Middle School Students Discover and Explore STEM Interests

Johnathon May is a PLTW Gateway teacher at East Central Middle School in Moss Point, Mississippi. The PLTW Gateway program at East Central Middle School is supported by grant funding from Chevron.

As I talked with my eighth-grade students who have been in PLTW for three years now, I asked how they felt about PLTW and what they liked best. Almost every one of them commented on the fact that PLTW gave them an outlet to explore, experiment, and learn in many different ways. 

Our school offers PLTW as an elective mixed in with physical education to meet state requirements.  Most of my students aren’t into sports or music so PLTW is the perfect fit. Some but not all are the high performing students in math and science. Students who are typically not at the top of their other classes are noticing that they are excelling in PLTW.

Almost all of my students like the fact that they can learn and accomplish things their own way. There isn’t a right or wrong way to solve a problem; they are allowed to think outside the box and find answers on their own.

My son Cooper is a perfect example. He is very intelligent but not motivated to do homework and read passages that aren’t in his interests. STEM is something he really likes because he can use math, science, and technology in real world applications. (A lot of my students say it brings learning to life.) He said if not for PLTW, he would be stuck in a PE class and not had the opportunity to learn about programming, coding, building machines, wiring microbits, making series and parallel circuits, make apps, using laser engravers, 3D printers, CNC machines, or sublimation printing. Now he has experienced all these things and has a little better idea of what field he wants to pursue in high school and college.

Early on in sixth and seventh grade, most students in PLTW aren’t sure what they want to be. By the end of eighth grade, almost 75 percent of my students want to go into some type of engineering after high school. It’s really rewarding to help them explore these career opportunities and watch as they discover their passion.

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.