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Engineering at the elementary level

For the last couple of years, Farmington High School has embraced Project Lead the Way into its curriculum. The pre-engineering program can be seen daily in several of its classes – from bio-med to robotics and several classes in between.

But when this school year began, the high school was no longer the only school in the district to welcome the engineering-based curriculum into its classrooms.

Since August, students from kindergarten to the sixth grade have been involved in Launch, an elementary aspect of PLTW.

“Project Lead the Way has been around for several years and it’s slowly spreading its influence across the nation,” said Allyson Hensley, the ICC K-6 and Education Technology director for the district. “It’s mainly a high school program, but there has been an obvious need for an elementary aspect to PLTW, so that is where Launch came in.”

According to Hensley, the pre-engineering elementary program has been filtering steadily into many school districts.

“When we first went to look at the program, it was only in three districts,” Hensley said. “Today that number has tripled. It is clear if you want a heavy exposure to PLTW at the high school, you have to introduce it students at an early age.”

During the summer of 2016, Hensley traveled to Ritenour School District in St. Louis for three days of Launch training. Afterwards, Hensley – with the help from PLTW instructor Eric Johnson – led training for those who would actually run the Launch Program.

“All of the actual curriculum is online,” Hensley said. “But you cannot access it until you get the training.”

Hensley and Johnson first trained five teachers – one from the Truman Learning Center, one teacher from each of the elementary schools and one at Lincoln Intermediate. From there, according to Hensley, those five teachers trained other teachers so they may receive their qualifiers as well and enter the curriculum online.

One of the leading factors that impressed Hensley and others at the school district is the program tie to the Next Generation Science Standards, which are the national standards.

“Launch is completely tied to the Next Generation Science Standards,” Hensley said. “It is really quality stuff.”

According to Hensley the program has four modules for each grade level but at the present time, the school has only two modules.

“This is the time of the year when we start looking at budgets,” Hensley said. “We are requesting to purchase at least three of the modules.”

The other benefit about starting this program in the lower grades is the amount of time the students will be exposed to Launch.

Since the program is an elective, the students will be in Launch weekly. But since elementary teachers are required to teach to the Missouri Learning Standards – which shadow most aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards – Launch will sometimes be taught twice in one day.

“Starting this year, everyone will be exposed to the engineering design process,” Hensley said. “They will be exposed (to) what to do. These are constraints, this is the problem, and these are the things we need to solve the problem. In Launch, it is project-problem based learning.”

Hensley got a first-hand look at how the program worked last week while at Roosevelt Elementary School.

One of the characters from the students’ curriculum, Angeline, was needing to take popsicles to a soccer game but lost the lid to the cooler. The students had to figure out how to get the popsicles to the game without melting.

“They were given some material, told to draw their design with a partner and come up with the best solution,” Hensley said. “Then they had test their design.”

Hensley said both students and teachers are enjoying this program. It allows the students to use their minds and challenges the students to learn how to solve the problem.

“I think this is a good program,” Hensley said. “There is plenty of things our students can do. It’s not perfect, but with time, we will get there.”

Farmington elementary school students get ready to start a project using Launch, a engineering-based program for students as young as kindergarten.

Farmington elementary school students get ready to start a project using Launch, a engineering-based program for students as young as kindergarten.

Since August, elementary students in the Farmington School District have been participating in Launch, an elementary aspect of Project Lead the Way. The program gets students learning by using their hands and problem solving. The program starts as early as Kindergarten.

Since August, elementary students in the Farmington School District have been participating in Launch, an elementary aspect of Project Lead the Way. The program gets students learning by using their hands and problem solving. The program starts as early as Kindergarten.

Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or cvaughn@farmingtonpressonline.com

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