Empowering Teachers and Inspiring Students for a STEM-Driven Future
Education is an indispensable profession in our world today, as teachers play a pivotal role in equipping students for the challenges of the future, enabling them to be successful at every stage in life. The positive impact of teachers has been extensively substantiated through years of research highlighting that teacher effectiveness is the most important school-based factor related to student achievement and outcomes. As a former teacher, I recognize that having the foundational resources and supports allows for greater effectiveness in the significant work of nurturing student success.
Enhancing Teacher Practice Through Professional Development
One resource every teacher needs is high-quality professional development. Professional development allows teachers to continue to improve their practice, learn new strategies and content, and engage students. Research has found that effective professional development is content-focused, incorporates active learning and supports collaboration. When teachers have this kind of professional learning that is relevant to their work and professional goals, they have improved job satisfaction.
Project Lead The Way (PLTW) knows how important it is to support teachers so they are able to make a difference for students. That is why PLTW Core Training allows teachers to engage actively in their learning and collaborate with other educators. And it is making a difference: 74 percent of teachers reported that PLTW Core Training made them more effective as a teacher, and 68 percent of teachers reported that PLTW Core Training has had more of an impact on their teaching practice than other professional development. From PLTW research, 67 percent of teachers felt PLTW made them more satisfied with their careers.
Cultivating Students’ Lifelong Learning and Career Exploration
A core belief of PLTW is that students can’t be what they can’t see. Students must have high-quality and engaging real-world applied learning experiences where they develop technical and employability skills that will set them up for success throughout school and beyond. Additionally, students must be able to see themselves in the wide array of career opportunities that are out there. PLTW has heard from students regarding how valuable their courses are because they help expose them to and engage them in STEM subjects and prepare them for life beyond K-12.
There comes a point very early in a child’s educational experience where they self-select themselves in or out of subjects like math and science. Students who haven’t had experience with those content areas often self-select out. PLTW Launch curriculum for preK-5 students was created to address this. Studies indicate that early exposure to STEM is associated with increased interest in STEM and increased academic performance. PLTW strives for students to experience an engaging, hands-on way to learn about engineering, computer science and biomedical science. This provides students with opportunities to see what they like and what they are great at. One student shares, “If PLTW was never a thing, if it never existed…I would’ve not become the person I am right now. I wouldn’t have learned robotics. I would’ve not liked coding. I would’ve not discovered something I really love.”
In PLTW courses, students use the software, hardware and tools that are used in the industry, leveraging programs such as CAD, C++, Python and AutoDesk Inventor. This development of technical skills provides a foundation students can build upon in higher ed or the workplace. Additionally, students hone employability skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration in their PLTW classroom. “All of the skills I have gained in those aspects — collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving — come 100 percent from PLTW classes,” declares one student, “Without the PLTW classes, I would not be where I am now with being able to collaborate and solve problems.”
The intentionality of these classroom experiences is important to make a difference for students. Independent research studies have found that PLTW improves a range of student outcomes, including academic achievement, high school graduation and postsecondary success.
The Role of Partnerships in Advancing STEM Education
This underscores the significance of the work accomplished by PLTW, an organization created and led by educators to support teachers and students. But PLTW can’t do this work alone. Schools can’t do this work alone. Developing and leveraging partnerships through a STEM ecosystem is how we can ensure students are equipped to be successful and how we can do this work at scale across our nation. We need to ensure students have experiences that change their STEM identities and help them build a social network. This comes from immersive experiences — both inside and outside of the classroom.
It is important for teachers to have a STEM ally, providing them with an engaging curriculum to implement in the classroom, as well as professional learning that allows them to thrive in their careers. PLTW wants to play a role in shaping what is next for students: helping students develop relevant skills and giving students exposure and experience with potential career opportunities they might never have dreamed possible.