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Family Times in CNY: STEM Education

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Complete article as it appears in the Family Times of CNY can be found here:  http://goo.gl/qagF6H

On a warm morning in mid-June, as the final hours of the school year were winding down at Cazenovia High School, engineering and technology instructor Chris Hurd was putting the finishing touches on his 27th year with the district. But it wasn’t the upcoming summer break that had him energized—it was the classes that he still had to teach that day.

“Things have changed so much in these fields since I started teaching,” Hurd says of his long career. “I’ve gone from doing tech projects with seventh and eighth graders, to doing physics with high schoolers. You can teach a kid anything if they want to learn it. Once they apply it, they get it.”

Using hands-on problem solving to teach science, technology, engineering and math—commonly known as STEM—has become a focus for educators at all grade levels. Methods of teaching the separate, related subjects encourage learning through trial and error, with teachers guiding students’ efforts.

Hurd was one of the first teachers in the area to participate in Project Lead the Way when Cazenovia began offering STEM courses in 1999. PLTW is a nonprofit educational organization that emphasizes student exposure to problem-solving strategies and critical thinking through computer science, engineering and biomedical science curriculums. Today, Hurd is a PLTW Engineering Master Teacher—one of just 350 nationwide—helping to develop the curriculums and teaching other teachers. He was one of five educators recognized nationally this year with PLTW’s Teacher of the Year Award.

Hurd, a father of two, says programs like PLTW can have widespread influence on the modern classroom.

“My field, technology, has always been student-driven,” he says. “But PLTW has been doing that in an expanded way since before STEM was cool. I love it because I don’t ever teach the same thing twice. These fields are evolving so quickly, and the curriculum is never the same. There are updates and changes throughout the year.”

While the integration of science, technology, engineering and math education may not be as far along as some experts would like, Hurd says opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration are growing.

“The math and science departments here at Cazenovia are outstanding,” he says. “These kids come into my class already knowing things like statistics. So I can be confident in incorporating those concepts into a project. And the problem-solving we do benefits students in other classes.”

With these skills, students can, potentially, be marketable in the workforce with fewer years of college education.

                   

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