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STEAM Education for At-Risk Residential Youth

STEAM and Maker Education is provided to 8-18 year old youth living in residential care

STEAM Education initiatives take place with the youth in our organization, who range from ages 8-18. With our mobile STEAM and Maker Labs, youth are able to participate within the residential setting. With one primary educator as well as staff support and a variety of community partners, innovative STEAM and Maker Education has been brought to the youth within the organization.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.






January 2019
Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.

About the innovation

Innovative STEAM Education for At Risk Residential and Homeless Youth

Auberle is a non-profit organization that serves children, youth and families in various capacities. The residential and homeless youth served through this program have come to us due to family issues, behavioral problems, or homelessness. Our residential facilities aim to help youth receive support and gain necessary life skills. 

For this innovation, a "Learning Innovation Coordinator" was hired to carry out STEAM education for youth at Auberle.  A need has been identified on a national level for an increase in STEAM education, especially for at-risk youth. With many of the youth we serve being African American and from economically disadvantaged households, it is especially important that opportunities in these subjects are provided. With the STEM fields being dominated by white males, it is imperative that a more diverse population is reached and encouraged to pursue careers in these areas. Many of our residents struggle academically, socially, and emotionally, and face many hurdles on their path to success. The vast majority have lived through traumatic experiences. By providing opportunities in Science, Technology, Art, Engineering, and Math, the goal is to inspire, motivate, excite, encourage, and support these youth. The  aim of the activities provided is to foster a love of learning, an interest STEAM and Making, increased social skills, and a place to explore, create, and make mistakes in a safe space. By creating and learning new skills, youth have the opportunity to take ownership over their own learning and to experience small triumphs, which will lead to increased self-efficacy and self-esteem. We hope that the activities will act as a catalyst to prompt the youth to seek out further opportunities in STEAM and Maker education, to dig deeper, and to uncover passions and talents that may otherwise go undiscovered. 

 A wide variety of STEAM activities have been offered to our residents. These have included robotics, coding, art, science experiments, engineering challenges, math activities, and gardening. We will  be adding environmental education, chicken keeping, and  culinary arts this summer. The activities are hands-on, fun, and engaging. As often as possible, the various disciplines within STEAM are integrated into any given lesson. We strive for open-ended learning and room for questions and exploration. Many of our lessons have stemmed from questions asked or interests expressed by residents. 

Due to the nature of our organization—residents living in housing that is not in one central location—we found a need to plan around the need for mobility. Therefore, the majority of activities outlined here can be easily transported, the major exceptions being the garden and the chickens. We do have the ability to transport the youth to our main campus when needed; however, we have found it is easier for the youth to be able to stay in their residential spaces and to have the activities come to them. For this reason, we generally avoid purchasing equipment or materials that cannot be taken from site to site. 

In order to limit expenditures, we have been able to tap into a variety of local organizations for support. We have had the opportunity to partner with an organization who lends out robotics and technology  kits to use with the youth. This has allowed us to utilize Makey Makey Kits, Bee-Bots, Finch Robots, Brushbots and Hummingbird Robots. Additionally, we have reached out to local organizations to provide either inexpensive or free programming for the youth. This has been an integral part of the educational programming, because in addition to the cost consideration, the Learning Innovation Coordinator does not hold expertise in every area we are aiming to cover with this innovation. One example is a workshop series on sewing that was taught by a local nonprofit organization we were able to partner with. We also connect with other branches within our own organization, such as the Employment Institute and the 412 Youth Zone to share ideas and set youth up with opportunities that may help them in their education and  future careers.

In planning the programming, we have found that there is a myriad of resources in the form of in-person and online training, as well as YouTube tutorials and endless internet resources with articles, lesson plans, and instructions on just about any subject imaginable. 

Youth input has been an important part of the the planning process as well. Educators and staff consistently discuss with students what their interests and goals are, and strive to incorporate them into the plans. It is a constant learning process for everyone involved, and we have learned the need to stay flexible and open to change. We are constantly working to make new connections, and stay in tune with best practices in the STEAM Education arena. We find it important to continue expanding and growing our programming to reach youth who are struggling and are prone to “falling through the cracks” of the educational system. With some planning, dedication, excitement, and creativity, we believe any individual or organization can access and provide this type of programming for the youth they serve as well. 


Cricut Machine
We were able to purchase a Cricut Maker machine, which is a die-cut machine. We use it for many different activities, such as cutting out vinyl for screen printing, cutting out paper for suncatchers and Valentine's cards, making stickers, and will continue to use this for a myriad of different projects. Teaching the youth how to use the machine has been an excellent way to teach about technology, and the projects that can be done with the machine are so varied that this piece of equipment has been worth the expense for our program. 
Raising Chickens
We have a plan currently in the works to begin raising chickens as an addition to our existing garden during the spring/summer of 2019. In April, the chicks will be purchased from a local farm and kept indoors until they are old enough to go outside. We will then move them into the coop we are purchasing. Youth will be able to help care for the chickens, and eat the eggs the chickens provide. Keeping chickens will open up opportunities for learning in the areas of science, sustainability, and nutrition, as well as soft skills such as responsibility, compassion, and working together. Additionally, youth in residential programs may benefit emotionally and socially from having the chance to interact in a positive way with animals. 
Chick Incubation and Hatching
An organization called "Rent the Chicken" came to our organization and did a short presentation on chickens. We received 7 fertilized chicken eggs, and incubator, and a cage for the chicks. The children will have the opportunity to observe as the chicks grow inside of the eggs and then hatch. This program will last 5 weeks: 3 weeks to incubate the eggs, and then for 2 weeks we will keep the chicks. We will also be purchasing our own chicks to raise and move into the coop outside once they are old enough. Residents will learn about keeping chickens, and be able to eat the eggs we get from the chickens. 
Youth created brushbots, which are small robots that use a battery and a motor, connected by wires to create a closed circuit. The motor sends a vibration through the bristles, which causes it to move. Here, youth experimented with adding paint to the bristles of the scrub brush so the brushbot could paint on posterboard. This is an excellent example of bringing in multiple elements of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Art. 
Bee-Bots are little robots used to teach coding, directions, sequencing, and teamwork. We checked these robots out from the STEAM Lending Library in Pittsburgh, free of cost. Pictured here is a project youth participated in to code their Bee-Bots to find their way through a maze.
Borax Slime for an Easy Slime and Science Activity with Kids
Youth mixed together ingredients to create slime. We experimented with mixing different ingredients to compare textures and see what would make the stretchiest, stickiest, fluffiest, or gooiest slime. Some of the ingredients we used are: borax, glue, water, food coloring, baking soda, contact solution, and shaving cream. Different recipes use different ingredients, and it's interesting to make different recipes and compare the difference outcomes. This is a crowd favorite for all ages! https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/how-to-make-borax-slime-easy/
Hacking Stuffed Animals
For this project, we partnered with Assemble, a local organization here in Pittsburgh. The educators showed our teenage girl residents how to "hack stuffed animals" by creating voice recordings and embedding them inside of stuffed animals. This was a fun way to incorporate learning about technology with a familiar item such as a stuffed animal.
Watercolor Salt Art
Kids at our Family Emergency Shelter created paintings using glue, sea salt, and watercolor paints. 
Oozing Pumpkins
Youth created "oozing pumpkins" using baking soda and vinegar. They learned about the reaction between these two ingredients to create an "explosion".
Dioramas with LED Lights
We partnered with a local organization called Assemble. Instructors from this nonprofit came and showed youth how to create dioramas using recycled materials and LED lights. 
Frozen Bubbles
Youth created bubble mixture and went outdoors when temperatures were below freezing. They blew bubbles and observed what happened to the bubbles in the freezing temperatures. 
Making with Recycled Objects
Youth were provided with a variety of recycled items, such as carpet scraps, fabric, cardboard, paper towel rolls, and other items. Items were saved by educators as well as purchased from a local store that sells recycled items. Youth were able to create projects using the items. Pictured here is a box made from carpet squares, a hot glue gun, and jewel decorations. This activity allows youth to use their own creativity and imagination to create objects. Additionally, it provided an opportunity to learn about principles of sustainability.
Marshmallow and Toothpick Engineering Challenge
Youth participated in an engineering challenge to create towers using marshmallows and toothpicks. They learned about the importance of creating a solid base, and compared a variety of tower shapes and sizes.
Organic Vegetable Garden
In 2016, an organic vegetable garden was started at Auberle. Pictured here are the broccoli sprouts from the 2017 garden. Youth are taught gardening skills and help with planting, maintenance, and harvesting. On site, we also have a greenhouse to grow the seedlings. We will continue growing vegetables this year and working with the youth in the garden space. Gardens are a great way to incorporate a vast array of skills: science, math, nutrition, reading, art, and more. Soft skills are also taught through working together to plan and maintain the garden, patience when things do not go as planned, and communication to learn from others what works well and what does not. Students are able to also gain a sense of confidence when they see the vegetables growing and they are able to produce food from their hard work. For many, the garden can also provide a therapeutic space by spending time outdoors and tending to the plants. 
Screen Printing
Residents learn how to create screen prints by cutting out stencils on the Cricut Maker vinyl cutter and using silk screens, paint, and paper to create a piece of artwork.
The kids learned how to make "oobleck" using corn starch, water, and food coloring. They enjoyed playing with the material and seeing how it acts as both a liquid and a solid. 
Makey Makey
Youth used "Makey Makey" Kits with different items such as bananas, playdough, and foil to create keyboards using basic principles of circuitry. 
Silk Scarves with Natural Dye
Youth dyed silk scarves using the "bundle dyeing" method using plants. Local flowers, berries, and leaves were used, as well as some items bought from the store such as fruits and flowers, to dye the silk scarves. The youth learned about using alum as the mordant to treat the scarves, and how the plant material bonds to the scarves because of the use of the alum. When completed, the scarves were bundled using rubber bands and steamed in order for the plant material to adhere to the scarves. 
Plant Terrariums
Youth made plant terrariums using rocks, soil, plants, and containers. They learned about the water cycle and what plants need to survive. Each youth were able to keep and care for their terrariums. 
Coding with iPads
Youth learn coding skills through apps on iPads. They have used programs such as Scratch, Tynker, and codeSpark. 
Mixed Media Art
Residential teens created artwork using mixed media. They used paint, sand, glitter, fabric, and more. 
Learning to Sew
We worked with local organization Creative Reuse to teach the residential teen girls how to sew. The youth were taught how to use sewing machines as well as basic hand sewing techniques. They learned how to create pillows and bags. 
Coding with Hummingbird Robots
Youth learned how to code using the SNAP! coding program online. They used Hummingbird Robots to complete a 'Rainbow Color Changing LED Light" lesson. 
Bath Bombs
Youth measured out ingredients and molded bath bombs. They learned the chemistry behind what makes bath bombs fizz (the reaction of the baking soda and citric acid with the water!)
Finch Robots
Students learned how to code using the Scratch website and Finch Robots from BirdBrain Technologies. 

Implementation steps

Find a STEAM Leader + Supporters

When implementing STEAM and Maker Programming at an organization, school, or other facility, it is important that there is someone to take the lead in organizing and implementing the programming. This can be someone specifically hired for this position if possible, but it doesn't have to be. At our organization, we were able to secure Title 1 and grant funding in order to hire the "Learning Innovation Coordinator". However, it can just be someone who is interested in this area and able/willing to put in the time to get the STEAM programming up and running. This does not need to be someone who has all of the expertise in the field, but someone who is dedicated and enthusiastic. There are so many free and inexpensive resources available on  the internet and in many communities to help fill in all of the gaps in knowledge and materials. 

Additionally, it is equally important to find others in your organization and/or volunteers who can collaborate and support. You may be able to find a colleague who is interested in helping in one area such as technology, and another who loves art. There may be volunteers in your community who would be excited to help with the project. Talk to people at your workplace and in your community to find out who would like to be involved. 

Make Connections

Here in Pittsburgh, there are so many organizations and individuals involved in the STEAM and Maker movements, who are more than happy to share their knowledge. More and more areas around the country and the world are trending in the same direction. Even if your organization is in an area that does not have as much access to these resources, if you are able to use the internet or phone, then you can connect that way.

For our innovation, the Learning Innovation Coordinator networked with amazing individuals from nonprofits, museums, universities, private organizations, and even friends and other cool people in the community. Once they started looking and talking about doing STEAM and Making with youth, it became obvious that so many people are also doing this work or have some experience that could be helpful. 

This is one of the most important steps: tap into your community, network, make connections, find out what others are doing! No reason to reinvent the wheel. It can also be intimidating to take on creating a STEAM program from the ground up, until you realize how many people are out there who can help you. 


Once you have someone to take the reigns, and have made connections with others in the community, it's time to begin doing your own research. Look for training opportunities. In Pittsburgh, there have been so many workshops, classes, and seminars. The Coordinator has attended trainings on topics such as: coding with iPads, Arts in Education, Glassblowing, Beekeeping, and will be attending a two month Master Naturalist Course. Many courses are free, very inexpensive, or will give scholarships or financial aid to educators. If you cannot find a training to take in person, try searching for an online course, or even a free YouTube tutorial can be extremely helpful. 

Find what you are interested in, and what you would like to learn more about. Also, begin to find out what topics your students/clients/youth are excited about. Find things everyone wants to do and learn about, and become the expert! 


Start planning what you will do with the youth, but don't get stuck on this step. For us, the planning and implementation go hand-in-hand. Schedule activities, find out what is needed, and gather materials. 

You will also want to set some goals here. What are you hoping to accomplish with your program? For us, the goal has been to spark curiosity and excitement in youth around STEAM and Making, foster a love of learning, help bridge the achievement gap academically, and to help them gain self-esteem and social skills. Your goals might be completely different, and may change along the way, but it is important to set out with something in mind that you are trying to achieve. 

In terms of getting actual materials ready, we have been able to find many inexpensive items to use at Creative Reuse, a store in Pittsburgh that sells donated art and craft supplies for a very affordable price. We also receive donations, and utilize grant and federal funding. Many grants are available to educational institutions. For the technology materials, we have been able to borrow items from the STEAM Lending Library. Additionally, many of the activities can be done at a very low cost. Look into what resources are available in your community. 


It's time to put to use all of the research, connecting, and planning. As mentioned in the previous step, however, it really has not been this linear for us. We try things out, and continue to plan and re-plan for the future.

We have found that some things work well, and others not so much. It has been as much of a learning process for the educators as for the youth. This is why I think it's important when implementing this type of programming, which is exciting and new and creative, to also remember it's not all going to be perfect. Have fun with it, and don't be afraid to try out new things!


It's easy to want to keep moving forward when a program is brand new. We have found it necessary to pause and review  every so often. You might ask yourself questions such as: Are our goals being met? What is working well? What needs to be improved? 

It might be helpful to carry out informal or formal assessments of youth and staff, depending on the nature of your program. 

This is something that will need to happen on an ongoing basis. As your program grows and changes, so will the activities and lessons. Don't be afraid to get rid of a component that isn't working, or add something in that is needed. 

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