District Leverages American Rescue Plan Funds to Close the Learning Gap

Wade Buchs is the curriculum integration specialist for the School City of Mishawaka in Mishawaka, Indiana. He led the district’s implementation of PLTW Launch in the 2020-21 school year and is a trained PLTW Launch lead teacher.  

Recognizing potential learning loss due to time away from the classroom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus at School City of Mishawaka (SCM) was to present to students a learning environment that is robust and provides numerous opportunities for purposeful engagement. American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are helping us make that possible.

One small part of this was an extension in the school day, which allowed for the addition of another "special" (i.e., gym, music, etc.) to be added to the elementary day. Beginning with the 2021-22 school year, students will now receive one hour of a STEM-based special each week, which primarily will use PLTW Launch modules as the core curriculum. The APB (activity-, project-, problem-based) instructional approach that PLTW Launch provides students is exactly the authentic and inquiry-based experience that we want for students in the classroom, regardless of content. PLTW Launch focuses on engaging the student in learning by making the students the center of the classroom, while teachers serve a facilitator role of guiding students in their learning (rather than dictating what is learned).

PLTW also provides our students a rich learning opportunity through an integrated curriculum. SCM promotes cross-curricular learning, and the PLTW Launch modules allow for easy integration, especially with our literacy model.

We also loved PLTW's focus on the process of learning, rather than the outcome. With complex topics in science, it's not always about what you produced in the end, but rather what you learned along the way to that product.

ARP Funds to Expand STEM Programming

Our ARP funds have allowed us to create the STEM specials positions, redesign rooms/spaces for those classrooms (complete with new furniture), and purchase our first few years of PLTW Launch module materials. Eventually these costs will be rolled into either referendum or traditional budgets, but for now our ARP funds are helping get everything off the ground for this initial rollout.

The creation of these positions and adoption of this curriculum was part of the larger push in our district to address potential learning loss from COVID. The entire plan was rolled out to the school board, which approved moving forward with all costs. PLTW's reputation for being a strong curricular resource and instructional model, coupled with the focus in the district to expand student access to STEM/science content, made this an easy adoption for the district. Also, having a plan that didn't rely on putting more on our classroom teachers was a huge component.

Certainly, we have to teach our science standards, so what we like about PLTW is that they created the standards crosswalk between the PLTW Launch modules and the Indiana standards across a variety of content areas, which they have done for most other states. This is a tremendous resource as we look to integrate PLTW Launch modules into our other core subjects, especially English language arts.

As we move forward, SCM hopes to achieve a model where all elementary classroom teachers deliver two PLTW Launch modules that are integrated with our English language arts/mathematics curriculum; additionally, students will receive three additional modules per year from their STEM specials teacher.

Preparing Our Teachers

Five of our six PLTW specials teachers were already trained to some degree on PLTW Launch. When we did their onboarding this summer, we not only could do the PLTW Launch training at a deeper level but were able to focus on how their position will be able to utilize the modules with their students since they'll have each group for one hour per week.

We also allowed elementary classroom teachers to opt-in to be trained to implement one PLTW Launch module into their classroom sometime during the 2021-22 school year. In total, we had 12 classroom teachers complete our first cohort of PLTW Launch Classroom Teacher Training, which means that their students will receive three to four PLTW Launch modules during the school year. We'll offer at least one more cohort next summer but may offer one during the school year depending on interest.

Teachers have reacted very well to the training. Across the board, they're excited to be doing this work with our students for the school year. The PLTW teachers are still grappling with how they might go about implementing the modules outside of a traditional classroom (all of them have been traditional classroom teachers for numerous years) but are excited about being able to focus on providing an additional STEM-based experience for our students. At the same time, our classroom teachers are beyond excited to have such a strong curriculum at their disposal.

Allowing these teachers to opt-in to the first cohort (instead of requiring it) made it very easy to get buy-in. We're hoping that the positive energy from this first cohort and our specials teachers will spark even more interest among the rest of our classroom teachers.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.