• Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Students at Berkeley County high schools are catapulting into high-tech learning – literally.  Learning how to design, build and calibrate a catapult is one of many projects students in the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum are encountering. For example, the Stratford “Seige Team” designed a catapult that featured a Lord of the Rings-style theme as part of its design. The nine-member team of pre-engineering students dressed in medieval costume and took their contraption to The Citadel to compete in the school’s inaugural Storm the Citadel Trebuchet Competition, where they won first place in the Spirit Category in 2011.  This year’s competition saw six Berkeley teams compete, with four middle school teams and one high school team taking home medals. Project Lead the Way is a pre-engineering curriculum that is burgeoning in the district’s high schools. Berkeley County’s Career and Technical Education Department has been responsible for securing more than $300,000 in grants and sponsorships from local industries for software, tools and equipment specific to the program.  This funding has brought wind turbines, Fischertechnik robotic kits, computer-aided design labs, 3-D printers and other equipment essential for student success. “Engineering is one field industry leaders have been asking the schools to add to their curriculum … it is one of the key skills sets referred to as S.T.E.M. -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math,” said Ken Verburg, the District’s Director of Career and Technology Education.  “These critical professions are lacking qualified candidates to meet demand, so local businesses are partnering with the schools to integrate these specialized studies along with the core curriculum.” Engineering academies were launched in Stratford High and Hanahan High several years ago. Newer academies are growing at Berkeley, Goose Creek and Cane Bay, which recently earned its PLTW certification.  Over 1,500 students are currently enrolled in these academies. In the future, the District hopes to have engineering academies in each of its high schools.   The program starts with basic introductions to Legos and Robotics in elementary school.  Students can then move into the Gateway to Technology program in middle school. Hanahan Middle is one such school that currently offers a GTT program in pre-engineering for grades 5-8.  Middle schoolers can also participate in an engineering summer camp that identifies students suited for the high school program.   From there, students advance to high school, starting with “foundation” courses such as Introduction to Engineering Design in the ninth grade, and moving on to courses in Principles of Engineering and Digital Electronics.  Finally, they complete their studies with a specialization course such as Aerospace Engineering or Computer Integrated Manufacturing. Other specialization courses planned include Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Biotechnical Engineering.  “Students love this program because they put away the books and paper and get their hands on real projects,” said Stratford engineering instructor Charlie Franklin.  “They plan, develop, test and troubleshoot their own creations.  They come away with a deeper appreciation of what they are learning.” Project Lead the Way studies can count as advanced-placement or dual credit courses, launching students well ahead of their peers as they enter college. They have an excellent chance at acceptance into top engineering schools, such as The Citadel, Clemson University, University of South Carolina and Duke University. “This program is helping us prepare our students to become leaders in innovation and productivity,” said Verburg.  “The majority of the economic growth in this country has resulted from new technology, and this growth will continue throughout the 21st century.  Our students will be at the forefront of that growth.” For information on the Project Lead the Way program, contact the District’s Career and Technology Education Department at (843) 899-8628 or visit www.pltw.org.  

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