As the final warning bell rang at Lafayette High, signaling that the next class period had begun, students in Mark McAllister’s class were already hard at work.
They were working in a 3-D solid modeling program called Autodesk Inventor, which allows students to create shapes and then turn them into solid forms.
The work is exciting, hence the reason the students are eager to get started and why they stay engaged.
From concept to completion, students can make full assemblies and working drawings in McAllister’s Introduction to Engineering Design class. The class is an innovative combination of Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum alongside 3-D printing – and is one of the reasons why McAllister was recently chosen by the Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition and Monsanto Corporation as one of 10 educators to be awarded the STEM Innovator Award.
The award was developed to acknowledge and honor innovation in the classroom by the best and the brightest K-12 Missouri science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers.
With a $2,000 stipend as part of the award, McAllister plans to purchase three desktop UP! Mini 3-D Printers for classroom use. Currently, he has a large Dimension BST 3D machine that is used for demonstration purposes only. Printers that once cost $30,000 are now priced closer to $1,000 and have the potential to rewrite the rules of global manufacturing.
McAllister, who has been a teacher for 14 years and in Rockwood since 2008, sees himself not as a lecturer but as a facilitator for the 85 students he teaches.
With the 3-D-printing market estimated to hit $6.5 billion by 2019 according to (Wohlers Associates), McAllister hopes that he is facilitating an interest that will translate into real-world jobs.
“My approach is to introduce engineering concepts in the classroom and facilitate self-directed project-based learning. When they need assistance, I ask guiding questions. I find that students learn the best through guided self-discovery,” he said.
McAllister hopes that this class sparks a greater interest in the STEM fields, such as traditional engineering jobs including aerospace, chemical or electrical – or some lesser-known fields like petroleum engineering and Naval architecture.
Sophomore Steve Pennington said he definitely wants to go into an engineering field and is currently interested in computers, auto or electrical.
“It looks interesting and this class makes it fun,” he said. “Mr. McAllister explains the fundamentals and how to problem solve.”
Shruti Natarajan, a freshman at Lafayette, had already planned to one day become an aerospace engineer and said the introductory engineering class was the first step.
Freshman Uche Ijei, however, did not begin considering a career in a STEM field until taking McAllister’s class.
“At first I thought (this class) would be an easy ‘A,’” she said. But she learned differently when she began learning about different software programs, like Microsoft and Google Drive. Today, she said, “I am definitely considering an engineering career.”
McAllister said that just over 25 percent of his students are female and added that of 120 students at Lafayette who scored an impressive 31 or higher (out of 36) on their ACT college admissions examination, over 60 percent were female. With higher performing students, McAllister would like to see the perception of engineering change, particularly the mindset that it is a male-only career choice.
Starting STEM education earlier also is a priority.
Rockwood’s STEM coordinator Glenn Hancock said the district is in the beginning stages of developing a strategic plan to create more opportunities for students at the elementary and middle school levels to be exposed to and develop STEM skills. Hancock will work to provide professional development opportunities for staff to help integrate STEM across all disciplines.
“We believe STEM is for everyone and STEM can be found everywhere,” Hancock said. “As we develop our STEM program we will continue to look for opportunities to integrate STEM opportunities in all content areas.”
And teachers like Mark McAllister will lead the way.