New grants allow expansion of science curriculum at elementary schools

Thanks to grants from Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and the K12 Strong Workforce Program, Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) students from transitional kindergarten through sixth grade will experience integrated learning that blends computer science, engineering, biomedical science and more. By implementing the PLTW curriculum at the elementary level, students at all grade levels will have the opportunity to experience Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Students in a kindergarten classroom learn about the application of force. What may seem like a complicated concept is discussed in terms the young learners can relate to: What would you use to push Sam on a swing? What happens when you do that? What if Sam were in a wagon? How would you move the wagon?

Meanwhile, third graders apply what they know about force to safely rescue a theoretical tiger from being trapped. Wheels and axles, levers and inclined planes are among the tools placed on the table for them to use as they build and test practical models.

Courtesy of NMUSD

Students work with robotic equipment

Sixth grade students face a similar conceptual assignment, removing hazardous materials from a disaster site, but their toolkit includes robotics equipment. Students draw plans, build scaled-down robots and use remote controls to manipulate blocks representing dangerous waste.

This progression from identifying an engineering concept to applying engineering in problem-solving situations, all through hands-on experiences, will be introduced in all NMUSD elementary schools.

“Though we’ve already started integrating Project Lead the Way in a limited capacity, these grants allow us to quickly expand the high-quality program to all 22 elementary school science labs for the 2024-25 school year. We couldn’t be more excited about what this means for our students,” said Lori Hernandez, director of teaching and learning for elementary.

Starting in the fall of the 2024-25 school year, students in transitional kindergarten through third grade will participate in interactive lessons one hour every other week in their school’s dedicated science lab. Students in grades 4 through 6 will receive instruction for one hour each week, led by NMUSD’s credentialed elementary science teachers.

NGSS calls for updated, research-based, hands-on learning experiences that stimulate students’ interest in science to prepare them for college and careers in the industry. With a high-quality science education, students develop key skills – communication, collaboration, inquiry, problem-solving and flexibility – that will serve them throughout their lives. PLTW’s curriculum supports these standards in all grades.

In addition to the robust science curriculum at our secondary schools, including PLTW at TeWinkle Middle School, there are opportunities for students to delve deeper into science- and engineering-related experiences via the district’s Career Technical Education (CTE) catalog. Middle school-level electives include design and modeling, automation and robots, and computer science. Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools offer pathways in Engineering Design, while Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa and Newport Harbor high schools offer a Software and Systems Development Pathway. Visit NMUSD’s CTE Pathways webpage to learn about additional program offerings.

Hands-on experiences play a crucial role in shaping young learners’ understanding of the world around them. PLTW’s expanded curriculum engages our youngest students, allowing them to explore real-world concepts they can build upon throughout their educational careers and beyond.

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