A new science and technology pathway will open for South Pasadena students this fall, funded by a $200,000 grant from the South Pasadena Educational Foundation.
The SPEF board unanimously approved the grant at its meeting June 9 after a final presentation from Superintendent Geoff Yantz and Karen Latuner, director of school engagement for Project Lead The Way in California. Created in 1997 to increase the national talent pool in science and technology, the non-profit PLTW is the nation’s leading supplier of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum and teacher training, having partnered with more than 5,000 schools in all 50 states.
The money to launch the program comes from a special technology fund the SPEF board created last year to promote special projects in the South Pas school district. Yantz, who’d implemented two similar science and technology pathways in his previous position as superintendent of the El Segundo Unified School District, proposed putting the entire fund to work immediately. His suggestion, which SPEF embraced: bring the specialized computer science and engineering classes to the middle and high schools, and buy the equipment the elementary schools need now to implement the program in later years.
“We can do this only because of the generosity of our donors and volunteers over the years,” said SPEF President Jon Primuth. “This represents a new phase in SPEF’s giving to the district. In addition to our regular annual unrestricted gift, we want to introduce new programs that have real impact. We’ll be doing more of that in the future.”
Primuth also described the benefits of the program. “When fully implemented, this program not only will educate our students in keys areas of technology and engineering, which is a major advantage in college applications and the job market, it also will fund professional development and give teachers access to local experts in these key fields.”
Under the plan approved June 9, each fourth grade classroom in the three elementary schools will receive a set of 30 Chromebooks and a charging cart. The computers will be used to provide individualized instruction and group and project-based learning, giving all students computer skills. SPEF’s grant will cover $60,000 of the $140,000 needed to purchase the equipment, with the remainder coming from the district’s own technology funds.
The middle school will offer a set of courses to serve as a gateway to a future high school engineering pathway. Sixth graders will be able to choose a quarter-long elective as a background course for engineering, such as flight and space or energy and the environment. Seventh and eighth graders will have two semester-long units: Design & Modeling and Automation & Robotics. The Advanced Robotics course will continue to be offered to eighth graders as part of the new STEM gateway. SPEF’s donation will cover the entire $100,000 cost of this middle school portion of the project, including $45,000 to equip a new engineering lab this summer.
The district envisions building up its high school STEM curriculum over four years, starting with a year-long class in computer science and software engineering. According to Yantz, “the computer science pathway aims to develop computational thinking, generate excitement about career paths that utilize computing, and introduce professional tools that foster creativity and collaboration.” In year two, the district plans to add a year-long class in computer science applications that will “have students collaborating on programing for mobile devices, distributed collection and data processing in Java and other programing tools,” he said.
Later years could bring courses in simulation and modeling, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and computational problem-solving. SPEF’s $40,000 contribution covers only the first two years’ course materials and teacher training, along with the cost of the computers, equipment and supplies.
Yantz and Latuner emphasized that the STEM classes in the middle school aren’t prerequisites for the ones in the high school. Instead, they’re meant to introduce students to the topic and help them decide how deeply they want to dive in.
PLTW offers several STEM disciplines beside computer science, and the district may explore giving students more options. The main limit, Yantz said, is the amount of classroom space available for the engineering labs.