After her five and a half years at Missouri S&T were capped off with graduation, Jessica Schulze can’t wait to get back into the classroom. Make that “her” classroom.
“I came home from the first day of teaching school and thought, ‘This is awesome. I don’t feel like I am going to work,’” Schulze recalls.
Instead of doing homework and taking tests in Rolla, Schulze is now assigning homework and making tests while teaching middle school math and science at Our Lady Queen of Peace School southwest of St. Louis in House Springs, Missouri.
In the summer of 2011, Schulze journeyed west from her St. Louis home to Missouri S&T, following in the footsteps of three uncles who graduated from S&T.
Video by Maggie Duncan and Terry Barner, Missouri S&T.
Schulze became a resident assistant during her junior year, and found herself helping the many freshmen on her floor. “I enjoyed teaching them more than actually doing my own homework, she says. “I talked with my mom and said, ‘I just want to help people and be there for people.’ At that moment, I decided I wanted to be a teacher and since then I have had no regrets.”
She then became a mentor with Missouri S&T’s On-Track Academic Success Program for struggling students. Schulze was rewarded for her work during her S&T commencement. As she received her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics, she saw one of the students she had tutored lined up in her cap and gown. “It was so cool that she could walk with me during graduation.” Schulze says.
After student teaching and substitute teaching during the past few months, Schulze returned to Missouri S&T this summer as one of nearly 400 teachers from across the country descending on campus for a teacher’s version of summer school — Project Lead the Way (PLTW). The nationwide program uses Missouri S&T professors alongside experienced PLTW K-12 instructors to teach teachers a STEM-based, hand’s-on curriculum in engineering, biomedical science or computer science. Instead of lectures, the teachers leading the classes give their fellow teachers a problem to solve. The class question, “What killed the little pig?” becomes an exercise in pig dissection. “How high does the rocket fly?” is solved by learning to design, build and fly a model rocket.
More experienced teachers mentor newer teachers along the way and then head back to their prospective schools and pose the same questions to their students when the school year starts. “I’m learning from other teachers about different learning tools to use in my own classroom. I’m getting ideas from just talking to other teachers,” Schulze says.
The PLTW curriculum also packs a year’s worth of instruction into two weeks of lessons and homework in Rolla.
“This is a lot of curriculum to go through in two weeks, but it is possible,” Schulze says. “We pretty much do most of the activities and the bigger projects that our students will do. We are teachers, so we know how to complete projects in a short amount of time.”
Schulze says that high school graduates enrolling at Missouri S&T would benefit from having PLTW before they get here.
“I can see how these classes would be very beneficial for a student coming into engineering because if they have that background it’s going to make it so much easier when they go to take the classes at the university,” says Schulze, who didn’t have PLTW at her high school. “Some of the curriculum that we learn as a PLTW student was material I struggled with when I was an engineering student. If they have that prior knowledge from high school, it will make classes less challenging.”
Research by two Missouri S&T associate professors, Dr. Stuart Baur and Dr. Joe Stanley, confirms Schulze’s observations that high school graduates coming to S&T with PLTW under their belts perform better than those without PLTW. Baur and Stanley are halfway through a five-year research project that so far shows that in S&T’s basic science courses, there is a 10-to-15 percent improvement in academic performance in core freshmen and sophomore classes when an S&T student has experience with PLTW.
Video by Terry Barner, Missouri S&T.
Schulze built a scale-model bridge in her PLTW Principles of Engineering class and maintains that PLTW can be a symbolic span between different STEM disciplines.
“Other teachers and students think that the PLTW students are just building something, but in reality, the students are learning the math and engineering concepts behind the build,” Schulze says. “It’s not just making a bridge.
“When you’re doing these activities, even as an adult, you’re so engaged. And when I completed the activities I thought, ‘Oh wow, students are going to love this.’”