Progressive Education: The Key of the Future

Zaharis Elementary, part of the Mesa Public Schools, in Phoenix, Arizona has caught attention because of their progressive approach in preparing their students to excel in their future professions. They have shifted their focus from tests and test results to a more “outside-of-the-box model” that creates lifelong learners who will be able to adapt to the changing job market. 

To illustrate why Zaharis Elementary has made this shift, Principal Michael Oliver said, “85% of the jobs of tomorrow haven’t even been invented yet.”

Similar to STEM Sports®, Zaharis Elementary is focusing its school year curriculum on collaboration, critical thinking and active problem-solving. This innovative approach to education has drawn the attention of policymakers in the United States as well as Russia, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Armenia. 

Oliver said, “whenever I hear ”PBL” or ”project-based learning,” I cringe a little bit because when you’re doing the work of inquiry and when you’re doing real-life exploration, it’s all project-based learning. It’s how we learn.”

This approach emphasizes the need for a hands-on approach to learning. Oliver is highlighting that project-based lessons and learning are not something that needs to be highlighted when they are done because this should be done every time. According to research done by Build Your Future (BYF), there is a high success rate when students are hands-on with their curriculum. It improves retention, real-life application and test scores. 

The educational system has always relied on test scores to measure both school and student success. Oliver said that this will likely never change, but the way that schools view it can. By focusing more on a fluid learning approach, students develop a deeper understanding of concepts and their real-world applications. This helps them as they move forward into the workforce and, at the same time, often reflect on their standardized test scores without it being the focal point of the lessons. 

Oliver said, “We have never doubled down on a standardized test. With that said, our students score exceptionally well. We have the letter grade of an “A” from the Arizona Department of Education. We’ve been given the award of an “A+” from the Arizona Education Foundation.” 

Oliver, who has been with Zaharis Elementary for 18 years, said that it is not enough for just his Kindergarten through 6th-grade students to get this educational experience. He considers his students to be “primarily privileged”. His hope is that progressive education can expand to students of all demographics and economic groups, in order to create equal opportunity to succeed among all students. 

We at STEM Sports® resonate with the idea of progressive, quality education for all students. By combining STEM and sports, we have created a unique approach to learning that breaks barriers of traditional education, language and other limitations students face in the classroom. 

Our STEM curriculum allows for both affluent and non-affluent students to engage in each lesson. Science, technology, engineering and math are all topics that are universal across cultures and language. That makes our curricula a way for all students to improve their STEM literacy. The same idea applies to sports. One thing holds constant across all children — they love to play. With that in mind, our STEM curriculum is formed around hands-on learning where kids get to use sports as a way to work through each lesson and understand how complex STEM concepts apply to sports and, in turn, real life. 

In the near future, STEM Sports® will be releasing Volume 2 of our STEM curriculum. The new versions will include pre- and post-assessments to gauge progress, jobs that connect with each concept the students are learning and grade separations to ensure the best results. Each kit focuses on the 5 E’s of education approach:

  • Engage
  • Explore
  • Explain 
  • Elaborate
  • Evaluate 

Additionally, there will be a “Capstone Project” for 6th – 8th-grade students to commensurate their knowledge at the completion of all eight (8) modules. This allows students to showcase the skills they learned during the lessons through a comprehensive-based project. Moreover, it provides teachers a way to see student progress in a tangible way.

One of the most popular and engaging modules in our basketball curriculum is “Shot Tracking” for grades 3rd – 5th. The focus is to create a base in long division as well as other equations for students to solve by hand. For grades 6th – 8th, the module relies heavily on the HomeCourt application to teach shot tracking through advanced technology; also known as “Shot Tracking with Technology”. Throughout this module, students will gain a better understanding of probability, percentages and where on the court he/she is most successful. 

Zaharis Elementary teacher, Patrick Carroll, had the opportunity to experience and implement  our STEM Basketball curriculum first-hand through collaborative efforts with the Phoenix Suns in 2018. Zaharis was one of ten schools that received two complimentary STEM Basketball kits from this partnership.
The success of Michael Oliver and his staff at Zaharis Elementary is inspiring for today’s students and future generations. Likewise, we dedicate ourselves at STEM Sports® to support students of today and tomorrow. We will continue to develop and implement curricula/lessons that are creative and strategic, immersing the student in education, sport, and physical activities that allow students to cultivate and promote their STEM literacy, engagement, and retention.  

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