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Superintendent sees experiences as the answer

Passive learning is fleeting; hands-on learning is memorable and enjoyable

Published February 17, 2020

Leadership Perspective

TPN: The Pitsco Network
JL: Jon LeDoux, Superintendent, El Centro Elementary School District, CA

Introduction: For the past 31 years, Jon LeDoux has served as an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, state and federal projects director, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent, a role he has filled for the past eight years for El Centro Elementary School District in El Centro, California. The district is 95 percent Hispanic, with 50 percent being English language learners and 89 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch. LeDoux’s philosophy? “As long as I feel that I am making an impact on student learning and the learning experience, I feel I have been successful.”

TPN: Explain why it’s better to teach via hands-on experiences rather than just a lecture or book.
Our students currently live in a time where information is very easy to obtain. A few clicks of a mouse, and they can find an answer to all their questions. Unfortunately, this sort of learning is too passive and does not offer a depth of understanding that can come from only experiences provided to them. Students who move about, actively explore, have meaningful discussions with their peers, and perform experiments with purpose will have a deeper understanding than those who merely look for an answer online. They will also retain the information longer and utilize that information in future problem-solving and exploration. Hands-on experiences also teach our students that exploring and getting your hands dirty to learn is not only a positive thing to do but also enjoyable.

TPN: Why is it important to get students comfortable with and enjoying integrated science and engineering activities at an early age?
Young students are interested in the world around them. They seek out answers to their questions about how the world works. This makes it an opportune time to capture their attention and imagination. As their young minds adapt and process the world around them, providing interesting activities that spark their imagination and challenge their thoughts adds to the promise of them becoming lifelong learners.

TPN: Your district purchased a mix of hands-on STEM and STEAM curriculum and materials from Pitsco, including Missions, Expeditions, KUBO, and UBTECH (coding and robotics). Briefly explain how each of these solutions is being used.
All of these products are supplemental to our district-adopted science kits. The Pitsco Missions science labs are used in Grades 3-6 (one hour per day, per class for a two-week period). KUBO and UBTECH were purchased recently, and we look forward to incorporating them into these Pitsco labs. Expeditions is used exclusively with seventh and eighth grades. The Pitsco lab curriculum is the core of the Expeditions lab with its STEM-themed Expedition units that cover electricity, sound, Earth science, food safety, weather, botany, thermal physics, wind energy, dragster design, and more. The Expeditions curriculum is structured so students can work independently – reading selections, watching short videos, and applying that knowledge through hands-on experiments or explorations. In addition, due to the large space of the lab, we have been able to create a makerspace where students can explore other hands-on concepts like robotics, electronics, and 3-D printing. Daily, students will either be assigned a STEM Expedition® or an activity at the makerspace area. Our robotics program is second to none in the Imperial Valley. We start students off using robots with iPads to learn to code the robots to maneuver through maze challenges. Later, students learn more intermediate coding and robotics skills with the Arduino microcontroller, using the industry standard C++ language. Students learn to create robotic hands, mechanical faces, and devices to measure the environment such as temperature, humidity, and ultraviolet light. In addition, students learn to code the Arduino board to create music and more advanced autonomous robots. . . . Our Pitsco STEM lab prides itself on promoting computer science through robotics and Tynker Coding Curriculum. Students work toward learning coding and computer science each Friday. Students are exposed to block coding and then move on to Python® and JavaScript. By the time our students leave ECESD, they will have received more computer science and robotics than any other school in Imperial County.

TPN: How do these all-inclusive Pitsco products (teacher’s guides, lessons, curriculum, materials) ease the burden on elementary teachers who might not be as confident and comfortable teaching science, coding, robotics, and engineering concepts?
With the heavy emphasis on teaching basics, such as math and reading, teachers often do not receive the training they need in subjects such as science. With training comes not only knowledge but also confidence in the subject matter. There is also a feeling that there is not enough time in the day to prepare and implement the district science curriculum. Pitsco, by providing our teachers with a fully inclusive, hands-on lab with built-in curriculum, enables our teachers to participate and teach without hesitation or lack of confidence. It also makes sure that time is set aside and honored for science.

TPN: What is the hope for students with these experiences when they get into high school?
It’s not a hope but an expectation that students will be prepared for the rigorous high school curriculum. Through a comprehensive educational program at the elementary and junior high school, we expect that each student will be instilled with the skills, knowledge, and curiosity it takes to be outstanding learners in high school and beyond.

TPN: Why did the El Centro district go with Pitsco Education for these hands-on STEM and STEAM solutions?
We found the Pitsco program a good fit for our district for many reasons. The idea that the lessons were high interest and high quality was most important. Beyond that, we appreciated the completeness of the program – from the furniture and classroom setup to the high-quality lessons designed with student interest in mind. Having a teacher be able to walk into the lab and deliver the lesson with little preparation and easy-to-follow plans was also a major contributor to our decisions. Our district invested in full-time lab assistants to set up the lab each day for each teacher. The Pitsco professional development provided also ensures that the program is being utilized in a proper way with fidelity.

TPN: What’s your next planned step to increase hands-on, standards-based STEM and STEAM experiences for students?
Our district supplements this program through high-quality field trips and school activities. Our plan for this particular program is to continue adding one or two schools per year until we have full implementation across the district.

“I worked with my group and made a really fun ride for a marble, and I made sure it had a soft place to land. We used our imaginations to be engineers.”

– Mercie, first-grade student (about the Exploring Transportation activity)

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