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Pittsburgh Public looks toward the future with STEAM curriculum

Classroom environments 'haven't really changed since the Industrial Revolution.' The district is working to change that.


Last fall, before the snow arrived in Pittsburgh, seventh-grade students on the North Side visited the North Pole.


They spoke with scientists there who were studying polar bears and got a glimpse of the gear they were using. The students, warm in their classroom at Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8 in Troy Hill, tweeted their questions to the researchers, who answered them immediately on a live video stream. 


“It was very interactive, so the kids loved it,” said Kaitlyn Whitfield, a science teacher at the middle school who arranged the virtual field trip for her classes.


The exercise was set up through Discovery Education, a resource for schools created by the same media company that owns the Discovery Channel. Ms. Whitfield this year has been using the digital program in her seventh- and eighth-grade classes, where her students are now researching the Apollo space missions as part of their unit on lunar phases. She also has used the program’s readings and short video clips for her lessons on the water cycle and electrical circuits. 


Pittsburgh Public Schools recently entered a formal partnership with Discovery Education that will enable the district access to its digital curriculum and professional development and training for its educators as the district strives to transform all schools into STEAM-centered learning environments.


STEAM — or science, technology, engineering, arts and math — education has been touted by education experts, business leaders and elected officials across the country as the future of education.


Schools everywhere have been creating maker spaces and mobile science labs, applying for technology grants and developing new computer science and engineering lesson plans, all in an effort to teach students to be creative problem-solvers and to work collaboratively. It’s a quest, experts say, to prepare young people for jobs and careers that haven’t even been created yet. 


“This type of learning and what kids are going to have to be able to know and be able to do to have those jobs, we're not really preparing them based on our current model,” said PPS Chief Academic Officer Minika Jenkins. “We need to make a bigger shift and our classroom environments have not really changed since the Industrial Revolution.”


Read more in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Pittsburgh Public looks toward the future with STEAM curriculum