Three freshmen at J.H. Rose High School gathered around a glass tank filled with rocks, dirt, several tiny wells and a small septic tank to study how toxins can spread through a water system.
"We put about five different dyes through five different wells, and we can see how the contaminated one contaminates three other ones," student Clay Stanley said.
Stanley and his module partners, David Massey and Kori Kone, were in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class at Rose, which began at the high school in August. They were working in the environmental technology module as classmates worked on other projects.
"We stay in our module for a month," Kone said. "Then we switch modules with different people to test out the careers and interests."
Other modules include alternative energy, architectural design, biotechnology, construction technology, manufacturing technology, materials science, and robotics and automation.
The STEM class comes via a company called Paxton Patterson, which develops the software programs and supplies for the class, in which students basically teach and test themselves.
Since Rose already had computers, the software and materials for the class cost $92,000, according to Beth Ann Trueblood, director of career and technology education for Pitt County Schools.
Paxton Patterson, a national company that develops and sells STEM Learning Systems to school systems, is project-based and helps students explore their interests while learning new skills.
About a dozen high schools in North Carolina use the Paxton Patterson curriculum. North Pitt will be starting the program in the fall.
"We try to create an environment for STEM education with our primary focus on advanced manufacturing," said Roger Kennedy, an educational consultant for Paxton Patterson in North Carolina.
Advanced manufacturing skills such as 3-D modeling and programming, biotechnology, and robots and automation, are required for today’s job market, he said.
"It would get kids started," he said. "What we try to do is show students manufacturing is not what their parents did."
The new type of manufacturing needs skilled workers who can design, program and maintain the expensive equipment used in advanced manufacturing, Kennedy said.
If students taking the first STEM class discover they have a special interest in a particular area like architecture or environmental technology, they can continue taking classes with that focus.
Some will be ready to enter the workforce after graduation; others may decide to pursue that career path in community college or at a four-year university.
Having skilled workers means better economic development for North Carolina, and a well-prepared workforce makes the country stronger, Kennedy said.
Rose was selected as the first high school in Pitt County to use the STEM curriculum, partly because two of its feeder schools — C.M. Eppes Middle School and E.B. Aycock Middle School — have STEM programs.
This year, the school opened the classes to those freshmen who already had taken STEM classes in middle school, according to Ashleigh Wagoner, career development coordinator at Rose.
Students Keagan McCauley and Patrick Vallandingham worked at the alternative energy module during a demonstration of the STEM program Monday.
McCauley demonstrated how cold and heat could produce energy to run a small fan using a Stirling engine and described the problems associated with using either one on a larger scale.
His favorite module was architecture, where he explored his father’s dream of becoming an architect.
"I really love it," he said. "Ever since I was younger, I really enjoyed architecture."
In each module, the students follow a computer program to work through their projects, then answer questions and take tests before moving to the next module.
They learn to work in teams on authentic industry equipment to complete and test themselves and their projects.
-Beth Velliquette, Reflector.com Contact Beth Velliquette at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 252-329-9566.