Pittsburgh is at the forefront of a revolutionary movement in learning innovation and education that has been spotlighted throughout the year by four Pittsburgh media organizations—NEXTpittsburgh, WQED Multimedia, 90.5 WESA and Pittsburgh Magazine.
This Remake Learning initiative, an unprecedented media collaboration, has profiled leaders and projects moving the region—and the world—forward in the areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM), gaming, robotics and making.
This seismic shift is not only changing the landscape of education today, but also helping to invent new technologies and digital media platforms that are giving students better tools to learn. 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.
To be best prepared for the workforce of the future, students today need to gain a solid grasp in the STEAM fields and begin learning these skills at a very early age. This requires new thinking in the field of education on the best ways to reach young minds, whether through hand-on learning and making, mobile applications and gaming or robotics.
Together the four media outlets have worked to bring to light Pittsburgh’s growing leadership role in this international movement.
The following are some of the stories that have appeared through the past year that share the ways that robotics are being introduced and taught in classrooms today.
The girls’ robotic team at Ellis School’s Middle School call themselves “the STEAM powered girls,” a moniker that stands for science, technology, engineering, awesomeness and math. This year the team took part in the First Lego League robotics competition out of Carnegie Mellon University. Their assignment was to build robots that would respond to natural disasters. The girls designed a Fire Communication Device (FCD), using robotic concepts to design a tool that helps firefighters working in dangerous situations to keep tabs on changing conditions. While many of the Lego teams are currently comprised of males, the Ellis girls are a celebrated exception.
Lisa Abel-Palmieri is the director of technology and innovation at the Ellis School. She believes girls need an early introduction to robotics if they are ever to believe that the field is a career option for them in the future. Abel-Palmieri’s girls start in the third grade learning about coding, designing and engineering skills. In this Q&A, she talks about the importance of teaching young girls robotic skills.
Clairton High School has long been known for its winning football team, but the robotics Bots IQ program has been garnering its share of acclaim lately. The robotic program was founded through the direction of a passionate Industrial Arts teacher, Dennis Beard, who began teaching students to design and build “battle bots” using metalworking equipment and computer design programs. The program caught on and two teams were formed. The teams have gone on to field many winners at local competitions.
Team SHARP is just one of many robotics programs offered through the Sarah Heinz Advanced Robotics Program. In its fifth year, the teams are given six weeks to build a robot that meet the given challenge each year. For 2014, the team had to design a robot that passed and caught two-foot-wide exercise balls as well as shoot goals in baskets and play defense.
The word scratch might make you want to itch, but students in South Fayette Township School District know Scratch as a computer programming language designed just for them. “Second graders are learning to be computer scientists and programmers,” says Aileen Owens of the block-based programming language that is designed for younger students. Students in her class are using Scratch to program math and reading games, a skill they will take with them in their later school years when they begin to program Lego robots and learn sophisticated coding in the creation of mobile apps.
A new robot developed in Pittsburgh is proving to be a game changer for children on the autism spectrum. The robots name is Romibo and he’s a social therapy robot aiding therapists and teachers who work with children with special needs. Audrey Shick, the inventor of Romibo, came up with the idea when she was at graduate school at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.