Reflections on the First Year of PLTW Launch

Mrs. Lisa Englert has taught science for the last eight years at Holy Cross Primary in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a first-year teacher, Mrs. Englert was selected as a fellow in the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy. She attended PLTW Launch Lead Teacher Training last summer. Mrs. Englert teaches in an all-boys private primary school. The school is made up of 115 boys in grades Pre-K through 4th grade. Mrs. Englert teaches science to all 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. The school has adopted the PLTW Launch program for Kindergarten through 4th grade.

Reflecting on my first year teaching the PLTW Launch program, I am blown away by the skills my students have acquired by working through the modules. Our goal in adopting the PLTW Launch modules was to actively engage the students in their learning and allow them to guide their experiences in the classroom. These modules have exceeded my expectations. I have witnessed firsthand my students taking risks, making mistakes, and reevaluating their product to meet the design criteria.

The modules are most effective when the students work together to achieve a common goal. I saw the students struggle while working in groups. Often they would each want to be “right” and argue over who had the best idea. It was interesting to see them eventually realize that testing multiple ideas from various group members would allow them to find the best design solution. Many also came to the conclusion that there isn’t always one “right” answer or one best solution to the problem.

I believe that the skills gained while working through the modules are necessary for future success and can be applied in many life situations. The modules allow the students to take the lead in the learning process. They can take the activities as far as they want to go in terms of doing the research and testing the products created. I know that this will benefit them in the future as they move on to higher levels of education. They will have strong foundations in asking questions and solving problems using critical-thinking skills. They will know where to look for answers and how to test many possible solutions to a problem until the best answer is found. The social skills they are gaining will also help them in every aspect of life. They are learning how to listen to others and compromise when working in a group. They also find that there isn’t always one person who can be the leader or come up with the right answer. Group members can assume different roles that allow the students to show their strengths.

One of the most important skills I see my students gain is the desire to take risks. They sometimes seem shocked when I tell them to try an idea that comes up during group discussion. They have been trained to find one right answer and that the experiment has to be perfect. I find that PLTW encourages them to test multiple designs before coming up with the best solution.

I have found that it is best to not rush through the modules. When the students show interest, I try to expand on it as much as I can. It took much longer than the suggested time to work through the activities. Giving them the time to explore and investigate was beneficial in the long run.

For example, I taught the Input/Output: Computer Systems Module to my class of fourth grade boys. The introduction to this module explains a situation where one of the students sustained a concussion. The story immediately piqued their interest, as many of them are athletes. They began sharing personal stories and experiences dealing with this type of injury. They also recalled things seen while viewing different sporting events live or on TV. I knew that they were hooked, and I wanted to find ways to completely immerse them in this topic.

I contacted the director of sports medicine at our high school campus and invited him to come speak to the class. He was thrilled to hear that the boys were so interested in concussion symptoms and treatment. He came to class and spent time discussing the definition of a concussion, symptoms experienced following a concussion, concussion diagnosis and testing, and treatment options. The introduction story mentioned baseline testing as a method used to diagnose concussions; the director of sports medicine explained baseline testing and even gave the test used at the high school to the fourth grade students. They practiced reaction times, memory tests, and balance exercises. I found this to be beneficial to the students because they would eventually create their own baseline test games using Tynker. The boys thoroughly enjoyed the guest speaker and referred back to the experience when working through the problem presented in the module. This was not a necessary part of the module; however, I found that adding this extra piece to the research phase of the design process helped immensely.

The response from my students and their parents has been positive. The boys truly love the PLTW modules. I think it is so different from their past classroom experiences that they almost feel as if they aren’t learning anything. The parents are thrilled to see the boys apply their knowledge as opposed to memorizing facts to pass a written test. They are totally on board and can see the long-term benefits of the skills gained through PLTW.

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.