Students excel at STEMM assessment test

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With the inauguration of the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program in 2013 and the opening of McEniry Hall in 2014, Christian Brothers High School is positioning itself to highlight its crown achievement – participation in PLTW Engineering and PLTW Biomedical Science programs – as a leader in Memphis and the state of Tennessee.

As a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, PLTW programs are in more than 6,500 elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states. PLTW schools can be found in rural, urban, and suburban districts; across all income levels; as well as in public, private, and charter schools, including more than 100 Catholic schools.

A major draw to CBHS is the opening of McEniry Hall in the fall of 2014, a modern, state-of-the-art, innovative building design to serve our STEMM students with an environment of interactive learning and problem solving, which are skills critical to success in their future. It named in honor of CBHS alumnus and nexAir chairman Robert McEniry ’59 and his wife, Paula.

These classrooms are unlike any other in the Memphis area ­– an independent facility filled with the latest design software, advanced technology, and cutting-edge equipment.

CBHS and CBU have developed a unique partnership to introduce this rigorous and innovative STEMM curricular program for high school students.

The program at CBHS began in 2013 with 84 freshmen taking PLTW Engineering or PLTW Biomedical courses. For the 2014-15 school year, 183 students took the following courses: Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), Principles of Engineering (POE), Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS), and Human Body Systems (HBS).

In early May, these 183 freshmen and sophomores took the End of Course Assessment examination for these courses. Overall, 55 of 183 students (30% of the test takers) received  a score of 7, 8, or 9, which is similar to the high scores in Advanced Placement testing. This 30% exceeds what CBHS students did last year, our inaugural year, and it is far better than the national average of 12%. These scores have the potential for students to receive college transfer credit, depending on which college/university they choose to attend.

Approximately 60 colleges and universities accept PLTW credits, depending on the college and the course, according Don Whittington, instructor of the PBS course.

And according to the CBHS counseling department, 75% of the 235 incoming freshmen for the 2015-2016 school year applied for a STEMM course . This statistic correlates with research according to PLTW that for students at the end of their senior year, 70 percent indicated that they intend to study engineering, technology, computer science, or other applied science.

“The success of our students will be measured years from now, but we are off to a great start because we have great teachers and diligent students, “ said Chris Fay, CBHS principal.

Rebecca Neves, STEMM Co-LaB director and engineering teacher for CBHS, says the STEMM Co-Lab program has brought many benefits to CBHS students, including teaching them how to solve problems and work in teams to tackle real-world challenges like those they will encounter in the workplace.

“The hands-on learning environment provides an interactive and supportive group, comprised of students and teachers, to bring engineering and science to life,” Neves said. “The program increases awareness of STEMM fields for guidance as they prepare for college.”

“The activity-based learning we will employ at CBHS will make this goal achievable and fun. I have former students now working on master’s degrees in civil engineering and working in industry, and we expect similar success stories from CBHS STEMM graduates,” Neves said.

One of the major benefits of the PLTW curriculum is bringing the real world to the classroom through its use of industry-standard design software through Autodesk. This software is used in college-level engineering courses, as well as by professional engineers.

“They learn useful skills, such as CAD, and this will help them when entering internships,” said Neves.

“The real-world experience of our teachers is a great asset to the school,” said Frank Olita, IED instructor, who came to CBHS in 2006 following a 35-year career as an engineer. “It keeps the students interested because our practical, work experience. And being PLTW-certified in all of our courses gives us a leg up against other schools.”

“They see how it is, how things work,” said Sharon Reichard, who teaches the HBS course. “The projects they tackle from Human Body Systems courses helped them in learning useful skills. And I believe the excellent results from the test bear that out.”

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