Students at Lake Avenue Elementary School in Saratoga Springs call themselves engineers, thanks to a nationwide pilot program that boosts hands-on science and math lessons in the classroom.
Lake Avenue is the only school in the Northeast involved in Project Lead The Way Launch. The goal of the new curriculum is to engage students in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — and provide an alternative for teachers to meet the Common Core language arts and math standards.
“We mix the regular science curriculum along with the pilot modules,” said Stephanie Barrows, a first-grade teacher at Lake Avenue. “It’s a nice break from our regular lessons. I look forward to teaching it, and the kids look forward to learning it.”
Over the past several months, six teachers have incorporated two modules specific to the program into their curriculum. The modules include lessons in energy, flight, forces, function of materials, light, robotics and sound.
Students are assigned group projects that allow them to experiment with real-life applications of those lessons. Teachers at Lake Avenue said the students are “really excited” to do the activities.
“This answers the ‘so what’ for kids,” said second-grade teacher Nancy Ferguson. “They ask me if this is learning and when I say engineering they all cheer. They scream, ‘This is engineering’ and ‘We are engineers.’ ”
Students in Barrows’ class shined flashlights on different materials and were asked to observe how light travels. In Ferguson’s class, students were given foam and shredded paper and asked to build containers that keep an ice pop cold.
The school also provides iPads for students to learn using applications. The iPads are a way for students to explore technology and how it works, said Amy Shaw-Tingly, a third-grade teacher at Lake Avenue.
“The iPads are phenomenal. They can’t wait to get their hands on those,” she said. “They have been exploring and doing things with the apps I didn’t even think they can do.”
Educators from across the state and Connecticut visited Lake Avenue on Thursday to learn about the program. Lake Avenue is one of 44 schools in districts nationwide to pilot the new elementary program, which will be provided to all districts for the 2014-15 school year.
The program was created by Project Lead The Way, the nation’s leading provider of STEM programs for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. The nonprofit organization provides programs for about 5,000 schools in the country.
“We’ve got more pilots around here, we can take over Southwest Airlines,” Lake Avenue Principal Barbara Messier said. “But teachers don’t feel like they are cramming everything in, and it’s motivating for the students.”