PLTW Launch: Making ALL Students Problem Solvers

Angie Boehm teaches first grade at West Union Elementary in West Union, Iowa, and is a Launch Lead Teacher. Angie is a Jolly Phonics Trainer and a Teacher Leadership Model Teacher. 

Being an educator and a parent can give a person a unique perspective of educational practices. I have seen too many schools reserve STEM activities for talented/gifted programs or extended learning opportunities. This practice is not only unfair, but also limits the critical-thinking experiences that all students need to be successful problem solvers. STEM activities need to be part of the curriculum for ALL students. This is what motivated me to become a PLTW Launch Lead Teacher and introduce this curriculum in our elementary.

PLTW Launch is a necessary part of the elementary curriculum as it offers step-by-step activities that will engage every student in your class. It may just be the key to getting reluctant students excited about their learning and confident in themselves as contributors or leaders. I feel that PLTW Launch takes technical/in-depth concepts and breaks it down to hands-on activities for students where they use critical-thinking skills to easily understand these concepts. The activities are simple yet thought-provoking. The curriculum promotes communication between partners or groups, or individual reflection.

It is enlightening to watch and listen to the students as they learn and share their thinking. Today we were testing different "beaks" to see which were best adapted to pick up certain "foods." One particular partnership piqued my curiosity. I could have looked at this partnership and thought that there was a very strong academic student (student A) paired with a student who could be considered below average academically (student B). As part of the activity, they timed each other trying to use a clothespin (beak) to pick up toothpicks (food). Student A was unable to pick up a single toothpick as he poked and poked for the entire 20 seconds. They switched roles, and student B states, "I know I will get a bunch because I see ones that are on top." I was intrigued by his strategy of finding the toothpicks that may have been leaning on the other "food," and therefore, he could actually grasp them with the blunt clothespin.

This is an excellent example as to why ALL students need to be part of STEM activities.

We all think differently. We all see problems from different perspectives, and we all have ideas to contribute. PLTW Launch allows students who may not be leaders in other areas of the classroom to step up and share their ideas. There are opportunities to share their thinking in many different ways through written or oral communication or through technology.

PLTW Launch is not only aligned with Common Core State Standards for English language arts/literacy and mathematics and Next Generation Science Standards, but also fills the need that many schools have for STEM activities in the early grades. It is an engaging, structured program that will increase critical-thinking skills for ALL students. The parents of my students are impressed with what knowledge their children are sharing as we work through the Launch modules. I am impressed with the thoroughness and organization of the program. If Launch is implemented in elementary classrooms, we will definitely have more students who are confident in their STEM thinking and know that anyone can excel in this area – not just the “smart” kids.

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.