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Teachers from 75 Western Pa. school districts urged to focus on sciences, technology, math

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Teachers in more than 75 local school districts were urged at a conference in Pittsburgh Monday to enhance the disciplines of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — to prepare children for the job market of the future.

“To be competitive in a global market, we must be more than literate. We must be fluent,” said Cynthia Pulkowski, executive director of ASSET STEM Education.

The education nonprofit led the event with Norwin School District at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Students must learn to think critically, collaborate, articulate a complex idea and construct and deconstruct significant objects, Pulkowski told an audience of 500, including teachers, business leaders and government officials from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Kentucky.

They can demonstrate those concepts through engineering, technologies, research and the arts, she said.

The conference, “A vision for STEM education: Exploring, connecting, transforming,” is the second such event Norwin has held. A summit at the district last year drew about 350 educators and business representatives.

“(There is) a nationwide call to action ... improving STEM education and expanding opportunities for all students and teachers,” Superintendent William Kerr said. “The time for STEM education is now.”

The district administration recently pitched an idea to build the Norwin STEM Innovation Center, a learning and conference facility on its North Huntingdon campus that would include business partnerships.

Today's schools were designed around industrialism to dole out doses of subjects such as English and science, said keynote speaker David Burns. A STEM approach would redesign that model, forcing educators to work with each other and children to apply their knowledge, said Burns, the director of STEM Innovation Networks at Battelle, an Ohio-based research and development organization.

Schools can improve by “teaching kids how to think and how to be prepared for life,” he said. “We talk about college- and career-ready. I want my kids to be life-ready.”

Keynote speaker Dewayne Rideout said relevant application is crucial in STEM. He is vice president of human resources at All-Clad Metalcrafters, which offers a partnership with South Fayette School District for students to apply their problem-solving savvy at the company.

“Give them the opportunity to come down on the field and practice and see what it's like. See if they like it,” Rideout said.

Brennan McCann, a 10th-grade aspiring astrophysicist at South Fayette, said his work at All-Clad taught him about economics, space constraints, ergonomics, communications, business and engineering. In one activity, students analyzed consumer trends.

Event attendees chose from almost two dozen sessions on topics ranging from robotics camps to leadership style to algebra for the 21st century.

In a session on the need for girls in STEM, Colleen Smith of the Penn State Electro-Optics Center said girls' interest in math and science is shaped by their environment, and negative stereotypes impact females' gains in the field.

“These stereotypes begin very, very early,” she said. “Boys are typically given opportunities to explore things with gears (and) with motion that girls typically don't get.”

Another session led by Pine-Richland School District educators explained a new section in its high school dedicated to STEAM — science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. In one project, students design and build an electric guitar — a collaboration between technology education and physics classes.

UPMC, Thermo Fisher Scientific and RTI International Metals were among organizations manning booths at the event.

Eighth-grader Marina Novotnak and senior Joe Spinogatti led Norwin's booth.

Novotnak, who's involved with the robotics club and robotics team, said students learn how to build and program robots as part of STEM efforts. Spinogatti, who's enrolled in a computer programming course, said he'll likely pursue computer science or information sciences in college.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or

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