As part of an ambitious national initiative, Carnegie Science Center will train 2,000 STEM educators by 2020.
By Julie Hannon
Sitting in a circle, a handful of kindergarteners squeal in excitement. They’re inside Carnegie Science Center’s Highmark SportsWorks®, and all eyes are peeled on the pint-sized students as they take turns demonstrating the result of a month’s worth of teamwork: constructing their very own miniature waterslides as a fun and engaging way to illustrate the concepts of force and motion.
Kindergarteners at Propel Montour learn about force and motion.
It’s Propel Montour’s science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) showcase, and the school-wide theme is “Recycle Pittsburgh” in the spirit of making everything old new again and improving upon the past. The 6-year-olds chose Sandcastle Waterpark in Homestead as their inspiration, and instead of water they use a marble to show their attentive audience of parents and teachers how their slides connect, never stopping or spilling the marble.
“ It’s building a collaboration between the teachers and students—talking problems through, how we can solve them, and it’s making a more rigorous environment for everyone involved.”
- KRISTEN GOLOMB, DIRECTOR OF INNOVATION FOR PROPEL SCHOOLS OF PITTSBURGH
“They were so proud to build it in front of us—to show not only how the marble moved, but ways they tried that didn’t work and why,” says Kristen Golomb, director of innovation for Propel Schools of Pittsburgh. Part of learning to think like a scientist or innovator, she notes, is being able to reimagine the classroom as a place to experiment, fail, learn from their mistakes, and try again.
Each of the school’s K-8 classes have tackled a different collaborative STEAM project, spurred on by the district’s participation in the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway, a self-assessment process created by the Science Center to help school districts define and gauge the quality of their STEM programs and ways to improve them. In just two years, more than 7,000 schools across the country have joined the Pathway, reaching an impressive 3.8 million students.
What sets the STEM Excellence Pathway apart, says Golomb, is its one-size-doesn’t-fitall approach. “The Pathway gives us tools to access, but then we have the freedom to create what we want and what’s right for us, with support from the Science Center,” she says.
The Pathway’s success is part of the Science Center’s ace in the hole, it hopes, in meeting a new and impressive commitment: By 2020, it plans to train 2,000 educators, just like those at Propel Montour, in STEM teaching practices. This ambitious charge is the Science Center’s role as part of the 100Kin10 initiative, a national network accelerating efforts to bring 100,000 new and excellent STEM teachers into schools in the next five years. The Science Center joins the likes of Girls Who Code, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Penn State University, and The San Diego Zoo as the newest members in a network that now includes more than 280 of the country’s top businesses, nonprofits, foundations, and academic institutions working toward this common goal.
Already, partners of the 100Kin10 initiative have trained more than 30,000 STEM educators in the past four years. This infusion of new stakeholders, including the Science Center, marks the initiative’s crucial halfway mark since President Obama’s call for 100,000 more and better STEM educators in his 2011 State of the Union address.
“STEM is at the core of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century,” says Talia Milgrom-Elcott, co-founder and executive director of 100Kin10. “To solve them, we need to activate all the brainpower and diverse experiences of our nation’s most precious natural resource: its people. 100Kin10 partners are bringing their individual passion, strengths, ideas, and resources to create solutions and together forge a path forward to reach the goal of 100,000 excellent STEM teachers.”
The Science Center’s game plan includes providing robust professional development for K-12 teachers that focuses on three key areas: integrating instructional best practices, introducing students to the concepts of “making” in the Science Center’s new digital Fab Lab, and structuring classroom time to support inquiry-based learning.
“It’s extended way beyond traditional curriculum in textbooks, bringing in the relevance of why am I doing this?” Golomb says. “It’s building a collaboration between the teachers and students—talking problems through, how we can solve them, and it’s making a more rigorous environment for everyone involved.”
While schools have long been in the trenches with STEM education, until the Pathway there was no common language for STEM learning, or a way to measure it. Developed in concert with a number of regional stakeholders, the Pathway is financially supported by The Heinz Endowments.
A bonus for all involved: As a 100Kin10 partner, the Science Center now has access to exclusive research, learning, innovation, and funding opportunities related to STEM education. “Training educators to teach STEM effectively is the first step to inspiring learners who will fill in the gaps in our region’s and nation’s STEM workforce,” says Jason Brown, Carnegie Science Center’s director of science & education.
Informal STEM education has been at the center of everything the Science Center has done since its inception in 1991. It boasts one of the longest-running science fairs in the country. And it reaches some 90,000 regional students through a host of acclaimed STEM programs, including the Student Energy Summit, the girl-focused STEM Stars, the Future City Competition, and the annual SciTech Days, where, under the direction of working scientists and industry leaders, some 6,000 students and teachers a year participate in hands-on workshops designed to capture young peoples’ interest in the everyday applications of STEM.
In 2011, the Science Center launched its Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, which became a reality through the support of business and academic partners across the region that view the Science Center as central in helping them inspire, educate, and train the STEM workforce of the future. And in April 2016, Carnegie Museums announced the public launch of SPARK! A Campaign for Carnegie Science Center, which will fund expanded STEM programming at the Science Center as well as a new Science Pavilion that will house 6,000 square feet of STEM Learning Labs.
When it comes to Propel’s district-wide effort, Golomb says, “This couldn’t have happened without the structure the Science Center provides. We’ve done things like this before—and we do them well. But the way it was executed, the time put into it, and how all of the pieces came together, it wouldn’t have happened without the Science Center asking, ‘What are your goals, how are you going to get there, and what do we need to do to support you?’”