Why PLTW for Science?: One School’s Journey to the Answer

Manassas City Public School District (MCPSD) in Manassas, Virginia, implements PLTW Launch as their science curriculum. Susan Mayo is the district’s PLTW Instructional Coach. She is a 2018 Mary V. Bicouvaris Manassas City Teacher of the Year, a 2019-20 PLTW Outstanding Teacher, 2017 VA Teacher of the Year nominee, Manassas City Third Year Mentor Teacher of the Year (2009-10), and Manassas City Second Year Mentor Teacher of the Year (2008-09). An urban district in the DC metro area, MCPSD has a significant percentage of ELL students, as well as students who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program. 

“Using PLTW to teach science content has changed the classroom dynamic completely. I have never seen students get so excited about learning science. As soon as I introduce a PLTW module, my students continuously ask when it is time to partake in Project Lead The Way. This program has taught students how to collaborate with one another, as well as figure out ways to solve real world problems. It is my favorite subject to teach and their favorite subject to learn.”
-Grade 2 Virginia teacher
“Using PLTW to teach science allows us to extend the science content to higher levels and engage the students in deeper levels of thinking. They are more involved in the process of their learning and therefore have more ownership.”
-Grade 4
 Virginia teacher

Simon Sinek urges institutions, leaders, and individuals to find their “why.” Whether it is for an individual or a group, the “why” provides that constant driving force that provides meaning and purpose. Our “why” for utilizing PLTW as the vehicle to teach some of our science curriculum came with the convergence of two documents. In 2015, our school system, Manassas City Public Schools, developed a K-12 STEM plan that sought to increase STEM teaching techniques and literacy for all students and to increase the number of students entering into the STEM career pathway upon graduation. Additionally, this plan aimed to increase the use of project-based learning and STEM instruction within the classroom so that they became a natural method for the delivery of instruction.

Moreover, in 2016, the Virginia Board of Education created the Profile of a Virginia Graduate to meet the ever-changing needs of its students. They determined that a graduate must achieve and apply appropriate academic and technical knowledge, demonstrate productive workplace skills, qualities, and behaviors, build connections and value interactions with others as responsible and responsive citizens, and align knowledge, skills, and personal interests with career opportunities. (Virginia Department of Education, n.d.) 

With the innovative instruction at the core of those two directives, our elementary school, Baldwin Elementary School, began a thorough and exhaustive investigation into the use of and benefits of using PLTW as a method to marry project-based learning, STEM instruction, and the interdisciplinary skills needed for our students. After visiting several schools, attending a PLTW state conference, and speaking to many educators who were teaching PLTW, our school was convinced that PLTW was the program that we wanted to use to take our science and STEM instruction to the next level for all of our students. Besides having the features that we were looking for, PLTW also has an extensive set of resources as part of their program, from the materials kits to teacher and student courses online to an array of teacher assistance tools. These tools include extensive training, a help line called the Solution Center, accessibility documents, assessments, and instructional videos. Additionally, each of the modules was grounded in the use of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), as well as Computer Science Teachers Association K-12 Computer Science Standards and Common Core English and math standards. 

Because Virginia does not use NGSS, instead using its own Standards of Learning to guide instruction with content in the commonwealth, we were presented with both a challenge and an opportunity for our school. We had the opportunity to see how NGSS were presented and utilized to anchor the PLTW modules and to learn more about NGSS because they are related to our own state standards. Since our intent has been to use the modules to teach several of our science units within our curriculum, the challenge came in ensuring PLTW modules covered all the Virginia science standards when preparing for instruction. However, upon further examination of NGSS and Virginia Standards, adjustment was easily accomplished by adding some pertinent information or with an added lesson to the science unit.

Now that PLTW provides full coverage of NGSS, any adjustments will be even easier.

We were also able to dig deeper to see how the modules met the Standards of Learning in English language arts, math, technology, and even history. Teachers were pleased with the integration of content in a meaningful, comprehensive way that allowed students to make connections and build skills. 

Our school is a Title 1 school whose population consists of over fifty percent of the students being English Language Learners. PLTW has been a game changer with respect to teaching science in our school, for ALL students. The level of engagement by students and teachers has been unprecedented. All our students, including that significant ELL population, were able to feel success with the features that PLTW provides, such as hands-on learning, engaging visuals, and, more recently, the Spanish versions of the modules.

PLTW has provided our students with an innovative, engaging, and challenging learning program that presents opportunities and access for all students. They consistently engage in critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving. Because of the way that PLTW has been implemented at our school, students who may not have previously been interested in STEM careers are excited about science in new ways. Because of PLTW, the future leaders of the STEM field may be sitting in a Manassas classroom today.

That’s a pretty good “why.”

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

We would like to thank Arconic Foundation, Chevron, PPG Foundation, and SunPower for their generous support that made the important PLTW Launch updates possible.