RHS steps into engineering learning with water study
By Cristina Kumka
STAFF WRITER | November 13,2012
Some of the city’s engineering leaders got a visit from interested students last week, as Rutland High School embarked on a new science, technology, engineering and math initiative.
The school’s first of many STEM projects involves studying the city’s water filtration system and the effect Tropical Storm Irene had on it.
The project incorporates complex engineering terms, ideas and problem solving, all of which will be presented after Thanksgiving by about 50 students on websites they’ve created.
STEM is a 21st-century learning initiative that is supported by both the state and federal education departments to better prepare student’s for the work force.
RHS science teacher Erica Wallstrom and information technology teacher Laurie Wilson took the knowledge they gained from a two-week intensive summer training at Vermont’s Norwich University to develop the program.
“The students are really engaged so its worth it,” Wallstrom said.
The teachers then partnered with science teacher Mike Stannard to attract more students. As part of the research component the students — in groups of eight — interviewed Evan Pilochowski, the city’s engineer, and two Rutland engineering firms to ask how the city’s water system works.
The classes meet every other day to discuss their data collection and by the end of this year, the groups hope to create presentations online, like a prototype design for a water impoundment pond, which is a vehicle for storing millions of gallons of water.
“They become their own micro-engineering team,” Wallstrom said of the students.
And while the most pressing issue on Election Day with the city’s water system was whether more cleansing chemicals should be added to meet federal water regulations, Wallstrom said it’s only a side conversation for students.
Wallstrom said the students are more interested with earth science and how water affected the treatment plant.
Why is this water project so important?
Some education experts say the American work force is falling behind intellectually and competitively in those technical fields and there’s a perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs.
According to a January U.S. Department of Commerce study entitled, “The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the U.S.,” the U.S. education system has declined, contributing to the further decline of the American economy and work force.
According to the report, “advances in education in the 20th century helped propel the economic rise of the United States as it became the richest nation on the planet. However, by many measures, the U.S. education system has slipped.”
The report continues, “ongoing and new Administration initiatives are addressing these challenges by ... spurring classroom innovation at all levels, expanding the size and quality of the STEM teacher ranks, and encouraging and facilitating students’ and workers’ continued STEM education.”
There’s even a national STEM Education Coalition with a website. The website has a mission statement: “To work aggressively to raise awareness in Congress, the Administration, and other organizations about the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain the economic and technological leader of the global marketplace of the 21st century.”