This Month’s Learning Innovation: MACS tackles etextiles
They’re sewing. And they’re programming something on the computer. Wait, they’re also discussing circuitry and electricity. These fourth graders at Manchester Academic Charter School in Pittsburgh’s Manchester neighborhood are combining all of these very different activities – and in the process creating T-shirts that seemingly magically light up and make sounds.
What they’re also doing is participating in a STEAM activity – combining elements of science, technology, engineering, arts and math into something that’s easily understandable, and for fourth graders – lots of fun. The students in Lauren Javens’ fourth grade class are working with “etextiles,” fabrics that enable digital components and electronics to be embedded in them – in this case, sewn on with conductive thread. Then, the students can go to their computers, use a simple program and create shirts that light up and even play music.
In the process, they’re learning a multitude of skills – computer programming, the basics of electricity and circuitry, even sewing – and seeing real life applications and imagining the possibilities.
Manchester Academic Charter School is one of three schools that are benefiting from the talents of Melissa Unger, the STEAM consultant for the South Fayette School District. As part of a Grable Foundation grant, Melissa comes to three different schools equipped with all kinds of STEAM activities and teaching computational thinking like Scratch and WeDo Robotics and environmental sustainability. She can be found at South Fayette, Ft. Cherry in southwestern Pennsylvania, and at MACS here in the city, working with the teachers on providing fun – and educational STEAM projects.
“We try to come up with projects that give the students the chance to try out these different disciplines in creative ways, “ Melissa explains.
Here at MACS, Melissa works closely with Lauren and art teacher Anne Batyko. Lauren explains that her students have just completed a unit on “electricity where they learned about simple circuits, parallel circuits and series circuits and also a little bit of computer programming, so this is kind of like a big project that ties it all together.
“They love it,” Lauren continues. “I think the most important thing about projects like this is that it just sparks a lot of interest. Not a lot of fourth graders have experience or have been exposed to computer programming, or using circuitry other than getting a light bulb to connect. So when they see it in real world applications like this it really makes them think, oh, maybe I want to be an electrical engineer when I grow up, maybe this is really a career that I should explore more. So I think that’s the biggest thing with these projects. It really sparks a lot of interest.”
Melissa, who visits three very different schools in her travels as the STEAM consultant, explains that “Etextiles is a project designed to teach computational thinking, circuitry, a little bit of programming for the students and gives them the opportunity to design shirts that light up and are programming in the way they want them to be.
“We use t-shirts because they allow the students to use their creativity and practice circuitry, which they’re already learning, then have a wearable object at the end of the unit that they can actually show off their programming skills with.”
Melissa explains that the schools she visits share a similar vision. MACS is an urban school, Fort Cherry School District is a rural district near McDonald, and South Fayette is suburban, but all “the students and teachers share the same enthusiasm and passion for STEAM learning.”
The fourth graders at MACS love the project. “I think it’s really important to start in the fourth grade,” says Lauren. “They’re nine and ten, they haven’t ruled out any careers right now, they’re still very much interested in everything. They are still very much sponges where they pick everything up. So when they see what we’re doing in class and read about it and use hands-on materials and then get to connect it to make a project like this, it just sparks so much more interest. It makes the learning authentic.”
And this really takes learning to a new level. “It gives our students the opportunity to learn about computers and computer programming; it’s also really great for girls especially to get them more involved in programming and design elements,” Melissa sums up.
“This is going to help the students in the future because they’re already being exposed to computer programming concepts and design concepts that they can then use later on in their education.”
Mural project at South Allegheny - Big draw for students, families
Students, teachers, administrators, parents – all got to participate in a special project at South Allegheny Elementary School this year. Under the guidance of Art Teacher Gail Ungar, the school undertook a unique project: making a mural. The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' Artist in Residence Program sent the school ceramic and mosaic artist Laura Jean McLaughlin, “who worked with us both during the school day and with an afterschool program, ‘Water, Art & Us,’” according to Gail.
“Water, Art and Us incorporated STEAM and had the involvement of six teachers bringing expertise in art, technology, science, reading, and writing,” she continues. Twenty-six students participated in field trips from RiverQuest, the Pittsburgh Zoo, and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. They read and discussed the book, “Flush,” by Carl Hiaasen, and their experiences “informed the drawings and ideas for our mural which Laura Jean compiled to create our design,” Gail continues.
“The whole South Allegheny community participated in making our mosaic, during the school day and during evening mosaic making nights throughout the school year. Our mosaic is made from clay pieces we made and fired at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, along with ceramic tile, stone, and stained glass donated by families from the South Allegheny greater community,” Gail explains.
The mosaic consists of 15 panels and when hung in the main hallway of the elementary school building will be about 7 1/2 feet tall and 15 feet wide. “We plan on having a celebration and opening the evening of September 3rd,” says Gail.
The mural project was funded by South Allegheny School District, The Consortium for Public Education, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
“The community support was phenomenal -- so much so, that we already have funding for another mural project to begin in the fall,” she concludes.
Media Partnership Focuses on Learning Innovation
WQED Multimedia and our media partners, 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh have been focusing on Learning Innovation for the past months, and have put the media spotlight on everything from innovations in Early Childhood learning to computer science, STEAM and robotics.
The four media outlets, TV, radio, magazine and online magazine, are working together to focus on Pittsburgh leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.
Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, Learning Innovation focuses on the Pittsburgh region's need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.
The Remake Learning Digital Corps have been meeting all over the area, connecting digital learning experts with afterschool program providers. Here a mentor works with a youngster in Carrick. The hope is to activate digital literacies among youth.
Two Homewood youngsters are “learning the digital landscape” through the Remake Learning Digital Corps.
FlipCon14 was held last month in Mars, bringing together hundreds of educators for the 7th Annual Flipped Conference. Flipped learning typically has students watch lectures at home and use class time to work with teachers with more personalized interaction. One of the “gurus” of the Flipped Learning movement, Aaron Sams, right, discusses flipping. Norton Gusky photo.
Flipping educators’ teaching methods are these practitioners of “Flipped Learning.” They were also featured speakers at the recent FlipCon14, held in Mars. Photo by Norton Gusky.
Students at Propel Homestead recently unveiled their Garden Project. These students planted and maintained gardens, with help from Grow Pittsburgh.
Kids get their hands dirty – and have fun “making” at assemble in Garfield.
Students at Manchester Academic Charter School enjoyed an end of the school year carnival, with some family members and friends helping out. Photo by Norton Gusky.
Young filmmakers learn to work with “green screens” to create movie magic, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media camps. Students direct, perform and edit their an original production.
Spread The News
Do you have a story of learning innovation? A program, teacher or parent who is making a difference? Tell us about it and we’ll share it on our Learning Innovation webpage. Submit stories and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org!