Pinal County Educational Services Agency Integrates Real World STEM Learning

Casa Grande, AZ | Submitted by Joel Villegas

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Responsible for 19 school districts that serve more than 51,000 students, the Pinal County Educational Services Agency (PCESA) aims to stay ahead of the curve and prepare teachers to educate youth in the most effective and forward-thinking way possible.

Since many of the schools encompass rural areas and don’t have the access to the resources of larger districts, PCESA helps to fill in the gaps. More specifically, they have been looking to the future and helping educators integrate STEM learning into their classrooms for the past six years.

As part of that initiative, the county is using project-based learning to bring STEM to life for students. Since projects are an effective way to integrate content areas and get learners enthusiastic about their projects, the county has created real-world opportunities.

It all started with the town of Florence. Students had already researched local architecture, and the town was interested in creating a mobile app for tourists and locals, alike. As part of the first in a series of projects, Pinal County students used their architectural understanding to envision, plan and build an app that guides users on a historic walking tour of the town.

This proved so successful that the county partnered with MAD-learn (mobile application development) to help develop a train-the-trainers approach to getting teachers prepared for more projects like this one. Complete with teacher training and curriculum resources, MAD-learn provided the necessary background to expand on this initiative.

The county also began to engage with local businesses to grow opportunities and areas of expertise. PCESA has since opened the app development potential to local government and business, which can submit needs proposals for mobile apps. Students then pick a project and work to build their mobile app over the course of the year, after which they’ll present their thinking in a county-wide contest.

It’s been a great way to get students excited about learning, and the initiative has powerful implications for Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, which rely heavily on real world application and a thorough understanding of the concepts. Students have been collaborating and communicating more than ever and even honing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

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