Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

Product-oriented STEM education

It started as a piece of steel pipe,” Greenville High School student Press Alford reminisced about the origins of the GHS Iron Lion Solar Car. The Iron Lion, a three-wheeled vehicle built from the ground up by GHS students, raced on electrical power completely supplied by solar energy to 2nd place success in an eight-day cross country Solar Car Challenge this summer.

The Solar Car Challenge was established in 1993 to help motivate students in science and engineering and is part of Greenville ISD’s curriculum and program repertoire that utilizes a revolutionary instructional model coined Product Oriented Education (POE).

The POE model is designed to engage and involve students in the learning process as producers of knowledge, not merely consumers of teacher-directed lesson. The structure couples front-loading lessons with well-defined plans that transition the learning to students. The approach usually involves a problem-based learning situation with the intention of a student, or group of students, resolving a problem and producing a product. This process requires full student absorption and enacts varying degrees of research and anticipation throughout the lesson timeline.

Literally stemming from the POE concept, GISD introduced a STEM Academy at Greenville High School with specific focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM students engage in advanced level projects and are frequently seen racing life-sized cardboard boats, constructing bridges and building electric cars from lawnmower batteries. Rather than the typical “chalk and talk” pedagogy of engineering education, project-based activities are incorporated at every level of the STEM Academy curriculum.

A further extension of the STEM academy and POE platform, Greenville ISD boasts a world-champion district robotics program. Greenville High School teams participate in FIRST Robotics regional and world competitions. In addition to a world championship, the GHS Robowranglers have achieved two FIRST world championship division wins, 10 regional wins, and 16 robot design awards in the past six years.

Recently, the pre-engineering robotics model was expanded to the other GISD campuses to create a comprehensive, vertically-aligned program. GISD elementary and intermediate campuses compete on a world stage in Vex Robotics. VEX Robotics is an educational robotics platform designed to increase student engagement in the STEM areas of study. With its scalable potential and modular curriculum options, VEX creates a pipeline that benefits both educators and students.

The STEM Academy, Robotics Program and Solar Car Program brush only a few strokes of the positive POE picture seen within Greenville ISD. The model has increased student performance and earned Greenville ISD the highest “met standard” distinction on all campuses and as a district for the 2012-2013 year under the Texas Education Agency (TEA) accountability system. In addition, Greenville ISD earned six academic distinctions last year.

Press Alford’s summation of his solar car experience in essence summarizes the victory of initiating Product Oriented Education at Greenville ISD, “To me, it’s one of the most important things I’ve done.”

Kelli Tharp

Kelli Tharp is the director of community services for the Greenville Independent School District in Greenville, Texas. For more information about the high school’s solar car effort, go to