Through the launch of the Lead The Way project, KCPS students develop critical thinking skills

Two young women in school uniform stand in front of their volcano science fair project.

Wendell Phillips Elementary students showcase their Lead The Way project kickoff projects at their school’s science fair.

When Wendell Phillips hosted his first science fair this spring, third-grade student Zion Johnson was ready. His air pollution project was incredibly detailed, with handmade models of plants whose growth had been stunted. It took him nine days to test, record the results and analyze his hypothesis.

“There was a lot of research involved,” Zion said, excited to share his findings at the science fair.

Kansas City Public Schools presented the Lead The Way project launch to elementary school students during the 2017-2018 school year. PLTW is an innovative and hands-on program that introduces students to science, technology, engineering, and math. They develop sought-after, portable skills by solving real-world challenges, just like Zion and his classmates.

A young black boy in a mask stands in front of his pollution science fair project.

“They see evidence of conception; they have questions and then can answer them,” said Ericka Mabion, KCPS iSpark class coordinator. “There’s an extension that they haven’t considered, but they’ve learned from their PLTW courses, like the research component. They want to show off their learning, and it’s amazing how they can articulate that.

In April, PLTW Acting President and CEO and Chief Impact Officer, Dr. David Dimmett, presented former Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell with a framed copy of KCPS’s impact profile measuring the success of the program. PLTW now reaches over 9,000 KCPS students each year.

Takeisha Brown, principal of Wendall Phillips Elementary, said her visual, tactile, and auditory learners thrive in their PLTW classes.

“Not everyone is a paper-and-pencil type,” Ms Brown said. “(PLTW) enables innovation and allows students to show off their strengths.”

Hale Cook principal Julie Lynch said launching PLTW has helped her students develop critical thinking. According to PLTW, more than 60% of KCPS students can now solve real-world interdisciplinary problems.

A girl wearing a tie-dye sweatshirt shows off a small plant she grew for her science fair project.

“If we look at when students leave the K-12 system, whether it’s to immediately enter the workforce, … go to trade school (or) go to college, all of those things encompass the need to learn the skills to be able to analyze, build, or create,” Ms. Lynch said. “When our first graders can design a shoe that will be best for a certain part of the world, they put those skills stock.”

As part of Blueprint 2030, KCPS will make academic and programmatic improvements in all schools, adding project-based learning opportunities throughout the district.

“The Lead The Way project has been an important partner for KCPS,” said Dr. Jennifer Collier, Acting Superintendent 2022-2023. “We know that students thrive when they have access to science, technology, engineering, arts and math courses. Blueprint 2030 will help us create strong STEAM programs accessible to all students. »

KCPS started with PLTW Launch in the 2017-2018 school year, and today it’s in 21 of our elementary schools.

Special thanks to PLTW Public Relations Manager Jackie Yanchocik for her help with the Wendell Phillips Science Fair and this story.


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