Invested and Engaged Second Grade Engineers

Renee Peddie is a second grade teacher, a PLTW Master Teacher, a wife, and a mother of three. Renee is also a director of children’s ministries and facilitator of Love and Logic parenting classes. Renee’s previous titles include PTO president, social worker, and interventionist. She teaches at Mars Elementary School in Berrien Springs, Michigan. 

My PLTW Launch story began in January 2015 when I spoke to my building principal about implementing PLTW at the elementary level. We were already implementing PLTW Gateway and high school programs. She informed me that the administrative team had just discussed an elementary pilot of PLTW Launch. I was excited about the prospect, but a little uncertain of implementation.

After attending PLTW Launch Lead Teacher Training in the summer, a colleague and I trained several other staff members and prepared to pilot. The outcome was far greater than I could have hoped for.

As I prepared to teach my second grade students, one resounding question continued to arise: How on earth would I fit more into my already academically packed days? I decided that I needed to fully integrate my other curriculum into each of the PLTW modules. It made the most sense to start with module four, Grids and Games, in order to give my students a solid technology foundation. I planned to frequently use our 10 class iPads. It was amazing to me how quickly the kids picked up new technology skills. They were out-programming me within a few weeks. I should also note that I did not have any coding experience prior to teaching module four. I learned right alongside my students. They became experts in programming. Four students and I showcased elementary coding at our state technology educators' conference in the spring!

I decided to do modules one and two – Materials Science: Properties of Matter and Materials Science: Form and Function – in the spring because it aligned with my reader's and writer's workshops on informational text and life cycles.

Because of that, I did module three, The Changing Earth, during my second quarter. It could not have worked out better! My second grade team always does a gingerbread literacy unit between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was able to tie in the community and mapping portion of my PLTW Launch module into my gingerbread unit. I ended up building an entire gingerbread community on a four- by eight-foot sheet of plywood.

Every student had a job, individually chosen. We held elections for a project manager and city planner. After two weeks of planning, the kids all got to work. We had architects to plan unique buildings (including a three-story city hall, an apartment complex, commercial building, and schools), builders, sign makers, journalists (who documented our progress), assistants (who offered support to myself and others), writers (who asked for supplies from parents and our kitchen staff), etc.

Everyone was working and happy. We regularly referenced the design process. The kids constantly went between explore (our options), model, and evaluate. Students were encouraged to find answers two different ways before asking for help. It was tricky for me to change my teaching mindset to more of a facilitator role. The end result of our gingerbread unit was impeccable. At the end of our unit, we Skyped with another elementary school in St. Louis, Missouri.

After Christmas break, we worked to finish module three. Students acquired a great deal of knowledge on erosion from our activities and projects. When it was finally time to solve the erosion problem, they were incredibly innovative. We had several groups successfully save a city at the bottom of a sandy hill! Again, I used my workshop curriculum to teach mini-lessons, but used text pertinent to our modules.

For teachers who are uncertain about implementation of PLTW Launch, know that there is so much support for you and it can be done. My students made 131 percent growth on MAP testing in reading last year! I knew they made incredible growth, but was shocked by their test scores. Although I will never teach to a test, the scores were evidence that my methodology was extremely effective! Additionally, my students developed critical thinking. To me, critical thinking and a growth mindset are more valuable to our students than retaining information. I am looking forward to another incredible year as I continue to adjust my pedagogy to better meet the needs of my amazing students!

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.