PLTW expands STEM opportunities at Pilot Knob
Project Lead the Way expands STEM opportunities at Pilot Knob
Posted on 10/08/2014

STEM at PKPilot Knob STEM Magnet School will be among the first elementary schools in the country to utilize the Project Lead the Way Launch program, introducing District 197’s youngest students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

 Project Lead the Way Launch is designed specifically for elementary-aged students and is being offered nationally for the first time this school year.

With Project Lead the Way (PLTW) programs already in place at Henry Sibley High School, Heritage E-STEM Magnet School and Friendly Hills Middle School, the addition of PLTW Launch at Pilot Knob creates a K-12 pathway with an emphasis on STEM for the District. According to Principal Tom Benson, bringing PLTW to Pilot Knob was a natural fit.

“We looked into Project Lead the Way because as a STEM magnet school, this is a perfect pathway for us” Benson said. “It even fits without our magnet theme because we have Project Lead the Way at the middle schools and high school. We’re excited the Project Lead the Way pathway begins at Pilot Knob.”

As well as connecting to the STEM theme, the PLTW Launch program also aligns with the Growth Mindset and Engineering Design Process, two pillars of instruction at Pilot Knob. 

“We push the Growth Mindset and the Engineering Design Process of creating, trying it, sharing it, changing it, if it doesn’t work we’ll try again. We’re really trying to foster perseverance,” Benson said.

According to Nick Gross, the magnet facilitator at Pilot Knob, the PLTW Launch program also encourages students to be problem solvers, learning that it is all right to make mistakes and learn from them.

“That’s what I’m most looking forward to about Project Lead the Way – giving kids the chance to try new things and learn that it is OK to make mistakes and keep trying to improve,” Gross said. “We don’t want our students to fail, fall back and just give up. We want them to fail forward and keep improving.”

In addition to the STEM curriculum taught regularly in classrooms at Pilot Knob, each week all students will now receive an hour of STEM specific instruction with Gross as a result of the PLTW implementation.

Gross, who underwent specialized training over the summer in order to bring the PLTW Launch program to Pilot Knob, said that the courses will be heavily focused on hands-on building.

Moreover, students will also get to take advantage of available instructional technology devices, such as iPads, to explore the PLTW themes in greater detail.

“What I love about the Launch program is that it’s technology based,” said Gross. “It uses iPads for each unit at every grade level that will allow students to gain a better understanding of the themes.”

One example is the collision lab in Grade 4. Students will design and build their own cars and collide them, measuring the forces exerted and the velocity of the cars using a high-speed camera app on the iPads.

“It’s not just ‘let’s crash the cars together.’ Students are performing an actual physics experiment just like a real scientist and collecting data,” said Gross. “The camera app will allow us to see if we released the cars at the same time and if not, how can we design something that will release them at the same time so they collide at the same time and in the same spot.”

Along with the physics lessons in fourth grade, the following themes will be explored in the Launch program:

  • Kindergarten: Structure and Function
  • 1st Grade: Light and Sound
  • 2nd Grade: Materials Science
  • 3rd Grade: Stability and Motion
  • 4th Grade: Energy and Collisions 

Learn more about Project Lead the Way at