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New program in Ligonier to tap into elementary students' creativity

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Elementary students are the most original, outside-of-the-box thinkers, according to R.K. Mellon and Laurel Valley Elementary School Principal Ed Moran.

“They're honest, unfiltered and incredibly creative,” he said.

Starting this school year, that facet of students will be used to its fullest potential in a new class.

STEAM, an educational program that reinforces and connects science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics concepts, will be a new class implemented in grades two through five at the elementary schools this year.

“We're going to take their creativity, that ability to think outside of the box, and skills learned in their regular classes and now we're going to have them solve problems with their skills,” Moran said. “We're going to have them build, write, explain and try (their solutions) to see if they work. (STEAM) takes everything they know and applies it in a real situation or a situation a teacher creates for them.”

According to Moran, STEAM, originally called STEM, started gaining popularity in the education world in 2006.

“The National Association of Math Teachers said American students aren't getting exposed to enough of these concepts, and on a worldwide scale, we aren't performing as high in these categories because the emphasis a lot of times isn't there,” Moran said.

The program allows educators to engage their students more in those concepts by building upon existing curriculum through activities and projects that reinforce the ideas students are learning and revealing the interrelations of those ideas, according to Moran.

Several states added the arts aspect to STEAM recently. Moran wants students and parents to know STEAM will not take the place of the classes students already have. They will still have their typical classes.

Assistant Principal Wayne Waugh said, as a former math and science teacher, he felt it was necessary to upgrade the science program at the elementary level.

“It's an important program,” he said. “It goes back to 2006 when this initiative started in the country. The country was seeing that our science and math students were coming out of college, and they weren't prepared to do the things they needed to do. For example, the NASA program was having a hard time filling positions in math and science and noticed there was a shortage of the quality they needed.”

To better prepare Ligonier Valley students, each elementary school will have its own designated STEAM classroom, which will house a bevy of explorative, educational tools, such as iPads, microscopes, personal computers, an iMac and a green wall to use for movie-making. Students will have their STEAM class for approximately an hour every six days, working in small groups or individually on units of varying lengths with teacher Adam Petalino instructing them. Some of the hands-on activities Petalino plans to do include practicing computer skills, video production, building and programming robots, and using Legos to depict scenes and characters from a story.

Petalino is especially excited about the Lego kits that can be used for STEAM, specifically the kits that let students build models of popular pieces of architecture. He hopes to use them in the future at Ligonier Valley.

“There are Fallingwater and Sydney Opera House kits,” he said. “I'm shocked at how much Lego offers.”

The learning doesn't stop at mastering each activity though. Moran said the curriculum is designed to help students continuously build a strong foundation in STEAM subjects. The curriculum will also help students explore career possibilities in those subjects.

“A lot of students don't have that background knowledge of what they can be when they grow up,” Moran said. “This is an avenue for us to introduce them to careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. This STEAM curriculum is designed that way. Let's let them know what a nuclear physicist, a mechanical engineer or a chemical engineer do. That career exploration is a very key component to STEAM.”

Overall, Moran calls the STEAM program “a win.”

“The biggest strength of this is the opportunity to apply what you know - direct application - in a manner where it encourages creative thought and outside-of-the-box thinking,” he said. “People don't think that kind of thinking can be taught. Sure it can. That can be taught, but we need to give children these opportunities. It's about creating opportunities, and this program does that.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or

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