By Katie Krall
The Williamston Post
Williamston High School will be a nationwide model for Project Lead the Way. A broadcast team visited staff and students on Oct. 8 to produce a video that will be used to show other school districts how the curriculum works.
Project Lead the Way is a Dart-funded curriculum that focuses on engineering. Courses address the growing need for highly skilled technology workers.
“It’s a hands-on, practical approach. Not theoretical, not lecture based,” Williamston High School Principal Jeffrey Thoenes said. “Kids are learning by doing.”
Members of the Dart Foundation wanted to create a video to demonstrate Project Lead the Way to other schools and districts. The video team interviewed faculty and students and documented what was happening in these classes.
Two courses are offered at the high school level: Engineering Design with Computers and
Principles of Engineering. Each is year-long elective. Thoenes said Williamston High has a computer lab specifically for Engineering Design with Computers and students create 3D designs of parts and materials.
“It’s really quite fascinating,” he said.
Students in Principles of Engineering build machines and robots to complete different tasks.
Dan Keith teaches Principles of Engineering and said there is room to teach at his own pace or make slight changes.
Keith said he has noticed that some students have trouble compromising when working in groups. Listening to outside ideas and working together to get the best result is the main hardship.
“We kind of hope that we get these diamonds in the rough that are not actually academic students. But when it comes to this kind of stuff, some of them really shine,” he said. “They’re not into homework. They’re not into tests. But boy, they can sure invent or program or something like that.”
Keith said he enjoys teaching the class because he likes to see the different ways students attempt to do things and sometimes those ways are better than what he would have tried.
“Failure is part of the learning process,” Thoenes said. “It’s much more like real life. They’re supported, but still have to work in ways themselves to adapt and change what they need to do.”
There are 30 students enrolled between the two classes this year. Thoenes said the kids are still getting used to the idea of taking the classes because engineering is not typically offered at a high school level.
“It’s a mindset we’re working on and I think success will breed success,” he said.
Superintendent Narda Murphy said the biggest challenge the district has faced has always been funding. The foundation provided funding for training teachers. Around $29,000 went toward training teachers and purchasing equipment and supplies.
Murphy said there are no added per-year costs, but the school did have to buy extra equipment.
“We had to upgrade our technology with computers that could handle the software,” she said.