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Schools across Allegheny, Westmoreland, Western PA showcase projects that push STEAM learning further

Jamie Martines
| Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, 5:06 p.m.
Bethel Park Independence Middle School eighth graders, from left, Aiden Shay, 13; Katie Cottrill, 13; Toyosi Egbebi, 12; and Alex Markunas, 13, discuss their presentation at the 2017 STEAM Showcase, hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit at Nova Place in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 2017. The students built a drivable go-cart using 3-D printed models that they tested in a wind tunnel, pictured, to determine the most fuel-efficient design.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Bethel Park Independence Middle School eighth graders, from left, Aiden Shay, 13; Katie Cottrill, 13; Toyosi Egbebi, 12; and Alex Markunas, 13, discuss their presentation at the 2017 STEAM Showcase, hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit at Nova Place in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 2017. The students built a drivable go-cart using 3-D printed models that they tested in a wind tunnel, pictured, to determine the most fuel-efficient design.
Franklin Regional students Thomas Jack, 15, a tenth grader (left) and Surya Seth, 17, a senior (right), present logos and fundraising campaigns the students designed for local nonprofits at the 2017 STEAM Showcase, hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit at Nova Place in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 2017.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional students Thomas Jack, 15, a tenth grader (left) and Surya Seth, 17, a senior (right), present logos and fundraising campaigns the students designed for local nonprofits at the 2017 STEAM Showcase, hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit at Nova Place in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 2017.

Students across the Greater Pittsburgh region have some big questions on their minds.

What's the best design for a fuel efficient car? What's the most effective way to market a nonprofit? How much weight can a bridge hold?

Solutions to those questions are emerging through projects taking place in local classrooms every day. That much was evident by the presentations on display at the 2017 STEAM Showcase, hosted Tuesday by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. Students, educators and local leaders in the fields of technology and engineering gathered to celebrate projects that are furthering education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and math, often referred to collectively as STEAM.

I'm at #steamshowcase2017 checking out how area schools and edorgs are teaching #tech , math & the arts @AlleghenyIU3 pic.twitter.com/nHzVm30Eqn

— Jamie Martines(@Jamie_Martines) October 24, 2017

"The more hands-on you are in learning, the better kids retain," said Martha Freese, an elementary school teacher in the Plum School District, one of the 26 school districts represented at the event that received a $20,000 STEAM grant administered by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Plum used the money to construct a mobile STEAM lab outfitted with tables, work stations and space for 3-D printers and vinyl cutters. The mobile lab rotates between schools in the district.

But students aren't the only ones excited to get their hands on the new tools. Teachers are enthusiastic about learning how to use the new space and to develop lessons that give students a hands-on way to connect with subjects they're studying, said Jason Steele, Plum technology education teacher.

Students from the Bethel Park School District showed off a drivable go-cart prototyped using a 3-D printer, environmentally-friendly lighting constructed from recycled tablet screens and miniature bridges that could hold close to 300 pounds.

"I just wanted to try something new, maybe I'd learn something from it," said Toyosi Egbebi, 12, an eighth-grader at Bethel Park Independence Middle School.

Egbebi and her classmates said working on the projects inspired them to keep exploring new problems, like how to grow food using hydroponics.

"I really enjoyed it and I had fun doing it," Egbebi said.

The Franklin Regional School District showcased a social entrepreneurship project designed to simulate a real-world consulting experience.

"It's a good way to get networking, get exposed to soft skills, more application-based learning," said Surya Seth, 17, a senior at Franklin Regional High School who plans to study business in college.

Students learned to use computer programs to design logos and developed marketing and fundraising campaigns for local nonprofits using social media.

"We're learning just as much technology as business skills," Seth said.

Schools in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties participated. The funds were donated by the Chevron, Claude Worthington Benedum and Grable foundations.

"There is this misconception that because of taxpayer funding that schools are awash with resources. The reality is they're not," said Roseanne Javorsky, assistant executive director for teaching and learning at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

The grants provide funding not only to help schools buy equipment and supplies they need for these projects but also for training, networking and troubleshooting support teachers need to implement new STEAM programs.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also attended. He encouraged students to consider staying in Pittsburgh following high school and commended schools for their efforts to understand the needs of local employers as industries such as medicine and technology continue to grow.

"That Pittsburghers as parents watch their children grow up here, they should feel good about the fact that their children can stay here, and that's something a generation ago that parents didn't have," Fitzgerald said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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