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Science-based curriculum boosts interest with youngest students

Students in kindergarten through second grade in Tea Area enjoy hands-on learning with science.

Through a new program, Project Lead the Way Launch (PLTW Launch), teacher Jill Thompson makes science a hands-on subject. PLTW Launch is part of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum that schools incorporate.

“It’s hands on. It’s higher level thinking. It’s very interactive, all those STEM-based things that kids would need to know,” she said.

Project Lead the Way has different levels for different age groups and got its start with high school students. PLTW is the nation’s leading provider of STEM programs for students.

According to the PLTW website (, PLTW is in more than 8,000 schools nationwide. PLTW Launch is designed for kindergarten through fifth grade and PLTW Gateway is for middle-schoolers.

“By implementing PLTW programs in your school or district, you are helping to solve these challenges and better equip your students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the global economy. Not only are students learning math and science, but they’re learning how to apply math and science as tools to solve problems. They’re learning to think critically, solve problems and work together – the very skills they’ll need in the workforce,” says an informational brochure from PLTW.

Tea Area School District curriculum director Tonia Warzecha said the school district was the first in South Dakota to implement PLTW Launch. Last year they piloted the program and this year is the first full year. Warzecha said the hands-on nature of the program drew the district to PLTW Launch.

“It is hands on, it’s engaging. It answers a lot of the questions we need to in regards to science curriculum. It incorporates technology,” Warzecha said. “It focuses on engineering standards and applications and allows students to be critical thinkers, which is a huge need and focus for our students.”

Warzecha said students are making decisions on whether they like science and math by the time they hit second grade. She said that is significant to note since many jobs in South Dakota require the skills learned from STEM courses. If students decide they do not like math or science early on, those jobs will go unfilled.

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