UAA engineering faculty help Anchorage’s Dimond High School become Alaska’s first Project-Lead-The-Way Engineering Academy

May 12, 2010

UAA works toward becoming a PLTW affiliate university

Dimond High School in Anchorage was recently certified as Alaska’s first Project-Lead-The-Way (PLTW) Engineering Academy. A statewide team of university faculty, public school administrators and national PLTW representatives approved the program with full certification in April. Lathrop High school in Fairbanks was also fully certified.

PLTW was created in the 1990s and has become a premier model for engineering academies in middle and high schools. More than 3,400 schools in all 50 states have a PLTW Engineering Academy.

As its name suggests, the program integrates hands-on learning through focusing on project building and teamwork. The PLTW model has been successful in enhancing student performance in all areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). There is also a mechanism for preparing teachers for teaching the PLTW classes and for continued professional development. Other organizations adopt the model for implementing science and engineering programs in schools.

For the past three years, Anchorage community supporters of science and engineering have collaborated in working towards creating a program that engages, enhances and empowers students to learn.

UAA Engineering Professor Grant Baker, Associate Dean of the UAA School of Engineering, is the Affiliate PLTW Director for Alaska. The PLTW State Leader is UAA Engineering Assistant Professor Jenny Brock. “Engineering academies enhance learning in all areas of STEM,” said Baker. “The pathway to engineering is built upon science, technology and mathematics.”

UAA is working towards becoming a PLTW affiliate university that will be able to provide training and preparation for teachers to become Engineering Academy teachers. The preparation process requires the teacher to do everything that the students will do in the courses.

It will take about a year for UAA to become an affiliate university. The University needs to establish a lab that has the PLTW equipment at a minimum, and professors involved will need to be course trained and certified by PLTW representatives, just as the PLTW teachers are trained for courses. The School of Engineering has started this effort by establishing its Rapid Prototype and Manufacturing lab.

The Engineering Academy model at Dimond High can also be established throughout the rural areas of Alaska just as it has been successful in many other rural areas in the nation. Educational rural hubs can be created in larger villages or communities with fully equipped labs that can be the service center for the surrounding smaller villages to utilize through learning camps or field trips. For example, Bethel is one rural community that could be an Engineering Academy hub for the surrounding villages.

The importance of teacher preparation is one of many key elements of the PLTW model. Rural school teachers will receive STEM preparation in concentrated workshops at UAA but then will be able to take those skills back to the rural schools. Having prepared teachers permanently in the rural schools is far more successful than having an instructor fly into a village and spending only a day or two with the students. To be successful with students, the teachers that already live in the villages need the STEM preparation to teach the courses so the students receive a constant source of STEM education every day throughout the school year.

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