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‘A really good way to learn’

Pitsco STREAM Missions a hit with students and teachers alike

Published April 6, 2018

Additional Pittsburg Community Schools article:

Student-created butterflies camouflaged throughout the classroom. A word wall with the latest vocabulary. Planet puzzles. Jump boards attached to the walls with Velcro balls stuck at various heights. Chromebooks and art supplies. Students working in teams to solve problems. These are just some of the things you see in either of the Pitsco STREAM Missions classrooms at Meadowlark and George Nettels Elementary Schools in Pittsburg, KS.

Teachers Dustin Prince (Meadowlark) and Aaron Cicero (George Nettels) are piloting Pitsco’s new Grade 5 STREAM Missions for the 2017-18 school year, and though the aforementioned list might seem random, it’s all part of a cohesive program that, so far, seems to be a hit in both classrooms.

The STREAM Missions pair core science instruction with reading, art, engineering, and math application. Using Briefings; Readings; Explorations; and Vocabulary, Math, Research, Career, Science, and Social Studies Connections, each Mission infuses student-centered, career-focused curriculum with hands-on projects for a program that teaches important 21st-century skills such as teamwork and problem-solving.

The pilot sites are designed to take both classrooms through eight Mission titles by the end of the school year: Ecosystems, Limited Resources, Energy, Matter Properties, Weather and Water, Solar System, Body at Work, and Technology and Design. Both pilots are being monitored by the Friday Institute with North Carolina State. The data gathered will be based on MAP scores of students in the labs as well as from the comparison groups of USD 250’s other elementary schools, Lakeside Elementary and Westside Elementary.


Science often falls by the wayside in elementary classrooms. “It’s just one of those things that, if you have to buy all the materials, it’s expensive,” explained Prince. “And if you have to plan it all, it’s very time-consuming. So it was just one of those things that kind of got pushed to the back burner, unfortunately, because there just wasn’t time in the day for it.”

Which is why he jumped at the chance to pilot Pitsco’s STREAM Missions. “The Missions have been really great because we have all the materials,” he said. “I have plenty of time to plan it, and most of it’s already planned out anyway.”

The smooth integration of technology, reading, art, and math into core science is another winning facet. There’s less of a need to “find time” for science if the lesson also includes other core subjects.

“The students get a lot of writing practice with the Missions,” said Prince, a huge proponent of literacy. “We’re constantly working on grammar and punctuation and spelling, so all of it’s incorporated when they do their Briefing questions.”

“And going from STEM to STREAM was great,” said Cicero, “because reading is just as important, and art gives a kid creativity. I think adding those two in there just makes a more well-rounded learner.”

USD 250 Assistant Superintendent Ronda Fincher said such integration “is a necessity. We just don’t have enough time in the day. And the real world is getting more like that. It isn’t you just do something with English or you just do something with math or you just do something with science. It’s very integrated anymore.”


Integrating subjects also helps reach all types of learners. “I found out by using all those, a kid will connect with one of them,” said Cicero. “My art students really look forward to that. The ones who do well at math, the ones who like to read, there’s something for all of them. There’s something in there for every kid each Mission.”

And the students seem to concur. Whether they want to be athletes or announcers, or they love space, or they hope to be veterinarians, they all agree – Pitsco STREAM Missions have what they want.

  • “It’s a really good class. I like learning about the science and the technology and that we get to work with fractions.” – Gabbie, George Nettels
  • “You’re not just sitting down writing. You’re doing more. You’re doing experiments.” – Cody, George Nettels
  • “With hands-on stuff, you get to do something instead of just sit down and learn stuff from a textbook. You get to actually create it to help you learn. This is a really good way to learn.” – Fisher, Meadowlark

And reaching all students is exactly what STREAM Missions were designed to do, said Pitsco Elementary Curriculum Specialist Niccole Vogel. “STREAM Missions are all about making sure every student succeeds. Students are getting a unique, hands-on experience using engineering challenges, art activities, and math applications.”


But the hands-on Explorations in Missions are more than just fun. They’re engaging – and challenging – a fact mentioned by teachers and students alike as another point in favor of the program.

“Some of the Missions are challenging in the fun way,” said Meadowlark student Karrick. “You need to work hard to achieve it, and then when you can achieve it, because it was challenging, you feel good.”

“I like that you get to challenge yourself and think outside the box,” said Gabbie.

“They like the extra challenge!” said Cicero. “What I like with this program is it engages them, but it also challenges them. I enjoy just watching them discover the answers.”


One might think of a student-centered program, especially in elementary school, as an invitation for trouble, but Finch said the STREAM Missions show just the opposite. “I’m seeing kids that are self-motivators,” she said. “The teacher doesn’t have to get them started; they know what they’re supposed to do. They just come in and they get going. And that’s so much more efficient use of the time.”

This was evident in both Prince’s and Cicero’s classrooms. Students were focused, on task, and fully engaged, ready to tackle the task at hand so they could explore whatever the Mission had in store for them that day. Whether that be a trip to outer space, investigating the human immune and nervous systems, or something else entirely, they were ready.

“Pitsco always thinks about the student AND the teacher. Always right there ready to answer any questions, no matter how small they may seem. Very friendly and helpful.”

– Jackie Derr, STEM lab teacher, Perrysburg Junior High School, Perrysburg, Ohio

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