Getting kids into STEM: Project leads the way for science, technology, engineering and math

HARLINGEN — The Harlingen school district continues to seek new avenues to teach technology.

The latest endeavor, Project Lead the Way, has actually been a force in the high schools for several years. Now Harlingen’s middle school students will also learn through the program’s method of inquiry and hands-on manipulatives.

Project Lead the Way is a nationally-recognized initiative which uses a hands-on approach to learning science, technology, engineering and math, said Joseph Villarreal, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

“Students are kind of exposed to problems and situations and then have to utilize whatever they learn in those classes to solve those problems,” Villarreal said.

Project Lead the Way has three modules: computer science, engineering and biomedical technology. The high schools have used the engineering module for several years.

The computer science module will be introduced to the middle schools this coming school year. The following year middle schoolers will begin using the engineering module.

Villarreal said this year middle schoolers, who have been heavily engaged in robotics and coding, will use those skills to engage in new problem-solving activities.

“It could be what kind of app could you design to solve this particular problem,” Villarreal said. “The end goal of all of this is that a student leaves the class having developed an app that a student is able to use on a mobile device.”

Paul Tenison, engineering teacher at Harlingen High School, has been a certified Project Lead the Way instructor for many years and is a strong proponent of the program. PLTW teachers must have special training for each course they teach. He’s been trying to bring the curriculum to the middle school grades for years.

“There’s a push to get kids into STEM fields and the way to get kids interested in the STEM fields is to introduce them to project-based learning and engineering or STEM activities at an early age, the earlier the better,” Tenison said.

“We actually need to implement the elementary Project Lead the Way.”

Villarreal said the district plans to eventually bring PLTW programs into the elementary grades.