State-level Funding Fuels Technology Needs for PLTW Program

Marie Perry is the communications director for the School District of Belleville in Belleville, Wisconsin. The district implemented its first PLTW course, Introduction to Engineering Design, in 2015 and now offers five PLTW Engineering courses as well as PLTW Gateway and PLTW Launch.

Keeping programs related to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) running smoothly in order for students to have an edge and learn cutting-edge technology is becoming key as we prepare the next generation for advanced careers in STEAM. To this end, George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, says, "Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event. How many pencil labs do you have in your school?”

The School District of Belleville’s curriculum offers students more than pencils these days as it continues to put emphasis on technology in the classroom through our PLTW courses, but to stay competitive requires support, funding, and creativity. We recently accepted a $13,000 Fab Lab grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to improve innovative educational opportunities in the district’s Fab Lab.

A Fab Lab is a place to explore, build, and create; each is unique with the equipment available. Our modern Fab Lab includes 3D printers, laser engravers, a Haas CNC mill, a CNC plasma cutter, a CNC router, traditional woodworking equipment, and a metals fabrication area. This grant is helping a small school district keep pace in an environment where technology is changing faster than ever, and the workplace is demanding employees come equipped with needed skillsets that place technology at the forefront.

Principal Heather Schmitz acknowledges the importance of this funding when she thinks of the future of her students as they seek to engage with technology-centered learning through their PLTW classes and other STEAM-related curriculum. “This grant will help to engage students at all grade levels, but specifically our younger and newer STEAM learners,” she said. “Our current lab continues to make a difference in student-centered learning by empowering students to step into the role of an engineer and adopt a problem-solving mindset. Our STEAM courses engage students in compelling, real-world challenges that help them become better collaborators and thinkers.”

Ed Neumann, 8-12 Tech. Ed./Engineering Instructor & STEAM Coordinator, used the grant to purchase four Glowforge laser engravers, which arrived in the last week of the 2020-21 school year. He put the engravers to immediate use as students were able to create replica plaques for inductees to the annual Wildcat Wall of Fame. 

In coming school years, the engravers will give students in the middle school hands-on experience using basic CNC equipment to create unique pieces of work. “At the 8th grade level, students will engrave a custom design onto one of their main projects,” Ed said. “Three of the engravers reside in the STEAM classroom; the fourth was donated to the art department to promote more students being exposed to CNC equipment and becoming more interested in additional CNC equipment located in our STEAM labs.”

Ed hopes to encourage more female 7th and 8th grade students to enroll in engineering courses with equipment purchased through the grant. “Research has shown that the earlier we get students involved, especially our female students that are exposed to STEAM courses, the more likely they are to go through and pursue a career in an engineering STEAM-related field,” he said.

Introducing students to this technology as a part of career readiness during their early education also benefits Wisconsin employers. Finding key partners like the WEDC who want to help put needed technological resources in the hands of educators is the fuel that will continue to drive the engines of learning in educational environments as we continue to make bright futures in the area of STEAM-related learning for our students.

“Our goal is to give every student in the district an opportunity to explore STEAM-related curriculum and careers,” Ed shared.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.