Project Lead the Way programs in Flathead and Glacier high schools have reached milestones.
Over that time, the schools added classes that are part of a sequence that culminates in a capstone course. Glacier offers seven courses and Flathead four. In addition, both schools offer a Project Lead the Way Computer Science class. Glacier Assistant Principal Andy Fors said that later addition was in response to national and statewide trends in careers and initiatives such as Code Montana.
Project Lead The Way is a nonprofit creating curriculum that emphasizes the process involved in reaching an outcome in its project- and problem-based learning. According to www.pltw.org, the goal is for students to “develop in-demand, transportable skills — such as problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, collaboration and communication.”
At Glacier, the Engineering Academy started with 104 students in 2013-14 school year, peaked at 241 students in 2016-17, and leveled out at 176 students taking classes currently, according to Fors. Since Glacier began offering the capstone course in the 2017-18 school year, 16 took the final class.
In Flathead’s first year offering the Biomedical Science program, 121 enrolled, reported Flathead Science Department Leader Lynette Johnson. The program peaked with 160 students in 2016 and 2017. Currently there are 142 students enrolled in classes. The 2017-18 school year was the first time the capstone course was offered, with 20 students enrolled.
“This room has seven periods of biomed a day and they’re big classes,” science teacher Linzi Napier noted at the Biomedical Science classroom at Flathead on Jan. 10.
The programs are an opportunity for students to learn specialized skills and explore career paths.
On Jan. 9 at Glacier, engineering teacher Mark Drew’s classroom offered the sound of chirping crickets. Students were busy learning an extrapolation method using cricket chirps and temperature data.
“We’re taking an equation and finding the ‘line of best fit’ for the data,” said freshman Trevor Seals, who is interested in aerospace engineering and progressing through the entire Project Lead the Way Engineering program.
In another room lined with robots and parts, a few engineering students gathered after school who are part of a technology and robotics club. Flathead also has an after-school club, HOSA — Future Health Professionals, that complements its biomedical science program.
Glacier juniors Drew Dickey and Parker Shumard are in their third year of taking Project Lead the Way courses.
“Engineering has always interested me. It’s just been a big pushing force and PLTW seemed the place to really help me get where I was trying to go,” Shumard said.
Dickey added, “I don’t want to do a run-of-the-mill job; I want to do something that’s letting me create — letting me explore something — so I’ve always been interested in science and engineering and that stuff...”
On Jan. 10 in the biomedical science classroom at Flathead, a chorus of clicks echoed as students wearing white, monogrammed lab coats and safety glasses adjusted micropipettes. In front of them were DNA samples on bowls of ice. Biomedicine is medical research or practice that applies biology and biochemistry principles.
“We are testing our own DNA for a gene that lets you taste bitterness in foods,” explained junior Sam Wallace.
Wallace, a third-year Project Lead the Way student, said she has always wanted to go into the medical field and the biomedical science program has helped her narrow down what field she wants to specialize in, such as radiology or anesthesiology.
“We get to look at a ton of different medical careers,” she said.
Flathead junior Collin Dallen, also in his third year with Project Lead the Way, knew he wanted to be a doctor since age 4, but has solidified his interest in working with people.
“I want to work with people directly [rather] than somewhere you do labs and stuff — like pharmaceuticals is more behind the desk [work],” he said.
Dallen also talked about skills he learned in the biomedical program transferring to other classes outside of Project Lead the Way, such as biology and organic chemistry.
Glacier Vocational Department Chairman Troy Smith said the classes, particularly the introductory, or foundation, classes are beneficial to anyone, not just engineering-bound students.
“We’re not just teaching engineering skills. We’re teaching how to solve problems. Everyone solves problems every day of their life,” Smith said. “Anyone taking these classes can benefit. We’re teaching kids to solve problems using the scientific method.”
Glacier junior Brenna McDonald, spoke to this, and to skills transferring to other courses. McDonald took Introduction to Engineering and Design (IED). While she discovered she’d rather pursue other courses such as languages — the skills she learned in the introductory class have transferred to other classes.
“I’m also really into art. And I actually learned a lot of art skills from IED. We learned about perspective drawing, we talked about elements of design,” McDonald said.
Kalispell Public Schools covers the cost of Project Lead the Way, with $4,000 allocated annually to Flathead, $3,000 to Glacier and $750 to Kalispell Middle School, all of which goes toward professional development and supplies.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.