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Education

Learning hands at Deer Lakes, other schools breaks down educational barriers

Emily Balser
| Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Jocelyn Detar, a kindergarten student, balances on the number ladder in the Kinesthetic Learning Lab at Curtisville Primary Center in the Deer Lakes School District on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Jocelyn Detar, a kindergarten student, balances on the number ladder in the Kinesthetic Learning Lab at Curtisville Primary Center in the Deer Lakes School District on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.
Matt Ciccarello, 17, a senior at Greensburg Salem High School, holds Harry the tarantula, during the STEAM Forward Learning event at St. Vincent College in Unity Township, on Wednesday, Nov, 16, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Matt Ciccarello, 17, a senior at Greensburg Salem High School, holds Harry the tarantula, during the STEAM Forward Learning event at St. Vincent College in Unity Township, on Wednesday, Nov, 16, 2016.
Wesley Waldrup (left), co-founder of Project Playground, a learning collaboration software for classrooms, talks to Heather Mormack, a first grade teacher at Greater Latrobe, during the STEAM Forward Learning event at St. Vincent College in Unity Township, on Wednesday, Nov, 16, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Wesley Waldrup (left), co-founder of Project Playground, a learning collaboration software for classrooms, talks to Heather Mormack, a first grade teacher at Greater Latrobe, during the STEAM Forward Learning event at St. Vincent College in Unity Township, on Wednesday, Nov, 16, 2016.

Students no longer are confined to learning through lectures and tests, but get to learn through hands-on lessons.

“The students have to think,” said Janell Logue-Belden, superintendent of the Deer Lakes School District. “It's not the teacher standing up lecturing.”

This kind of learning is a result of school districts focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM. Advocates say the STEAM approach — sometimes known as STEM, without the arts component — breaks down barriers among subject areas and lets students grasp concepts by applying them, often to real-life problems or the kind of problems they'll encounter in their careers.

“STEM just isn't a class, it's integrated into all of the classes,” Logue-Belden said.

Curtisville Primary Center in the Deer Lakes School District started a new program this school year that gets students up and moving while they learn, a practice known as kinesthetics.

The kinesthetics room has no desks and no chairs. Instead, there are hula hoops, a ladder, scooters and other things the kids use to learn language and math.

“It's great to have new things,” Logue-Belden said.

Norwin Middle School teacher Paula Giran uses outside-the-box lessons to teach math skills. She showcased them during a conference last fall at St. Vincent College in Unity

The lesson used the “escape room” concept, where participants solve math problems and riddles to open a combination lock and get into a small box to “escape” the class within a 35-minute limit.

Instead of doing worksheets about decimals, students add and subtract to solve puzzles and “escape” the classroom, making them more interested and more likely to retain the lessons.

Puzzles can be tweaked to include different subjects like science or social studies and can be scaled up or down for different grade levels.

South Fayette School District partnered with Moon-based Calgon Carbon Corp. this school year 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.

The Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation has been funding STEAM projects for several years. This year the high school received a grant for $10,000 to upgrade the auditorium's sound and light system.

The district utilized the school's shop class students to build the console to hold the new sound board. The new equipment will be used this spring by students in the spring musical.

Many districts are creating “maker labs” or “maker spaces” that combine computer-aided design with 3-D printers, laser cutters or routers or career-focused internship programs for high school students.

Deer Lakes is applying for a grant to fund the creation of its maker space, which officials hope to put in the Deer Lakes Middle School library. They plan to have the space available to all teachers and students to use for classes or free time.

Logue-Belden said these new ways of learning are welcomed by teachers and students. She said the district has been going to surrounding districts to gather ideas for the maker space.

“It's all about engaging the students and making them forget that they're actually learning something,” Logue-Belden said.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or emilybalser@tribweb.com. Staff writers Brian Rittmeyer and Matthew Santoni contributed.

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