By Alaina Davis, Lead STEAM Teacher, Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8 STEAM Academy
Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8 STEAM Academy is the home of dedicated teachers, enthusiastic learners, and, more recently, something very special – a state-of-the-art STEAM lab.
We’ve come a long way in contextualizing what ‘Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics’ means. Particularly where and how it’s integrated into lesson plans to make sure students really take it in. At Schiller, we often talk about how we “love our students into learning” and have worked together for years to advocate for our students, integrate technology, develop a culture that is safe and welcoming, and endlessly plan to ensure valuable learning takes place. But, for students to truly be engaged and immersed in learning, we have to make sure we’re presenting the information and opportunities in ways and places they can access and feel comfortable with. A space that feels fun and open. A bright, dynamic place where the tools were out in the open and ready for use, not intimidatingly locked away.
A space like that would take more than time and resources to develop, we would need partners with commitment and expertise. That’s why we were over the moon when United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania reached out in 2019 about the opportunity for funding through Arconic Foundation.
To be honest, the potential blew us away. Grants come around, especially for STEAM, but this was different. Arconic Foundation and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania were offering more than funding; they were offering collaboration, support and partnership.
After Schiller was selected for the funding, we worked with United Way and Arconic Foundation to select the tools and technology needed to give students hands-on experience in video production, animation, 3D printing, laser cutting, design, robotics, programming, coding and more. Together, we planned a space that would foster innovative, global, 21st-century thinking and provide students with real-world skills.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As we navigated pandemic learning, Arconic Foundation and Untied Way maintained their support. When students returned to the classroom, we were ready to unveil the STEAM Lab and their reactions were worth the work!
After nearly two years of remote learning, the impact of the STEAM lab cannot be understated. With the new machinery and materials, students can work on projects so exciting that it ripples through the school and makes younger classes look forward to next year. Every student in the lab has designed something in our creation station: sixth graders 3D printed their own creation, seventh graders used computer aided drafting to design and cut on the laser cutter, and eighth graders made various projects on the vinyl cutter. They’ve built digital cities and made them real. They are curious. They are ambitious. They are proud. And they want to come to school. As a teacher, it’s everything – absolutely everything – you hope to see.
The STEAM lab is actively changing the culture at our school. Because the students feel such pride and ownership in their work, it’s giving them confidence in other classes. They’re more talkative with their teachers because they want to share what they’re doing. Our students are more proactive problem-solvers and they often work together to get there.
The skills and experiences students are gaining in the STEAM lab will go on to serve them in school and life. This work would not be happening without our partners at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Arconic Foundation. They jumped in feet first, shared ideas, and have been beside us through some of the most trying times in education. All teachers, and all children, deserve allies like that.