KENDALLVILLE — With technology being a driving factor in modern-day careers, East Noble has put a focus on offering STEM education to all of its students.
On Thursday, East Noble played host to some other area educators who want to learn more about what the district is doing and how its offering those science, technology, engineering and math courses to kids.
East Noble hosted a Project Lead the Way showcase, showing off how it’s implemented some of its high school curriculum as well as lessons being folded into the elementary school level. Teachers and administrators from Northwest Allen County, Prairie Heights, Smith-Green and Concordia schools joined Project Lead the Way consultants on Thursday.
Project Lead the Way is an organization that offers a series of modules, units, or courses in K-12 education, with a focus on STEM fields.
East Noble has hosted engineering and bio-medical programs for years, but has recently also added cybersecurity as a new course at the high school and worked to expand programming to the middle and elementary school levels.
During the morning session hosted at East Noble High School, Assistant Superintendent Becca Lamon talked about how the STEM offerings have been gaining popularity among students.
“Our cyber class has really taken off and our kids are hungry for more,” Lamon said. “We just really find the curriculum meets that level of expectation for (students). The kids want to be in those classes.”
High school Principal Kathy Longerbaugh said the cybersecurity course is new this year, but East Noble also wants to add a new engineering course. Right now the school offers two classes, but an “engineering basics” could be implemented soon for freshmen.
The coursework also helps dovetail into programs offered by Impact Institute, which East Noble and other regional districts use for vocational education and career training classes for students.
The high school courses are year-long classes, while the middle school is currently using nine-week modules. The new “Launch” program at the elementary levels aims to weave STEM concepts into the younger students’ classwork.
Aside from the challenges of expanding offerings, one other aspect East Noble is tackling is how to interest more girls in the program, Longenbaugh said. In the two classes visited Thursday, boys outnumbered girls at about a 5-to-1 ratio.
Terry Aukeman of Project Lead the Way noted that implementing programs at the younger grade levels may help with that mission, as schools can interest both boys and girls before the high school level, where they have to commit to a year-long course.
The group visited an engineering design course first before stopping off in the cybersecurity lab to observe that class. Visitors got a chance to chat with the instructors as well as students about what they’re doing and how the courses are implemented.
Jeb Campbell, computer science teacher at Carroll High School, said he visited in order to get a glimpse of the cybersecurity course, which he hopes his district will add. Right now, Carroll has two Project Lead the Way classes, both computer science offerings.
Campbell has been with Carroll for three years and says those computer science classes have grown each year. The classes draw both some upperclassmen looking for an interesting elective, but also some students who clearly have technology in mind as a career.
“About half are really into it and want to push themselves,” he said. “You get the kids who are really wanting to be there.”
Kermit Hogeston, an engineering, technology and physics teacher at Churubusco High School, wants to add another engineering course to his school and had been considering a summer program for students. After talking with some East Noble staff, though, he said it sounded like maybe that’s not the best option.
Churubusco has one “little of everything” STEM offering at the middle school level and one engineering course at the high school. Unlike East Noble and Carroll, his is a small school, so that presents a challenge to offer a course that draws enough attention.
With too narrow of a focus, the class might not get enough students, so Hogeston said keeping it broader with more experiences might work better. That, and he’s the only instructor available at this point.
“It’s an army of one,” he said.
Prairie Heights Middle School Principal Andy Arndt was interested in finding some ways to incorporate more STEM learning into the curriculum. Right now, STEM is implemented into other courses via things like science labs. Sixth-graders can get some coding as an enrichment opportunity, but growing offerings is something he’s interesting in.
“What are we going to do in terms of offering students coding or computer science?” Arndt said.
One key to a successful STEM program, Lamon said, is having staff that are enthused about learning and teaching it. That applies for any subject, but since the programs are new and outside the standard core classes, teachers have to take on extra training.
At East Noble, the Project Lead the Way teachers have been “rock stars” in growing and developing their programs for students.
“Their success hinges on the passion of the teachers,” Lamon said. “You spark joy in kids as a teacher.”