For some students, learning math and science is strictly a book-and-paper process.

For students in Derby High School teacher Chris Shetlar’s Project Lead the Way engineering classes, it’s all about practical application: taking those equations and formulas and putting them to practical uses.

That includes making three-dimensional models on the school’s CAD, or computer-aided design equipment, designing a building or even flying the school’s four-bladed drone.

“The big benefit is preparing them for college either in engineering or any hands-on field,” said Shetlar, who has been at DHS since 2008 and involved in the program since 2010. If college isn’t for them, the students could go on to a technical school, but in either case, the training will make the transition easier, he said.

PLTW is a nationwide organization that works with K-12 students. It provides what its leaders call a “comprehensive approach” to STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math education.

Say its officials: “When students understand how STEM education is relevant to their lives and future careers, they get excited. Invoking excitement is what PLTW does on a regular basis and the reason our students are successful.”

The thrust of PLTW learning is hands-on, through activities and projects.

That way they can identify problems, find solutions, and “lead their own learning,” its officials say.

For the teachers, PLTW changes the classroom into a “collaboration space where content comes to life.”

In Derby, PLTW is in the elementary schools and middle schools, too. At the high school level, it encompasses biomedical and computer science along with engineering.

Within engineering, there is aerospace engineering, civil engineering/architecture – where students learn to design buildings and homes – and computer integrated manufacturing.

In that area, students can learn CNC programming, just like area workers employed at local aerospace manufacturers do.

“They can relate to it, especially given our aerospace environment,” he said.

Shetlar, who holds a master’s degree in industrial technology education from Pittsburg State University, said the most rewarding part of the program for him is when the students are able do things on their own – and then go on to help other students learn.

“That’s really great,” he said.

Given the nature of PLTW, it can very well lead to a good-paying career job for those in it, be it engineering, welding, CAD work or CNC machining.

There are about 150 students in the segment, most of them boys, although Shetlar works to get girls enrolled, too.

“The longer we’ve done it, the easier it is to get girls involved,” he said.

Derby High School Principal Tim Hamblin said PLTW helps young people sort out their future.

Not all students who are in will decide to follow through on entering the career fields it holds, but that’s fine, as it ties into the school’s freshmen exploratory course of requiring students to ask themselves: “who am I?, what do I want? and how do I get it?”

Overall, the administration is quite pleased with PLTW and the resources it offers the students and their parents.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have that program and see it grow,” he said. “It’s been exciting to see all the subgroups in PLTW and the kids take advantage of it.”


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