School and Community Partnerships Lead to Success for PLTW Students and Teachers

Scott Beebe is the manager of Fab Lab Jackson County in Vancleave, Mississippi, which is sponsored by Chevron in partnership with the Jackson County School District and Fab Foundation. Scott served as a cryptologist in the U.S. Navy before beginning his teaching career 19 years ago. He has taught middle school and high school math, physics, and Project Lead The Way (PLTW). 

Chevron is a PLTW Transformative Partner and has contributed over $17 million to PLTW to date, $1 million of which has benefited more than 20,000 students in the Mississippi region.

PLTW programs are uniquely designed to offer flexibility for teachers to meet the needs of individual schools and their students – from the support offered by PLTW and its partners to the scalability of its curriculum, to the variety of professional development and training opportunities for PLTW teachers. Ultimately, this leads to greater success for PLTW students. 

I first became aware of PLTW in 2015 and began teaching the PLTW Gateway program that year at St. Martin Middle School in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I was really attracted to the openness of the program and the ability to “get away from the book” to allow students to truly learn through hands-on experiences. Now, as the manager of Fab Lab Jackson County, I can connect PLTW teachers from area schools with specialized equipment that enhances PLTW programs

Fab Lab Jackson County is dedicated to bringing high-quality, hands-on, project-based STEM opportunities to students in the county at all grade levels and has worked with area schools since 2017. This mission aligns perfectly with PLTW programs, and the Fab Lab is uniquely positioned to assist PLTW teachers by providing equipment that is otherwise not available at their schools (e.g., laser engravers, routers, 3-D printers). We even have a Mobile Fab Lab, in order to bring equipment directly to the schools. For the first time this year, we will also host summer camps at three different sites led by PLTW teachers in partnership with Mississippi State University. 

One summer camp location will serve as a mentoring opportunity for new PLTW teachers in the region to prepare them for the upcoming school year. Professional development and training for PLTW teachers is at the forefront of the PLTW model, and as an educator, I appreciate this approach. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate along with 22 other educators in a PLTW District Transformation Training (DTT) supported by Chevron and hosted by Ocean Springs School District. PLTW teachers from three school districts in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region participated in hands-on training for PLTW Launch led by PLTW Master Teachers Wadid Lugman and Cammy Neth. Wadid and Cammy shared their experiences and demonstrated best practices for implementing the PLTW Launch program, which is designed for grades PreK-5. It was an incredible opportunity to have this training right here in our backyard. 

This training will enable these teachers to begin to transform their methods of teaching in earlier grade levels. This, in turn, will lead to students beginning to transform their learning methods from the very beginning, instead of waiting for middle or high school to begin exploration of engineering, computer science, and biomedical science concepts. The more that teachers are exposed to experiences like this, the more comfortable they will be with the concept of hands-on, project-based learning. The more comfortable the teachers become with this process, the more likely they are to provide valuable hands-on learning opportunities to their students. This will enable students to become more self-sufficient in their learning, more engaged in their educational decisions, and, in the end, better problem solvers. 

As a teacher, I have seen students with no real vision for their educational or career path gain an appreciation for STEM classes and STEM careers through PLTW courses. As a father, I have seen my own son go from an eighth grader who reluctantly took my PLTW Automation and Robotics course to an eleventh grader who has won state VEX Robotics championships four years in a row and is heading to the VEX World Championship this year. He has transformed from an eighth grader with no interest in STEM classes to an eleventh grader who has taken AP + PLTW courses in computer science and engineering and plans to continue these PLTW pathways in his senior year, with the goal of becoming an electrical engineer or computer engineer. 

The PLTW success stories in my community are endless, and I am proud to have the opportunity to both teach PLTW and support other PLTW teachers as we provide students with the industry-standard equipment and the subject matter to succeed in an ever-changing world. 

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.