PLTW Engineering Teacher of the Year Says Real-World Learning is Key to Student Success

Anthony Tegtmeyer teaches at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, is a PLTW Master Teacher for Engineering Design and Development, and was recently recognized as the PLTW Engineering Teacher of the Year at PLTW Summit Indianapolis. He shared his story with PLTW about his transition from the engineering industry to the classroom, and how critically important he believes it is to engage students real-world learning.  

When my wife suggested I should change careers and become a teacher, I thought she was crazy. I had been in engineering and product development roles for over 20 years. She was right, I needed a change, but teaching? I soon realized her argument wasn’t that crazy. I had worked with kids through various youth sports organizations since I was in high school and always loved working with young people. 

Before I knew it, I was polishing my resume to get a job teaching physics when I read a job posting for a high school engineering teacher. Engineering in high school? Wow! The posting mentioned Project Lead The Way, and I was amazed at the curriculum - students learning transportable skills through project and problem-based learning. These are the skills hiring managers seek, not just in engineering, but in every industry. My new mission was to find a way to teach engineering through real-world experiences, and Neuqua Valley High School gave me a chance.

The Neuqua Valley PLTW Engineering program provides opportunities through Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), Principles of Engineering (POE), Civil Engineering and Architecture (CEA), Digital Electronics (DE), Engineering Design and Development (EDD) and will add Aerospace Engineering (AE) starting in the autumn of 2020. The PLTW curriculum makes it easy to teach students about how the real world works using real-world projects and examples. We are always looking to expand on those traits.

One way to expand the experience is through guest teachers. Engineers from local companies visit our Principles of Engineering classes to teach students about fluid power. Rather than listening to a lecture and taking notes about the topic, students are engaged with hands-on experience and engineers help them derive the correct equations and relationships in real-time and make predictions based on what they learned. What’s more memorable - notes or an experience?

Another way to enhance students' experience is collaborating with other departments and engineering professionals. The Engineering Design and Development class provides a unique opportunity for students to choose a problem to solve and learn that even a great idea is not worth much if it can’t be made and sold for a profit. Our EDD students are collaborating with our marketing classes to get valuable feedback on their ideas. The collaboration happens through in-building field trips where we take multiple periods to communicate and collaborate to develop a business and marketing plan. Marketing students benefit because they help develop a plan for a real solution and EDD students learn the importance of customer input on their designs. 

We are also fortunate to have tremendous relationships with local companies like Molex, a global provider of electronic solutions in a wide range of industries. Molex generously supports Neuqua Valley to provide opportunities for our Girls In STEM club and our PLTW students. The relationship has benefited Molex as well, as Neuqua Valley PLTW graduates work on summer internships between college semesters and have been hired after college for engineering positions. For our EDD students, they chair our Preliminary Design Review Board where student teams present their projects and get valuable feedback on their ideas before our Engineering Design and Development Showcase Regional Competition.

The EDD Showcase Regional Competition is a student favorite and the culminating event of our students’ PLTW experience. It’s grown and changed, and hopefully improved, each year. Last year industry partners provided almost 60 judges and $10,000 in scholarships for students from ten local high schools. We are also fortunate to have had Dr. Bertram and other PLTW dignitaries participate in the Showcase. There are two main components of the Showcase - a trade show and presentation - and both are competitive. Prizes are awarded for the best/most unique problem to solve, best display, and best prototype, and students’ final presentations are judged by a panel of engineers to determine the overall winners. 

The competition has outgrown our building so this April we are piloting a new, still competitive, showcase in partnership with Molex and North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. First, a “local” competition at our high school will be held where students present their engineering projects to engineers prior to the big event at North Central College. The big event will still have the trade show competition but the presentations will be modeled after Shark Tank where students must have knowledge of their target market as well. We hope this authentic experience can expand each year as it has in the past. Perhaps you can be a part of it. 

Confucius supposedly said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Well, I guess I haven’t worked since I started teaching PLTW Engineering to my students, and my wife was right - again.

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.