STEAM seminar

Chris Anderson, a teacher in the West Middlesex Area School District, works on building a robot during the Tinker Tank camp for teachers at New Castle High School on Monday.

More than 60 educators from 32 school districts, colleges and other educational institutions are gathered at New Castle High School this week to learn how to take STEAM curriculums back to their own classrooms.

The free summer camp has enabled the group to see how advanced New Castle has become in teaching science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. In addition, it has helped show teachers just getting into teaching STEAM how they can fashion their own classrooms and curriculum for programs in robotics, three-dimensional printing, drones, lasers and other aspects.

The camp was paid for by a $58,000 grant the New Castle district received from the Grable Foundation of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit group that generates grants to help with the advancement and betterment of children.

Emily Sanders, the district's director of data, assessment and technology, pursued the funding along with contributions from various other local sponsors. One of them was Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization that develops STEM curricula for use by elementary, middle and high schools throughout the nation.

The New Castle Area School District is a member of that organization.

Sanders said it is her vision to create a STEAM education network throughout the districts within the Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, "because it's the future of the job markets."

New Castle has named its STEAM program "Tinker Tank."

Districts participating in the Tinker Tank STEAM educators' camp, led by New Castle teachers with help from 10 student volunteers, are, from Lawrence County, the Mohawk and Wilmington Area school districts and Arts and Education at the Hoyt.

Districts represented from Mercer County include West Middlesex, Hermitage, Grove City, Mercer, Sharon, and Sharpsville. Butler districts attending include Butler, Karns City, Mars, Slippery Rock, South Butler and St. Kilian Parish School.

Teachers also participated from Allegheny and Beaver counties, along with private, parochial, charter and cybercharter schools, along with a few colleges, including Westminster College, BC3 Lawrence Crossing, Carnegie Mellon and LaRoche universties.

The teachers were divided into groups to go to various classrooms and work hands-on with different STEAM subjects such as coding and technology, graphic design, drones, introduction to circuitry, robotics and app inventions.

Chris Anderson, a West Middlesex teacher, was working in the robotics lab of New Castle teacher Matt Dado on Monday afternoon, and the robot Anderson built was more complete than those of the other teachers.

Anderson said he gleaned a lot of information from the session and liked meeting people from other schools who were there to learn the same things.

"It was good to see, too, what New Castle is doing, too, and what the students get out of it," he said. Looking around he commented, "I wish we had a lab like this. The classroom's set up perfectly for the applications they're doing. I'm pretty impressed."

Dado during the past school year took his robotics classes to competitions on the state and national levels.

"The idea here is for them to build the tiniest robot possible," Dado said of his teacher-students, then they were to build Mars rovers that would scout the terrain doing three laps. The session is geared for classroom students in grades 7 to 12, he said.

Dado played soft but lively computer-generated music in his classroom while the teachers worked on their projects.

"I feel like the music should pair with how you're working," he said. "I'm constantly playing music in my room. It calms you down and lets you relax."

New Castle teachers Kara Reider and Kim Krueger were leading another lab for upper elementary students, building robotics for kids. Their session was called "Hummingbirds, Bees and Flowers, Oh My." It involved the teachers making shapes and adding technology to it.

Shelly Bucci, the district's STEAM literacy facilitator, led a program that infused literature with activities for early elementary students.

In the gymnasium, New Castle teacher Greg Panchik was showing the visiting teachers how to fly a drone over a makeshift camp, then get a sphere robot to get to camp.

Teachers who assembled in the cafeteria made into a work station were working with "bee bots," round robotic bumblebees, a program for children in kindergarten through grade 6. Tracy Yeropoli, a leader in the district's program was in the Maker Space room with Ron DePorzio, giving instructions about augmented and virtual reality.

The program opened with a lecture by Dr. David L. Dimmett, senior vice president and chief engagement officer of Project Lead the Way Inc., who spoke about the importance of transforming teaching and learning for the future of work.

Sally Irwin of Hagerstown, Maryland, director of school engagement for Project Lead the Way, explained that the nonprofit organization has about 12,000 programs nationwide in engineering, computer science and biomedical science for grades 3 through 12.

The New Castle Area School District has engineering and computer science programs at the high school and middle school level in design and modeling and automation and robotics, and the district is starting computer science for innovations and makers this year, she said.

The project-based learning gives students the ability to learn knowledge and skills through activities, projects and open-ended problems that lead to solutions of their own discovery. They are building transportable skills like critical thinking, problem solving and communication, she said.

"We're really preparing students for the work of the future," Irwin said, noting this week's camp is helping teachers to move away from traditional classroom teaching and instead is helping them develop skills for many fields."

Sanders pointed out that the district works hard all year, using "blood, sweat and tears" to generate grants and contributions to provide the higher technological learning for its students.

Thanks to the Grable Foundation grant and other contributions, "Everything here this week is free," she said.

Each participant was fed free breakfast and lunch and received a t-shirt and had chances to win prizes that could be taken back to their classrooms.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com