Leading the way to explore engineering; Shrewsbury, WPI partner in program.
SHREWSBURY - For the past two decades, high schools across the country have been cutting industrial arts classes. At Shrewsbury High School, which phased out its auto shop and woodworking offerings several years ago, those cuts have been paired with finding valuable alternative classes for students.
That's where Project Lead the Way comes in.
Lead the Way is a nationwide nonprofit that provides rigorous curricula in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to more than 4,200 schools in 50 states. The program was established in 1997 to address the shortage of domestic engineers.
According to its website, Lead the Way is a "hands-on, project-based program (that) engages students on multiple levels, exposes them to areas of study they do not typically pursue, and provides them with a foundation and proven path to college and career success."
"For awhile, Shrewsbury High School was offering a lot of industrial tech classes and we were looking for a way to increase the rigor of our elective courses and offer children a way to explore the field of engineering," said David Hruskoci, the school's director of Science and Technology.
According to Principal Todd Bazydlo, the dwindling number of engineers in the United States played a role in the decision to focus on engineering. The U.S. graduates 70,000 engineers each year compared to 350,000 from India and 600,000 from China - statistics that have been called into question by a 2005 study by Duke University.
"It's not a Sputnik moment but it's something like that," said Principal Bazydlo. "(The program) is trying to foster a love of engineering prior to kids going off to college."
Once it was decided to add an engineering program the question was how.
"The essential question was: should we try to grow our own home-grown, organic program writing our own curriculum, or should we look at a prepackaged engineering curriculum that's done well?" said Bazydlo. "One that covers the concepts that we need and brings stability to the subject area, yet won't require the time energy and effort to actually write a curriculum, which could take from one to three years."
After visiting other area high schools, which verified the exorbitant cost of writing and maintaining home-grown curriculum, Shrewsbury High officials settled on commissioning an outside engineering curriculum. That's when they heard about Project Lead the Way and fortunately, the Massachusetts affiliate for the program was about 10 minutes away at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The initial investment, made during the 2008-2009 school year, was estimated at $60,000 and included various hardware and software licenses. Hruskoci estimates that the school spends between $5,000 and $10,000 per year on the program - maintaining software licenses and various tools for the courses.
Project Lead the Way holds mandatory workshops for high school teachers who are going to teach the curriculum. This policy is to ensure that the program will be taught the way the designers intended. Principal Bazydlo saw this as another good feature about Lead the Way.
Paul Wood, a science and engineering teacher who attended the workshops and now teaches the curriculum, likes the program for its rigor.
"It really reads like my college transcript from Northeastern," he said.
Shrewsbury High School is currently one of 26 schools in the state that use Lead the Way and many of those are technical or vocational schools. Other participating public schools in Central Massachusetts include Leominster and Hudson high schools.
In August, Project Lead the Way became one of six science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs officially endorsed by the state of Massachusetts. The endorsement was made by the Governor's STEM Advisory Council as part of the Massacusetts Statewide STEM Education, Jobs and Workforce Initiative.
"It basically means we got the good housekeeping seal of approval from the state of Massachusetts," said Terry Adams, WPI's K-12 Outreach Program Manager for Project Lead the Way. "(It means) it's a great STEM curriculum that they would like to see implemented by more schools in Massachusetts.
Shrewsbury High School, entering its fourth year using the project, currently offers three courses from Lead the Way's Pathway to Engineering curriculum, which is meant to help students "learn the design process, acquire strong teamwork and communication proficiency and develop organizational, critical thinking and problem solving skills."
The three courses include Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Economics and Digital Electronics. First-year students are eligible to take the introductory course, while enrollment in the upper level principles of economics and digital electronics is contingent upon teacher recommendation based on a student's prior math and science performance.
"That's only to ensure that when they take the course they'll be successful and they won't be over their heads in the content," said Hruskoci. He was quick to point out that these Lead the Way courses are not like the industrial arts classes they are replacing.
"Most people that are older remember in high school having the woodshop, the metal shop and the auto shop and only a certain population of students that would take those courses. So now when we talk about technology education and engineering, it's important to note that there's some real rigor to these courses and you have to come into them with some prerequisite knowledge to be successful."
Still, on average only 40 students per year choose one of the Lead the Way courses and, due to lack of student demand, there is no digital electronics course this year. The course is still offered as an elective but requires enough student enrollment to fill a class. Hruskoci estimates that a small number of students have completed all three of the offered Lead the Way courses.
"We feel that all electives are equally important," he said. "A student may take an engineering class this year but then the next year they might take art or music. There are only a small handful of students that are drawn to that field and would take multiple engineering courses."
Adding another Lead the Way course to the school curriculum may help increase enrollment as schools that offer at least four courses are eligible for certification, which would allow students who complete the program to receive college credit at a variety of participating universities, including WPI. The credit would be similar to what students get for completing AP courses. "Because we don't offer that fourth course, we're not at a point yet where they could get college credit for the work they do in these classes," said Hruskoci. "It would be excellent if we were able to advance this. I think we're biting at the bit to do that."
As for what's stopping the expansion of Shrewsbury High School's Lead the Way program, it comes down to a limitation that all public schools face: a lack of resources.
"It's a balance between offering a really rich curriculum on the other end," said Bazydlo. "It just can't be engineering; there are other sciences and electives that interest upperclassmen. Every school wants more resources, particularly with the teaching staff."
"Could we expand it? We probably could. But we just don't have the manpower or the resources to hire (teachers) to do it."
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR
CUTLINE: Paul Wood teaches Lead the Way curriculum at Shrewsbury High School.
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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