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Posted On: 2017-11-02 12:39 PM
By Cara O'Donnell, Edkey® Inc.
As our economy and our careers become modernized, it's clear that the workers of the future need different skills than our parents did. That's why Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark, a K-6 charter school in Mesa, Arizona, has devoted its curriculum to hands-on, technology-friendly collaborative learning.
The result? Students are building robots, learning to code and working together to solve problems – just as workers for the 21st century need to be doing.
"The integration of technology throughout our learning allows us to meet the needs of students where they are academically," said Sue Paschal, principal of Sequoia Pathfinder. "It also helps us address a multitude of learning styles through the various resources students can access. They're learning to be good digital citizens from an early age."
Sequoia Pathfinder Academy is part of the Edkey® Inc. family of charter schools in Arizona. At the school, all students from second through sixth grade have their own Chromebooks. Students in kindergarten and first grade can use tablets.
The curriculum is focused on opening students' eyes to science, technology, engineering, arts and math. But the difference at Sequoia Pathfinder isn't just about technology or electronics – it's about acknowledging that we all learn differently.
"The additional learning we provide is not traditional," Paschal said. "We want the teacher becoming a facilitator and not the only person delivering knowledge. When you walk into a classroom in kindergarten and first grade, they're in tables shaped like gears. The students sit in collaboration. It's not just individual seating."
There are learning nooks located throughout the school. Depending on the grade, students can choose from flexible seating options – classrooms might have areas where you stand at your desk, sit on a pillow, or sit in a collaborative group. The result is that students learn to work both independently and with one another.
"We have a dramatic play area, so they can get those social skills by talking and interacting with one another," said Nikki Nava, a kindergarten teacher at Sequoia Pathfinder and parent of third-grade twins who also attend the school. "In my classroom, I have a tinker area that has screwdrivers and hammers. They can take things apart and put it back together. The philosophy is that, until they're hands-on, they're not learning."
In addition to what they're learning in the classroom, Sequoia Pathfinder also partners with outside experts to expand students' horizons. A partnership with the Arizona Science Center let students build a model bridge that could hold the weight of 21 elephants earlier this year. Another partnership with Bonanza Education allows students to learn while playing with Legos. For example, students who were learning about colors built wheels with red and blue Legos. When they spun the wheels, they saw the colors turn to purple.
A program called "Engineering is Elementary" teaches students the process of engineering – testing an idea from inception to completion. "It's all leading them toward 21st century skills that they'll need to be successful," Nava said. "My third graders are getting ready to build ‘garbage monsters.' I was watching my daughter, and she said, ‘I need to imagine it out.' She's using the engineering process before she builds it and creates it."
And just like the engineering process they teach, the faculty at Sequoia Pathfinder knows they need to continually modify the curriculum to respond to students' needs.
"We all don't come to school with a set ability. You can learn and grow, and become anything you want to be," Paschal said. "We look at daily work, at the curriculum. We look to see: Are they thinkers? Are they able to explain how they got their answer, or what strategy they used? That's exciting to see a 5-year-old explain their answer, and how it's different from what their neighbor did. There's so much going on here. It's a different school."
To learn more about Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark, visit SequoiaPathfinder.org.
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