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North Hills School District receives $20K grant to create research centers

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The North Hills School District is one of 25 local school districts to receive a $20,000 grant this year from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Center for Creativity to redesign or create a space, such as a classroom or library area, to engage students in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, disciplines.

North Hills will use the money to create technology-aided research centers at the middle school and high school libraries, along with a media lab at the high school library, district communications coordinator Amanda Hartle said.

“I'm ecstatic about getting this grant ...” said Jeff Taylor, assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and special programs for the district.

“For the past few years, we've been looking at ways to transform the library to better meet the needs of today's students. Students are so adept with technology. They have their iPods, iPads and iPhones, but when they come to school, they're told to put them away. We wanted to find a way to allow students to use these devices in school to enhance their education.”

The result is something district officials are calling “creation stations.”

Taylor said that, for example, a small group of students could sit in a semicircle in a creation station in a library — each student with a laptop computer or tablet to research a subject and make a slide show or video. Each student then can project his or her work onto a large monitor attached to the wall, where the other students can view it, discuss it and contribute to it. Working on a collaborative assignment, each student can meld his or her individual piece of the puzzle to the other students' to create one comprehensive project.

“It used to be that students went to the library to research subjects in books. Teachers presented information, and students memorized it,” said Taylor, 40, of Ross Township.

“Now, students can delve deeper by accessing online resources and creating elaborate projects. Students can study DNA in science class, for instance, then actually apply what they learn.”

The grant allows the district to purchase three creation stations — one for the middle school and two for the senior high school.

In addition, the high school library will house a green-screen area with video-recording and editing equipment for students to produce projects.

Hartle, of Hampton, said the goal is to have the creation stations and media lab in place by the beginning of January.

More than 80 grant applications were submitted to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which distributed money provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum and the Grable Foundations. Proposals were rated in several categories, including sustainability, implementation, relevance and STEAM integration.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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