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Engineering engages middle school students

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STEM: Science, technology, engineering and math

By Becca Owsley

Armed with a stack of books in their arms and many wearing Converse Chucks on their feet, eighth-grade students at J.T. Alton Middle School are taking a fresh approach to science and math in the Project Lead the Way Engineering Academy.

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“I love this class so much because we are able to do what we want in a unique experience because we’ve never had anything like this before,” said student Evan Borzotra.

The class is filled with hands-on experiences, learning opportunities and visits from people working in the engineering field, he said.

“We are doing pre-engineering, it’s what we want to do because we have good math and science scores,” Evan said.  

The class is a part of local funding provided by Project Lead the Way, a national provider of science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum in middle and high schools.

The class focuses on engineering skills and students are introduced to concepts such as design, modeling and measurement, teacher Nicholas Ritter said.

During Thursday’s class, students built skimmers, devices that should slide across the floor easily if their measurements were correct, he said.

The students also learn drafting and how to use a computer-aided design program, Ritter said.

He’s hoping to get into energy and environment units, which would include solar power. There’s a robotics unit option, too, but he’s not sure the class will get to that this year.

It’s the first year for J.T. Alton to be involved with Project Lead the Way and Ritter said it has been beneficial for the students. When he was in school there were no classes like this. Shop class was the only thing that came close, he said.

Now students are able to take this higher level class to learn skills they can use someday in an engineering-based career, he said adding some students are already showing interest in that career path.

For the first year of the class, teachers selected 24 students who showed interest and potential to do well in the program. It’s a lot of work and students have to be dedicated if they want to be successful , Ritter said. 

It’s a class Halee Hadfield is excited about.

“I enjoy it because I get to do hands-on things and it challenges my mind so I’m thinking in a different way than I usually do,” Halee said.

She confessed that her brain doesn’t work well with math in the mornings but this class helps.

“It not only makes math easier for me but it’s a challenge and I love a challenge,” she said.

The class will get progressively more difficult, she said, but she thinks it’s fun.

Before the class  her career goals focused on law or library science but now she’s considering something in engineering.

Miguel Luna said he’s learning a lot about metric and standard measurement conversions as well as how math, science and technology are related.

He hopes to go into the military or study architecture in his future. This class can prepare him for both.

Miguel described the class offerings as science with a creative side.

“We get to be creative and put our ideas out there to do a variety of things,” he said.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.