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Packer Weekly: “Project Lead the Way” exposes students to necessary skills

By Arimeta Diop

Started by a New York high school teacher, “Project Lead the Way” has become a nationally recognized program since its inception 28 years ago, and has recently expanded into the leading program for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Represented in schools in every state, the program offers classes that are specially geared towards providing students with STEM skills. Principles of Engineering, taught by Brian Anderson, is one class now offered at West Fargo High School that gears toward this idea.

“I started teaching (Principles of Engineering) last year and I had a class about this same size, so it tends to be a small group,” Anderson said.

The small class size allows for students, like junior Bailey Aanenson, to work one-on-one with Anderson and feel more at ease when working with fellow classmates on assigned projects.

“It does actually work a lot better in the smaller class setting because with these major projects, you’re working hand in hand with your teacher,” Aanenson said. “Your teacher sometimes doesn’t know exactly how to fix some of the problems you’re dealing with. Then you really work more with the teacher than having the teacher teach you everything.”

The hands-on approach is common in this class setting. Projects are often assigned for two weeks at a time. Students are equipped with tools and set the kind of goals they want to achieve. The expectation is that students work out the problems put before them in an original and creative manner.

“At the beginning of the year we had to figure out how to pop a balloon using three simple machines. There are millions of combinations that you could do, but the question was who could do it more efficiently,” Aanenson said.

The class is set up this way because it is meant to emulate an undergraduate, entry level engineering program. It covers multiple fields of engineering giving students a clear idea of what working as an engineer entails.

“They want to go into the engineering field to begin with so they are finding out if this is what they want to do or maybe finding out (engineering) is not for them,” Anderson said.

Students of Sheyenne High School are experiencing a similar situation. While Principles of Engineering was added to the West Fargo curriculum, Intro to Engineering and Design became a part of Sheyenne’s class roster and is currently taught by David Gravdahl.

“This is the second year Intro to Engineering and Design has been offered here at Sheyenne,” Gravdahl said. “Currently we have three classes offered, and it sounds as though our registration numbers show we will have more students next year.”

While the Sheyenne classes are similar to West Fargo High School’s program, there is a distinct difference in the tools used for projects. While West Fargo High School students use a VEX programming system, Sheyenne students goes about the process another way.

“Autodesk Inventor is our tool for designing and developing,” Gravdahl said. “Using the Design Process as our roadmap, (students) have designed and assembled projects in Inventor and are currently building prototypes using a 3-D printer.”

Despite their differences, both classes and their instructors state that students come away from the experience with skills they will find necessary in their field of work.

“We as a district are always talking about being career ready.” Gravdahl said. “I believe that the best way to help this process along is to provide the tools necessary and let the kids use them the best way they see fit to get to the desired outcome.”

(The Packer Weekly is an ongoing column authored by journalism students at West Fargo High School with the intent of providing awareness about and insight into a variety of school-related topics and activities. For additional information, visit