• Teaching Innovations Implemented by the Inaugural Class of transformED Teaching Fellows

    This spring, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) welcomed its inaugural class of transformED Teaching Fellows to incubate and pilot new approaches to teaching and learning. The Fellowship enabled 17 teachers representing 15 school districts across the region to learn collectively from their peers in monthly sessions from March through May. (The Fellowship was planned to launch in January, but was postponed for several months due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.) Each fellow received a $1,500 classroom mini-grant and their respective school districts received a $1,000 stipend with grant funding provided by the Grable and Henry L. Hillman foundations.

    “This fellowship was developed in response to districts looking to innovate and a demand for opportunities for teachers to learn from and alongside one another,” said Tyler Samstag, director of Instructional Innovation at the AIU. “The pandemic has forced schools to think innovatively and creatively about teaching and learning. Overnight, our conception of school changed. Teachers took charge and adapted.”

    Many teachers observed instances of spontaneous learning while engaging students in their projects. “If something captures a learner’s interest – you don’t have to teach it,” says Samstag. “They’re going to learn it.” 

    Four fellows and their respective projects are highlighted below.

    Sports/School Video Production

    Jenna Whitney is a secondary STEM teacher, with a background in graphic design, who teaches digital media in South Allegheny School District. She created a video production course in which students study the importance of sports media in larger societal norms while creating content for school district sports teams to be displayed on the district’s digital scoreboard during school sporting events. Students were trained on the stadium digital board and are responsible for running the scoreboards at games. Students were asked to research player introduction videos, map out a plan for their specific video, setup, record, upload and edit their video. Students learned how to create their final product using graphics, music, and animations with video. With her $1,500 mini-grant, she purchased video equipment, including a motorized camera slider, tripods, HD camcorders lighting kit, and fog machines.

    Whitney noted full student engagement, including full participation from special education students. Students are already excited for a full-semester sports media course next fall in which they will make promotional videos for football, volleyball, soccer, and marching band. View a video that students made to promote the basketball team heading to the playoffs

    Family Engagement through Children’s Literature and STEAM Challenges

    Kristy Frohliger teaches K-5 STEAM/Media in Baldwin-Whitehall School District. In her class, she often uses children’s literature as a jump off point for STEAM challenges. Her class has evolved over the years from being library based to STEAM based. Due to this change, many parents aren’t sure what it means for their children to attend a “STEAM” class. She created Story to STEAM, a STEAM Lending Library to engage family members in some of the activities that they do in her class to give them a better understanding of what happens in a STEAM classroom. She focused on second grade because “they have a high interest in books and like to be challenges.” She designed six activities, each based on a different children’s book. Students check out a bag that contains a children’s book, a STEAM challenge card, and the materials needed to successfully complete the project at home without additional materials. She used the mini-grant to purchase bags, books, and materials like snap circuits, Bee Bots, 3D pens, and Legos. Each challenge has a QR code linked to Flipgrid, where families are encouraged to post about their experience. Families that get the same STEAM bag in the future will be able to see how other families used it. One second grade girl and her two younger siblings have worked with their dad to complete all the challenges, serving as the unofficial test family. “Second graders are teaching their younger brothers and sisters,” says Frohliger.

    Entrepreneurship and Social Growth

    Amy Orner is a special education teacher who teaches Life Skills support for grades 9-12 at Penn Hills School District. She set out to teach entrepreneurial skills while connecting school and community by restoring a neglected school garden. She purchased gardening supplies, including a greenhouse, soil, seeds, and gravel. Students learned to follow directions while building the greenhouse and designed the layout of shelving and gravel floor. Students in the Life Skills class were tasked with creating a business plan for selling an item generated from the school garden. As part of their research, students learned about business models and marketing, toured a large-scale greenhouse operation at Soergel Orchards, reviewed Pennsylvania agriculture laws, and toured SpectroDolce, a business run by individuals with special needs. Students pitched the idea of selling chocolate covered strawberries to school staff. Students designed virtual flyers and posters to promote their sale, which they held twice throughout the spring.

    Orner established a garden club to extend the experience to students outside of the Life Skills program. Students in the club decided what to grow and planted the seeds in cell packs, which then went into the greenhouse, where students watered them daily. By including students outside of the special education program, students had the opportunity to grow their social circles. Orner says students with anxiety who don’t usually like being around other kids have grown a lot throughout the process. “Friendships have grown out of this.” Orner wants to expand the project next year, hopefully getting electricity in the greenhouse so they can grow poinsettias to sell in December. She also spoke to the district’s head of nutrition about the foods grown in the school garden supplying the high school lunch program.

    Do History 

    Amy Palo is the social studies department chair at Cornell School District, where she teaches US and world history. She titled her project “Do History” to encourage her students to view history “as something you could engage with, rather than something passive that was lectured at you.” She wanted to see what her 11th grade American History students could do and learn in an open-ended, less-structured, student-voice and choice led environment by giving students 20% of their time to work on projects where they engaged in an activity that a historian or citizen might do. Most of the students banded together to tackle a project that was inspired a decade ago when the school’s longtime custodian gifted Palo boxes of newspapers from WWII. “The newspapers were not in great shape, and some are falling apart,” she says. Students worked to create a digital archive of those newspapers to share online before they further deteriorate. They sorted, cataloged, preserved, and photographed the collection. Learn more about their process and view the archive.