the Duneland School Corporation have been raving about Project Lead the Way
(PLTW) at public meetings and information sessions, and students in grades
K-8 have given presentations to the School Board members to demonstrate
their new knowledge gained from the program.
Project Lead the
Way, Inc., is an Indianapolis-based non-profit organization that develops
K-12 learning modules based on real-life problems in Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Math (STEM). Teachers at PLTW schools can apply any of four
modules at each grade level. There are two engineering modules, one
biomedical module, and one computer science module at each levelÑeach one
focused on activity, project, and problem-based (AFB) instruction.
pltw.org, the APB model, “scaffolds student learning through structured
activities and projects that empower students to become independent in the
classroom and help them build skill sets to apply to an open-ended design
incorporate PLTW modules into existing lesson plans and have some leeway in
how they present the material.
In March, Jackson
Elementary School and Chesterton Middle School were named distinguished PLTW
schools for having more than 75 percent of students participating and
offering at least two PLTW modules at each grade level. From more than
11,500 participating schools in the United States, Jackson was one of only
214 elementary schools to receive distinguished status, and CMS one of only
What is PLTW like
at Duneland, and what are the teachers who use PLTW modules observing among
students? The Chesterton Tribune reached out to three Duneland
teachers to find out.
What do Students
Kindergarten teacher at Jackson Elementary School, teaches two modules:
“Structure and Function: Exploring Design,” and “Pushes and Pulls.”
Fronczak said her
students learn about design by hearing the story of the three little pigs as
a jumping off point to learning how and why certain structures are stronger
than others. For the “Pushes and Pulls” module, they learn about gravity,
force, and friction.
“In both modules
students become engineers as they adopt a design-thinking mindset to solve a
problem,” Fronczak said. “For example, students have to design and build one
of the three Little Pigs’ houses out of various materials that can withstand
the Big Bad Wolf (a leaf blower with a plush wolf attached) after gaining
background knowledge about engineers, structures, and functions.”
fourth grade teacher at Jackson, said her students have worked on the
“Energy: Collisions” and “Input/Output: Human Brain” modules.
focuses heavily on the engineering design process and interactive group
activities, which encourage students to acquire knowledge through hands-on
experiences,” Vesling said. “In addition, it teaches students that there are
many ways to solve a problem and that true learning is in the process, not
simply responding with ‘one right answer.’”
Vesling said PLTW
is technology-based, and students use their school-issued iPads a lot. “This
technology component is quite appealing to today’s learner,” she said.
In the “Human
Brain” module, a team of Vesling’s students planned and created a video to
educate other students about concussions.
computer technology teacher at Chesterton Middle School, said her students
focus on computer science and coding through the middle-school level PLTW
“Students engage in
physical computing, using software to write programs and hardware to build
devices that enable their program to interact with the world around them,”
How is PLTW
“During a PLTW
module, our students are captivated the entire day from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.
with the topic at hand, whether it is math, reading, or recess. PLTW isn’t a
segregated subject; it becomes a way of thinking and interacting with
content during the two weeks our class is engaged in the module,” Fronczak
Fronczak said PLTW
gives students early exposure to team work--and failureÑwhen they have to
work together to rebuild or redesign a project that didn’t work on the first
try. It also puts students more in control. “The teacher becomes a
facilitator instead of an instructor as students have a greater role in the
direction of their learning,” she said.
Kindergarteners have advanced to using their iPads to take photos, record
slo-mo videos, make iMovies, and airdrop graphic organizers to demonstrate
their knowledge. A group of them talked about their three little pigs
structures at a School Board meeting last year.
Vesling said the
main difference between PLTW and a normal curriculum is the problem-based
activities that build on one another and require skills in several subject
areas. “There is a cross-curricular component to PLTW that doesn’t always
exist in other subject areas. To solve the problem, the students must
integrate reading, math, science, and computer science skills.”
is not an option,” Vesling added.
the same way. “What I really like about the curriculum is that it introduces
the content and gives the students the foundation to be successful, then it
moves into practice and finally into performance.”
“Each step of the
way they become more in control of the learning and outcomes,” Biancardi
Has PLTW increased
Fronczak said PLTW
has increased student engagement--and that her kindergarteners look at the
world differently after a module.
are pointing out various forces on the playground at recess. Parents are
reporting that their children are discussing gravity and engineering at the
dinner table,” she said. “They are even bringing items from home that they
designed and built after being inspired after a PLTW build. PLTW develops a
contagious love for science, and students realize that the world around them
is their classroom, not just our four walls.”
Vesling also spoke
to the creativity PLTW has fostered in her students. “As a result of PLTW my
students have started “thinking outside of the box” in other areas of the
curriculum and even apply these critical thinking skills to our classroom
“It’s empowered the
students to think like problem-solvers,” Vesling added. “Once the students
have experienced success, their confidence increases, and they are more
likely to utilize these skills in a more spontaneous manner.”
What is the most
Fronczak said the
most valuable takeaways her students get out of PLTW are creative thinking,
perseverance, resilience, confidence, cooperation, and negotiating.
“They have learned
that teamwork makes the dream work because every one of their peers has
something to offer, and everyone has the opportunity to be a leader during
PLTW,” said Fronczak.
Fronczak said the
most rewarding aspect for her is watching the evolution of her students’
future plans. “Kindergarteners are even aspiring to be engineers, computer
programmers, and scientists when they grow up instead of princesses and
Vesling said PLTW
helps her students learn to be respectful of others and open to new ideas.
“One of the most
incredible things I have witnessed while teaching the program comes from
students who may struggle with typical classroom curriculum and structure
blossoming into true learners,” Vesling added.
“Also, students are
beginning to become more comfortable with the concept that there are
multiple ways to solve problems. This will serve them well in a global world
where teamwork, problem solving, and communication skills will be vitally
important,” Vesling said.
Biancardi said she
thinks the most valuable takeaways from PLTW are the creativity, confidence,
and critical thinking it inspires in students. “The strength of a PLTW
program is that students practice skills used in problem-solving that can
then be applied in whatever learning situation they will face in their
future,” she said.
some of what students have written in reflections about their PLTW projects.
Her students have written phrases like, ““I am most proud of trying my best
and finding ways to solve problems,” and “I learned you can't just give up
in the middle of things, that you have to keep going. I think that everyone
could benefit from that. Because when things are hard, most people want to
quit, but I learned that you can't.”