SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — Students in the Abington Heights elementary schools have a new opportunity to expand their academic horizons.
Comet Connect, an elementary initiative implemented by the school district at the start of the school year, is designed to introduce students to computer science and STEM-related programs.
Two elementary teachers, Johanna Davis and Lisa Imbriaco, were trained to implement curriculum from Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit organization providing student-centric and hands-on STEM curriculum for K-12 students in more than 8,500 schools nationwide, over the summer.
Davis, who teaches the Comet Connect program at the Newton Ransom and South Abington elementary schools, noted the students have been eager to work with the new technology.
According to Davis, the district purchased 30 Android tablets for each of the elementary schools.
“I’m like the superhero of the school right now,” Davis said. “They’re really thrilled and are very focused when they’re on the tablets. They’re very respectful and responsible with them, and are excited about getting hands-on experience by using the different software.”
Imbriaco teaches the program at the Clarks Summit and Waverly elementary schools.
Abington Heights Director of Mathematics and Science Rose Minniti believes it’s imperative to introduce students to computer science curriculum at a young age so they can build on the knowledge as they progress through the grade levels.
“We’re trying to give our students the 21st century skills they need to be successful beyond high school,” Minniti said. “We want to try to get them career skills because most of what kids do when they graduate is going to involve some aspect of computer science. We’re trying to foster logical thinking and problem solving that will not only support our computer science program, but also all of our other programs.
“It was a natural fit to bring computer science into the elementary schools and it’s amazing what the students already know.”
The Comet Connect sessions are held in the library, but instead of going to a traditional library class, the students are going to a computer science class.
“It incorporates all aspects of our curriculum,” Minniti said. “All of the different modules are based on stories and incorporate a lot of problem solving skills and project design.”
During a recent Comet Connect session at South Abington Elementary, fourth grade students in Davis’ class created a presentation that included their name, a selfie, their favorite summer memory, their favorite fruit or vegetable and a fun fact on their tablets using the Mindomo app.
Students in grades kindergarten through four participate in a Comet Connect session every other week. Minniti added students also have time during the alternating weeks to work with their teachers in the computer lab.
Project Lead The Way Senior Director of Media and Public Relations Jennifer Cahill believes the curriculum serves as a great learning tool for young students.
“It helps them have fun with math and science and also develop confidence,” she said.
Abington Heights previously implemented Project Lead The Way curriculum at the middle and high school, and Minniti believes the expansion of the program to the elementary level will create room for additional growth.
“We’ll have to keep upping our game,” she said. “Before, students came into the middle school with no (computer science) background. Now, they’re going to come in with a really strong background. We’ll be able to get into different computer programming languages. We’re also going to be offering more computer science classes at the high school in the coming years. It’s a work in progress, but this was a big first step.”
According to Minniti, the district plans to form a committee consisting of elementary, middle and high school teachers along with students and community members to discuss Project Lead The Way material.
“We’d like to be the leaders in computer science, not only regionally but nationally,” she said.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.