Neveln will host Launch pilot project this fall

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Neveln will host Launch pilot project this fall

Neveln Elementary School will go through renovations this summer to help pilot the Launch program to see if it’s a good fit for Austin’s elementary schools.

The Austin Public Schools Board visited I.J. Holton Intermediate School for Monday’s regular meeting to learn about Launch, the elementary curriculum for Project Lead the Way (PLTW). PLTW is a program that supplies training and curriculum for teachers to implement science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or STEM, concepts into their classrooms.



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I.J. Holton was Austin’s first STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics school — and Neveln’s Launch program will help propel students into the sciences and be prepared when they reach I.J. Holton.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our district, and it’s moving in the same direction that we want to head,” school board member Angie Goetz said. “There’s projected to be tons of job opportunities for people in the STEM areas, and it’s preparing kids for their futures.”

Launch will take off with the start of the 2015-16 school year, and Neveln renovations will start June 8 to move the library upstairs and convert the old space into a science lab called Launch Pad. Neveln Principal Dewey Schara said the school will pay for the materials and Launch curriculum with building funds, and the district will help pay for the construction costs.

Schara did not have the total cost estimate as of Monday, as things are still in the works.

Space for science

The lab will have several workspaces, along with two walls students can write on, technology for presentations, six high top tables with adjustable height and a flexible learning space.

“We decided if we were going to build a lab we needed to make a lab that was worthy of what the kids were going to do,” Schara said.

Another reason for the move was to make the Launch Pad more accessible.

“That gives us access to the computer labs, access to outside, and then ample instructional area,” Schara said. “It’s going to be really cool.”

Through Launch, Neveln first- and second-graders will go to the Launch Pad once a week for 50 minutes, and third- and fourth-graders will go three times a week for 50 minutes for the entire school year.

Neveln teacher Rachel Stange will teach in the Launch Pad, and she is also pleased to see this plan coming to fruition.

“It’s been my vision for years,” she said. “My whole masters was the science and literacy and immediately I started talking to Schara about how I want to be the science specialist.”

Organizers at Neveln have already started to purchase the additional bookcases and pieces of technology for the lab.

“Now we’ve just got to get our people trained in the Launch Training, and we’ll have access to the curriculum,” Schara said.

The library, on the other hand, will be able to add seven new bookshelves for more books with the extra space it gains by moving. Goetz called the situation a “win win,” as she was pleased with the extra space for the library and the ability to purchase more books.

Time for science

In the past, science has at times been pushed behind other classes like math or reading, often because it can take long to set up classrooms for science projects, among other reasons, according to Schara. The Launch Pad class will be devoted to science, with more technology and more hands-on projects.

“We feel like we’re going to get all the science in there done well,” Schara said. “We’ll be able to introduce the engineering and the robotics also, and we’ll move that through in phases.”

Schara said he’s excited to see where the program leads and hopes the students learn more about science.

“We want to have students that leave Neveln prepared for I.J. Holton and excited for what they’re going to do there …” Schara said. “We want them ready to go. [I.J. Holton] is an incredible facility and they do awesome things here, and we just want those kids to be excited about it and have the tools to really dig in.”

The curriculum at the middle school level — or in Austin grades fifth through eighth — includes seven classes such as design and modeling, automation and robotics, energy and the environment, flight and space and more.

Goetz was excited for the changes and hopes it will help students get prepared for the transition to I.J. Holton. She hopes the pilot project at Neveln goes well and PLTW will be implemented at more elementary schools.

“I think Neveln is going to get us off to a good start, and we’ll see how that goes,” she said. “But I’m certain they’re going to see some great success and excitement from kids.”

Science at all levels

PLTW teachers Kaylene Jensen from I.J. Holton, Thomas Fritz from Ellis Middle School and Ryan Stanley from Austin High School also presented about the different stages each school was in and how the students were responding to the program. I.J. Holton is finishing its second year with the project, and Ellis is finishing its first year. Next school year will be the first year for Project Lead the Way at Neveln, and it’s set to start at the high school in two years.

“As this cohort goes along, these classes are getting implemented along the way so that [students] have those basic courses to go into them once they get into that level,” Jensen said.

Jensen is excited to see the program expand and hopes the first year at Neveln goes well.

“I think it’s a phenomenal way to introduce our kids to a lot of things that they wouldn’t have the chance to experience without what we’re doing here with the PLTW curriculum,” she said.

Jensen said many schools use the program as an elective for students, and some have an application process for students. At I.J. Holton, all the fifth- and sixth-grade students take a quarter of the classes to introduce every student to the program.

“We just don’t have that background right now, we just don’t have that basis in the district,” Jensen said. “So adding this is really I think increasing our rigor and increasing options for our kids so that they don’t have to wait until they get to college to try some of those things.”

Jensen said the program is even helping students who don’t necessarily succeed in other classes.

“The great thing that I think is really phenomenal is our kids who aren’t usually successful maybe in a math or science class … those are the kids that are doing phenomenally with our hands-on activities that we’re doing with my curriculum,” Jensen said. “So there’s not a behavior issue in my classroom because they’re engaged, they’re doing something they really enjoy. And it’s opening up opportunities for them to experience success so that as they move on hopefully they can still find courses maybe related to that and say ‘I’m good at this.’”