Students from Quaker Valley School District work in robotics

Regional school districts poised to move full STEAM ahead

Twenty-eight Pittsburgh-area school districts were recently awarded STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) grants by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s (AIU) Center for Creativity. All schools selected for the grants exemplify how to incorporate STEAM learning in meaningful and relevant ways—and that STEAM learning can be applied to nearly any subject.

Some particularly innovative ideas came from Chartiers Valley, McGuffey and Montour school districts.

At Chartiers Valley, students in 8th grade family and consumer sciences will explore the dynamics of e-textiles and conductive sewing. Their lessons will begin with the basics of circuitry, and students will then work on sewing projects using threads that carry electrical currents the same way wires do. They will create items like fabric bookmarks that light up and a twinkling wrist cuff. Finally, the students will work together to learn programming skills and create a working piano made of felt. (Yes, felt!)

McGuffey Elementary School has devised a plan that will extend classroom learning into the natural environment. Using creativity and skills they’ve learned in art, design and sustainable agriculture, students will plan and build indoor and outdoor landscapes to serve as functional learning spaces. The project’s overall focus will be to solve the 21st-century problems of sustainable agriculture.

Montour will use its grant money to start the Montour Virtual Immersion Lab (VIL). In the lab, students will interact with 3-D virtual environments to learn about the complexities of human anatomy, the components of a robot and even make their own virtual art projects. To produce these virtual environments, the lab will be equipped with virtual reality systems produced by zSpace, a California-based technology company.

The ideas listed here are just a sampling of the projects that will be filling classrooms and engaging students throughout the region next year. Other plans include using 3-D printing technology to teach history and art, implementing robotics courses into the curriculum, growing sustainable gardens and much more.

Megan Cicconi is director of instructional innovation at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. She describes how the success of these STEAM projects spreads throughout schools, districts and counties. “A lot of times, there are little pockets of success, and those pockets spread,” she says. “What comes about is an amazing collaboration among districts.”

Eventually, Cicconi and the AIU envision that grants like these will help transform learning in the entire Pittsburgh region. “They will push schools toward a different approach,” Cicconi says. “Too often, content areas are siloed. But in the real world, there is constant synthesis of information. We want to encourage that infusion and collaboration on all levels, because that’s what authentic learning looks like.”

Since 2009, the AIU has awarded over $2.5 million in grants, and the program is growing. More than 90 schools applied for this year’s grants, which were funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Grable Foundation and Chevron Corporation.

A complete list of the 2015-2016 winners can be found here.

Students from Quaker Valley School District participate in IDEA Expo, the result of a 2014 STEAM grant. Photo courtesy of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.