Going the Distance: PLTW Core Training to Distance Learning Enhancements

Dr. Kathryn Kennedy has over 15 years of experience in online, blended, and digital learning in PreK-12, higher education, and beyond. Her work is focused at the intersection of research, practice, and policy. She owns and operates her own consulting firm that is currently helping inform PLTW’s current and future teaching and learning experiences. 

Earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unparalleled upheaval that we continue to face. Just as with everything else, the pandemic threw a curve ball at the field of education, causing schools, districts, educators, students, and parents to make a quick pivot to remote learning. PLTW, as a curriculum and professional learning provider, had to do the same. With PLTW Core Training starting June 1, the organization had less than three months to design and develop all 29 of their PreK-12 teacher trainings for fully online implementation. If that wasn’t enough, due to COVID-19, school closures, and supply chain disruption, PLTW had to execute the design and development work based on the assumption that teachers who were engaging in the trainings would not have access to equipment, durables, and consumables. 

Needless to say, all hands were on deck for a massive overhaul to keep supporting PLTW’s network of schools, districts, educators, and students. The pre-summer work for PLTW Core Training also included preparing Master Teachers who were facilitating the trainings for the first time in a fully online format. Within eight short weeks, the planned in-person training scheduled to start June 1 was ready.

Over the summer, PLTW welcomed thousands of PreK-12 teachers, along with the Master Teachers who were trained to lead and mentor. PLTW’s Solution Center, as well as the newly integrated support specialists for technology and content, were ready and available as needed.

With over 253 PLTW Core Training cohorts, 6,131 teacher registrations, and 482 Master Teachers sessions delivered, as well as an additional 60 District Transformation Trainings with 1,263 teachers, PLTW Core Training’s summer session is now completed. Many teachers and Master Teachers shared their thoughts about the experience:  

“This training was taught in a way that I found very helpful. Initially, I was concerned about taking this training online. After day one, all those concerns went away.”
“Absolutely one of the best trainings I have been involved with during my 14 years of teaching.”
“PLTW Core Training puts you through the paces of what you are asking the students to do. That gives you a great example to show them in class and gives you a different perspective.”
“Although this training was online, I feel like I can walk into my classroom prepared for in-class learning AND prepared for distance learning as well.”
“This training has empowered me with the knowledge and tools to successfully teach my students in a real-world, hands-on way.”

The teachers trained this summer join over 80,000 PLTW-trained teachers and Master Teachers in beginning the 2020-21 academic year – a year unlike any other that has come before. So many continuity-of-learning models are being implemented with the caveat that there’s still uncertainty about where learning will happen throughout the school year based on the status of the pandemic. Despite all of this uncertainty, one element is constant – PLTW’s dedication to supporting network schools and districts and their educators, students, and caregivers no matter where learning is taking place.

In June, as PLTW Core Training kicked off, PLTW started the planning processes for embedding distance learning enhancements in teacher resources and student courses to help educators, students, and caregivers who are in school, at home, or anywhere in between. Ten weeks have passed since the start of the distance learning work on student courses and teacher resources, and the results are phenomenal.

The student courses include a welcome page for PLTW Gateway, PLTW Computer Science, PLTW Engineering, and PLTW Biomedical Science that links to new student resources dedicated to distance learning guidance. Additionally, for all programs, in-page navigation buttons within the curriculum lead directly to distance learning support, such as alternate versions of activities, projects, and problems (APBs) and additional supporting information. The teacher guides include a subway-style map of the distance learning options, guidance on course-wide software changes, equipment and supply information, strategies for collaboration, and more. For PLTW Launch, the student courses include a new chapter for distance learning support. This new chapter houses APBs that have been enhanced for distance learning. The teacher guides include a new distance learning support chapter that outlines enhancements to APBs and provides guidance to the teacher for supporting students and caregivers in distance learning, including welcome letters. Embedded supports also include links to all PLTW’s distance learning resources.

In addition to the embedded distance learning support, PLTW is providing a variety of distance learning support for the 2020-21 school year, including but not limited to the following: 

  • PLTW Educator Forums – Designed for anyone in the PLTW network to submit questions, collaborate with PLTW teachers and Master Teachers, and share stories and best practices related to distance learning and the PLTW curriculum
  • PLTW Distance Learning Webinar Series – Just-in-time, online professional learning focused on content implementation, distance learning best practices, tips, and tools; topics based on the needs of the network
  • DSE Office Hours – Meetings held as-needed by PLTW Directors of School Engagement (DSEs) for network members in a specific region to discuss pressing topics and issues around program implementation with Program Coordinators, Site Coordinators, teachers, and administrators [Available to network schools only]
  • Blog Posts – Just-in-time informative posts with support, guidance, and ideas for PLTW-related instruction
  • Guides to Online Learning – Eight guides providing information about PLTW’s distance learning support, as well as guidance on creating a supportive online and blended learning experience based on research-based best practices and focused on Program Coordinators, Site Coordinators, and administratorsteachers (grades PreK-5)teachers (grades 6-12), other educatorscaregivers (grades PreK-5), caregivers (grades 6-12), students (grades PreK-5), and students (grades 6-12).

As we finish out the summer and begin to ease into fall, we wish all educators, students, and caregivers a safe and exciting start to another year full of exploration, curiosity, and learning! We’re all in this together!

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.