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New school year brings greater integration of STEM education in Norwin

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Norwin students return to class from summer break on Tuesday, they will encounter a renewed emphasis on infusing science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — education into all academic programs, according to district officials.

“We want our young people to leave Norwin STEM literate, which means they will not only have a strong understanding of the four main areas of study, they will learn how to be problem solvers,” Kerr said.

While Kerr emphasizes the critical need for students to have a strong grasp of STEM subjects, he thinks this should complement rather than overshadow other disciplines.

“We never want to forget about the creativity that comes from studying performance and visual arts,” he said. “In our discussion with students and teachers, we try to make sure that all subject areas are integrated with the STEM program.”

One example of how STEM will mesh with other programs is the new Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC, program being offered.

High school students who sign up for the program will take classes in aerospace engineering that focus on the research, design, development and technology of aircraft and spacecraft.

The district also will be working with representatives from the Westmoreland County Community College's Advanced Technology Center to create courses students can take at Norwin High School to earn credits toward an associate's degree in a STEM field, said Tracy McNelly, the district's assistant superintendent of secondary education.

Middle and high school instructors will be offering pilot courses created by Carnegie Mellon University that use the computer program Zulama, which helps build an understanding of the world of gaming, with courses such as Evolution of Games, 3D Modeling, Mobile Game Design, Screenwriting and Game Production and Marketing.

“We want to provide our students with the opportunity to expand their knowledge in this field and open up opportunities in this career field, which is growing,” said McNelly, adding that many of the courses will employ software that is used in the work force.

Beginning this year, the district will allow freshmen to attend the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, which previously was limited to students in 10th through 12th grades, McNelly said.

“This will also allow more students to participate in co-op and internships during their senior year, which provide direct on-the-job training,” she said.

Over the summer break, elementary school administrators have been fine-tuning a database of student test scores to help teachers tailor instruction, said Natalie McCracken, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

“The database will help teachers effectively identify a child's specific skills and needs so they can provide the personalized instruction they need,” McCracken said.

During the past two years, the district has rewritten the curriculum for elementary students to prepare for the implementation of state-required Common Core standards, she said.

The new academic standards cover 12 subject areas and are designed to “provide benchmark measures that define what students should know and be able to do at specified grade levels,” according to the state Department of Education.

Greater integration of STEM education into the curriculum also is occurring in the elementary schools, McCracken said.

“Our approach is that all subjects are STEM subjects,” McCracken said. “There will be less focus on memorization of facts and more emphasis on teaching children to think, discover, investigate and solve problems. And those principles can be applied to any class.”

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2360, or at

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