Farmington Middle School is making sure students are well prepared for an ever-changing technology-based world with the addition of the Gateway Program to the school’s curriculum.
Once referred to as Gateway to Technology, the pre-engineering course embraces the major concepts of engineering and teaches students problem-solving techniques.
“It takes a little while for the kids to understand the process of how an engineer thinks and solves problems,” said Eric Johnson, the Gateway instructor at the middle school. “This is what we are focusing on. We are looking at the process of solving problems. Even if you are not planning on becoming an engineer, it’s a process you can use every day.”
Although the program is in its first year at the middle school, it is an offshoot of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) - a program thriving for several years at the high school.
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“PLTW is working to develop a pipeline from kindergarten to high school, with each class building into the next class the following year,” Johnson said. “So Gateway is simply a transition all the way through from kindergarten through the senior class.”
According to Johnson, the program is not mandatory and a student can opt out of the class; however, the majority of the students are taking Johnson’s class.
“The class is not required,” Johnson said. “But I have around 300 students at middle school taking my classes, so roughly half of the student body is being exposed to engineering.”
Johnson believes some of the appeal to his class is the hands-on approach to teaching the basic concepts - learning about the background of engineering while building projects.
When the expansion of Project Lead the Way to middle school was decided upon, district officials had to decide on how many of the five different programs to initiate.
“There are five different classes a school can offer in the Gateway Project,” Johnson said. “Our school is actually offering two, Design and Modeling class and a Robotics class, which is specific to making robotic mechanism. We also have a tech club that meets on Fridays. We are doing some different things in that club.”
Johnson, who taught the PLTW program at the high school prior to coming to middle school, says the mission of Gateway is to engage the students with the concept of engineering and try to demonstrate how to solve relevant problems in the real world.
“We try to give some experience, so when they get to high school, they can chose what path they want to go,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of paths they can take when they get there. So, even if they chose not to go into engineering, they still have the means to make an educated decision.”
According to Johnson, the school will be offering computer science in addition to the present two classes they are already offering.
“Next year, PLTW will be piloting a computer science class for middle school,” Johnson said. “They selected me to teach the class and give some feedback on it. In May, 15 teachers from across the country will be going to Detroit to roll the program out. Next year, we will be one of 15 schools in the country to offer the program.”
Although teaching middle school students engineering concepts can be challenging, Johnson doesn’t believe it is above their ability.
“We want to reach kids as early as possible,” Johnson said. “I think this program will really challenge the way they think.”
Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.