More than 300 people—200 of them teachers—came to campus last week for the annual Project Lead The Way (PLTW) conference to share best practices and learn about PLTW’s K-12 pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. Hosted jointly by WPI, Mass STEM Hub, and PLTW, the conference brings together teachers, school and district leaders, and industry professionals who are passionate about learning, discovery, and innovation.
WPI is the Massachusetts Affiliate University for PLTW, a nonprofit organization that provides a transformative learning experience for K-12 students and teachers at 10,000 schools across the U.S., including 141 in Massachusetts. WPI hosts training and conferences and provides ongoing support to PLTW schools across the commonwealth and other New England states.
Martha Cyr, PLTW program affiliate director for Massachusetts, was excited about the large turnout and noted that PLTW plans to continue expanding the program to reach even more teachers next year. In 2012, the first year WPI hosted the event, 140 people attended; the goal for next year is 400 from across the state.
“It went extremely well this year,” Cyr says. “We had local representatives and school districts, including Worcester and Leicester. Others came from as far as North Adams, Provincetown, and Oak Bluffs. We covered all corners of the state.”
The free conference attracts PLTW K-12 teachers, school and district leaders, counselors, corporate partners, foundation representatives, government officials concerned with STEM education, and prospective schools looking for strategies to enhance their current STEM curricular programs. Cyr, primary coordinator for the conference, says there were more than 30 breakout sessions, hands-on activities, and program-specific networking sessions for teachers. There were also professional development and best practice sharing sessions led by veteran PLTW teachers, programming for administrators, and activities for prospective schools to learn about PLTW and grant opportunities.
This year’s conference also included a 3-D printing workshop using real-world applications. Presenter Matt Weaver, a middle school teacher from Salem, described the discovery of an old shipwreck in his town and a project through which his students measured the wreck using a 3-D printer to make models for the Salem Historical Society.
The conference included remarks by PLTW senior vice president David Dimmet and WPI president Laurie Leshin, who emphasized the important role educators have to “engage students and give them the ‘super power’ to be self learners and problem solvers.”
“This year’s opening session set the tone well for the whole day,” says Cyr, “and it was nice to have David Dimmet here as representation from the national level, especially as President Leshin announced significant state grants for the program.”
“I am so excited to announce today that the Executive Office of Education and Workforce Skills Cabinet will be collaborating with Project Lead The Way to provide $750,000 in grant funding for schools that wish to adopt or expand these programs,” said Leshin, who is a member of the STEM Advisory Council. “This builds on the $750,000 provided last year and is a wonderful investment in the Project Lead The Way expansion.” In addition, the One8 Foundation, a philanthropy that supports nonprofit organizations, will contribute matching funds, bringing the total pool of funding to just over $1 million. The grants to Massachusetts schools will support instructor professional development and instructional technology.
“At the conference, it was clear that this is a community where teachers felt well-supported and had opportunities to work with their peers and not feel like they are just working alone in their schools. We will continue to plan events that help create connections with schools, higher education, and industry, to make high-quality programs for kids.” -Katherine Skrivan
Katherine Skrivan, director of Mass STEM Hub, says her group is working on growth opportunities for PLTW to provide high-quality programming for kids in Massachusetts.
“One thing we hear is that the program is sustainable, but schools need help getting it off the ground,” Skrivan says. “At the conference, it was clear that this is a community where teachers felt well-supported and had opportunities to work with their peers and not feel like they are just working alone in their schools. We will continue to plan events that help create connections with schools, higher education, and industry, to make high-quality programs for kids.”
Professional networking is important, as well, Cyr says, and sessions at the conference were geared toward facilitating conversations to discuss tips and tricks that teachers could walk away with and start using immediately when they returned to their classrooms.
The PLTW conference serves to help teachers support each other. “One of the things we are really trying to do with PLTW teachers, especially if they are the only PLTW teacher in their school, is help them feel like they are not an island,” Cyr says. “They can reach out to us and each other. The feedback we've received from them is that it was great to be able to get together like that. They had 45 minutes to network, and they said they wanted two hours. It was really valuable for them to connect, and it provided a sense of community.”
Additionally, for the first time at the conference, recognition awards were presented to schools that have done exemplary jobs of implementing PLTW.
The 100 Percent Participation Award—given to Massachusetts schools that demonstrate, through rostering, that all students in the school are participating in PLTW in-school programming each year—was presented to Collins Middle School in Salem and the Leicester Middle School.
The End of Course Exam Achievement Award—given to PLTW high schools where at least 25 students earned a high enough qualifying score on a PLTW end-of-course assessment to unlock the potential for college credit—was presented to Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Blackstone Valley Vocational Technical High School, and Dracut, Medway, and Plymouth North and South high schools.
The AP + PLTW Award, recognizing Massachusetts PLTW high schools where students earned the AP+PLTW distinction awarded to students who complete an AP + PLTW pathway, was presented to Durfee High School in Fall River and Medway High School.