Homework robots don’t yet exist, but Carpinteria Unified School District elementary students in the Gifted and Talented Education Program (GATE) are working on that. Third, fourth and fifth graders in GATE are piloting the Robotics and Automation Unit of the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum, funded by a $20,000 grant from Chevron, through Carpinteria Education Foundation (CEF).  

According to Chevron’s website, PLTW offers “pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science and engages students in hands-on activities, projects, and problems; empowers them to solve real-world challenges, and inspires them to reimagine how they see themselves.”

Teresa Koontz, GATE Coordinator for Carpinteria Unified School District, teaches the PLTW coursework at all four elementary schools. She and principal Michelle Fox attended special training last summer to implement the program. In January, they will attend Lead Teacher training in order to train other CUSD teachers so they may offer the curriculum to their students as well. Plans are also underway to expand the program through Aliso’s Exploration Lab, and through Robotics Clubs open to all students at other CUSD campuses.

“We saw the engineering program at Carpinteria High School and thought this would be the perfect fit,” said Sara Dearman, public affairs representative for Chevron. “The kids, ‘computer natives,’ figure it out. They are not afraid. They work together. They cooperate,” added Koontz, who values the enrichment class beyond its science learning merits. “For ESL students, it’s great. They can do the mechanics—maybe they can’t verbalize it, but they understand.”

Enriching the district’s science-related curriculum in the elementary and middle school grades will prepare students for the many CTE Pathways at the high school, such as the Engineering Academy, but also better prepare students for an increasingly competitive job market. CEF and CUSD are planning to add additional PLTW program electives at Carpinteria Middle School in the 2020-21 school year.

In the Spring of 2020, Carpinteria Middle School will incorporate the PLTW Gateway Automation and Robotics module into the existing Media Technology elective, thanks to the generosity of the Carpinteria Lions Club Festival of Trees. According to Pam Werner, CEF Administrator, the Carpinteria Lions Club will donate $6,000 in order to launch the middle school program this spring. CEF will match the Lions Club donation and purchase the VEX Robotics kits for CMS.

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