Middle Schoolers Blossom Into Confident, Strong Thinkers

Krystal Poloka is an 8th grade science and STEM teacher, as well as a Science Olympiad (6-8), Science Bowl (6-12), and MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) coordinator (6-8). Krystal has a B.S. and an M.S. in biology and was named educator of the year for Tulare County in 2015-16. She teachs at El Monte Middle School in Orosi, California. 

I teach 7th and 8th graders at El Monte Middle School, which is in Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District. I have taught Design and Modeling (DM) and Automation and Robotics (AR). I will be adding Green Architecture (GA) and Medical Detectives (MD) this year.

Prior to PLTW, our students never had access to robotics or STEM curriculum. The hands-on lessons that PLTW provides have made a huge impact on the culture of my students. The ability for the students to critically think on their own, with their peers, and without me, has increased the self-confidence of my students tremendously. The skill of coming up with an answer or being able to test possibilities on their own without my help is the greatest skill that I have been able to pass on from the PLTW curriculum.

Years ago, I would have to go to the upcoming 6th graders and recruit for my STEM classes. Now the former or current students of STEM do it for me. Parents often come to me during open house and request that their child be in my PLTW classes. My students get so excited they go home and tell their parents and siblings what they did in class that day.

The particular assignment that brings the most frustration and fulfilment for my students is the Assembly Line. At that time of the school year, I am no longer teaching them how to do, create, and program. They work with their peers and other groups to create their product. It teaches them the greatest skill of having to communicate and solve problems with others and other groups.

Seeing my students blossom from students with such great trepidation and low self-esteem to being commanding and strong thinkers is all the validation I need. I have a passion for having my students recognize the world outside of their small city and the capability that they have in themselves. For new teachers who are venturing into the PLTW curriculum, I would like to encourage you to trust that your students can think for themselves. Trust that they can be frustrated for one, two, even three days. Frustration is key to letting the students break through a barrier in their brain, allowing them to start thinking for themselves. Building the students’ self-confidence is the main aspect of PLTW, in my opinion. With that, the skills that PLTW has built into their curriculum are all real-world skills. The ability to communicate with their peers and to justify their thoughts and ideas are the most important skills an individual needs when going into the work world, whether or not they go to college.

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.