Success Builders: PLTW Launch

Success Builders: Project Lead The Way Launch
Posted on 11/04/2016
Project Lead The Way

Things are changing in the way elementary students are being introduced to the world of science in the School District of Pickens County.


 "I have taught for 16 years and have never implemented such a rigorous program as PLTW," said Debra Harris, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) teacher at West End Elementary School.


PLTW stands for "Project Lead The Way," a curriculum that provides K-12 students with hands-on learning opportunities to learn real-world skills. SDPC has laid the foundation for STEM success across the district with the expansion of Project Lead the Way Launch to all elementary schools in 2016. The elementary program, Launch, and the middle school program, Gateway, prepare students for rigorous courses in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science in high school.


The transformation in learning begins with students as early as second grade. "My second graders are working on the Materials Science: Properties of Matter PLTW module," said Stacy Bullard, STEM teacher at Forest Acres Elementary. "They are learning about matter, properties, reversible and irreversible changes. Their final project is a prototype that keeps a frozen popsicle cold. They will apply what they have learned during heat conduction testing when designing and creating their own products."


"Product" is a word that comes up often in PTLW lessons, as projects encourage students to focus on how the things they create could be useful to a business or a consumer.


"These are the kinds of lessons that our business community is begging for," said Dr. Brian Richard, Coordinator of Career & Technical Education for SDPC. "It's so important for our students to see how what they learn not only connects to a test they take at school, but how it connects to the job they dream about getting when they grow up."


The Robotics and Automation module for fifth grade students is a perfect example of connecting learning to the real world. Students are required to create a toy using VEX robotics equipment, but the lesson goes far beyond design. Students also have to create a commercial presentation to sell their products to an audience of their classmates.  The final design problem gives students an opportunity to apply the robotic skills learned throughout the unit to solve a problem related to environmental disaster cleanup.


Some of the most enjoyable lessons for students also integrate into industries--such as aeronautics--that create jobs here in South Carolina. Third grade students learn about the laws of physics by creating gliders in the Science of Flight module. Even before students begin to design their gliders, they learn the basic scientific principles with hands-on activities.


"My students create a teeter-totter system with a ruler, binder, and paper clips, and they add forces to the system in order to explore the causes of motion and stability," said Jennifer Pace, a teacher at Clemson Elementary. 


At each step, students not only have to find designs that work, but they also learn how to explain in writing what makes them work. "I love that PLTW designs their modules in a way to incorporate not only science, technology, engineering, and math, but also reading, writing, and creative thinking.  PLTW allows for such rich learning opportunities in my classroom," Pace said.


"PLTW and STEM teaching is not about teaching more, it is teaching differently," Bullard said. "I love guiding students as a facilitator. Questioning students more and allowing them to become fully engaged in their learning is both exciting and rewarding as a teacher. Collaboration is key in a PLTW classroom."


With Project Lead The Way Launch in place at every SDPC elementary school, Pickens County students are ready to soar.