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Brentwood teachers raise funds for Moore Elementary STEAM lessons

| Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, 1:04 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Moore Elementary fourth-graders Maura Becker (left) and Ariauna Eichler talk over blueprints as architect Peter Streibig plays a video about architecture during a class Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. Fourth-graders are working in groups to build houses as part of a new STEAM program at the school.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Moore Elementary fourth-graders Talen Ho (left) and Shayla Millington work with a Hummingbird Duo robotics kit in the school's library Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. Fourth-graders are taking part in a new STEAM program at the school, which was funded by community donations and grants.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Moore Elementary fourth-graders Noah Cramer (left) and Giovanni Kail work with a Hummingbird Duo robotics kit in the school's library Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. Fourth-graders are taking part in a new STEAM program at the school, which was funded by community donations and grants.

Cardboard boxes and leftover cafeteria materials will be stacked, taped and glued together to build miniature houses, complete with automated doors, clap-on lights and remote controlled fans — or anything else the kids can imagine.

Fourth-grade students at Moore Elementary School in the Brentwood Borough School District are embarking on a months-long project that will teach them about architecture, design, engineering and working together, while combining skills they learn in science, technology, art and math classes. “Our house is going to be water-powered, wind-powered and solar- powered,” said fourth-grader Noah Cramer, 10, a head engineer for his team. “It's going to have a lot.”

More than a year ago, Lindsay Klousnitzer, director of curriculum, instruction and professional development in the district, initiated a group called the “Creative Cadre,” made up of 20 Brentwood teachers tasked with finding new ways to incorporate science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, into classrooms.

They toured Pittsburgh-area schools for ideas. Then it was their turn.

A group of elementary teachers had the idea to launch the “Imagination Station 4 Innovation.”

Their goal is to create a hub for fourth-graders, where the students can use virtual robotics kits to build a dream home, which will be wired and constructed in a group setting.

In a financially strapped school district, the teachers were tasked with finding the money for the project.

Of the $26,000 they sought, they raised $23,000 through grants and donations coming from as far away as Philadelphia, visual arts teacher Barbara Girone said.

With the money, they purchased eight Surface Pro 3 tablet computers and several Hummingbird robotics kits that would allow eight teams, composed of the school's 40 fourth-graders, to construct the Smart homes, using coding and circuits.

The vision to turn a small, closet space into a hub for STEAM development then morphed into something else, Girone said.

Klousnitzer, now also working as an interim principal at Moore, suggested they wait to transform the room and later turn a technology space nearby into a place students can use their equipment.

Now, the school's library has become the center of activity.

This year, students went through an interview process to serve as head engineers on the teams of four or five they would lead, Girone said. The eight students selected stay after school once a week to learn the equipment and how to work in teams.

“It's about working together,” Girone said.

The students said they're enjoying working with classmates with whom they might not normally interact.

“It's fun and we can learn new things and we can teach other people and once we grow up we can invent stuff with what we learned,” said Talen Ho, 9.

Architect Peter Streibig talked to the students Monday about how to design their homes and the importance of selecting the right topography and meeting the needs of the person for whom they're designing.

The students first will create blueprints, then select a location, technology teacher Kate Smeltz said.

Giovanni Kail, 9, said his team already plans to build a home near the water to tap into its natural resources, and so those living there can go outside to go fishing.

The hope is that the students find career ideas, Klousnitzer said, through the project.

Some already have.

“When you grow up, you can study this in college,” Talen said.

Both Noah and Giovanni are considering studying architecture, or a related field.

The students understood their teacher's efforts to raise money so they could have the new equipment.

Shayla Millington, 9, who aspires to go to Purdue University and become a veterinarian or teacher, couldn't wait to continue practicing for connecting wires and learning more about the project.

She was impressed, she said, that the school had enough money to afford the “really cool” equipment.

“We need to do other fundraisers, so we can get more,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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