STEM Learning and Education Technology in Pittsburgh
While the HundrED research team and the local advisory committee are busy narrowing down to 10 innovations for our Spotlight on Pittsburgh USA, we're taking a tour of all 82 innovations submitted to the Spotlight in a three-part series. In part two: how are educators in the Pittsburgh region teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and how innovators are leveraging technology to teach STEM subjects and more?
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education is a top priority for many schools seeking to prepare students for future careers. Innovative approaches to STEM education submitted to the Pittsburgh Spotlight bring the subjects to life by providing students and teachers with real-world experiences, project-based activities, strategic planning tools, and more:
- Inspired by an exploration of solutions to global food insecurity, students and teachers at West Greene School District established a solar-powered aquaponics ecosystem.
- To help as many school districts as possible adopt best practices in STEM education, the Carnegie Science Center established this free, comprehensive, online strategic planning tool designed specifically for schools and districts.
- Girls of Steel is an all-girls competitive robotics team that exemplifies female success in robotics in order to inspire participants in the pursuit of STEM.
- Can high school students perform cancer research? Each summer, 65 students spend 8 weeks at the Hillman Cancer Center, working alongside world-renowned scientists in real, hands-on lab settings.
- The aquaponics program at Avella Area School District is a project-based learning environment that incorporates agriculture, fish culture, and nutrient cycling.
- Trinity High School students are growing food in a hydroponic facility that combines curricular concepts with community service—using agriculture, chemistry, and biotechnology, students grow vegetables and herbs that they donate to a local food bank.
- Also at Trinity Area School District, students build and race underwater rovers to explore marine architecture and ocean engineering principles.
Education technology (ed tech) seeks to leverage technology as a tool to facilitate learning. This means more than learning management systems and educational software—ed tech includes robotics kits, learning games, and even teaching strategies that make use of technology tools. Grounded by research universities and fueled by a scrappy, can-do spirit, the Pittsburgh region submitted over a dozen ed-tech innovations to the Spotlight:
- The Challenger Learning Center of Wheeling has been using technology for 20 years to deliver live video-conference simulations of space and medical adventures to classrooms all over the world. e-Missions immerse students as scientists, astronauts, and doctors working to save lives.
- Expii is an online learning platform that lets students choose how they learn math and science by tailoring lessons and practice problems to their personal preferences and styles, providing the right challenges at the right time as students learn and advance.
- The Finch was designed to make CS and engineering more engaging by giving students a real robot that can be manipulated using a variety of coding languages. Their loan program makes the Finch available to classrooms for free.
- Schell Games is exploring how to use virtual reality (VR) to help students practice real chemistry lab skills. HoloLAB Champions is a chemistry game show where students use VR equipment to conduct experiments in a virtual lab.
- How can existing school data be used to improve outcomes? Mend the Gap uses automated data processing to create data visualizations that help schools work to close the achievement gap.
- While children are developing crucial life skills at child care or in the classroom, they can struggle to communicate what they did "at school" to the adults in their lives. Message from Me is a free app that helps facilitate conversations between young learners and their caring adults at home.
- Can bridging the physical and digital worlds help engage learners in STEM concepts? NoRILLA is a research-based mixed-reality platform that helps students build and test block structures and receive personalized, interactive feedback in the process.
- Portal 2 the World is a platform that enables educators and learners virtually travel around the world to learn a new language using games and virtual reality.
- When it's hard for young learners to connect with their peers, it can be easier to talk to a robot about it. the PEERbot helps children ages 2-7 communicate, socialize, develop, and grow.
- A team of graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center created Project Prism, a game that helps neurotypical learners empathize with those on the autism spectrum by playing through an allegorical story.
- Puzzlets engages early learners in STEM topics using tactical learning that connects real and virtual worlds, allowing for tablet-based or screen-free play.
- Can playing video games help students explore their career choices? The Simcoach Skill Arcade is a collection of free games that engage youth about the interests, aptitudes, and careers available to them.
- The Cognitive Tutor for Analysis in Genetics is a project of Carnegie Mellon University that helps students learn to think like a biologist using an idea called "pathway algebra."
Computer Science & Digital Literacy
To help students flourish in our technology-rich environment, schools are integrating computer science (CS) into classrooms starting as early as pre-K. This goes beyond simply teaching students to code. Computational thinking prepares students for coding tasks and using logic to solve problems. And digital literacy is an essential part of helping students see their own role and agency in interactions with technology. These innovations submitted to the Pittsburgh Spotlight are taking novel approaches to computer science and digital literacy education:
- The K-8 space is filled with engaging yet simple CS learning tools, but the next time many students see CS is in an AP computer science class. Carnegie Mellon University's CS Academy bridges the gap between drag-and-drop beginner coding programs and advanced CS curriculum.
- Through a co-teaching model at Canon-McMillan School District, teachers and students in grades K to 4 use coding as a learning tool to explore and master content in core academic subjects, creating an immersive coding program integrated directly into everyday classroom activities.
- Young people may be able skilled users of technology, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they understand how it works, or how they can manipulate it themselves. Propel Schools' digital literacy framework helps students K to 4 understand the technology around them and use it in life and learning.
- Computational thinking is embedded into every grade level at South Fayette School District, from kindergarten through graduation. Through a series of interrelated projects that scaffold from school year to school year, every student in the district learns computational thinking, engineering, and human-centered design.
- How can technology and data serve as tools to enhance the voices of teachers and students? The Technology and Data Fluency Project equips teachers with tools and skills to decode and shape our current context, so that they can empower students to do the same.
- The CS-STEM Network provides curriculum and progress tracking tools for teachers offering popular robotics programs, all on a free platform where students can log their work and participate in competitions.
Read part one of this series here, and stay tuned for another installment next week as we explore all 82 innovations submitted to the Pittsburgh Spotlight.