During Remake Learning Days in Westmoreland County, free events bring fun with robots, environmental chemistry and more
Laura Swick knows the value of creative, collaborative activities to teach kids critical thinking skills. And she knows what makes their eyes light up. In a word: coding.
“They love coding,” says Swick, technology coach for teachers and students in grades 7-12 at Norwin School District in North Huntingdon. “The younger kids love Bee-Bots — they like to code them to do a maze, or they can write a story behind it.”
This year, during Remake Learning Days — scheduled from May 12-23 in southwestern Pennsylvania (details here)— Norwin schools will host six of the 10 events in Westmoreland County (search for events here). They’re among more than 175 events planned across the region to encourage young people, their families, caregivers and educators to explore new ways of learning.
Swick knows students in Norwin’s intermediate and middle schools who began discovering technology by playing with Bee-Bots and now want to do much more with it. She has worked with them at various levels, including as a computer science teacher and as coordinator of a gifted program, and has watched many students develop their potential by utilizing new technologies.
The district’s participation in Remake Learning Days has grown over the years as well, she says, though it was confined to virtual participation during Covid. Now, the in-person Remake Learning Days activities will give Norwin educators a chance to show parents and grandparents just how well hands-on learning engages kids.
“Hands-on learning is the best. And there’s so much digital literacy these days,” says Swick. “Just to be able to get out and see what is being offered at the schools, that’s what makes it so exciting for the kids. One of the biggest hits this year is something we’re doing that’s new: VR goggles. You can put them on and explore outer space. Kids can program them to take them to different places.”
Like most of the items that Norwin schools will display, the virtual reality goggles are grant-funded, Swick says. Various state and foundation grants help the district to keep its technology services up to date.
This school year, Norwin’s 1:World Initiative has provided iPads to every student in grades K-12 and the Norwin Online Academy.
“We have 5,300 students, and the iPads allow so much more creativity for them. It’s great,” Swick says. “A lot of these kids have grown up with Remake Learning Days, but we do a lot of these things throughout the year. Everything we’re displaying has been a classroom lesson.”
Technology also factors into education at Franklin Regional School District in Murrysville. The district’s 2022 STREAM Expo — science, technology, research, engineering, arts and math — will coincide with the start of Remake Learning Days on May 12.
Students of all ages in grades K-12 will be involved, but special workshops are planned for those in grades K-8. They can sign up through May 6 to take part in a maker workshop, art activities, outdoor education and other workshops at Franklin Regional Intermediate School.
“Our high school students will be helping to run workshops and doing demonstrations of their own work as well,” says Tina Gillen, the district’s director of Innovation & Communication. Student musicians will provide entertainment.
The Stream Safari, for example, will let kids get wet and muddy while conducting water chemistry experiments and examining the macroinvertebrates in the creek near the intermediate school.
In the school’s first-floor Innovation Center, another workshop will explain to kids why the plastic holders that group cans of soda together are so dangerous to wildlife — because animals might ingest them or get caught in the plastic loops. Kids will get to design a holder that’s environmentally friendly.
And, of course, there will be robots to compete with one another and interact with visitors. The FRobotics Team has built a robot that can lob giant tennis balls when kids take the controls.
Franklin Regional has two technology centers — the Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center and the Forbes Road Career & Technology Center — that offer programs for high school students, as well as adult education.
Across southwestern Pennsylvania, where it began in 2016, Remake Learning Days has hosted more than 1,200 events reaching an estimated 150,000 families. Designed as a learning festival to ignite wonder among kids and adults, the program offers events hosted by schools, museums, libraries, tech companies and others. It now takes place in 17 regions across America.