Project Lead the Way

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Project Lead The Way
Project Lead The Way logo
Type501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization
HeadquartersIndianapolis, Indiana
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Project Lead The Way
Project Lead The Way logo
Type501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization
HeadquartersIndianapolis, Indiana

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a United States non-profit organization that develops hands-on, project-based science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula for use by elementary, middle, and high schools. PLTW also provides professional development training for teachers who instruct its courses.


PLTW's mission is to prepare students for the global economy, which it does by increasing the number of American students prepared to enter the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. PLTW programs give students hands-on, project-based experiences, helping them link math and science concepts to real-world problem solving.[1] A focus on offering career-based opportunities to students has been encouraged by research indicating that the majority of professional scientists became interested in science before high school and that positive experiences with science during their school years were particularly important in influencing their career directions.[2]


Project Lead The Way offers curriculum and professional development in three career pathways for students in grades K-12, all based on the activity-, project-, and problem-based approach to learning. All three pathways are represented in the elementary school and middle school programs, with separate programs for the three pathways at the high school level. At the K-5 grade levels, the elementary curriculum is called PLTW Launch. The grade 6-8 curriculum is called Gateway. The high school programs of study are PLTW's Pathway To Engineering, Biomedical Sciences, and PLTW Computer Science.[3]

The high school Pathway To Engineering sequence includes eight full-year courses: a pair of foundation courses (Introduction to Engineering Design and Principles Of Engineering), several courses on engineering specialties (Aerospace Engineering, Biological Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, and Digital Electronics), and a capstone course, Engineering Design and Development.[4]

The Biomedical Sciences program is a series of four courses that introduce students to concepts in human medicine, physiology, genetics, microbiology, and public health. The four courses include: Principles of the Biomedical Sciences, Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions, and the capstone course Biomedical Innovations.[5]

Gateway To Technology is a sequence of eight, nine-week units for middle school students, designed to engage students' natural curiosity and imagination in creative problems solving. Topics include Automation and Robotics, Design and Modeling, Energy and the Environment, Flight and Space, Magic of Electrons, Green Architecture, Science of Technology, and Medical Detectives.

In the 2013-14 school year, 43 elementary school across the United States were part of the pilot for a new program designed for students in grades K-5, PLTW Launch. PLTW plans to open to elementary program to all elementary schools for the 2014-15 school year.[6] One study shows that 65 percent of scientists and graduate students first developed their interest in science in elementary school.[7]

All PLTW programs are aligned to the Common Core State Standards for Math and English Language Arts, as well as Next Generation Science Standards, and other state and national standards.[8]

Schools that register with PLTW pay a flat participation fee that includes the curriculum, all required course software, access to school and technical support, and access to PLTW's learning management system.[9] Teachers who instruct the Project Lead The Way curriculum are required to take part in PLTW's three-phase professional development program.[1]

More than 100 universities and colleges have partnered with PLTW to administer the professional development, support schools throughout their state, and give academic credit for selected PLTW high school courses.[10]


The forerunner to PLTW was a set of pre-engineering and digital electronics classes that the Shenendehowa Central School District of upstate New York offered beginning in 1986 with the intent of encouraging more students to study engineering.[11][12] The classes were deemed successful, and Richard Blais, who had spearheaded the classes as chairman of the school district's technology department, convinced Richard Liebich and the Charitable Leadership Foundation to finance the expansion of the program, forming PLTW.[11][13] They asked Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to provide teacher training for the new program. After Rensselaer rejected them, they approached Rochester Institute of Technology to conduct PLTW teacher training and got a positive response, starting a training partnership that continues.[12]

PLTW was first implemented in the 1997–98 school year in 12 New York schools.[11] In 1998, PLTW became a national program with the addition of two schools in New Hampshire. In the years that followed, a partnership with the High Schools That Work initiative of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) brought PLTW programs to an additional 30 states. PLTW's second program, Gateway To Technology (GTT), was added for middle school students in 2000. Additional high school programs of study were added in 2008 (Biomedical Sciences) and 2013 (Computer Science), and the elementary school program PLTW Launch was added in 2013.[11]

In 2011, PLTW moved its headquarters from Clifton Park, New York, to Indianapolis, Indiana, under the leadership of new President and CEO, Dr. Vince Bertram, and much encouragement from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the city of Indianapolis, and Indiana state leaders.[14]

In the summer of 2012, PLTW announced its greatest period of school and program growth, after being implemented in over 4,782 schools. As of the 2013-14 school year, over 5,200 schools in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia offer at least one PLTW program.[1] The organization's website shows the location of PLTW schools in the US.[15]

Government, corporate, and foundation support[edit]

Governments of several states, including New York, Indiana, Iowa, and South Carolina, have provided funding to PLTW to support future economic development.[16]

The Kern Family Foundation of Wisconsin provides financial support for the program in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Kern first became involved with PLTW in Wisconsin in 2004 as one of several measures to enhance U.S. economic competitiveness by qualifying more students for engineering and technology careers.[16][17] The foundation's expenditures in support of PLTW implementation total more than $23 million.[17] Other foundations supporting PLTW include the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Conrad Foundation.[4]

As of 2013, corporate partners of PLTW include Autodesk, Chevron, IndyCar, 3M, Amgen, Cargill, Intelitek, Lockheed Martin, National Instruments, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Automation, Rolls-Royce, Vernier, and VEX Robotics .[4]

Evaluations and outside perspectives[edit]

Former United States Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who is a "senior advisor" to PLTW, has lauded the program's training for teachers, saying it helps teachers encourage students to become "more interested and dedicated to their coursework" by "show[ing them] the relevance and fun of STEM education".[18]

Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America has partnered with Project Lead The Way to recruit PLTW graduates into its Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) Program. In 2012, Dennis Parker, Toyota North America Production Support Center general manager and AMT program director, said "We only visit a school that has a Project Lead The Way program. We've got to fish in the pond that has the right fish in it. PLTW has the best STEM curriculum for schools in the world. We have examined what other countries have to offer and there is none better within the scope of my experience. PLTW would not be a partner with Toyota if its curriculum was anything less."[19]

According to the Kern Family Foundation, its board of directors has been impressed with the program's positive impact on students in a diverse variety of community and educational settings, ranging from rural to urban communities and including public, private, and charter schools.[17]

A 2008-09 True Outcomes survey of PLTW seniors at the end of their senior years found that 93% intended to pursue a four-year degree or higher, 51% intended to pursue a graduate degree, and 70% intended to study engineering, technology, or computer science.[20] By contrast, 67% of all beginning post-secondary students intended to pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

PLTW has been endorsed by the United States Department of Education (2004), U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called PLTW one of the “great models of the new Career and Technical Education succeeding all across the country.” In 2009, the National Defense Industrial Association called PLTW "the key to future defense industry workforce."[9]

Robert Tai of the University of Virginia reviewed published research on the impact of PLTW on student performance and other metrics, finding that "PLTW contributes to a strong, positive impact on mathematics and science achievement." An analysis of test scores for 26,000 students in Iowa found that the 1,200 students who participated in PLTW had higher scores on the mathematics and science components of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Iowa Tests of Educational Development. A study of middle school students who participated in PLTW found that they had higher scores on standardized tests of mathematics and reading, but there was no significant effect on their science test scores. Several other studies of PLTW students had sample sizes too small to yield meaningful results or found no significant differences in their achievement. A survey of school principals in Indiana found that principals felt that PLTW had positive impacts on their schools, challenging and motivating their students as well as "renewing and motivating" teachers. A study of parents' perceptions of PLTW found that parents of PLTW participants were "generally very positive" about their children's experience with the program. Teachers surveyed regarding PLTW's teacher training rated it as "valuable to very valuable"; 94% of one teacher sample said they would recommend it to other teachers.[2]


  1. ^ a b c "Who We Are". Project Lead the Way. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Robert H. Tai (November 2012). "An Examination of the Research Literature on Project Lead the Way". Project Lead the Way. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Our Programs". Project Lead the Way. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c "Getting Started 2012-13". Project Lead the Way. 2012. 
  5. ^ "High School Biomedical Science". Project Lead The Way. 2013. 
  6. ^ "Launch". Project Lead The Way. October 2013. 
  7. ^ "STEMtistic: Stereotypes Start Early". Change the Equation. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  8. ^ "PLTW Standards and Objectives Alignment Tool". Project Lead The Way. 2012. 
  9. ^ "PLTW Program Enhancements FAQs". Project Lead The Way. 21 February 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-09-03. 
  10. ^ "PLTW College and University Partnerships". Project Lead the Way. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Our History". Project Lead the Way. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "Early exposure: Project Lead The Way seeks to engineer young students' career choices". The Business Review. Albany, New York. July 24, 2006. 
  13. ^ Davis, Martin A., Jr. "Building Tomorrow’s Engineers". Philanthropy Magazine (Philanthropy Roundtable) (March / April 2003). 
  14. ^ "Project Lead The Way Moves National Headquarters to Indianapolis" (Press release). Develop Indy, City of Indianapolis, Project Lead The Way. 16 September 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  15. ^ School Locator at Project Lead The Way
  16. ^ a b John Schmid (July 8, 2007). "Innovator fears U.S. losing edge; Generac Power founder Kern aims to revive nation's engineering education". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  17. ^ a b c "Project Lead the Way". Kern Family Foundation. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  18. ^ William J. Bennett (February 9, 2012). "U.S lag in science, math a disaster in the making". CNN. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Walcerz, Douglas; Cengage Learning (2009), True Outcomes: Analysis of 2008-09 End-of-Course Evaluations for Project Lead The Way 

External links[edit]