Area teachers attend STEAM workshops

Published Jul 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm (Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm)

As part of the district’s STEAM initiative, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math, a series of summer workshops called the Summer STEAM Institute were held recently at the South Fayette School District.

According to Aileen Owens, director of technology for the district, several area schools were invited to participate in the workshops, which all centered around STEAM. Owens said that although the majority of attendees were teachers from South Fayette, teachers from West Allegheny, Baldwin-Whitehall and Upper St. Clair also came to the program.

At workshops on July 25, one group of teachers were learning about the program “Scratch 2.0” and another group was learning how to make e-textile clothing.

Owens said the district has been working with Mitch Resnick of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media lab, Karen Brennan of Harvard and Kylie Peppler of Indiana University.

District Superintendent Dr. Bille Rondinelli said she is very excited about the design-centered projects. She said teachers and administrators at South Fayette have been able to participate in workshops centered around innovation at Pittsburgh-based companies Maya and Luma. Workshops at Luma teach organizations how to become more innovative through hands-on curriculum and Maya is a design consultant firm and technology research lab.

“It’s framing in the future,” Rondinelli said about having the teachers and students focus on problem-based and design-based thinking.

“Scratch” was developed by programmers at MIT and is a free educational programming language that can be used to make simple games. A group of about 15 teachers had the chance to make their own games and play with the program.

“This is definitely the direction education is going,” said Sandi Miller, who teaches fifth grade at South Fayette. “It’s best to be there to learn it.”

She said she had heard a lot of good things from her students who have used Scratch in the past. “Any kind of technology engages kids,” Miller said.

Melissa Drake, who will be teaching in the STEAM classroom at the intermediate school in the fall, said, “The kids know a lot more about programming than you do.”

Drake said she came to the workshop to see what her students have already been exposed to in technology.

“I’m really excited about it,” said fifth grade teacher Ben Laughton about the district’s STEAM initiative. Laughton, who was recently hired at South Fayette said he’d never heard of STEAM prior to coming to the district – he had always heard of it as STEM, which doesn’t include the arts portion. Laughton said learning Scratch will come in handy when he is teaching language arts because he can have his students make interactive fairy tales using the software.

Another group of teachers learned how to make e-textile clothing. On July 25, a group of fourth grade teachers gathered to make small bags that incorporated blinking LED lights.

Verily Tan and Sophia Bender, graduate students at Indiana University-Bloomington, taught the class and the teachers how to program the blinking lights and sew their bags with conductive thread.

Fourth grade teacher Tracy Brandtner was adding a blinking sun to her bag.

“I drew it out first and then built the code so the lights do what I want them to do,” Brandtner said, pointing to a diagram with a series of wires on top of it.

Samantha Bozzer, a fourth grade teacher, said she had never sewn before, as she showed off the battery pack she embedded in fabric. She was making a sun on her bag.

Instructor Sophia Bender said the e-textile field is the first computing field dominated by women. Owens added that it teaches a skill like sewing and combines it with technology and design skills so students will be interested in it.

Students will be making their own e-textiles in the fall.

The district recently received a grant from the Grable Foundation to help continue its STEAM programs.

Rondinelli said the district will soon be a part of the roll-out of the next version of the Scratch program – Scratch 3.0.

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