Each summer at IUPUI, high school biology teachers from across Indiana become "students" again in the School of Science. Through hands-on experimentation and discovery, Project Lead the Way provides science teachers the tools they need to implement valuable knowledge in their high school classrooms.
Those same teachers leave excited about their role in changing the face of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education across the state.
More than 100 teachers participated in this summer’s intense training—living and working together on campus as part of the national education program. PLTW currently offers workshops in engineering and biomedical science. Among the topics on the agenda are the study of DNA, genetic solutions to cancer, nanotechnology and robotics—not your average science classroom lesson. The program is designed to enhance interest in STEM fields among students and teachers while also addressing the country’s growing need to increase academic performance in these areas.
Since 1997, the program has served more than 400,000 students and more than 10,000 teachers in all 50 states. The results are clear: Students who complete the courses in high school pursue STEM fields at nearly 10 times the average rate and typically achieve much higher test and retention rates than those who do not participate.
Rather than rattle off statistics about the impact of the program, I can tell you first-hand of how the program changed me fundamentally as a teacher and how it changed the outlook for my former students. The bottom line is no other program fosters curiosity and rewards enthusiasm to learn more than PLTW.
As a PLTW alumna, I consider this program to be one of the most challenging and exciting experiences I have had during my 23 years of teaching high school science. I have seen the enthusiasm flow from teachers to students. The experience lasted well beyond the classroom bell and laid the groundwork for a natural inclination to explore the unknown through science. Looking back, it’s easy to recall how my excitement from learning new techniques in PLTW helped to shape a new image in the minds of my students of what it means to be a scientist.
Students who complete the PLTW curriculum are engaged, motivated and inspired. It truly is a wonderful thing to help at least one student find a way to tap in to her natural curiosity through science. The experience also helps them to overcome future challenges, in and out of the classroom, by encouraging them to push themselves with confidence. The program estimates 97 percent of senior students who complete PLTW go on to pursue a four-year college degree, compared to the national average of 67 percent—a clear sign of PLTW impact.
Participating teachers are able to master some tangible skills to produce the results that drew many of them to the classroom in the first place. While so many headlines debate what the country needs to do to improve STEM performance and increase the competitiveness of our students, PLTW serves as a reminder of the progress our teachers and students continue to make.
Today, Indiana has an opportunity to be a leader in it support for this type of partnership between educators, the community and students. The national headquarters of PLTW recently relocated to Indianapolis, a beneficial move for the booming life and health sciences industries in the state. The next generation of leaders in STEM fields now have opportunities like never before to stay and succeed in Indiana. Our exceptional classroom leaders and university scholars also now have a showcase to incorporate innovation in the classroom and raise the standards of success for Indiana students.
The bar is set high for students and teachers to achieve more and push farther than ever before. Hoosier employers should be excited that a new generation of critical thinkers and problems solvers is being formed, one that will be critical to sustaining the future of our state for generations to come.
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