From robotics to sustainable farming, the 2016 STEAM Showcase, held on September 27th at the Circuit Center and Ballroom, illustrated the scope of STEAM education that is redefining student learning in classrooms throughout western Pennsylvania. The Showcase highlighted how the recipients of last year’s STEAM Grants—28 school districts located throughout the region—have utilized their funding to infuse science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics into the curriculum in an integrative fashion.
Included in this year’s celebration were speeches by Delaney Zilla, a student in the Greenville Area School District, located approximately 70 miles north of Pittsburgh, and Kylie Edwards and Peri Muftuoglu, both former students of Moss Side Middle School in the Gateway School District. Very eloquently, all three students spoke about how their grant-funded projects provided new opportunities for inquiry-based learning, in which problems were presented that required them to engineer novel solutions, increasing both their engagement and autonomy as learners. Zilla recalled how a visit from two MIT students last year was so impactful that she has since considered pursuing a career in engineering. “One of the two [MIT students] explained how she is in the process of making a Band-Aid that will monitor the healing of the wound and eventually distribute medication to aid that process,” Zilla stated. “They worked with us in groups on various engineering challenges and showed us how females can break the stereotype of what once was a male-dominated field.” Later in the ceremony, Mary Esther Van Shura from the office of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald presented Gregg Behr, the Executive Director of The Grable Foundation, with a proclamation for his recent recognition by the White House as a “Champion of Change Making.”
Another particularly inspiring aspect of this year’s Showcase included how students from throughout the region enthusiastically shared with one another what they have learned about STEAM through their contributions to their schools’ projects. “As a former STEAM teacher, I was impressed with the depth of engagement from students at the event. The atmosphere was inspiring,” stated Katie Henry, of BirdBrain Technologies, one of the event’s exhibitors. Students acted not only as proud advocates of their districts, but also as budding scientists and technologists eager to learn from their peers. Walking from one exhibit to the next, students engaged with one another in thoughtful discussion about STEAM concepts and their larger applications, similar to what one might experience at a professional conference. Emily Brightshue, for instance, a 9th grader at New Castle High School, concluded after viewing the exhibits and talking with peers that “the design process is not only a tool for engineering, but a tool for success in life.”
In addition to the 28 participating school districts, local STEAM-related organizations—many whom have supported grant recipients in the implementation of their projects— were also present to showcase some of their latest work. Schell Games, for example, a Pittsburgh-based game development company, provided demonstrations of a new augmented reality chemistry modeling tool called Happy Atoms that lets users discover the world of molecules in an engaging, hands-on fashion, while the CMU Personal Robotics Lab provided attendees the opportunity to operate one of their sophisticated, assistive robots, which was delicate enough to pick up a marshmallow and autonomously deliver it to whomever was behind the controls. Henny Admoni, a postdoctoral fellow at the Lab, recalled a memorable interaction she had with two students who had built a robot and were driving it around the Showcase. “We had a fun conversation about what kinds of sensors the robot would need in order to see where it was going,” she stated. Other exhibitors included Maker Faire Pittsburgh, Stem Jobs, STORYTIME STEM PACKS, BirdBrain Technologies, TechShop, Digital Dream Labs, SLB Radio Productions, EverFi, The Sprout Fund, The Remake Learning Network, The Green Building Alliance, Kidsburgh, Common Sense Education, Sevenzo, CMU CREATE Lab, and the Senator John Heinz History Center.
The STEAM Grants are awarded annually by the Center for Creativity at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and are generously funded by Chevron and the Benedum and Grable Foundations. Now in its eighth consecutive year, nearly 175 grants have been distributed with over $3 million in funding provided to school districts throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.