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Wauwatosa schools consider two new science courses

Jan. 15, 2013

The Wauwatosa School District is considering beefing up its science offerings with a course in biotechnical engineering as well as a new advanced-placement physics class.

At least in the case of the engineering course, the intent in part is to attract more female students to the sciences.

Biotechnical engineering would be part of the schools' Project Lead The Way curriculum, which integrates science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to solve problems or accomplish projects that call on more than one kind of learning, said Bill Anderson, the district's supervisor of special programming.

Engineering life

The course description says that students would be engaged in engineering design problems related to biomechanics, cardiovascular engineering, genetic engineering, tissue engineering, biomedical devices, forensics and bioethics. They would design materials and process that measure, repair, improve and extend living systems.

The course, described as a college-preparatory class, was discussed briefly this week with the School Board.

Responding to a question by School Board member Anne Fee about why the class might attract female students, Anderson said nationally data suggests that more young women who are considering medical field work "are pursuing biology-based experiences … than, let's say, a straight physics or chemistry field."

Director of Student Learning Beth Erenberger added that the district's science program tends to have more "gender equity."

"We don't see the kind of disparity we see in engineering," Erenberger said.

In a separate interview afterward, Anderson explained the strategy the district wants to employ.

"We're trying to use biology as the hook to get more females to start looking at the course," he said, "and then the engineering component is a way of exposing them, to give theme the opportunity to say, 'You know what? This is a valuable pathway, and this might be an interesting profession to go into.' "

The cost of offering the new course would include $4,800 total tuition for two teachers - one each from Tosa East and Tosa West - to take a weeklong training course, plus various other costs, the largest being biological kits for students at both schools costing a total of $7,000, according to the course proposal presented to the School Board.

New AP Physics proposed

A proposed Advanced Placement Physics C class would be more rigorous than the existing Physics B class, and would employ calculus, said physics teacher and science content team leader Judy Patrick. Physics B would still be offered.

About half the students who take the algebra-based Physics B class are not motivated to take the advanced-placement test because many colleges do not count the class toward certain majors, according to the course proposal document.

Students qualified for the new class would be those who have taken or are concurrently enrolled in a calculus class, which is a pool of 225 students at Tosa East, and 182 students at West, according to the course proposal. The proposal says an informal survey indicates 50 students at East might sign up for the course.

Students who take the course and do well on the AP test would be likely to get credit and possibly even be placed in a higher physics class when they go to college, Patrick said.

Juliebeth Farvour, a math teacher at East, said that there are 15 juniors who are taking Calculus BC, the highest math class the district offers. With no senior math class available, they could still keep their math skills sharp by enrolling in the proposed AP Physics C course.

Costs associated with implementing the class would include textbooks at $150 to $200 each - or less if used texts are available - plus curriculum writing at $23 an hour for two teachers for 80 hours; and a weeklong workshop at about $1,500 per teacher for up to four teachers, according to the proposal.

Erenberger and Patrick said they hoped to gain approval for the course in time to offering them next fall.

The School Board will act on both proposals at its Jan. 28 meeting.

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