Columbia schools' engineering, science program draws student interest in first year

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | 7:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 23, 2013

COLUMBIA — A program that provides free engineering and biomedical sciences curriculum to students at Columbia Public Schools has been a success in its first year, Sally Beth Lyon, the district's chief academic officer, said Tuesday.

The district registered last year with Project Lead the Way, founded in New York state high schools in 1997, and introductory courses based on the program's material have been offered to Columbia high school students.

More advanced classes will be added over the next four years, Lyon said.

"We are very excited about the student engagement in this first year," Lyon said. "The program we're building will ultimately be an entire pathway for students who want to continue in engineering and biomedical sciences studies."  

Project Lead the Way has become America's leading provider of in-school curriculum for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to a presentation made to the Columbia School Board last week. Occupations in these fields are crucial for Missouri, and earn 65 percent more in income than the Missouri average, according to the presentation.

"From a national and state perspective, the STEM field is a critical one to teach to students," Lyon said. "With this program, students learn by doing. The learning sticks." 

More than 140 Columbia students enrolled in the course Introduction to Engineering Design this past school year, said Linda Rawlings, director of the Columbia Area Career Center. The course includes direction in 3-D design, including hands-on projects.

"There has definitely been increased student interest for next year," Rawlings said.

Rawlings said 110 students have requested to sign up for next year's introductory course. About 50 students have asked to take Principles of Engineering, which builds on the introductory course, she said. 

There were 16 students this year in the introduction biomedical course, Principles of Biomedical Sciences, Rawlings said. All 10 of the sophomores and juniors who took the course have requested enrollment in the next level, Human Body Systems. About 140 requests have been made for the principles class next school year, she said.

Although there is some overlap between the Project Lead the Way courses and established courses at the career center, Rawlings said, the program will fill a gap at the ninth-grade level.

"Many of our courses at the career center are only offered to upperclassmen," Rawlings said. "This will provide ninth graders the chance to get started early and keep focused on a pathway all through high school."

As junior high schools convert to middle schools next year, the Project Lead the Way middle school program will also be incorporated in Columbia Public Schools, Rawlings said.

Called Gateway to Technology, the program includes such courses as Design and Modeling, The Magic of Electrons, The Science of Technology, Automation and Robotics, and Flight and Space, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

"The long-term goal for this program is that it will open doors for our kids," Lyon said. "They can see the horizons of what's possible." 

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.  

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Ellis Smith April 24, 2013 | 5:02 p.m.

First, are course outlines, lists of course texts (or online reference materials), etc. available to the public for inspection?

Secondly, are there "parallel" mathematics requirements if a student signs onto the program? For example, is the student also expected to concurrently be taking a course in algebra or geometry? If not, why not?

I also have one comment: Ninth grade is none too soon to begin; some existing in-school programs begin in seventh grade. Some of our (MS&T's) non-credit summer camp programs allow sixth-grader participation.

Ellis Smith, Registered Professional Engineer
[Missouri, EN-11332]

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