PLTW Launch

Project Lead the Way expands to elementary schools with grant ​
Posted on 08/22/2022
An initial group of elementary teachers practice classroom activities during their two-day Project Lead the Way Launch certification in June.

Poplar Bluff R-I has been awarded over $55,000 to help expand Project Lead the Way’s premier science, technology, engineering and math curriculum to its elementary schools.

The matching grant, financed by the national STEM provider in partnership with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has been used toward certifying 60 teachers, grades 1-3, this summer.

“What I enjoy, from a teacher viewpoint, is how PLTW focuses on critical thinking and problem solving by using projects and activities that are student-led,” said Oak Grove faculty member Christine Walker, noting that students learn through open-ended questions while collaborating with others. "It was nice to see teachers in a facilitating role that scaffolds student direction while also accepting each student's creative designs or approach."

PLTW Launch is Poplar Bluff Schools’ latest adoption of the problem/project-based learning approach, which developed its grades preK-5 curriculum eight years ago, according to PLTW Senior Director of School Success Ashley Benne. Last year, Junior High received a $25,000 grant to adopt the Gateway module, adding electives in computer science for innovators and makers, design and modeling, and medical detectives.

The Technical Career Center was the first R-I school to embrace the training by adding computer science for Poplar Bluff and its sending schools during the 2019/20 academic year with start-up funds available through the federal Perkins Act and matching enhancement grants. To kick off Launch, ESSER money is being utilized for the purchase of the first two modules out of 43 to choose from, according to Patty Robertson, R-I assistant superintendent of curriculum.

“Our students come to school with a natural curiosity about the world around them and want to understand why things work the way they do,” said Robertson, noting that if not careful educators spend a lot of time ‘telling and showing’ rather than creating opportunities for students to ‘do and experience.’ “Learning has much more lasting power when information is coupled with a hands-on experience and appropriate questioning.”

Rooted in research-based best practices, the nonprofit was founded about 25 years ago as a secondary-level engineering program designed to improve attrition rates for engineering majors in college because of the significant workforce demand, and soon expanded to include biomedical science, according to Benne. The Gateway pathway was added next to provide earlier support for students, and ultimately came Launch.

“Research shows [students] decide by third grade if they like math or science,” said Benne at a breakout session in January during the district’s annual internal workshop, PB Connect. She added that there are over 300 Launch programs in Missouri and thousands across the country.

Robertson recalled how she initially learned about PLTW when she served as principal at the former 5th & 6th Grade Center almost 15 years ago, but financial assistance was not available at the time. "I knew that teachers would benefit greatly from using this inquiry model of questioning and knew that my students would love the project or problem-based curriculum," she explained.

Aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards, Launch will be utilized in place of science curriculum beginning this school year with a plan to expand to the Kindergarten Center in 2023/24, continued Robertson. The goal is to eventually include Middle School, where a dedicated STEM elective has already been in place since 2016.

The vision at Lake Road that Principal Rondi Vaughn has carried forward from her predecessor Erica Weadon has been to incorporate STEM into daily lesson plans. “PLTW will benefit our students by opening doors to learning in coding, engineering, medical science, and more,” Vaughn said.

Walker was part of a Poplar Bluff group that visited the Affton School District in the spring to witness the program in action, and recalled that her biggest takeaway was how engaged every student was across several elementary classrooms. She said the professional development is “intense” but the “rigor” is there and she feels the district is “moving in the right direction” with “transferrable skills our students need.”


Cutline: An initial group of elementary teachers practice classroom activities during their two-day Project Lead the Way Launch certification in June.

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