By Beau Boice, Project Director, Hawaii Initiatives, USA Funds
As the calendar hits Aug. 1 in Hawaii, students from around the islands will return to school. For thousands of local students, there will be a new project-based STEM curriculum provided by Project Lead The Way awaiting them — and more than a hundred teachers newly trained in the hands-on curriculum ready to help students embrace the new opportunity.
STEM disciplines include those in science, technology, engineering and math. In the PLTW curriculum, students will focus on areas of study such as pathways in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.
PLTW, the leading provider of STEM curricula at the K-12 level, has seen a steady increase in demand throughout the state of Hawaii over the last few years. PLTW provides schools a student-focused curriculum in a number of STEM fields, giving students hands-on experience in attempting to solve real-world issues.
The program allows schools to tailor the curriculum to best fit their own schools’ and students’ needs.
Addressing workforce needs
In April 2015 USA Funds® representatives had the opportunity to see the PLTW curriculum in action and to meet with Hawaii Department of Education administrators regarding the program. We understood the demand for the curriculum and how it could help address challenges that could affect the future workforce in the state.
In January 2016 USA Funds announced a $2.2 million grant to PLTW for expansion into at least 48 high schools throughout the state of Hawaii over the next three years.
The grant to PLTW is part of a $6.8 million USA Funds initiative in Hawaii to strengthen the state’s innovation economy and workforce, and expand education and employment opportunities for state residents. USA Funds’ investment in the state of Hawaii supports a talent pipeline for the STEM workforce. A $4.6 million grant to the University of Hawaii system is funding development of STEM career pathways and an improved data system to track graduates throughout their careers.
The $2.2 million PLTW grant supports costs for implementing that curriculum, including teacher training, materials and supplies. The 12 high schools selected in the first round of PLTW grantees, announced in spring 2016, will begin 19 new programs. Represented among those grantees are four different islands — Oahu, Maui, Lanai and Hawaii — and schools ranging in size from one of the islands’ smallest (Lanai High) to one of the largest (Mililani High, in suburban Oahu).
During June and July, more than 160 teachers from across state began preparing for the new PLTW curriculum by attending weeklong training sessions. PLTW partnered with the University of Hawaii-West Oahu to host the training. UH West Oahu provided most of the training on its campus, with other sessions offered on Maui and Hawaii Island.
Many teachers were nervous — but excited to take on the new challenge of presenting not only a new curriculum, but also a new project-based teaching style. As each week’s training progressed, participants saw how engaging the curriculum is for students, and many expressed that they are eager to see how students will respond to the new opportunities.
We wish Hawaii’s teachers and students all the best as they begin a new school year, with many also teaching and learning STEM disciplines in a new way through PLTW. USA Funds’ hope is that, through a concerted effort by the University of Hawaii system, business community and the DOE, Hawaii can prepare its residents for the state’s emerging STEM workforce.