Program stresses problem-solving, teamwork


HOLLAND — Science education at Holland Elementary is getting an update.

Staff at the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation school are working to implement Project Lead the Way Launch, an elementary-level STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program focused on project-based learning and teamwork.

Project Lead the Way, or PLTW, is used in schools nationwide to provide STEM education. Locally, Southridge High School, as well as several other area high schools, use Project Lead the Way curricula for some STEM classes.

Holland Elementary kindergarten teacher Heather Schmitz looked into the elementary program and thought it would help the school reach its goals for math and science instruction and to become a STEM-certified school. The program launched this year with each grade level completing one module, or project, and earned a good reception.

“The students love it,” Schmitz said. “It’s hands-on, and that’s what we need to be bringing into our classrooms.”

Each PLTW module begins with a story and a problem. Say someone broke an arm and needs a cast, Schmitz said. The students read the story about that person breaking their arm and are challenged to design a cast to treat the broken bone. From there, the students break into groups to research different materials and choose what they want to use. Then, they design and build the cast before testing it on their own arms. If the cast doesn’t work, they review their design and try again. At the end of the project, the students explain why their cast did or didn’t work, which should be easy since they have tracked the entire process in their log books.

The PLTW projects are an example of problem-based learning, a focus in education right now. The goal of such teaching gives students a problem to solve and challenges them to use critical thinking and to apply the skills they’ve learned in their lessons to gain real-world experience in the classroom.

At the local level, the four county school corporations teamed up to win two Regional Opportunity Initiatives grants focused on fostering hands-on education that connects students to local industry. The initiative also set up Hub 19 to oversee the efforts.

“It’s a fun time right now in education with all the hands-on education,” Schmitz said.

At Holland, the staff hopes PLTW will help students enjoy STEM education and learn about career paths in STEM fields. The program is expensive, with just one semester costing about $3,000, but Schmitz has already found and applied for grants to make the program happen. In fact, Toyota awarded the school a $10,000 to launch the program.

Holland’s staff believe the program is worth the cost. Studies show that students decide as early as elementary school whether or not they like math and science, as well as whether or not they are good at the subjects. Schmitz hopes PLTW will show the kids that science and math are fun and help the students learn with the current technology and engineering.

“We realize our kids are not learning the traditional way,” Schmitz said. “They have to be engaged.”

At Holland, PLTW will fill that need.

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