'Storytime STEM-Pack' creators aim to expand project's reach
A local grassroots effort to prevent children from backsliding educationally during the summer months has bloomed into a regional resource for imparting STEM concepts — science, technology, engineering and math — to those children.
The Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Math & Science Collaborative began working with Murrysville library officials in 2015 to develop materials to prevent what library director Jamie Falo called "the summer slide," when students forget some of the lessons from the school year during the summer months.
Through $132,000 in combined grants from The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County (The Pittsburgh Foundation), the Eden Hall Foundation, the PPG Foundation and the National Science Foundation, Storytime STEM-Packs were developed and local libraries began receiving training and professional development on using them.
Each pack uses a popular children's book as a way to introduce young learners to various scientific concepts. Facilitators at local libraries then lead an activity that reinforces those concepts.
Below, Falo talks about how the STEM-Packs are being used, and her goals for the future.
"Some kids really get engrossed in the story, and others really don't do a lot of reading and want to get to the activity," said Gabriela Rose, science coordinator for the AIU's Math & Science Collaborative. "By having both a book and an activity together, we can change kids' minds a little about each, and get them involved in both."
It's a process that has required learning for the students and the teachers — in this case, local library staff.
"When it comes to using these, I think there was some hesitation on the part of library staff who weren't as familiar with the concepts," Falo said. "The training has really instilled a lot of confidence in me."
Below, a video created by the library showing youth services coordinator Carol Siefken using the STEM-Packs to interact with children.
Storytime STEM-Packs began as a pilot program at the Murrysville library.
"As we've gotten additional grants, the focus has shifted to libraries throughout Westmoreland, and now Allegheny, counties," said Chuck Greenberg of Murrysville, who retired after a career at PPG, serves on the Murrysville library board of directors and helped secure the PPG grant.
"I was literally able to sell this to (PPG'S) CEO," he said. "And I was told they look at this as a model project."
One of the most important grants came from the National Science Foundation's I-CORPS for Learning project, which allowed the pilot to expand its reach to roughly half of Westmoreland County's public libraries, with plans to go beyond that.
Rose said the group hopes to secure a second NSF grant that will pave the way to expand the program on a national level.
Regional interest is growing: Greenberg said the AIU recently received a $10,000 order from the Diocese of Pittsburgh to begin using Storytime STEM-Packs, and shortly after the pilot program got under way, Falo presented the concept during a poster session at the first-ever Public Libraries & STEM Conference, held in 2015 in Denver.
Rose said the program's ultimate goal is to connect fun and engaging learning with STEM concepts.
"Young children need to touch and experience things, and get hands-on learning," she said. "Now we have a common experience that all children can draw on and learn from, with a level educational playing field."
Below, Rose explains the way the STEM-Packs were developed through collaboration between the library and AIU.
Library youth services coordinator Carol Siefken said the project has made the Murrysville library more vital, relevant and viable for local families.
"Computer science and coding are literacy for the 21st century, and they need to be taught alongside reading, writing and 'rithmetic," she said. "We can be a small part of that."
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.