University Preparatory Academy Develops Science and Tech Skills with Project Lead the Way
By Guest Blogger Jill Buensuceso, Teacher, Science Department; Academic Counselor
University Preparatory Academy (UPA), a charter school in San Jose, California, is proud to offer two new exciting programs in the field of engineering and biomedical science. Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nationally acclaimed STEM (science engineering technology math) curriculum was adopted by UPA in the
fall of 2012. The widely successful PLTW program is designed to provide its students with project based learning using modern tools and technologies utilized by today’s professionals.
As students attempt to solve current problems, their critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration skills are put to the test. A healthy air of competition is also fostered, as students will eventually compete against other teams in the region on specific challenges. Overall, students develop important 21st century skills needed in our country’s science and technological workforce and growing economy.
UPA aims to continue training its teachers to bring the complete experience of the program to its students. Future projects include the development of a customized facility to properly house and equip both programs as students currently work out of makeshift labs. UPA also seeks to build partnerships with local industry to connect students with incredible opportunities in their field of choice and in their own communities.
Though only in its first year of implementation, student work thus far has proven impressive and invaluable. UPA extends a heartfelt thanks to ACE for backing its ambitions and helping to turn this dream into a reality.
Below are a couple personal teacher accounts of the program in their classrooms:
Nada Bennett, Gateway to Technology Teacher
Gateway to Technology (GTT), UPA’s middle school level engineering class has successfully completed two major units in their PLTW curriculum: “Design and Modeling” and “Energy and the Environment.” Both units have allowed students to stretch their creativity by designing a 3D object both digitally on the computer and in physically tangible material. The students have greatly improved their team building abilities and embraced the chance to understand the “design process” from general brainstorming to actual fruition. As one student stated, “The design process is an attribute that I can use later in life.”
One example of students’ work included the investigation and research of windmills. They evaluated present models for energy output, load capacity, and efficiency features and applied their learning to produce actual models of their own blade designs. The students felt that this was “one of the best activities so far” as they gained immediate feedback through trial and error. This exercise of critiquing of their designs, analysis and recognition of their flaws, and redesign truly advanced students critical thinking and engineering skills.
Chris Weitzel, Principles of BioMedical Sciences Teacher
This year in the Principles of BioMedical Sciences class, we have seen an incredible growth of participants’ abilities to use their inquiry skills. This class provides a unique opportunity for students to apply creativity in solving and understanding biological problems. Most had not been exposed to a curriculum so student driven that while it took some adjustment for teachers and students alike, we have seen students thrive in their ability to create on their own terms.
One simple example of this is a project which included analysis and use of enzyme properties: lock and key, induced fit, and cofactor. With this information students created an analogous interpretation to represent the same idea. Some students drew a parallel with vending machines that accept only a certain type of coin and deliver a new product from that coin. Others used sports analogies with soccer nets and the ball splitting to reveal candy as the desired product. These original concepts were arrived at collaboratively in groups. Success required true understanding, patience, individual and group discipline, recognition of common goals, presentation of information, and respectful consideration of ideas from their peers. All are skills they will need to flourish in college and in the workplace.