How PLTW Biomedical Science Courses Transformed My Teaching Practices

Rachael Tawbush previously worked as an environmental scientist and biologist before being called into the field of education. Rachael has taught at Pell City High School in Pell City, Alabama for the past 10 years and has taught Principles of Biomedical Science for three years. Rachael has earned bachelor's degrees in biology and environmental science, a master’s in education in general sciences secondary education, and an educational specialist degree in teacher leadership. Rachael was awarded Outstanding Student in the Teacher Leader EdS program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in May 2016 and was named the 2015 Pell City School System’s Secondary Education Teacher of the Year. Rachael is currently completing coursework for an Ed.D in general sciences secondary education at the University of Alabama and is projected to graduate by May 2020.

PLTW Biomedical Science courses have literally transformed the learning experience in my classroom. The students are now in control of their own learning and I, as the teacher, have become a facilitator rather than a lecturer. Through teaching the PLTW Principles of Biomedical Science course, I have personally witnessed my students’ love for learning and science rejuvenated before my very eyes!

PLTW inspires the students to be more involved and engaged with the curriculum through hands-on, inquiry-based projects. My students are literally running down the hallway to get to their PLTW class and very upset when they have to leave. Through PLTW, the students are also growing their collaborative teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, oral communication, and presentation skills. These lessons are vitally important to the productivity and the employability of our students in their future.

For example, according to a 2015 survey provided by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), employers are concerned about new graduates having a range of skills in areas like communication and teamwork. The survey also showed that the employers most valued the following top five areas for employability: 1.) Ability to work with others in teams, 2.) Staying current on technologies, 3.) Ethical judgment and decision-making, 4.) Locating, organizing, and evaluating information, and 5.) Oral communication and working with numbers/statistics. The PLTW curriculum meets all of the top-five standards of employers and will also help our students to advance in college and life in general.

Through teaching the PLTW Principles of Biomedical Science course, I have been most surprised with the overwhelming positive support from the businesses and colleges within our community. Our community houses a community college and many skilled labor positions through local businesses, which all encourage STEM-related courses on our campus. In fact, the community college has increased the number of health science courses offered on campus and has even added a Certified Nursing Assistant course onto our high school campus. The local business owners have also voiced their willingness to help mentor our students’ vocational skills through a tradesman/expert-led vocational school. It should also be noted that the students must be interviewed in order for the students to be granted admission into this specialized vocational school. We firmly believe that due to our strengths in our STEM programs, especially PLTW, it assisted all 12 of our students that interviewed to be accepted into the specialized vocational school program.

Through the PLTW Principles of Biomedical Science course, I have also learned how to allow the students to research and learn through discovery and hands-on activities and experiences. Due to the PLTW curriculum, my students are now able to solve complex problems in society. For example, when students come to class, the statement “Advancements in Diabetic Medical Technologies” is written on the board, and my students are able to work individually or in teams to research, create, and present ideas that could benefit the future of the field of diabetic medical technologies.

This transition of becoming a PLTW instructor has been an exciting experience that has transformed the way I approach teaching in my classroom. Even something as simple as responding to a student’s question with a question or allowing the students to create their own lab procedures makes our students think so much further and make significantly deeper connections. There are no words that can express the joy I feel when I see my students experience science first-hand, addressing their own misconceptions and reaffirming a new stance of thinking based on their own learning experiences. PLTW Biomedical Science courses teach our students how to think, which leads to classrooms full of life-long learners.

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