Carnegie Elementary teacher offers students real world experience in classroom
Scott Donnelly's fifth-grade classroom is typically noisy.
When the Carnegie Elementary School teacher is teaching his STEM — the abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and math — and social studies lessons, he promotes collaboration and group work, all centered on real-life examples.
“Students want to know how the world works around them, and if not taught the right way, the eagerness will go away,” Donnelly says.
Donnelly says he tells his students to ask “why” — not how many. And, he encourages them to “F.A.I.L.” — that is, “first attempt in learning,” which is an acronym that is posted all over his classroom. He says he expects mistakes and if the students aren't making them then they aren't testing their minds.
There are no textbooks in his classroom, and the only ones he has are used to build ramps for car experiments. He remembers how bored he was in science and social studies classes as a kid and recognizes that if students want to have fun, they need to learn the material in a relevant way that they can relate to.
Earlier this year, he took his students outside to the football field, where they learned to calculate speed.
Instead of doing those lengthy word problems that start out something like, “If a train left Pittsburgh at 10 a.m.,” he had the students find their personal speed by using stopwatches and running.
They converted their yards per second to miles per hour and compared their results to animals and even Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
During the Olympics, he created math, science and engineering projects that had students watching videos of the games and analyzing results.
With regards to engineering, he collaborated with other schools across the world in a “Pringles challenge.” Student groups had to design packaging that could ship a single Pringles potato chip to another school.
“The length Mr. Donnelly goes to give students real-life, valuable lessons is just amazing,” says Lauren Baughman, principal at Carnegie Elementary.
She attended Donnelly's Olympics lesson and says the use of technology and the world around the students are experiences some of the kids would never receive if they didn't have him as a teacher. She adds that his students have respect and rapport with him, and they walk out of the classroom knowing they can do anything.
Teaching is a second career for Donnelly, and he's been at Carnegie Elementary for nine years. Prior to teaching, he owned a small business in the food industry until his twin daughters were born. Realizing that he could no longer be a business owner and a dad, he went back to school at the University of Pittsburgh and earned his Master of Arts in Teaching in elementary education.
This summer, Donnelly is headed to Hanoi, Vietnam, to AmericanSTEM Vietnam — an educational organization that provides STEM curriculum for students and STEM training for teachers that align with U.S. standards.
Donnelly's students collaborated with students from the school on an engineering project, meeting every two weeks for Skype calls.
The CEO of the organization liked the project so much he invited Donnelly to share how he teaches STEM.
They will continue their classroom collaborations once a year moving forward. He's also headed to the Navy STEM education program in Annapolis, Maryland.
Because of Donnelly's dedication to innovative teaching, he was recognized as a Remake Learning Days Teacher Champion by the Remake Learning Network and nominated by Carlynton Superintendent Gary Peiffer.
“From working with NASA so that our students could safely view and learn about the eclipse to having them conference with renown archaeologist James M. Adovasio, Mr. Donnelly provides students with unique experiences designed to stimulate their creativity and foster higher order thinking skills,” Peiffer says.
Remake Learning Days is a weeklong celebration that features over 250 hands-on learning events that showcase what makes the Pittsburgh and West Virginia region a recognized, national leader in innovative teaching and learning. It was held in May.
Sarah Sudar is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.