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Junior High STEM Lab in Indiana to Offer Microcredentials

A new science, technology, engineering and math lab under construction at Greensburg Junior High School will allow students to get acquainted with robotics and design tools related to manufacturing.

STEM Education
(TNS) — Greensburg Junior High School is getting a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) lab.

The new facility is under construction on the east side of the GJHS building and is scheduled for completion in time for the 2023-2024 school year.

Funded from several sources including grants and money from the state, the STEM lab will allow students at the junior high to integrate modern technology into their school work while learning about several STEM disciplines.

The school was awarded a couple hundred thousand dollars over the course of multiple years for STEM education and digital learning and funded equipment as well as professional development for teachers and staff.

GJHS also received roughly $10,000 from the IN-MaC, the state's manufacturing group that helped fund additional equipment.

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

"We've been building the project little by little, and now we've run out of room," GJS Technology Integration Specialist Nick Parcell said.

Parcell is also the STEM Coordinator for the Greensburg Community Schools Corporation as well as an e-sports coach. One of his main responsibilities is looking for and writing the grants that fund STEM learning for GJHS and GCHS.

"We are currently in the early stages of investigating getting our STEM certification," he said.

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

"As they earn their microcredentials they're learning about different ways to design," Parcell said.

Another facet of STEM is the study of robotics and how those relate to manufacturing, all in in effort to prepare students for more advanced disciplines that will help them through their high school years and beyond.

While their work in the lab does not affect their grades directly, it does acquaint them with the tools that will enrich learning in a multitude of other academic pursuits.

The finished 3,200 square foot STEM lab is being built from the ground up. Electrical supplies in the floor, hard-wiring for broadband Internet and appropriate furniture to accommodate students working in other disciplines are just the beginning of the advantages of a real STEM lab.

Educational trends in the last 30 years have seen the focus shift from an emphasis on four-year college degrees to two-year degree training as well. The new STEM lab will serve both trajectories well.

"Even though the skills look different, using a 3D printer instead of a hammer, those are still valuable tools we're providing these kids," Purcell said.

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

Spears teaches engineering classes for 6th grade through the 8th grade students. In the advanced 8th grade classes, he teaches robotics and computer assisted design, learning to build things in 3D on the computer screen.

Project Lead the Way is a teaching curriculum that's project-based. Three levels of curriculum are used for elementary, middle, and high school levels.

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

PLTW Gateway is the middle school level covering grades six through eight. It consists of 10 different modules, which can be taught in any order so schools can organize the modules into courses as best fits their own schedules.

At the high school level (grades 9 to 12), three different programs are offered, each with a four-course sequence. The three high school pathways are computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.

Within each high school pathway are four or more courses designed to be taken in a certain order: an introductory course, two or more middle-level courses that can be taken in any order, and then a capstone course for the final high school year.

PLTW can ready a student to begin training in college in many different disciplines, Engineering Essentials, Aerospace Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing to mention a very few career choices this training could begin.

"One of the neat things about this is that we (Parcell and Spears) will be able to work closer 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 stuff they'll all be able to use the new STEM lab."

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