National STEM Day: Project-based learning at HISD’s Energy Institute

Nov. 8 is National STEM Day, but at Energy Institute High School, every day is about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The STEM-focused magnet follows an interdisciplinary instruction model that blends science, math, and language arts into project-based learning. This year, students are learning about ancient architecture and civilizations in English and history and using that as inspiration to create their own modern “world wonders” that exemplify Houston culture.

“My group, we’re creating a baseball,” said student Madison Dedman. “In our baseball, we have eateries that kind of reflect Houston. Then, in our physics class, we’re actually creating circuits. So, on the outside of our wonder, there will be lights kind of like Paris, France, or the Eiffel Tower.”

At Energy Institute, students are able to take ideas from concept to prototype inside the campus’ state-of-the-art makerspace, equipped with modern technology such as laser cutters, vertical mills, and 3D printers.

“We’re able to create a product with access to professional tools, machines, and programs,” said student Rishap Subramanaya. “By its definition, project-based learning allows you to make mistakes. Your first solution will never be your best solution.”

Through project-based learning, students are finding those solutions by learning how to work together like they would in the workplace.

“We get to work with a lot of different people in our cohorts and develop awesome soft skills like collaboration and conflict resolution, and those skills are going to be critical in the future,” said student Wii Seaver.

The future has always been on the mind of founding principal Lori Lambropoulos. Prior to the school’s opening a decade ago, there wasn’t a high school in Houston that specialized in emerging careers in energy. One advantage to being in the energy capital of the world is access to leading industry experts who partner with the school and give students real-time feedback on their projects.

“The mission and vision of our school is to get kids excited about the careers in STEM and how they can see these new and emerging types of careers that they can fit themselves into,” said Lambropoulos. “We do a lot of field experiences here where kids get out into the world of STEM so that they can see what a day in the life of these new careers looks like before they even graduate from high school.”

Lambropoulos hopes to one day have an additional makerspace on campus for the community and other schools to use.

“They would actually be able to share experiences together, get younger kids passionate about the world of robotics and STEM and AI and all of the innovative careers that are up and coming,” said Lambropoulos.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at twice the rate (10.8%) of overall employment (5.3%) over the next decade. HISD is committed to teaching these competencies and preparing students for the workplace and world of 2035.

To learn more about Energy Institute High School, visit their website.