program in 2009, it had one community partner. Now it has 26.

Engineering company partners include American Transmission Co., Centare Group, Deutsch & Sons Co., Gross Automation and JP Pattern.

Merz said he continues to meet regularly with community members and company representatives to maintain existing partnerships and parent involvement, as well as forge new connections.

"We've done a lot in a short period of time, and that's attributed to all of the people involved," Anderson said. "It's a collaborative effort between businesses, engineers in the community and the school district."

School Board member Mary Jo Randall recently visited a middle school Gateway to Technology class and said she was impressed by the content being taught and the level of student engagement. She, along with other board members, expressed interest in how the district could best support STEM efforts.

Superintendent Phil Ertl indicated one way of doing that would be to ensure that Project Lead the Way receives sufficient fiscal support in the district's budget. Additionally, Director of Student Learning Beth Erenberger said it will be important for the Recreation Department to begin looking at new ways to support curriculum and instruction and help deliver programming in partnership with the district.

AT A GLANCE

For more information on STEM and Project Lead the Way offerings, visit the district's recently launched website, WauwatosaPLTWClub.info.

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