For the past two school years, students at STEM High School in the Lake Washington School District have been spending big chunks of time working on real-world projects such as designing sustainable homes, solar light towers and portable heart monitors.
They get help from experts in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, some of whom come to STEM High for what amount to in-school internships.
But the district isn’t limiting its STEM opportunities to just one school. This fall, it opened what it’s calling STEM Signature Programs at three other high schools. Next fall, all high schools will have at least one such program.
Students who sign up for the programs take a three-class block designed around a STEM theme and complete projects related to the theme.
Juanita High, for example, offers a STEM program in global health, with classes in English, biotechnology and anatomy/physiology. For one of their projects, students do a case study in which they diagnose a possible case of tuberculosis.
At STEM High, students can choose between signature programs in environmental engineering and sustainable design, forensics/psychology, biomedical engineering, and advanced physics/global engineering.
On Wednesday, some STEM High students showed off the results of their latest projects — the ones in which they designed sustainable houses and solar light towers. Their mentors from Integrus, an architecture firm, and Genie, a Redmond-based business that builds work lifts and platforms, were on hand to see the final results.
The students’ designs had to meet real-world requirements. The light towers, for example, had to be portable so they could easily be towed to construction sites. They had to have a minimum amount of light power and a minimum height, so they could illuminate a large enough area. Students also had to come close to a target price — $9,000 — so their designs could be competitive in the real marketplace.
Mike Town, a teacher in the environmental engineering and sustainable design signature program at STEM High, also recently served on a national committee that has just published a report on STEM education.
Lake Washington’s new programs show that project-based learning — which the district calls “problem-based” — isn’t limited to the Advanced Placement courses featured in a recent Education Lab story. Many schools around the area are incorporating projects into their instruction — including Cleveland High, Seattle’s STEM high school — and Queen Anne Elementary.