Junior High STEM Lab in Indiana offers microcredentials

(TNS) – Greensburg Junior High School is getting a new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) laboratory.

The new facility is under construction on the east side of the GJHS building and is expected to be completed in time for the 2023-2024 school year.

Funded from a variety of sources, including grants and state funds, the STEM lab will allow junior high students to integrate modern technology into their schoolwork while learning more about multiple STEM subjects.

The school received a few hundred thousand dollars for STEM education and digital learning over a number of years, and funded equipment and professional development for teachers and staff.

GJHS also received approximately $10,000 from IN-MaC, the state’s manufacturing group, which helped fund additional equipment.

The existing STEM lab was installed through government grants in 2019, and as the project grew, they ran out of space.

“We built the project piece by piece and now space is tight,” said GJS Technology Integration Specialist Nick Parcell.

Parcell is also the STEM coordinator for Greensburg Community Schools Corporation and an esports coach. One of his primary responsibilities is finding and writing grants that fund STEM learning for GJHS and GCHS.

“We are currently in the early stages of investigation to obtain our STEM certification,” he said.

Students earn “microcredentials” by working with the 3D printers and other machines in the STEM lab, and as they learn, they rise through the ranks to “experts.”

“As they acquire their microcredentials, they learn about different design possibilities,” Parcell said.

Another facet of STEM is the study of robotics and its relationship to manufacturing to prepare students for more advanced disciplines that will help them through their high school years and beyond.

While their work in the lab doesn’t directly affect their grades, they do expose them to the tools that will enrich learning in a variety of other academic activities.

The completed 3,200 square meter STEM lab will be built from scratch. Electrical hookups in the floor, hardwiring for broadband internet, and suitable furniture for accommodating students from other majors are just the beginning of the benefits of a true STEM lab.

Educational trends over the past 30 years have caused the focus to shift from an emphasis on four-year college degrees to a two-year undergraduate degree. The new MINT laboratory will serve both ways well.

“Even though the skills look different using a 3D printer instead of a hammer, these are still valuable tools that we’re giving these kids,” Purcell said.

The completed STEM lab will be the main classroom for Project Lead The Way teacher Dennis Spears, and he, along with the administrative staff, is excited about the addition to junior high.

Spears teaches engineering classes to students in grades 6 through 8. In 8th grade, he teaches robotics and computer-aided design and learns to build things in 3D on computer screens.

Project Lead the Way is a curriculum that is project based. Three levels of curriculum are used for elementary, intermediate and high school.

PLTW Launch is the elementary level designed for preschool through fifth grade. The curriculum consists of 28 modules (four per class) that touch on a variety of science and engineering topics.

PLTW Gateway is the intermediate level covering grades six through eight. It consists of 10 different modules that can be taught in any order, allowing schools to organize the modules into courses that best fit their own schedule.

At the upper level (9th to 12th grade) three different courses, each with four courses, are offered. The three high school paths are computer science, engineering, and biomedical.

Within each high school path there are four or more courses that can be taken in a specific order: an introductory course, two or more intermediate courses that can be taken in any order, and then a final high- school year.

PLTW can prepare a student to begin college education in many different disciplines, including Engineering Essentials, Aerospace Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing, to name a few career opportunities this education could begin with.

“One of the nice things about it is that we (Parcell and Spears) can work more closely together,” Purcell said. “When his kids are working on the computers, they can use the computer lab, but when they start working on more hands-on things, they can all use the new STEM lab.”

©2022 Greensburg Daily News (Greensburg, Indiana). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.