VOL. 132 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 20, 2017
Memphis Business Academy Showcases Project Lead The Way STEM Progress
By Michael Waddell
The Memphis Business Academy is flexing its STEM muscles.
The K-12 charter school in Frayser hosted a showcase event this month to demonstrate how it has implemented Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum the past year and the overwhelmingly positive effect it is having on students of all ages.
PLTW is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) curriculum that creates a hands-on classroom environment that empowers students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills needed to thrive in today’s workplace.
The PLTW nonprofit organization is committed to providing transformative learning experiences for K-12 students and teachers, offering curriculum and professional development, resources and support in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.
“We frequently have more jobs than we have students entering these fields, and these are high-paying jobs,” said PLTW affiliate director Jim Kurtz. “For those in STEM, there are at least two jobs for every student graduating. If you are non-STEM, there are five students trying for every job.”
The Memphis Business Academy now offers PLTW programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels, including project-based learning in engineering and computer science.
“We’ve got to introduce kids to these earlier in their educations so they’re not afraid of these high-tech jobs, and we can stop sending (these jobs) overseas,” Kurtz said.
Jerry Wilson, MBA’s director of educational support, coordinated the April 5 event with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a PLTW affiliate partner. He believes one of the major advantages of a STEM education is how excited and engaged the students become.
“It can sometimes be difficult to hold students’ attention in today’s world,” Wilson said. “Our goal is every year to step up this program more to be able to include more students. We plan to integrate it across multiple curricula and subject matter.”
More than 9,000 schools and 35,000 trained teachers across the U.S. offer PLTW programs to 2.4 million students.
The Memphis Business Academy, now in its 12th year, counts more than 1,200 students.
“The kids have taken to the PLTW curriculum like a fish to water,” said Germaine Thurman, one of MBA’s two chief academic officers. “Once you find a curriculum that’s hands-on and involves technology, they just gravitate towards it.”
Thurman is a licensed engineer who works with the STEM Academy at the University of Memphis during the summers.
“I’ve always wanted us to do this,” he said. “About this time last year, MBA founder Reverend (Anthony) Anderson came to us with a passionate plea to start a STEM program. So we injected STEM into MBA’s academic DNA, and it’s started to take off.”
The curriculum exposes children to something they’ve never seen before, said April Bobo, also chief academic officer at MBA.
“We have novice and advanced tracks for PLTW because we have students with different learning levels and different talents,” Bobo said.
A tour of the campus included checking in on the second-grade STEM class, where students were learning the engineering design process. A big focus is on laying the foundation for being able to work in teams and communicate effectively about solving problems.
Middle school students were busy designing and programming their own robots, while the high schoolers were building drones, which they will fly and race later in the year once they are complete. MBA is currently the only local school where drone racing will take place.
“Coming into it, I felt like I didn’t know much, but growing over the past couple of years I now feel like I’m much more experienced,” said 11th-grade student Louis Gordon, who has been in STEM classes since the ninth grade. “That experience will help me out in the real world.”
In working on the drones, Gordon and other advanced STEM students get the chance to learn about soldering, wiring, Ohm’s law, and other areas that correspond with electronics.
Gordon plans to enter the computer or aerospace engineering fields once he completes school because he feels like that is where he is needed most.
“There are companies and corporations that are looking for individuals to work in STEM careers,” said Wilson, who pointed out that minority participation in the industries is especially low. “If you can get students involved in STEM education early, you can change their perception of these careers.”