STEAM Innovation

For the past four years I’ve helped to produce the South Fayette STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. This year’s two week set of workshops were extremely well received by educators and students who attended. Close to 98% of the participants gave a 4 or 5 to the workshop instructors and 99% for the organization of the sessions. Here’s a quick look at just five of the fifteen workshops that happened with quotations from the participants:

Python

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the South Fayette School District and the Coordinator for the Summer Institute, gathered together a team of South Fayette students to co-teach a four-day workshop. The students worked with Carnegie Mellon University graduate and faculty members to develop a course for 8th grade students. The summer workshop provided an opportunity not only for the students to teach, but also for other students to test out the course along with several teachers from around the Pittsburgh region. The course includes a variety of activities that incorporate the Finch robot as part of a unit based on the novel and movie, The Martian. Both students and educators enjoyed the opportunity to test out this new beta course. One the teachers commented, “I will be teaching a coding course this upcoming school year and this course exposed to me Python for the first time. It also gave an insight into what the kids would be doing in a course, how they learn the software, what intrigues them in the coding world and how they adapt to the new language they are learning.

Scratch Programming

Shad Wachter, the STEAM teacher for South Fayette’s Intermediate School, shared his talents for the fourth time this summer. Shad shared his years of experience working with Scratch for a team of educators who ranged from beginners to experienced teachers. At South Fayette everything fits into a computational framework. Shad constantly provided stories from his classes on how sets Scratch and the classroom experiences part of a larger context that includes the ability to problem-solve, develop algorithms, find repeating patterns, and use coding as part of other tools, such as BlocksCAD, a free kids-focused graphics program. According to one of the educators, “Everything was new! If I begin working at an intermediate or middle school, I can absolutely see fitting Scratch into the curriculum to introduce computational thinking!

Join the Maker Movement

Melissa Unger, the South Fayette Elementary STEAM teacher, has become one of the premier educators in the Pittsburgh region taking the Making tradition into the primary curriculum. She sets the stage at South Fayette for students’ foray into computational thinking. In her workshop she shared a variety of activities that she employs with her K-2 students. To get students to start to work in collaborative teams she uses BreakoutEDU, an immersive learning environment where students (or teachers) need to find clues to open a series of locked boxes that have clues toward a final goal. Educators who had never worked together quickly became a team working together to figure out the clues to open a series of locks. In another activity Melissa challenges her students (teachers) to use an electric toothbrush and stickers to create a machine to generate mathematical drawings. The challenge is really an introduction to the design and engineering process, a key component of South Fayette’s curriculum. Teachers come to South Fayette to learn from workshop facilitators who have become leaders in the region. One of the teachers remarked, “We are starting a maker space extreme in the fall and this workshop gave me many, many ideas from equipment to storage. Instructor was remarkable.”

Building Sustainable Mindsets

For the first time South Fayette partnered with Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. According to the Summer Institute program: Topics in sustainability have great potential to help integrate across the disciplines while providing fodder for meaningful, student-driven projects in schools and communities. This workshop will introduce participants to mindsets and topics in sustainability, including: food systems and access, biodiversity, green buildings and schools, air quality, renewable energy, aquaponics, vertical gardening, community development, systems thinking and ecoliteracy. For the session participants used a Project Based Learning (PBL) framework to begin planning units to encourage students to take action in their schools and communities. The participants were quite enthused by their experiences in Sustainability and PBL. One of the educators indicated how well the two themes wove into her work, “My job is mostly project based so this helped me think about sustainability for my program.

STEAM Innovation

Another key component for South Fayette program is infusing the arts into the STEM framework. Stephanie Deluca, South Fayette’s Curriculum, Technology, and Innovation Coordinator (K-12), shared her experiences with the Summer Institute participants. One of the favorite projects tapped into the power of the Hummingbird, a Robotics kit developed at Carnegie Mellon University, and used as part of intermediate and middle school projects at South Fayette. Educators had to design their own interactive representation for a language arts unit. For another activity participants had to create their own visualizations for cells using water colors. How did the educators react? “It was great getting to know different fun things to do in a STEAM classroom.” “There were interesting ways to implement coding and robotics into the LA curriculum, science, social studies and STEAM. Creating a scene from a book, or play, demonstrating how body parts move and work.”

 

 

 

 

Real World Learning

Why Real World Learning (RWL)? The key is found in the Glossary of Educational Reform, “Realworld learning refers to education that is focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and challenges.”

When we start with a real world issue we’re providing a context or connection. Educational research indicates that deeper engagements occur when learners see a relationship or connection to what they are researching, studying, or investigating. When you add an “inter” or multidisciplinary approach, then you create another level of connection.

In my work with learning institutions in the Western Pennsylvania area I’ve observed several great examples of where students and staff are engaged in RWL. In this article I’ll highlight two elements:

  • Students as agents of social change and creative producers
  • Regional Opportunities

Students as agent of social change and creative producer

The Avonworth School District has developed over the years a number of projects that challenge not just a select group of students, but all students at a grade level to solve a real world problem that relates to the school community. According to Jason Smith, the 8th grade Civics Teacher, “After a recent class discussion around racism and discrimination in the country, students took an anonymous survey which showed that 76% of 8th grade students believed that our country was more ‘divided’ than ‘united.’ After brainstorming times and places where the country, their community or town felt ‘united,’ students and teachers cited sporting events and fundraisers as examples.” The students then took the idea a step further and decided to develop a 5K run that would raise money for an Avonworth family that had lost their home and daughter to a recent fire.

The students were divided into teams that included: Promotions, Public Relations, Design, Registration, and Sponsorship. What makes this project more real world and more challenging is the fact that it was not just one Civics class, but all six classes that Jason Smith taught. The students shared, for instance, lists of sponsors, and each team had an alphabetical range of names to contact. In order to promote the event each class had to design a website and then a team of experts selected the best website for the project.

When I observed students working on the project everyone was engaged and collaborating with their peers. This project demonstrated how every student can be an agent for social change and contribute creative products to a common effort.

Another Avonworth project that has engaged students for five years now is the high school Galleries Project. In this case students work hand-in-hand with art professionals from four partnering museums – Carnegie Museum of Art, The Warhol, Mattress Factory, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The organizations serve as mentors for students throughout the school year. The students select a project and then product artifacts that reflect the characteristics and mediums of the partnering museums. Last year according to Assistant Superintendent, Ken Lockett, the students wanted to address the question, “Who do we value?” So the students decided to change the way valedictorians were recognized as part of a series of photographs in one of the hallways. The students tapped into an Andy Warhol style of silk screen printing. Instead of traditional photographs, each valedictorian looked like an Andy Warhol poster shimmering with bright colors.

According to Ken Lockette, “The students are working on body images with the Warhol team – trying to get their peers to look up to an ideal.”

Avonworth realizes that the power of these real world learning projects. The school district is now connecting with other schools to expose a larger number of learners to the power of real world learning.

Just down the Interstate from Avonworth, students at the South Fayette School District are working on a variety of real world learning projects. In an interview with Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation, we discussed a middle school program focusing on sustainable systems, “Seeds of Change,” and a high school set of projects revolving around Student Innovation.

Like Avonworth South Fayette has all of its 8th grade students working on a community-focused challenge. Each team of students has come up with a concept to address the question: how do we build a sustainable community? Students have used Human-Centered Design strategies to identify stakeholders, key issues, milestones, and possible solutions. One group is focusing on a living wall that can be incorporated into a classroom. Another team is investigating aquaponics. Another group of learners are examining solar panels and composting.

In each case the students are engaged in a real world challenge that allows them to be creative producers with an engagement with either their class, school, or community.

At the high school level South Fayette students are tackling innovative solutions to real world problems. South Fayette did not have a curriculum in place to teach Python. A student-led team worked with a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student and an engineer from Google to develop an after-school program and then turn this into a curriculum for classroom use. Next year all 8th grade students will take the Python course developed by their high school peers.

Four years ago a team of students at South Fayette worked with Amanda Gunawardena, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton, to create MyEduDecks. Over time new student teams have modified the program creating new iterations. As part of the project students conduct research and then share their findings at professional conferences. The students have presented their findings at conferences at Pepperdine University, Microsoft Research, and Brown University. The student findings are professionally published by Springer, a national publisher. According to Aileen Owens, “The most difficult thing is creating the research project and understanding what the data means.” What could be a more real-world problem?

As part of a middle school program around App Development students had to come up with solutions for community problems. One team of students about four years ago discovered from bus drivers that there was a problem with kids getting on the wrong bus. The original team developed “BusBudE” and today student app developers continue to provide new updates to the software. In the latest iteration the students are working on a version that can be shared with other school districts and a training module so other districts can link the software to their busing schedule. The student app team is also working on materials for parents so the parents understand what the data means.

Bringing the real world doesn’t stop at the end of the school year at South Fayette. Students work on the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute for educators. Students serve as tech coordinators as well as student assistants and teachers. Yes, the students who developed the Python course last summer trained teachers in the use of Python. While the students are the creative producers, the teachers need to understand their role as facilitators and mentors.

Regional Opportunities

Through the efforts of schools like Avonworth, South Fayette, and Elizabeth Forward, educators around the region and across the country can learn more about integrating the arts into Project-based Learning and Human Centered Design, STEAM, or FAB learning. Starting in June and continuing through July there are opportunities at each of the schools I’ve listed. In addition, this year Pittsburgh is hosting the Schools that Can National Forum from May 10-11.

Schools that Can (STC) Forum is an annual, public conference focused on a common theme. Sessions are led and attended by top urban educators from STC schools, innovative educational organizations, thought leaders, industry, and community partners. This year’s theme is: Real World Learning for the 21st Century. On the first day of the conference participants will have a chance to visit examples of projects representing the range of K-12 activities. Sites include Pittsburgh: Allegheny Traditional School, Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, Drew Mathieson Center, and City Charter High School. At each site students will share their “real world” experiences. On the second day the event will move to the University of Pittsburgh where panels of experts will share best practices around Real World Learning.

The Elizabeth Forward School District will host from June 15 to 18 a FAB Institute. Elizabeth Forward is opening its doors to any educator interested in creating or improving their own FAB or Fabrication Lab. Participants will learn real world skills such as: computer-aided design, embedded programming, 3D scanning and printing, and much more for implementation at elementary, middle, and high school levels. Apply online at Pittsburgh FAB Institute.

From June 14-25 the South Fayette School District will host its STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. Sessions for educators working in the K-20 arena (in school and out-of-school) range from one to four days. Topics include: Making for Young Children, Creating Sustainable Mindsets, Computational Thinking, Entrepreneurship, App Development, Robotics, and 3D Modeling for Young Children. This year the program also introduces two new workshops that focus on bringing real world projects into the classroom: Professional Development for Authentic PBL School to Business Partnerships and Teachers in the Workplace.

Last year the Avonworth School District partnered with the LUMA Institute and the Center for the Arts to develop Studio A, a 3 day workshop that integrates the Arts into Project-based Learning (PBL) using Human Centered Design. This summer Avonworth will roll out the second round of Studio A training from July 11 to July 13. Participants will learn new tools in design thinking and the arts to workshop ideas for developing authentic, real world PBL units. Teachers will build skills and knowledge to develop interdisciplinary, project-based lessons/units to engage students in meaningful learning and in applying 21st century skills.

 

Students Who Teach, It’s All Part Of Remaking The Education System

[This summer I helped to coordinate the South Fayette STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. Here’s a great story done by WESA-FM, the PBS affiliate in Pittsburgh,  about the role of students as teachers for the Summer Institute.]

South Fayette STEAM Institute

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

It may be summer, but on a recent sunny June day, a small group of teachers and students stayed indoors. They sat in classrooms at the South Fayette School District campus for a different take on traditional summer school.

In the STEAM Summer Institute, teachers far out-numbered students, and in some instances, it was the students who were doing the teaching.

South Fayette High School Freshman Parv Shrivastava was one of those students. He taught a room full of teachers how to use programming language. Shrivastava used a block-based programming language know as Scratch, to coax a cartoon cat across a computer screen. Students watched as his work was projected onto a white board.

After the getting the grasp of Scratch, the teachers used Raspberry Pi, or a small computer used to learn programming language. Using that, the teachers put their new skills to the test, using some wires and a resister to turn on and off an LED.

“We’re feeling very accomplished right now,” said Ryan Puz, a recent college graduate. She spent last year as a substitute teacher and is now looking for a classroom to call her own.

Puz said the knowledge level of the students was “mind blowing.”

The two weeks of workshops at the Summer Institute focus on helping teachers incorporate maker space and science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, concepts into their classrooms.

The idea to have students teach the teachers came after watching students teach the computer programing language, Python, to each other, said South Fayette Director of Technology and Innovation Aileen Owens. While at one of the district’s annual summer institutes, she said she realized teachers might also want to learn the language.

“As we looked around at professionals in the field (to teach the class), professionals were very busy and didn’t have a lot of time to devote to this,” Owens said. “So we took the students who have been teaching and then assigned them to be teachers.”

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