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Empowering Students to Soar

Alicia Tennis-Shock is a fifth grade math and science teacher, PLTW Launch Lead Teacher, and a member of the STEM leadership team. She teaches at Pickens Elementary School in Pickens, South Carolina. 

After completing Launch Lead Teacher training, I was eager to introduce the modules to the other teachers at my school and teach the modules to students. In order to build excitement in the classroom and introduce students to the format of the PLTW modules, I began the first week of school by presenting the first module that would be taught.

The first activity successfully hooked my students, leaving them impatiently waiting for the next one. No longer were students listlessly sitting at desks, copying notes, and listening to lectures. Instead, students were excited to come to school and entered the classroom with energy. As students worked through the activities in the module, their confidence strengthened as well as their critical-thinking skills. Students were completing hands-on integrated STEM lessons that focused on real-world problems and sparked new interest in all students.

As the year went on, students were engaged through many other PLTW modules; however, their passion for invention and creativity never lessened. As a result, parents became interested in the program that had reignited their child’s love of learning. In order to share the experiences with families, we invited them to attend a PLTW student showcase. The fear of public speaking and presentation anxiety that occurs with most elementary students vanished and was replaced by excitement and pride in their accomplishments. The excitement was contagious, and before long, the adults in attendance were no longer skeptical but thoroughly convinced that PLTW has the power to teach even the most reluctant learner.

My greatest realization throughout the implementation process occurred while I was observing an engineering team working on the Energy: Collisions challenge. The team consisted of two on-level students, one special education student, and one gifted student. As the team worked to create a design that would keep their egg passenger safe from harm, the special education student took the lead in describing the force and energy transference that would occur and cause possible damage to their passenger, “Shell-by”. As the remaining team members sketched the design, the special education student explained what was necessary to keep Shell-by safe.

At the beginning of the school year, this student would rarely speak and refused to share ideas. Through his immersion in PLTW, this student found his voice and became an important member of the team.

When the team had completed their design, they awarded him the task of test launch operator. I had instructed students to give this honor to the one team member who contributed the most to the overall project. When I asked the team why he was chosen, one member replied, “If not for him, Shell-by would have died for sure! He was the only one who thought about needing protection above our passenger as well. If we hadn’t listened to him and added the roof, Shell-by would have flown out the top just like Mar-Shell from Team 5.” Although this student has developmental delays and educational challenges, PLTW has empowered him to be a leader.

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