Washougal Middle School students enter gateway to possibilities

Jemtegaard Middle School students build towers of spaghetti noodles in Katie Beaty’s Design and Modeling class.

Washougal, WA – Towers of raw spaghetti noodles rise from the desks in Katie Beaty’s Design and Modeling class at Jemtegaard Middle School.  Students huddled in conversation, working together, trying and failing, trying and succeeding. The assignment: bring their individual ideas to the group, then work as a team using the design process to create the tallest structure with only noodles, mini marshmallows, tape and their imagination.  The student team projects differed in both design and level of success, with what seemed to be the tallest structure quickly giving into gravity and weak construction techniques.  The most successful one having the widest base and most points of contact. Lesson learned.

In Greg Lewis’s D&M class at Canyon Creek Middle School, students learn about the challenges a child faces when born with a debilitating disease like Cerebral Palsy and are tasked with designing and creating a foot orthosis for that child, helping them to use their whole foot, not just their toes to walk. Students use their Engineering Notebook to draw their designs, discuss them with their team and decide which they think will get the job done. They build it using duct tape, glue, Popsicle sticks and cardboard. Once built, they will have to test and present their creation to the class.

Design and Modeling is the first class offered in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Gateway curriculum recently adopted by Washougal School District. It is a part of the district’s work to bring more Career and Technical Education (CTE) learning to middle school students.  “PLTW allows our students to begin building skills and knowledge to continue their education into high school and beyond,” said Margaret Rice, WSD CTE Director.

Teachers Beaty and Lewis received concentrated training over the summer, connecting with master teachers and other educators, to learn how to lead this new curriculum. “PLTW’s curriculum is researched based, vetted with more than 20 years of educational classroom practice,” said Rice. “We know it works.”

A second, follow up class the two received training for, Automation and Robotics, will replace the previous Robotics class.  “Students will continue to use the design process as they design, build and program their robots to complete tasks and solve problems,” Rice explained.   “Our CTE courses no longer stand alone; they connect to other classes that build on learning and lead to careers.”

Canyon Creek Middle School teacher Greg Lewis works with students in his Designing & Modeling class.

These exploratory classes provide students experience and exposure to areas of study and interests to help them determine their career pathway, beginning their high school and beyond planning in middle school.  “As students engage in PLTW Gateway classes which are all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) based, they begin to connect possible careers with things they like to do,” said Rice. “Isn’t that what we all strive for? To love what we do? Helping our students find their passions is what it’s all about. Our hope is to provide students with as many opportunities to gain knowledge, experience and training, preparing them for the workplace while still in high school and making their educational experience relevant and invaluable.”

“I think students in this class are most surprised that they are being asked to constantly work in groups,” said Beaty.  “They have to come out of their shell a little bit and collaborate on their ideas.  Working in teams helps develop communication skills.”

Lewis and Beaty hope these courses will help their students learn how to work in a team setting, problem solve and persevere.  “There are a lot of career pathways these courses can open up, but students who can communicate and persevere through challenges will be successful in any career field they choose,” Beaty said.

Rice says these classes offer hands on, project-based learning that lead directly into classes and career pathways at Washougal High School, such as Metals and Woods Manufacturing and Production Programs which include the use of technology such as CAD and CNC Machining.  “Once they learn and practice ideas like the design process they can apply it to other problems and other classes,” she said.