Innovations in the Classroom

By Marianne Reid Anderson

We, at Northern Connection magazine, continue to highlight the many diverse ways educators in our area are making learning a fun and innovative experience that will last a lifetime. Past Innovations in the Classroom are still available on our website at and we will continue highlighting new innovations and programs in the coming months.

Aquinas Academy – Aquinas Academy hosted a Robotics Scrimmage on November 21 where 24 student robotics teams from schools across the Pittsburgh region gathered to compete and test the robots they have been building as part of US First Robotics in preparation for regional championships
“The scrimmage is an important opportunity for students to test their creations in a competitive environment, prior to the regional championships in January at La Roche College,” says Matt Stalder,
Organizer of the robotics club at Aquinas Academy.  “The program is an outstanding STEM opportunity for students to grow their critical thinking, to learn to work together as a team to design a robot that is
capable of completing some very challenging tasks, and to know the sense of achievement that comes from persistence in a task. These kids work very hard. At Aquinas, they meet Saturdays, sometimes as long as five hours a day, as well as some weeknights. Most importantly, the program reinforces the core values of cooperation and encouragement of others.” In designing their robots, students create innovative solutions for challenges facing today’s scientists as part of their research project.
For example, this year’s challenge is based upon “trash” and how society can do a better job of eliminating trash via recycling or better use of manufacturing components.  Students are tasked with strategizing as a team to design, build, program, and test a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS®
technology to simulate the sorting, moving and reusing of trash. In the process they apply real-world math and science concepts, and develop employment and life skills including, time management, collaboration and communication while becoming more self-confident. To learn more, visit

La Roche College – On Friday, Nov. 13, high school students from Hampton, Pine-Richland and Bethel Park visited La Roche College for the first Junior Achievement (JA) College Day in Western Pennsylvania. JA College Day is a one-day event for middle and high school students to tour a college, meet faculty and staff, and participate in JA programming. Students had the opportunity to explore La Roche, learn more about career planning, and tour campus. Peggy Schmiedecke, La Roche’s assistant director of admissions, said, “La Roche is building a partnership with Junior Achievement. We support their efforts to help students in the community connect the dots between what they learn in school and becoming workforce ready.” Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization that works with more than 70,000 students in Pre-K through grade 12 across 30 counties in Western Pennsylvania each year. The organization utilizes volunteers from the local community to teach their programming on financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship. For learn more, visit


Providence Heights Alpha School – Providence Heights Alpha School takes math education to the next level. For example, one of their exceptional math teachers is Susan Shick, who holds certifications in K-6 education and mid-level, grades 6-9 mathematics. What distinguishes her in the classroom during her nine years at Alpha, is her ability to make math concepts relatable through cross-curricular projects. In celebration of Banned Books Week this year, Susan planned a cross-curricular project where students calculated how much dough, cheese, and sauce they would need to make pizzas after reading Jack Prelutsky’s A Pizza the Size of the Sun. The project gave students a chance to practice their skills and engage their creativity. Students made their own pizzas to display their calculations and even made their own chef hats. Her lesson plans always find the fun in math and her ability to engage students through a variety of activities truly shows how important making a difference is in Susan’s classroom. From making pizzas to creating videos of the PEMDAS Shuffle—a song and dance to help remember the order of operations—students find an enriching and meaningful experience in Susan’s classroom. To learn more, visit

Saint Mary School – At Saint Mary School, the focus this year is all about technology.  Recently, their middle school students received brand new HP laptops.  The students use the laptops in school to research, write papers, design PowerPoint presentations, construct spreadsheets, and work on science fair projects.  The school has also purchased Google Chromebooks for students both in our primary and middle school grades.  Students use the Chromebooks for research and enrichment applications.  Even the youngest students have received a technology upgrade with brand new tablets for students in grades K-3.  These students use the tablets during centers and for enrichment activities.  At Saint Mary’s, they are using technology across the curriculum, while ensuring that devices are appropriate for our students’ developmental needs.  We recognize that technology is not “one-size fits all.” In addition, the school has two computer labs; one for our middle school and one full-access lab for all students.  They also have Wi-Fi throughout our building and every classroom is equipped with an Interactive Smartboard.  Students also learn the importance of technology as it relates to communication.  Each student has his or her own email account and the school regularly communicates via email with students and parents through Option C. For more information on the innovations in the classroom at Saint Mary School, please call 412-486-7611 or visit us at

Saint Ursula – Puppetry was a form of theatre experienced by the fourth grade when they recently worked in reading class with Mrs. Cross on the story The Saga of Amy Boulder by Tim Merriman and performed it for grades Ready K through to Third Grade.  It’s a fourth grade tradition to perform the story of Cyrus Woods who wants to cut down trees to make them into furniture and toothpicks. He meets Amy Boulder who sees the beauty in the trees and tries to stop him from cutting them down.  Regal Eagle and Sam Squirrel remind him that they are homes to animals.  Students creatively constructed the puppet characters using many different materials. Some worked with a partner. As one partner expressively read the lines of the character, the other partner worked as the puppeteer to manipulate the character to tell the story.  Sam Squirrel, the detective character, was even created as “Samantha” Squirrel this year.  Students in Ready K, Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third Grade had the opportunity to enjoy the puppet show this week in the fourth grade classroom which was transformed into a puppet theatre.   The student audience experienced a fun way to learn about the story’s message on the importance of taking care of our forests.  St Ursula middle school students see the puppets displayed in the hall and have fun remembering when they did the same puppet play in fourth grade.  To learn more, visit  

Be sure and look for more Innovations in the Classroom in our January 2016 Education issue! If you are implementing an innovative program, lesson, or extra-curricular activity, be sure and let us know by emailing or calling (724) 940-2444.