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“Real Life Skills” at West Plains High School in Missouri

Count us among the few who did not know doctors once preferred wearing black (instead of white) as they made rounds or performed surgery.


It’s true. At one time, medical work was considered serious business (of course it is) and doctors, like priests, thought black was the way to go.


A painting by Joseph Eakins called “The Agnew Clinic” might have turned the tide toward white. That painting was made in 1889. There’s a full history of the white coat medical ceremony, particularly for students, at this link from the University of Medicine and Health Sciences.


But come with us now to West Plains High School southeast of Springfield, Missouri, and meet science teacher Nathan Fleming.


In 2016, Fleming started using the Project Lead the Way courses, which emphasize a project-based approach.


And Fleming started a ceremony that involved white coats.


Students who earn at least 88 percent or better on three PLTW courses are given a snazzy white coat with their name, the PLTW logo, the logo for the course sponsor (Ozark Health Care), the school logo, and a chevron on the sleeve for each course they complete—Medical Detectives, Principals of Biomedical Sciences, Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions, and a capstone course called Biomedical Innovations (which calls for an independent project).


On the opposite sleeve, students can add badges as they earn college credit from Missouri University of Science & Technology.



How cool are those coats? (Okay, we’ll answer that. We happen to think they are awesome.)


Fleming, in a recent podcast chat, said the Project Lead the Way courses (which include the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System) changed his whole teaching game.

Students earn a colorful chevron on the sleeve of their white

coat for each Project Lead The Way course they complete.


Bottom line? Project Lead the Way “is set to real life skills,” he says. It’s “what you think a science class should be,” says Fleming. No textbooks. Few lectures—if any—and “lots of creative work with others.”


Fleming started teaching high school science in 2000. Teaching for the first ten years at two small rural schools, Fleming learned the value of strong student relationships. He also gained experience teaching nearly every subject.

A student works on her Anatomy in Clay® Learning System model at West Plains High School



Today, West Plains High School enjoys full and even competitive rosters for all biomedical PLTW classes. And thanks to agreements with a state university, 114 students have earned college credit eligibility in the past four years.


Fleming’s classroom was chosen for the nation’s first live PLTW biomedical showcase in 2021 and Fleming was recently named one of 13 Project Lead the Way teachers in biomedical sciences for the 2022-2023 school year. Congratulations, Nathan!


As part of his professional development to teach Human Body Systems, Fleming took a two-week Anatomy in Clay® Learning System workshop that he described as “intensive.” While he had been teaching anatomy for 20 years, Fleming said he surprised at some of the details he learned, including a better understanding of the volume of the digestive system and how it fits on the midline of the body. Position, volume, and placement of organs all came into better focus.


Each year, Fleming keeps the best fully built model as a “recruitment tool” and will strip it of clay if another student’s model improves upon it. Fleming believes his students’ grasp of the material is strong and that the hands-on experience helps them “own” the information and that it becomes a “permanent piece of knowledge.”


Overall, Fleming is pleased with the hands-on approach to learning anatomy. “They have really improved my ability to spark students’ curiosity,” he said.

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