When Pitsco co-founder Harvey Dean was in high school, he was a below-average student who was nearly disciplined out of school because he didn’t see how what he was learning was applicable in the real world. Thanks to the support of his shop teacher Jim Coffey, however, he found success through kinesthetic learning, or learning by doing. And that is still the principle that Pitsco, now a multi-million dollar, national education supply and curriculum development company, stands by today.
“We develop hands-on learning tools and curricula that show kids the relevance of what they are learning; engage them whether they learn best visually, audibly, or kinesthetically; and expose them to careers where they can use the skills they enjoy the most or understand the best,” said Lisa Paterni, president of Pitsco.
Founded in 1971 strictly as a catalog company for industrial arts courses (now known as technology education), Pitsco has grown to include a curriculum development business that develops coursework for students from kindergarten through high school in a much broader array of subjects, such as physical science, biology, earth science, math, and algebra.
The company develops curriculum for three levels of learning. Each level provides age-appropriate, team-based, kinesthetic-rich learning. The mission level applies to students from kindergarten through sixth grade who work in groups of four. The next level, modules, is for middle and junior high school students who work in pairs. In Pitsco’s highs school program, students also work in pairs but meet frequently within their suite of six students.
Pitsco invented the modular teaching concept, which revolutionized the way learning transpires in school; the company even sells workstations and has reproducible designs for classrooms.
“We talk about teachers becoming guides on the side instead of using the traditional stand-and-deliver model,” Paterni said, adding that the Pitsco model has proven to also work with more abstract disciplines like business and algebra, for which Pitsco is the only company of its kind to offer a complete program. “We also see education moving toward Pitsco’s integrated approach in which our curriculum and products engage learners and where math is part of chemistry, which is also part of biology, etc.”
But she said the company will continue to stay close to its roots in science and technology as it grows.
“We know hands-on learning better than anyone, so we will concentrate on those disciplines that best lend themselves to hands-on applications integrated with core content in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM,” she said, adding that because of its great reputation for service and quality curriculum, Pitsco became the sole distributor of Lego Education products to schools in the US.
Last year Pitsco developed Tetrix, a metal building system designed specifically to work with the Lego Technic building system. It is the first of its kind, and when combined with either a radio controller or the Lego Mindstorms Education NXT system, Paterni said it is a great addition to any high school robotics classroom. Paterni said the line is already very popular and that the company has only scratched the surface with its robotics applications in the classroom.
The company is expanding this year into a new field of study, environmentally friendly sciences, with several new items Paterni called green kits students can use to build solar water heaters, solar ovens, wind turbines, and more. The kits complement new curriculum modules the company has developed. Examples of module titles are garbology, green transportation, sustainable agriculture, and eco-architecture.
Paterni said the company is pleased with the traction these new programs are getting in schools but added that the pace of change in education can be slow. Pitsco spends considerable time and resources developing new products and curriculum, she said, so it can offer complete solutions to schools that make adopting its products easy in any school system.
“We have former teachers, computer programmers, designers, and multimedia professionals on staff that all contribute to the development process, and we welcome ideas from everywhere,” Paterni said. “We are always evaluating our offerings and new technology that might be applicable in the classroom to come up with new ideas.”
She also explained that the company has a comprehensive assessment and prioritization process for ideas from within the company, teachers, and others. Most of the time, according to Paterni, Pitsco’s curriculum business and its catalog business operate separately, but the development teams for both sides collaborate and feed each other ideas.
The company emphasizes face-to-face communication with districts around the company when marketing its products. Representatives attend more than 100 industry trade shows and conventions each year, advertise in trade publications, and sponsor events in school districts. Paterni said the company is also ramping up its web advertising efforts.
On the curriculum side of the business, Pitsco employs a sales force to visit schools and show them how the company can meet their individual needs.
“The subject matter taught in a classroom depends on federal and state requirements, the desires of the community, and the capabilities of individual school districts; we boil trends in the industry down to useable and proven products and methods that provide a complete solution but are flexible enough to work within all those constraints,” said Paterni. “Education will continue to become more integrated and a much more important part of our communities in the future, and we are excited to be a part of that.”