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Posted 6/4/2014

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By Sara Corbett
Corporate Communications

To put student’s education into action, Project Lead the Way, a non-profit organization, was created to develop hands-on, project-based STEM curricula to be used by elementary, middle and high schools as well as provide training for teachers.

When seventh grader Keishon Skinner heard about the Gateway to Technology program, Project Lead the Way’s middle school program, at his school, Sedgefield Middle School, he knew he wanted to be a part of the program.

“I have always liked my math and science classes,” says Skinner. “In Gateway to Technology I get to use not only math and science but also technology to build projects and solve problems. It’s a lot of fun!”

Admittance to the program is competitive and not just anyone is accepted.

“Students apply for the program and are handpicked,” said Rhianon Neumann, Gateway to Technology teacher. “We have to ensure that they are capable of the work level and have the skills necessary to be successful in the class.”

The most recent project the students completed was building a bridge, but not just any bridge would do.

“The bridge had to be attractive, wide enough for the Batmobile to cross over it, strong enough to hold 10 pounds, and tall enough for a barge to pass underneath of it,” said Skinner. “All of these made the bridge building project more of a challenge, but that just made it more exciting for me.”

Before the students could build the bridge, there were several “real-life” problems that needed to be solved and components that needed to be considered. The students were presented with the problem: an island was in economic depression and needed more tourists to drive business. Building a bridge to transport tourists was a feasible and economical solution. Like any “real-life” project, there was a budget; in this case it was $40,000.

Once the solution to the problem was solved, Skinner and his team started the process. The first step was the design brief; in this step they had to look at the problems and constraints of various bridges and then select the best one. The second step was the technical drawing; Skinner and his team had to draw the bridge from several view points and decide what material to use and the measurements. The final step was to build the bridge; during this step the team had to conduct six tests and recommend changes to make the bridge better or stronger.

Finally the student’s bridges were put to the test.

“This was my favorite part, because I could show off my bridge,” said Skinner. “Even though we didn’t win, I am very proud of my team and the bridge we built.”

While Skinner isn’t sure what he wants do to when he grows up, he has taken several opportunities to learn and experience as much as he can in the STEM field. Skinner took advantage of the fact that both his parents work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District and spent the day at the District.

He visited with the different divisions, but his favorite part of the day was viewing the never-released fish lift video and offering input to make the video better.

“The video was made targeting students his age,” said Joe Moran, fish biologist. “I wanted to make sure kids his age would like the video. He offered valuable suggestions to make the video even better.”

The District looks forward to seeing which STEM path Skinner chooses.