Western Pennsylvania Districts Show Results of STEAM Grants

Large grants helped schools create science, technology, engineering, art and math opportunities for students to make things.

by Elizabeth Behrman, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / September 29, 2016 0

(TNS) — Stephanie Bonifield stroked her dog Marvin under the chin, and he wagged his tail.

The orange pooch, made of duct tape and cardboard, also blinked his light bulb eyes and shook paws with people who stopped to greet him.

"He's got a gimpy leg, but it works," said Bonifield, 17, a senior at Carlynton Junior-Senior High School. Marvin is her second robot — she also made Fred, a dinosaur.

She and other Carlynton students showed off their work at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's annual STEAM Showcase this week. Twenty-eight school districts from Western Pennsylvania sent students to the event to show off what they did with their $20,000 STEAM grants from the AIU in the past year.

The showcase is just one such event that celebrates science, technology and engineering education in the Pittsburgh area. Remake Learning Education Friday, scheduled Oct. 14 for students and educators, is already sold out. Organizers said they expect more than 1,500 students and educators at the Buhl Community Park and Nova Place for a sneak peek --including live demonstrations and hands-on workshops and activities--of the annual Pittsburgh Maker Faire, scheduled Oct. 15 and 16.

"There seems to be a voracious appetite for kids and educators today for these authentic making and DIY experiences/STEM experiences," said Bill Schlageter, director of marketing for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, which is helping to organize the first-time event for students. "We're very excited about it."

Events such as the AIU STEAM Showcase, the Pittsburgh Maker Faire and Remake Learning Days each May show parents and community members just what kind of opportunities there are for students now, said Ryan Coon, spokesman for the Sprout Fund and the Remake Learning Network.

"It's really evolved into just a consideration of how teaching and learning happens in the 21st century," Coon said.

STEAM education in Western Pennsylvania has been rapidly expanding in the past decade.

The Remake Learning Network, a coalition of about 250 schools, businesses, universities, nonprofits and other community groups, announced this year that about 100 of its members together would be pumping $25 million into innovative learning projects across the region. Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation, one of the network's largest funders, was recognized as a "Champion of Change" by the White House this year.

In 2009, when the AIU began offering the STEAM grants, they awarded the districts mini-grants of about $3,000, said Rosanne Javorsky, the AIU's assistant executive director of teaching and learning. Last year, they awarded 28 projects $20,000 apiece.

At the showcase, the grant recipients showed off their work from the past year. Besides Carlynton's robot dog, students from districts such as Mt. Lebanon displayed plants grown as they studied suburban agriculture, and Riverview showed off the cardboard box a student had fashioned into a piano that played music when hooked up to a computer.

Bethel Park students made portraits with rust -- after students studied the chemical reactions to produce it, said Janet O'Rourke, the district's director of secondary education.

"This is real life application of science, technology, engineering, arts and math in what the kids see and do every day," she said.

©2016 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.