Launch Pad: One Year Later

Published 10:12 am Friday, October 14, 2016

By Rachel Stange

Neveln Launch Teacher

As I completed my Masters Degree in Science and Literacy, I quickly understood that science instruction is often neglected. Math and reading are the focus of our school day, leaving little time for science in the general education classroom. Traditional classrooms do not have the space and supplies necessary for hands-on science learning, so often times students only get to read about science topics. Neveln decided this needed to be changed!

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Curious! Engaged! Excited! What do these words have in common? They describe our Neveln Knights as they explore the world of science in the Launch Pad. Launch is the elementary component of the Project Lead the Way curriculum. In fall of 2015, Neveln adopted this curriculum and transformed our Media Center into a state-of-the-art science lab. This unique space offers students access to hands-on experiments and technology that inspire creativity and critical thinking.

All students, grades one through four participate in our Launch program. Students are exposed to the engineering design process that guides their exploration of computer science, engineering and bio-medical. From launching gliders to designing vehicle restraint systems, students solve real-world problems. Our engineers use iPads, VEX building kits, and an array of scientific tools that make science accessible and fun.

Project Lead the Way began in the 1990s as a high school program, and in 2014 the elementary version was rolled out. Our intermediate school already uses the PLTW Gateways curriculum, so it made sense for us to adopt Launch and prepare our students for IJ Holton. In the summer of 2015 boxes upon boxes of materials were shipped to Neveln, the media center was still under construction, and I attended training at the University of Iowa. Several weeks later, the first classes entered the Launch Pad, excited by the four LCD screens, mobile furniture, writable walls, and bins upon bins of science supplies. Quickly, students and teachers alike decided Launch was the highlight of their day.

At the beginning of the 2015 school year we took a survey to gauge the students’ interest in science and to get a feel for what they expected to learn. We were pleasantly surprised that many students already loved science. When we repeated this survey at the beginning of the 2016 school year, the results were conclusive: Neveln Knights love science! They love to read about science, write about science, complete experiments, cooperate in small groups, and use technology.

Third and Fourth grade students visit the Launch Pad three days a week for fifty minutes, while first and second grade come once each week. The classroom teacher team-teaches with me so that the active exploration can be better facilitated and learning can extend into the general classroom. I collaborate with grade level teachers each week to discuss upcoming activities and improve instruction. This allows for us to differentiate instruction and build stronger lessons.

Launch is beginning to shape how students learn in the general classroom, also. From literacy connections to the integration of math and science, Launch can extend throughout the school day. In fact, to quench our curious students’ thirst for learning, Neveln created a Maker Space where students get to use their hands and minds to solve problems and follow their own interests. Additionally, Neveln now offers Robotics after school twice a week to our fourth grade students. Twenty-five students, who will eventually compete on three separate teams, spend their afternoons building, driving, and programming robots to prepare for competition in January. To expand our science programming, Neveln will be building a school garden this fall so that students may design, grow, tend, and enjoy fresh produce beginning in the spring.

As our young learners grow, and as our world changes, we must prepare our students to succeed in a global economy. They must think creatively and critically, using technology to solve problems. Project Lead the Way has provided our school the catalyst to create a climate where learning is embraced and mistakes are encouraged. We strive to give every student the opportunity to love learning. One year later, we are seeing the tremendous impact of Launch. Neveln Knights love learning!