Students learn engineering, applied science
By Angie Landsverk
Thirty percent of Weyauwega-Fremont High School students are taking a Project Lead the Way engineering class this school year.
“Students are taking classes we didn’t even offer last year,” said Kandi Martin, the district’s pupil services/curriculum director.
Last year, the school board approved the addition of three Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering classes to the high school’s course offerings.
The courses are Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering and Aerospace Engineering.
All three of the classes are one year in length.
Aerospace Engineering will be offered for the first time in the 2017-18 school year.
That class has a prerequisite of one of the other two classes.
PLTW is a nonprofit that provides K-12 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
The W-F School District decided to start with the engineering program, Martin said.
The district based that decision on what many of its graduates go into after high school, as well as on who the largest employers are in the area, she said.
“We track the graduates every year – where they end up,” Martin said.
Many W-F graduates work at World Class Manufacturing, in Weyauwega, or Waupaca Foundry, she said.
In the new PLTW engineering classes, students are applying engineering, science, math and technology to solve problems in a real-world context.
They focus on the process of defining and solving problems and learn how to apply STEM knowledge, skills and habits.
An advisory council, made up of representatives from area businesses, is assisting to make sure W-F graduates get the skills and experiences they need to be successful in the workforce, Martin said.
Before the district could begin offering the classes this school year, the teachers leading the classes needed to receive training.
Joe Gruentzel, Mike Hansen and Patrick Martin spent 10 days at the Milwaukee School of Engineering this past summer to become certified to teach the courses.
Gruentzel teaches technology education, Hansen teaches science, and Martin teaches math.
Both Gruentzel and Hansen are teaching Introduction to Engineering Design in a lab that has stadium seating.
“We got 30 new computers for this space,” Kandi Martin said.
The room also has a Smart TV and two 3D printers.
The district used Title II professional development grant funds to cover the cost of the training and received several donations to put toward the cost of the equipment, she said.
“We will continue to seek grant funding,” she said. “We will have more expenses when we start Aerospace Engineering.”
The three teachers volunteered to receive training to teach the new classes.
Patrick Martin has a degree in electrical engineering and worked as a software engineer in the past.
Several years ago, he went through an alternative teaching program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
“I worked in the field,” he said, “so I have stories about real life.”
During the training at MSOE, a master teacher spent time telling them where their students will likely struggle, Patrick Martin said.
“We probably built 60 to 80 percent of the projects the kids will build,” he said.
The PLTW training also included diversity training – what teachers can do to make the classes gender friendly, he said.
Of the 76 W-F High School students enrolled in the new classes, a handful of them are girls.
“It’s even hard today to get girls and their families to consider (these classes),” he said. “Manufacturing is a great place for women.”
Rylee Bartel and Natalie Schneider are taking Introduction to Engineering Design.
Both of these sophomores said they signed up for it because they have family members who work in that field.
“I decided to take the class because my dad is an engineer,” Schneider said. “I grew up around it. I’ve always had an interest in it. It’s a huge opportunity to test it out myself.”
Bartel said her father and grandfather like hands-on work, and she decided on her own to sign up for the class.
“It’s a very good class,” she said.
Both girls plan to sign up for the other two engineering classes the high school is now offering and encourage other girls to consider doing so as well.
“It’s not just a guy thing,” Schneider said of the classes.
In the classes, students are learning they have to document their work.
They have engineering notebooks, where they sketch their designs and write about what happens, like an engineer does, Gruentzel said.
Someone else has to sign off on that documentation, Patrick Martin said.
Students who like the hands-on aspect of Gruentzel’s technology education classes are learning the importance of being able to write about their work in the engineering classes.
“These classes are not taking away from traditional classes. We are allowing them to be more innovative in other classes,” he said. “I can show its importance in this class and drive home the real world uses for math, science and even English.”
The teachers expected high numbers in the new classes but were surprised by just how high they were.
Gruentzel said it changed the dynamics of the students he gets to see.
“Hopefully, it will break the stereotypes of who takes which classes in high school,” he said.
Hansen is excited to see what happens next school year when the Aerospace Engineering class begins being offered.
Patrick Martin said the new classes allow students to be creative.
Adults who hear about the classes tell him, “I wish they had had something like that when I was in school.”
Kandi Martin said the district’s focus is help students being college or career ready when they graduate from high school.
Patrick Martin said they also want people to understand both directions are good and desirable.
“I’m having a blast teaching it,” he said. “The creativity is my favorite part. For them to see a large part of engineering is dreaming how to get it done.”
He has a diverse group of students in his class – both pathwise and by age.
“It’s interesting socially,” Patrick Martin said. “There’s many different kids who don’t rub shoulders (typically). I’m getting them to work together. That is part of life. You don’t get to pick who you work with. You have to work as a team.”