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Google gifts 10 area schools to expand Pittsburgh maker education

Rachel Weaver
March27/ 2017

Students at 10 Pittsburgh-area schools will be getting more hands-on with their education thanks to an innovative nationwide initiative spearheaded by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

“Making Spaces: Expanding Maker Education Across the Nation,” a project supported by Google, helps schools gain resources and guidance for developing programs aimed at interactive, engaging learning experiences.

“Maker education is about the process, not necessarily the product,” says Katie Koffler, Making Spaces project manager at the Children’s Museum. “It’s a place for hands-on exploration using both low and high technology. It’s about having failures and successes. It’s a different way of learning for everything from sewing to programming. It fits in anywhere in school curriculum.”

Local schools participating in the program through the 2017-18 school year are Buffalo and South Buffalo Elementary Schools, Freeport Area School District; Central and William Penn Elementary Schools, Elizabeth Forward School District; Founders Hall Middle School, McKeesport Area School District; Greensburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School; Keystone Oaks High School; Northgate Middle/High Schools; Pittsburgh Langley K-8, Pittsburgh Public Schools; Sto-Rox Elementary School; Watson Institute Friendship Academy; and Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

The project is in its early stages and educators will meet over the summer to further develop their goals and vision. The intent is to create a designated maker education space for each school by next year. Each space will have a different focus, Koffler says.

“For example, Founders Hall has a great, dedicated science teacher who is really into 3-D printing,” she says. “We will provide them with the resources they need so they can create a high-tech lab.”

Mary Carole Perry, principal of Central Elementary School, Elizabeth Forward School District, says her school staff is excited to be partnered with the Children’s Museum.

“They have the knowledge to help us develop this space successfully and how to keep this initiative growing for years to come,” she says. “I want our children to develop with their hands the skills they will need to move towards higher level technology skills. I also want to help them to develop the skills needed to be successful in school and in having cooperative relationships with others.”

Ben Althof, Greensburg Central Catholic Senior High principal, says maker education enhances the school’s already rigorous curriculum.

“We aim to incorporate a multidisciplinary learning approach that allows all students to experience productive failures and successes,” he says. “We know that students who are actively engaged in their own learning benefit from hands-on projects, problem-solving and creative thinking and move into higher education ready to make applications and solve real-world problems.”

The Children’s Museum is at the forefront of maker education. In 2011, it debuted a permanent maker space exhibit called MAKESHOP where visitors can play with the same materials professional artists, builders, and programmers use. The museum also hosts an annual Maker Boot Camp for educators.

In 2015, the museum launched a year-long pilot program called Kickstarting Making. Ten schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania raised more than $100,000 collectively to provide maker education in their schools. The program gained recognition from the White House and Google. The museum used the experience to design a toolkit that organizations across the country are now using to assist their partner schools.

With Making Spaces, the museum is helping each selected school realize its vision by providing professional development for educators, space design consultation, and resources for program sustainability. Koffler says schools were chosen based on the level of interest, museum outreach participation, and availability of maker education materials.

“Some have the parts and pieces in place and just need help putting it all together,” Koffler says. “Some are starting from the ground up.”

Most schools are expected to launch 30-day GoFundMe campaigns to help support their goals by May 1.

Rachel Weaver