As the school year started, district officials in Tomball ISD had no doubt that students would be excited to enroll in a new engineering program. The district implemented the first of three high school courses based on engineering curriculum provided by Project Lead The Way (PLTW) – a non-profit organization and a provider of K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora explained Project Lead The Way provides a premiere curriculum at various levels, but administrators decided to start with the secondary level. “This program was implemented with a vision to provide students in Tomball ISD with additional educational opportunities,” Salazar-Zamora said. “We have been fortunate to modify the curriculum some for what works in our school district.”
Salazar-Zamora and Director of Career & Technical Education Gary Moss worked side-by-side for a year to implement the program. Salazar-Zamora had worked with the PLTW program before joining Tomball ISD. She discussed the program with Moss and they felt it would be a great option for students.
The Tomball ISD Board of Trustees approved spending $600,000 over the next three years for three engineering courses. The PLTW engineering strand required equipment that was purchased to accompany the course curriculum, and the classrooms had to be organized according to a specific PLTW design. “The next step was to support the program with great teachers,” Moss added.
Three teachers were initially selected. Philip Franklin was hired during the summer to teach math at Tomball High School, but when he learned the PLTW program would be implemented he was interested in teaching the new engineering course. Prior to joining Tomball, he taught PLTW courses in three different grade levels and already had three years of PLTW training.
After observing Scott Reid teach math in a collaborative group environment at THS, campus administrators saw him as a good fit for the new engineering class. Reid taught math for three years and was enthusiastic about teaching the interactive hands-on engineering course.
Vanessa Coronado was hired to teach science at Tomball High School (THS) seven years ago, and in 2011 she joined Tomball Memorial High School (TMHS). Prior to working Tomball, she taught engineering in another school district and looked forward to teaching engineering once again.
All three teachers attended an intense two-week training during the summer where they worked with professional engineers to complete all of the major projects in the curriculum. They also learned about the technology used in the classes and the process for creating and maintaining engineering notebooks.
Two hundred ten students at THS and TMHS started the program with the Introduction to Engineering Design class. Students can earn Pre-AP, AP, and college credit for the engineering courses. Three dimensional designs and technical drawings are some of the skills students will learn. They will also hone their research, communication, and problem solving skills while completing individual and group projects. “This program is tailored to any student,” Coronado said. “It enhances their skills and builds confidence.”
Another added bonus is that the coursework will count as STEM endorsements, which will prepare students planning to pursue an engineering degree in college. “These kids are going to become tremendous engineers in the future and hopefully we will grow them for the corporations within our area,” Moss explained.
Once the students complete the introductory course, they will continue with the Principles of Engineering course. The third course has not been selected yet, but it will continue the engineering strand and provide additional training and skills to prepare these students for the future. “We are definitely looking at additional courses,” Salazar-Zamora said. “I think the sky is the limit. Tomball ISD students are creating the future and this is their future.”