AIU Teachers Chosen for Regional Computer Science 'Learning Lab' Initiative

DeFillippo Whitney

Two of our fantastic Mon Valley School educators were recently chosen to be part of an ambitious computer science education project benefitting the Pittsburgh region. 

Computer Science Instructor Robert DeFillippo and Technology Teacher Beth Whitney are among five area educators who will serve as Learning Lab Teaching Assistants for CSforPGH, an initiative from Remake Learning. Mr. DeFillippo and Ms. Whitney will be matched with local out-of-school (OST) computer science programs to work on curriculum alignment as well as develop strategies to grow student interest in the field, all while fostering an inclusive environment.

For years, both of these educators worked to make computer science available to all with innovative STEAM programming at Mon Valley.

Mr. DeFillippo’s journey started five years ago when decided to engage in a self-audit of his teaching practices.

The 25-year educator noticed many general education schools easily finding and implementing successful new programs in their classrooms, such as STEAM. “Teachers saw that students were building skills such as problem-solving, computational thinking, creativity, collaboration, community and persistence,” he said. “As I began to see this inequity of opportunity and access (for special education) and realized how my students gravitated toward technology, I knew it was time to try something new.”

It led to a vision he’s dubbed TEAMS: Teaching, Engaging, Academics, Made Special). 

In pursuit of TEAMS, Mr. DeFillippo began writing grants, the first of which was the Steam Catalyst grant from Remake Learning. With the grant, Mr. DeFillippo was able to jumpstart his plan with one-to-one Chromebook devices as well as access to online platforms for CS learning.

Then came another hurdle: the platforms, while good starting points, lacked the specialized instruction for students with disabilities. 

But Mr. DeFillippo rose to the challenge. 

“I spent hours differentiating the lessons and making them as hands on as possible,” he said, while building a culture of learning that centered around problem solving and inclusion.

Ms. Whitney’ efforts to bring STEAM and computer science to Mon Valley School also came from a desire for equity. Her grant writing led to the creation of Mon Valley’s STEAM Lab where she teaches once a week.

“Students in home districts are receiving this opportunity and our students deserve the benefit of this education, too,” she said. “STEAM allows our students to use their creativity, of which our students have plenty, and practice important skills such as perseverance, teamwork, and effective communication.”

Both are grateful for the opportunity to expand beyond their schools to help adult learners in the region with the help of Remake Learning. Ms. Whitney called the assistantship “a wonderful program that allowed us to really collaborate and build out these organizations' visions,” and DeFillippo says CSforPGH and Remake Learning has “forever changed how I as an educator teach and how my students with special needs learn!”