As a third-grade teacher at Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Darnaby Elementary, Suzanne Martin loves watching her students discover new things. She's also grateful that her workplace was chosen as one of 44 elementary schools to pilot a K-5 program created by Project Lead The Way (PLTW).

“PLTW’s Launch, Gateway, Engineering, Computer Science and Biomedical pathways encourage problem-solving, collaboration and perseverance, using highly engaging activities, projects and problems. Exposing students to this curriculum in kindergarten allows them to build their confidence in the areas of math and science while taking on an active role in their learning.”

Promoting STEM

PLTW collaborates with college, university, industry and non-profit partners to create opportunities for students to be recognized and expand on their skills. Because students are learning problem-solving techniques at such an early age, the majority are receptive to STEM from the beginning.

“We have the pleasure of having all three pathways," explains Martin, a Launch Lead instructor who co-teaches with Kristen Robinson. "There may be a student who doesn’t enjoy 'designing' something in an engineering module, however they may enjoy programming a character in a computer science module.”

Martin feels hands-on learning is a vital part of the classroom experience. “Growing up, I always took on a receptive role as a student, listening quietly at my desk while my teachers stood at the front of the room and taught us. Our students take on a much different role as active learners [which makes them] more likely to internalize their learning.”

“Our students take on a much different role as active learners [which makes them] more likely to internalize their learning.”

Getting results

Now that they are in the fourth year of implementation, Martin says that the program has been reaping the benefits of their hard work: “Students are more willing to work together in order to find solutions to design challenges; They are more willing to try and try again, even when something doesn’t work the way they initially planned.”

“As far as district participation across the board,” she said, “during the 2013-2014 school year, 1,100 students in K-12 had access to the curriculum. In 2016-2017, we have 15,984 students."

Appreciating the journey

Reynolds believes the learning is not in the product, but in the process. “If you want this to be transformative for your students, staff and community, then embrace the opportunities for authentic problem-solving. When the teacher does not already know the answer, collaboration becomes a necessity, and not just a convenience.”

“It is a fundamental right of every child to receive a high quality public education, despite gender, ethnicity, income or ability,” Reynolds continues. “I believe more than ever that part of that fundamental right should include access to a world-class curriculum like PLTW.”