New 'Project Lead the Way' Classroom Brings Hands-On Learning to Shorewood Intermediate School
Beginning this school year, the District piloted its first PLTW class at SIS and hired new teacher Dustin Slusser, with 9 years of PLTW teaching experience. The 18-week class focuses on two introduction courses, Design and Modeling (nine weeks) and Automation Robotics (nine weeks), and is mandatory for all 7th and 8th grade students.
While the curriculum stems from standards outlined by the national PLTW organization, the standards serve mainly as a guide to help structure the class, and the teacher that has plenty of flexibility when it comes to the amount of and the type of projects the students can do in the classroom.
"What I especially love about teaching PLTW is that it's all about a personalized learning approach," says Slusser. "Students in my classes will come in having so many different levels of PLTW knowledge—some will be at a Level 6 and some will come in with no knowledge of the concepts at all—and the PLTW curriculum allows me to have the ability to teach to where every students is at, so each student is constantly challenged regardless of their level of knowledge."
During the Design and Modeling unit, students begin to recognize the value of an engineering notebook to document and capture their ideas. They are introduced to and use the design process to solve problems and understand the influence that creative and innovative design has on our lives. Students use industry standard 3D modeling software to create a virtual image of their designs and produce a portfolio to showcase their creative solutions.
In the Automation Robotics class, students trace the history, development, and influence of automation and robotics as they learn about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation, and computer control systems. Students use the VEX Robotics platform to design, build, and program real-world objects such as traffic lights, toll booths, and robotic arms.
"My students are genuinely enthralled by what's going on in the classroom because it's unlike anything they've ever had experience with before," Slusser explains excitedly. "They want to do the research; they want to ask the questions...there are no books but you can tell that the kids are learning so much. They come in not being able to tell you what a mechanism is, but they leave knowing what a mechanism is and they're able to give examples to go with it."
Through the introduction courses, not only do students gain knowledge of PLTW concepts but they also learn critical life skills that can be applied to any job field such as collaboration, teamwork, communication, sketching, problem solving, and responsibility. Slusser notes that despite whether or not every student loves his class, each student will gain valuable skills from taking it that they can carry with them into the working world.
As for the future of the PLTW curriculum at SIS, Slusser's goal is to add two more courses next year and expand the program. He also hopes to incorporate more parents and community members, especially since the support is there, by bringing in guests who work in PLTW-related fields to give students a different perspective and create more awareness about the college and career possibilities available to them.
If you are interested in touring the District's PLTW classroom or you have questions related to PLTW, please contact Dustin Slusser at firstname.lastname@example.org.