St. Vincent event gathers steam for hands-on learning
Stick students in a classroom with worksheets on decimals, and they may learn; get them to add and subtract to solve puzzles and “escape” the classroom, and they'll be more interested and more likely to retain the lessons, said Paula Giran, a middle school teacher at Norwin School District.
Giran was one of several exhibitors Wednesday at the “STEAM Forward Learning” conference at St. Vincent College in Unity, where about 300 teachers, administrators and college students from Allegheny, Westmoreland and Somerset counties discussed and demonstrated ways to combine lessons in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Giran's work session used the puzzles and peril of the “escape room” trend around the country, where participants solved math problems and riddles to unlock a combination lock and get into a small box to “escape” the class within a 35-minute limit. She said the puzzles can be tweaked to include different subjects like science or social studies, and can be scaled up or down for different grade levels.
Other sessions focused on applied biology, school-based or mobile “maker labs” combining computer-aided design with 3-D printers, laser cutters or routers, or career-focused internship programs for high school students.
Advocates say a STEAM approach — sometimes also known as STEM, without the arts component — breaks down barriers between subject areas and lets students grasp concepts by applying them, often to real-life problems or the kind of problems they'll encounter in future careers.
“Why does a kid need to sit at a desk all day long? They need to be out; they need to be having experiences; they need to be reflecting on what they learn,” said keynote speaker Ken Lockette, assistant superintendant at the Avonworth School District in Allegheny County. “We don't have to go far to find a lot of interesting practices.”
Lockette pointed to school districts such as South Fayette, which partnered with Calgon Carbon to have students design products to reduce food or body odor, build prototypes, develop marketing plans and demonstrate their products to the Calgon Carbon employees.
One highlight was when a student showed off her prototype product, and the Calgon Carbon judge bring out a near-identical prototype the company had been working on independently.
Conference organizers said they've seen more schools in the region adopting elements of the program to engage students and help them prepare for more competitive jobs or continuing education.
“We really feel there is a definite need in our area, and we've seen the embrace (of STEAM) taking off in the last couple of years,” said Veronica Ent, chairwoman of the education department at St. Vincent College. “There's a great need within the workplace, and they can teach students to be well-prepared for the workplace.”
“We're looking to see how our content areas can support STEM and elevate our arts program even more,” said Lindsey Page, a high school art teacher with the Greater Latrobe School District attending the conference with several colleagues seeking ideas on how to collaborate. “We have a great art program, and we want it to keep up with 21st-century learning styles.”
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660 or email@example.com.