Kids+Creativity Network members joined for lunch and learning at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3 to discuss STEAM learning and it’s implications for Pittsburgh area schools. Presenting on this topic were Ken Lockette of Avonworth School District, David Martin of STREAM Academy, and Todd Keruskin of Elizabeth Forward School District. With a room full of eager-to-learn audience members, and plenty of information to relay, Dr. Linda Hippert, Director of the AIU, began the afternoon with a warm welcome.

Ken and David took the stage first, outlining some background of STEAM education and moving into their experiences at the Downingtown STEM Academy Conference. STEAM, as most know, stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. This has been considered to be the direction schools should push their curriculum, to give students the best educational opportunities available. Many educators are gearing their lesson plans to include more science, tech, engineering, arts, and math in our region, because STEAM plays a huge role in Western Pennsylvania. The region’s market is STEAM-driven, and there’s no end to that drive in sight. We are a developing region, full of culture and life, and we are educating incredibly intelligent students.

“STEAM education enables the next generation of thinkers.”

The Downingtown STEM Academy stands as a great role model for all school districts working to change their students’ experiences. It began as a solution to a problem, and turned into an incredible opportunity. Downingtown High School had entirely too many students for faculty to teach, and building a brand new building was costly, so their solution was to create a streamlined, subject-focused Academy for dedicated students to apply, attend, and succeed. The STEM Academy of Downingtown was born. Pursued on a “leap of faith”- that students would wish to apply, attend, work through the rigorous course materials and complete the tedious and stressful assignments, the academy soon created an atmosphere like no other. Desks were gathered into pods to promote collaborative efforts, grading was shifted to a mastery goal rather than an informative quantity, and block scheduling was implemented to allow students more time to work on projects. Essentially, the Downingtown STEM Academy formed an environment where 21st century skills could be learned and developed.

Todd began his presentation by making a switch from Ken and Dave’s. While they talked about what is going on now, and how important it is to realize it, Todd talked about what could happen- what should happen. The focus, Todd explains, should be on forward thinking. More often than not, schools get stuck in a rut called “tradition” or “formal”. While the structure of the education and the curriculum are at stand still, the students are not. There is a need for a shift from what has always been to the more modern view of what will become. Workspace would be a great place to start. If the goal is to have kids collaborate more, then they need a space that encourages that and allows them to huddle up and discuss their ideas. The technology needs to shift as well to something that is conducive to kids’ virtual world. They are, as they have been called, digital natives, and there is no better place for them to explore that other than in education.

“Frontierland to Tomorrowland…”

Todd points the audience towards a book developed by M.I.T. that has catalyzed the change within his own district. “Hanging out, Messing around, and Geeking out”. Spark suggests you check it out! Hint: it involves everything in the title… in detail. Also, while you’re researching, check out YouMedia and SMALLab. We guarantee you’ll be happy you found it, and you’ll start dreaming of them for your own school immediately.

It is not often enough that educators and innovators are bought together to discuss trends or tactics in education, and today’s lunch & learn was filled with those sensing the rare opportunity. Though the presentations were thoroughly developed and the information outstanding, there is still a need for continued conversation about STEAM education. Spark has initiated this first step, and hopes to continue it further. To keep updated on opportunities to lengthen this conversation, or to join in other ones, visit sparkpgh.org.