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Building Future Innovators: The Hands-On Learning Approach at Gull Lake Community Schools

Future Ready Leadership Series: Innovative Educational Excellence, where we embark on an inspiring journey across the educational landscape. In this ongoing series, we spotlight visionary school districts from around the country that are pioneering the way forward in shaping the future of education. These districts are embracing change and leading it, harnessing the power of the Future Ready Framework to provide innovative leadership and ensure student success.

In our blog, Gull Lake Community Schools shares how they have significantly enhanced student education through the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Curriculum, which provides essential skills in computer science, coding, and engineering. Collaborations with industry leaders and hands-on learning experiences connect classroom lessons to real-world applications, motivating students and offering opportunities for future careers. By integrating high-quality curriculum and engaging activities, GLCS prepares students to reach their fullest potential in a global economy.

Get ready to be inspired, informed, and energized as we uncover the strategies, insights, and transformative practices shaping the education landscape. The Future Ready Leadership Series is your window into the world of educational innovation, where the future is not a distant horizon but a tangible reality, guided by visionary leadership.

Gull Lake Community Schools (GLCS) in Michigan has significantly enhanced the educational experience for students through the implementation of the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Curriculum. This program equips students with essential computer science, coding, and engineering skills, focusing on real-world challenges and problem-solving. PLTW aligns with district-wide improvement goals by promoting reading, writing, and speaking with purpose.

A key component of the PLTW Curriculum is hands-on, practical learning. At Gull Lake Middle School (GLMS), the Design & Modeling course provides a foundation in design principles, enhancing students’ understanding of engineering concepts while fostering critical thinking

and problem-solving skills.

“I learned how to create isometric sketches. At first, it was hard, then it got easier. As I practiced and got better at using the guidelines, it looked more 3D.”

-Jaxon GLMS 7th Student.

One of the significant strengths of the PLTW Curriculum at GLCS is its collaboration with regional industry leaders. Parker Hannifin, Stryker, DENSO, and Polytek create a bridge between classroom learning and industry applications. This direct interaction with industry leaders motivates students by showing them the relevance of their studies and opens doors for potential internships, mentorships, and career opportunities.

“PLTW curriculum is a great opportunity for students to practice problem-solving skills. It helps us

replace the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” with “what problem do you want to solve in the future?”

-Matt Hawkins GLMS PLTW Teacher.

GLMS Medical Detectives curriculum introduces students to biomedical science through hands-on activities exploring forensic science and pathology. This connection between classroom learning and real-world applications captures students’ interest and develops their analytical skills through crime scene investigation, fingerprinting techniques, and using evidence to “solve” the crime. The collaboration with the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department and GLCS Student Resource Officer Deputy Adam Kelm demonstrates how the skills learned in these courses have applications in law enforcement technology.

“I like that you get to choose what you do next while programming and writing your Choose Your Own Adventure story.” 

– Charlie 3rd grade student.

“Kids have a structure that they learn within that pushes them to keep exploring, but they also have the freedom to take what they learn and make it their own”

– Patrick English Ryan Intermediate PLTW Teacher.

Richland & Kellogg Elementary Schools (Y5 – 2nd grades) students learn about Animals and Algorithms, Animated Storytelling, and Grids and Games. After exploring the nature of computers, students work in small groups to design and program a simple digital animation about an animal in its habitat. Students learn programming fundamentals using ScratchJr, a block-based programming language to create their own projects. Students work together to design and program gaming structures that can be played on a digital device.

“I like that you can see what other people are doing and programming together. It was fun to make our own games.”

– Rory 2nd grade student. 

Gull Lake Community Schools continues to challenge students to read, write, and speak with purpose while focusing on students’ skills to think critically through solving problems collaboratively. Connecting with industry leaders ensures students apply what they have learned while preparing to enter a regional and global economy. Combining the components of high-quality PLTW Curriculum, engaging students, and passionate educators allows GLCS to live its mission of all students reaching their fullest potential.

About the Author

Tom Murray

Drew Bordner

Drew Bordner is the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology at Gull Lake Community Schools (GLCS), where student engagement and innovation in education are a continual focus. 

With a commitment to fostering creativity and collaboration, he is excited to work with GLCS students and staff to champion educational initiatives that empower students to tackle real-world challenges through purposeful reading, writing, and speaking.  Drew is a member of the Michigan Association of Supervision & Curriculum Directors (MASCD), Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP), and Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals School Association (MEMSPA).