Tritt Elementary School students examined seeds through a magnifying glass. Simpson Middle School seventh graders built and tested windmills. The students were engrossed in real-world lessons almost completely oblivious to the guests in suits standing along the classroom walls, (watching them.) On January 31, both schools served as examples of students engaging in hands-on learning through a science, technology, engineering and math-focused (STEM) program called Project Lead the Way (PLTW).
Representatives from the Cobb County School District, PLTW, Goizueta Foundation and another local school district toured Tritt Elementary and Simpson Middle to see students experimenting with project-focused learning.
PLTW selected the two Cobb schools to tour because they think the District’s teachers and leadership stand out and the students are engaged and excited to learn. They wanted to learn what makes Cobb successful.
“We use PLTW to supplement what we already planned on doing in the classroom,” said Tritt Science Lab teacher Joseph Guinta. “[The visitors] were observing a first grade class. We were looking at parts of seeds and how a plant produces a seed.”
As a continuation of the PLTW lesson, the Tritt students will observe their seeds sprouting into plants inside the classroom later in the year. They will then take the lesson outside to plant them in the school’s nature nook.
Guinta started using the PLTW projects two years ago to supplement his STEM lessons, which he tries to connect with what the students are learning in their primary science class.
“[The students] do science every week with their homeroom teacher. They’ll do STEM projects in there too,” Guinta explained. “They visit me in the [Science] Lab once every six school days to do something more hands-on. They keep track of everything in their journals to take back to their classroom so the classroom teacher knows exactly where we are at in the lab.”
Like Guinta, Simpson STEM and PLTW coordinator Austin Smith skips class lectures and instead opts to allow his automation and robotics students to learn curriculum through class projects like building windmills. Smith changes the PLTW lessons to fit the curriculum needs of Simpson students.
“The standard PLTW concept is to build a windmill and the students turn it with their hands,” Guinta said. “We twisted it a little to make it more challenging. They have to build the windmill, but it also has to have blades, a pinwheel or something that will catch wind.”
All Simpson sixth graders started learning from the real-world PLTW lessons last school year. This year, both sixth and seventh graders have the opportunity to experiment with STEM lessons through PLTW.
“I love that we got the opportunity to teach Project Lead the Way classes,” Smith added. “The way that they have supported it from the District Level and the opportunities we are granted for funding have helped.”
Guinta agreed that there is a reason the hands-on STEM learning has been successful.
“The resources I have been able to get from [Project Lead the Way and the District] have helped us get everything we need to get the [STEM] program going,” Guinta said.
Project Lead the Way awarded two-year grants to help fund PLTW programs at four CCSD schools: Mabry Middle, $20,000; Simpson Middle, $20,000; Tritt Elementary, $7,500; and Griffin Middle, $20,000.
Smith is grateful that he is able to teach STEM-focused lessons because they are student-driven. Even if he teaches the same content from one year to the next, he sees the students’ creativity come out as they design different ways to solve problems. Smith’s classroom is an example of the type of transformative-learning that highlights Cobb as a role model PLTW district.
“We are excited to be a part of this school district,” said Dr. Vince Bertram, President and CEO of PLTW. “[The Cobb County School District] has a great reputation across the country, and we are inspired by the leadership and great teachers here. We are proud to partner with the District.”