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Elementary Science Sets a Foundation for Learning

October 25, 2019 - Livermore, CA - Altamont Creek Elementary School Science Specialist, Fenna Gatty, donned her white lab coat and opened her classroom door for her third grade budding scientists and engineers. They filed into the room and sat on the carpet in “presentation mode” with their legs crossed and hands in laps. As the lesson was explained for their next Project Lead the Way (PLTW) activity, students became excited and could hardly sit still with several hands shooting up in the air to ask questions. Mrs. Gatty patiently explained how students should begin to explore the VEX robotics kits at their desks before letting them loose. Within minutes students were building cars, clocks, and original designs from their imagination. By the end of the class period, even the most timid of the group was manipulating the pieces like a pro. 

The activities in classrooms at Altamont Creek are indicative of the hands-on learning that all elementary students in first through fifth grades experience as they engage in science labs twice a week. The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) is unique in its love of science. Through parcel tax revenues, elementary science specialists provide instruction in science classrooms starting in first grade. Science teacher, Donna DeRego stated, “Elementary science plays a vital role in developing our students into life long learners who are curious about the world around them. Our classrooms are special places where every student has an equal opportunity and access to scientific knowledge.” Science specialists throughout the District have worked collaboratively over the past four years to align instruction to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and California Science Framework. 

Four LVJUSD schools - Altamont Creek, Jackson Avenue, Joe Michell, and Junction Avenue - also offer the Project Lead the Way Launch (PLTW) program. Teachers attend additional training to develop an understanding of the activity-, project-, and problem-based approach to PLTW instruction. Early science education builds the essential communication skills for future science leaders, problem solvers, scientists, engineers. Tina Weetman from Jackson Elementary stated, “PLTW Launch is more than an elementary engineering program. It sets the stage for evidence-based dialogue and higher level discourse. Elementary students are encouraged to articulate their observations, reasonings and debate over evidence.” LVJUSD recognizes that science literacy starts in early childhood and sets a foundation for learning in subsequent grades.  

With the aid of Cisco telepresence units acquired through a California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT) grant, students in third grade were able to interact with Miguel Baez's computer science class at Granada High School as they used Python software. Elementary students asked questions like, “What does this mean?,” “What website are you using to get all this coding stuff?,” and “How long have you been working on Python?” This student-to-student interaction is incredibly valuable as it gives elementary students a window into the PLTW opportunities awaiting them in high school and provides an early confidence in problem-solving through science. “We want students with skills that will fuel their confidence to go after what they think is important. We are committed to our mission that each student will graduate with the skills needed to contribute and thrive in a changing world,” stated Superintendent Kelly Bowers.