It's an average day at East Ridge High School. Students go to classes, teachers lecture. But in Nancy Berg's biomedical sciences class, it's a whole different ballgame.

Inside Berg's classroom, students are in the process of creating HeLa cells, a cancerous cell strand that has been used in every aspect of scientific research for the past 50 years.

Berg's biomedical sciences class is just one example of the big Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum push that is taking place nationally.

District 833 held its second annual "STEM Career Day" on Feb. 8 at Five Oaks Community Church.

The career day saw students hearing from STEM professionals and exploring potential STEM career and education options.

"STEM is the big push in the country right now because corporations don't feel that students are being prepared for their job market," Berg said. "Instead of waiting until they get to college to start getting interested in STEM, they want it to start earlier.

"They want to start getting kids interested and start getting people channeled in that direction at an early age, so these corporations have people that are ready to fill those niches."

Leading the way

Within District 833, the STEM curriculum push can be see through its Gateway to Technology program in the middle schools and the Project Lead the Way programs at Woodbury and East Ridge high schools.

The Gateway to Technology Program is a six-week program, which has students explore the areas of technology, design and models, automation and robotics, energy and the environment, flight and space and electrons.

At the high schools, the Project Lead the Way curriculum is split up into two different programs -- engineering and biomedical sciences.

"Engineering came about because it wanted to try and get kids interested in engineering young so they could train them and get into the field because there was a huge shortage of engineers," Berg said. "Biomedical sciences came about because health care projects that 25 percent of all new jobs in the next 15 years will be in biomedical sciences."

The engineering course, which started in 1998, has students using 3D design software; exploring aerodynamics, astronautics and space life sciences; applying biological and engineering concepts related to biomechanics; and designing, testing and constructing actual circuits and devices.

At East Ridge High School, more than 100 students are in the class.

The curriculum, which is a four year program, is divided into eight classes which include: introduction to engineering design, principles of engineering, digital electronics, aerospace engineering, biotechnical engineering, civil engineering and architecture, computer integrated manufacturing and engineering design and development.

The newest Project Lead the Way program biomedical sciences was developed about three years ago.

East Ridge High School was the first school in the country to implement the program and Berg was the first teacher to teach the program. East Ridge currently has 131 students in the program.

The biomedical sciences program has students exploring concepts of human medicine, introducing them to bioinformatics; examining the processes, structures and interactions of the human body; studying prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases; and investigating innovative and designing innovative solutions.

The four-year curriculum is broken into four classes: principles of biomedical sciences, human body system, medical interventions and biomedical innovation.

Teacher as facilitator

The Project Lead the Way programs are different from other science classes in that they are a college-level class and are inquiry based, Berg said.

"The learning goes from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered inquiry and problem-solving," she said. "The kids have to be very intrinsically motivated because the teacher is a facilitator basically.

"It's a paradigm shift in teaching methods."

Both the engineering and the biomedical sciences programs has teachers giving their students a problem or inquiry, and it is up to the students to find the answer through research and hands-on experiments.

"Students don't want to sit and listen to a teacher talk -- that's not how you learn," Berg said. "(Project Lead the Way) is absolutely the way science should be taught."

Senior Brianna Schuler, of Woodbury, said she chose to take the biomedical sciences course because she thought it was looked interesting and she wants to have a future in medicine.

"I really enjoy how you get an in-depth look at everything and you get to see sides of the experiment that you don't usually get," she said. "You get things you don't with other science classes.

"The class is definitely challenging because it's a bunch of concepts I haven't really looked at before."

'A monster run wild'

Sophomore Lauren Buchal, of Cottage Grove, said the biomedical sciences course gives her a taste of what a career as a doctor might be like.

"Since I was little I kind of wanted to be a doctor, so I wanted to know if I actually liked it and it was something that I wanted to do when I was older," she said. "The course prepares you for if you want to be a doctor and what it's like to be a doctor."

Berg said she foresees the emphasis on STEM curriculum continuing to grow.

"I think it's a monster that's run wild," she said.