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Shady Side Academy Middle School labs get overhauled

Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Workers with Nova Flooring work over the summer on new science lab rooms at the Shady Side Academy Middle School in Fox Chapel.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Summer upgrades to Shady Side Academy Middle School science labs are aimed at providing improved space for hands-on student investigations.

Contractors have gutted the sixth- and eighth-grade labs at the school along Squaw Run Road East in Fox Chapel in preparation for a $215,000 overhaul.

The seventh-grade classroom is scheduled for a facelift next year.

“The renovations to the sixth-grade lab will give a more flexible work space with moveable stations that can be set up to facilitate group work,” said Earth Science Teacher Matt Brunner.

A reconfigured space will give Brunner the chance to do more inquiry-based lessons and problem-solving experiments. Work will support a curriculum shift from lecture-based learning to a student-centered approach using lab samples and specimens to learn the material, he said.

School Head Amy Nixon said the construction was necessary because of the focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

“It continues to move ahead at a rapid pace and our facilities need to catch up with our methods,” she said.

Both labs will be streamlined to make room for robotics equipment and experiments. There will be new sinks, floors and LED lighting.

To support the integration of technology into the classroom, iPad docks will be installed so students can record their data as they work, Nixon said.

“The more hands-on opportunities we can give to our students, the better,” she said.

The lab renovations are not only meant to support teaching but also the school's robotics, rocketry and Science Olympiad teams that use the rooms.

The middle school robotics team competes in the First Lego League tournament where they design, build and program a robot to complete challenges.

The rocketry team takes their skills to the Team America Rocketry Challenge where students spend months building and testing a rocket to meet criteria.

“These new facilities will allow our students to really feel like scientists and engineers, and give them the great start to move ahead with a love and appreciation of scientific inquiry and science in general,” Nixon said.

The labs have not been renovated for at least 20 years. Work is expected to be completed by late August, in time for the first day of school.

Shady Side parents Sharon and Jim Rohr provided a donation to cover a portion of the work, Nixon said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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