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.”
Tinker Squads Encourage Girls to ‘Build’ Their Skills
The Ellis School, with a HIVE Grant from The Sprout Fund, has partnered with regional connected learning organizations to develop Tinker Squads for girls ages 10 to 13. Based at community centers and at schools, Tinker Squads encourage girls in grades 5 to 8 to develop design thinking, tinkering, and making skills. Connected learning is an educational approach that uses out-of-school learning environments (such as afterschool programs and museums), partnerships, and digital learning tools to increase engagement and ignite curiosity in young learners.
The Tinker Squad Program project team, led by The Ellis School, includes ASSEMBLE, the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, the FIRST Robotics Program at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, and Invent-abling. There will be a Tinker Meet on January 14 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Ellis School.
A cross between technology, art and community engagement, Tinker Squads introduce girls in 5th to 8th grade to human-centered design methods, circuitry, the intersection of arts and technology, and engineering design. Tinker Squad girls define and make solutions through hands-on prototypes that address issues students see in their communities. By helping girls build these skills as early as possible The Ellis School hopes to help more girls become interested in STEM majors and careers.
The Ellis School developed the first squad and recruited four other all-girl squads from the Environmental Charter School, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Brookline and ASSEMBLE. Tinker Squad teammates help each other through projects, offer critiques, and show their work at Tinker Meets (Faires) where they will earn digital badges and meet other makers in the community. Each of the four founding Squads will host a "Tinker Teach" session at the Tinker Meet to help team members build skills.
>Each Tinker Squad team member is provided with a toolbox she can keep that includes the switches, origami, textiles, and materials kits from Invent-abling as well a poster that explains the Human Centered Design process and method cards from the LUMA Institute. Teams also went on an all-expenses paid shopping spree at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse where they acquired materials they could use to build prototypes for the Tinker Meet. The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse also led a workshop with each Tinker Squad to coach them through the process of sourcing and selecting materials.
“Our goal is to help young people develop the capacity to engage with the world as problem solvers and makers. Our challenge as educators is to create environments in which skills can emerge naturally in the process of making—a process which often occurs in the company of others,” said Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri. “By ensuring girls have the opportunity to make and tinker we can ensure they build/practice their creative confidence today so that they have a shot at becoming the successful leaders of tomorrow.”
Two Local Educators Win National DILA Awards
Two area educators have received national awards for digital innovation. Aileen Owens, the South Fayette Township School District Director of Technology and Innovation, and Kris Hupp, 21st Century Teaching and Learning Coach at Cornell High School in Coraopolis, have been recognized with Digital Innovation in Learning Awards (DILA). These awards are given by EdSurge and Digital Promise and celebrate teachers, administrators and ed-tech organizations that demonstrate exemplary practices in using technology to support learning.
After receiving more than 1,500 first round applications and nominations from the U.S. and 31 other countries, and more than 550 video submissions, the panel of 10 DILA judges selected five finalists and then winners in each of the 15 categories.
Aileen received two national DILAs in the Administrator Trailblazer and Winner’s Choice categories. She won in the Trailblazer category for implementing an innovative school model. Over the last four years, Aileen has led the implementation of a computational thinking program that starts in kindergarten and builds at each grade level through high school. Students use Scratch to move from block-based code to text-based code, programming Legos and Arduino boards. Students even develop their own apps. The comprehensive program empowers students to be designers and creators from their first day in school and throughout their educational experience.
Kris Hupp was nominated by the Sprout Fund and won the DILA for “Busting Boundaries.” The Busting Boundaries award "recognizes teachers who inspire students to work in-person or virtually with peers in different geographic or cultural communities."
“Although the award was given to me it really recognizes the hard work of our students and staff and the opportunities provided to our students and teachers by Amiena Masoob and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and Tim Devlin at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit,” Kris says. “Through our continued collaboration our students have had the opportunities to collaborate through videoconferencing with their peers around the globe and to interview policy experts.”
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Local teen Mirhir Garimella won top prize at the international Google science fair with a robotics project, a flying robot. Recently a video crew from Google’s London office videotaped Mihir at the Carnegie Science Center.
Kindergarteners from Propel East participated in the nationwide Day of Coding in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. Here they use iPads to learn the basics of coding.
4th Graders at The Ellis School are using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit to craft dioramas that deepen their understanding of setting in literature. These projects are based on the book, “Poppy.”
Propel Northside Third Grade students learn some special coding in honor of Computer Science Education Week. They worked with a tutorial program.
Educators gather to discuss Digital Badging at the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, organized by The Sprout Fund.
Propel East kindergarten students learn a little basic computer coding during the nationwide “Day of Coding.”
Educators from the A.W. Beattie Career Center travelled to the Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in Gibsonia to introduce students to STEAM-centered careers.