Iowa Schools Scale Up With PLTW Computer Science

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Introduction to Computer Science (ICS) and PLTW Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS) were selected as two of 11 Iowa STEM Scale-Up Programs for 2016-17. Out of 42 organizations to apply, PLTW is one of only two organizations with two selected programs.

The Iowa STEM Scale-Up, a statewide program of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, is in its fifth year selecting programs that meet a high bar of excellence to inspire more than 100,000 students across Iowa and improve interest and achievement in STEM.

The STEM Council’s Executive Committee selected five new programs to the 2016-17 program menu. PLTW has been selected as part of the STEM Scale-Up since 2013. Past Scale-Up programs include, PLTW Launch, PLTW Gateway, PLTW Computer Science, and PLTW Engineering.

"Thousands of young Iowans and their teachers have benefited from the outstanding STEM programs of Project Lead The Way through the STEM Scale-Up Program of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council over the last three years,” said Dr. Jeff Weld, executive director of the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council. “From elementary students using the latest educational technology to explore engineering design constraints with PLTW Launch, to middle school students addressing grand challenges like space travel and sustainable homes through PLTW Gateway, to Principles of Biomedical Science and Introduction to Computer Science, we are able to deliver on a promise of STEM excellence to the citizens of our state. PLTW is an outstanding partner in equipping students of Iowa for the dynamic and innovative world that awaits."

In Iowa, STEM jobs will grow 16 percent between 2014-2024 compared to only 12 percent growth in non-STEM jobs, according to Change The Equation. The pipeline for preparing students for this job growth is hindered by the supply of teachers ready to teach a course like computer science. Only 36 percent of 8th graders have science teachers with an undergraduate degree in science.

ICS is designed for students who have no experience in computer science, and it is an optional starting point for the PLTW Computer Science pathway. Throughout the course, students explore topics in cybersecurity and build computational thinking skills while working in teams to create apps and other projects. ICS teachers attend professional development where they experience dynamic learning experiences through robust instructional support to empower them in their classrooms.

The first PLTW program in Iowa began in 2005, and today, there are over 300 active programs.

Julie Vaughn is a PLTW teacher at Western Dubuque High School at Epworth and teaches PLTW ICS and PLTW Computer Science Principles. She has seen not just an increase in students interested in computer science, but an increase in the number of girls taking the course.

“They’re enjoying what they’re learning,” Vaughn said. “More students are looking to continue. My hope for my students is that they have an understanding of the opportunities out there. There are so many different sides of computer science and so many career opportunities from web design to programming.”

The success of PLTW in Iowa is in part the result of a collaborative network of corporate and post-secondary partners including Iowa State University, University of Iowa, Bemis Company, Cargill, John Deere, and the Kern Family Foundation.

Kim Glenn, PLTW director of school engagement for Nebraska and Iowa, said PLTW allows students to explore careers that they may have never considered or even heard of before.

“It’s very exciting that Iowa STEM has chosen to include two of the three PLTW high school programs as Iowa STEM Scale-Up,” she said. “Both fields are of great interest and importance to Iowa’s business and industry leaders, and both complement nicely the many PLTW Engineering programs already thriving in many of Iowa’s high schools, as well as connecting with the numerous K-8 grades offering PLTW Launch and PLTW Gateway.”

There is a critical need to increase the number of students, especially females and minorities, interested in computer science. Only 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science are earned by women and 74 percent of all computer professionals are men.

“PLTW commends the leadership of Governor Terry Branstad’s STEM Advisory Council and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds to expand access to high quality STEM learning experiences for the students of Iowa,” said PLTW President and CEO Dr. Vince Bertram. “These experiences empower students with collaboration, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills they will need to thrive in our evolving world.”

For PLTW program information in Iowa, contact Kim Glenn, PLTW director of school engagement, at [email protected].