High school students often complain they don’t see any connection between what they are learning now and what they will do after high school. New Signature Programs in Lake Washington School District are designed to make that connection, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). These thematic, interdisciplinary three-period instructional blocks combine rigorous academics and “real world” application of learning in areas like global health and sustainability.
These courses engage students in problem-based learning and industry-based projects. Community partnerships connect students to the “real world.” Students also earn academic credit in areas required for graduation.
Programs are operating this year at Emerson High School, Juanita High School, Redmond High School, and the STEM School. Programs will launch in 2014-15 at Eastlake High School, International Community School, and Lake Washington High School.
Emerson High School’s Signature Program focuses on hunger, nutritional health, and sustainable food. Subjects covered include Green Sustainable Design Technology (GSDT), world history, and food science. In GSDT, students focus on the sustainability concerns around the industrial food production systems that produce much of the food consumed in our country today. The world history class focuses on the basic causes and effects of hunger and students research specific countries’ food security issues. The food science class surveys the student body regarding their food choices and intake. Based on the results of the survey, the students evaluated which nutrients their classmates were most lacking. Together, they planned for and designed a school campus garden to address these nutritional needs. In addition, the students visited 21 Acres Farms in Woodinville to further explore sustainable food production.
Juanita High School’s Global Health program provides credit in English, Anatomy & Physiology, and Biotechnology. The teachers of these three subjects are working together to create opportunities for deeper learning. For example, during a unit on influenza, students will read The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry, for English. They will receive a historical perspective and learn about some of the early scientific research on the disease. They will learn about the immune system and lymphatic system in anatomy & physiology. Biotechnology will cover ELISA testing as a technique for diagnosing patient exposure to different strains of influenza. Students will learn how recombinant DNA technology and protein purification are used to protect against novel strains of the disease.
In addition, a partnership with EvergreenHealth will give students an opportunity to work closely with healthcare professionals. Students will job shadow providers across the organization and receive professional advice and insight into the health care industry. The students have already collaborated with EvergreenHealth to create an original logo for the partnership, which is featured on lab coats donated by the health system for each of the students.
Redmond High’s program is on Global Health: Policies, Problems, & Solutions. This three-course block covers English, Social Studies, and Science. The goal of this program is to address both the causes of, and propose solutions for, health issues around the globe. Units in this course will cover global nutrition, water supply, infant and maternal health, and health care in conflict and disaster zones. The class will address the causes of and propose solutions for these global health issues. Literature read in the course includes Half the Sky, by Nicholas D., Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, on maternal health issues and Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, on epidemiology. The program includes authentic scientific inquiry project-based learning: students are currently testing water quality methods for efficiency and application in different countries, for example. Students receive formal training in bioethics so they can engage in critical thinking about science and societal issues. Redmond High’s program is working closely with the University of Washington Public Health and Global Health departments, Swedish Hospital, and Fred Hutchinson’s HIV Vaccine Trials Network.
The STEM School is offering two signature programs, in Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Design (EESD), and in Forensics / Psychology. In the EESD courses, students will explore the cause, effect, and science of global climate change, along with a strong emphasis on engineering and sustainable solutions. Topics covered include LEED certification, green construction, alternative energy, water and waste management, transportation system design, public land use, ecosystem services, and urban design and community planning. Subjects covered include atmospheric sciences, U.S. History, and English Language Arts.
The Forensics / Psychology program offers multiple opportunities for students to engage in systems biology problem solving. Subjects covered include Forensic Science, AP Psychology, and English Language Arts. Students will tackle aspects of three of the Grand Challenges for Engineering. In “Reverse Engineering the Brain,” students will seek to understand how the brain works and apply that knowledge to computing and problem-solving. In “Advance Heath Informatics,” students will build databases and construct GPS / GIS crime maps to help predict crime frequency in our geographical area and inform the public about their safety. The skills learned during these activities will benefit students in other fields, such as public health and homeland security, as well. Finally, with “Engineering the Tools for Scientific Discovery,” students will grapple with new mathematical and computing methods that are incorporated in this new emerging discipline of Systems Biology. A partnership with the Washington State Patrol gives students an opportunity to learn how to apply some of what they are learning in this program.
The programs that launched this fall are organized around career clusters and pathways in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Later Signature Programs will address other career clusters.