Innovations in the Classroom

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By Marianne Reid Anderson

In this, our annual Education issue, we at Northern Connection magazine are delighted to highlight some of the many diverse ways the dedicated educators in our area are making learning a fun and innovative experience. 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.

A.W. Beattie Career Center – The new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Outreach program is well into its second year and going strong. Last year, they reached over 18,000 people and have reached 5500 this year, already. Their STEAM Outreach program attends community and school events to showcase career and technical education and promote the opportunities available in career fields. The program is typically designed to highlight four different aspects of career and technical education with three hands-on sessions and one career talk with a high-end robotics demonstration. The hands-on sessions may include computer programing, emergency and health careers, and the culinary arts, among others. A.W. Beattie Career Center is a Carnegie STEM EXCELLENCE Pathway Partner which is a competitive application process where only ten schools are selected and A.W. Beattie Career Center is the first career/technical school ever to be chosen for this honor. The Beattie Pathway Team works closely with the Carnegie Science Center to develop plans and initiatives for STEAM education. To learn more, visit or, if you have an upcoming event and are interested in the A.W. Beattie Career Center STEAM Outreach program, contact Clifton Bossong, M.S. the Assessment/S.T.E.A.M. coordinator (412) 847-1955.

Butler County Community College – BC3 has developed a digital fabrication lab, also known as a “Fab Lab” that provides both students and the public the necessary tools to make physical objects from digital equipment. These tools include a variety of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, plastic injection, thermo-vacuum forming among many others. Through the lab, they are able to create rapid, proof-of-concept prototyping so students/inventors/entrepreneurs can validate product designs and determine market viability. People are encouraged to build virtually anything they can imagine. BC3 has also been awarded two grants by the National Science Foundation for $1 million each for their electronic guitar building program through which students learn STEAM concepts and has been broadened to include a five-day faculty development seminar to educate teachers from all over the country how to use the building of electric guitars to teach STEAM. Specifically, the students use computer aided drafting software to design the guitar, learn how to engineer the electronics, mathematically place the frets and walk away with a brand new electric guitar of their own making and design. The BC3 Fab Lab is designed to support creativity and innovation; dedicated to the use of digital technologies to drive the future product development and provides access to sophisticated equipment at a reasonable cost. To learn more, visit or visit their Facebook page BC3 Dynamic Guitar Design.

Glen Montessori – Believing in individualized learning, in classrooms at The Glen, you see children of different ages working at their own pace with materials that they have chosen. The teachers blend in to the buzz of quiet activity as they take time to assess the children through regular observation. Teachers also make time to present new lessons to children who demonstrate readiness and spend one-on-one time supporting children who need a hand. The teacher’s aim is to encourage hands-on, self-directed learning and that accommodates individual mastery and small group collaboration within the classroom community. Established in 1986, The Glen Montessori School is a private, non-profit independent school. The Glen offers infant, toddler, pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary programs, providing a stellar education for children from 8 week old through sixth grade. The Glen Montessori is dedicated to providing an enriching Montessori educational environment where all children are encouraged to grow to their fullest potential. For more information, please call 412-318-4885 Ext. 1.

Holy Sepulcher Catholic School – Holy Sepulcher Catholic School teaches students an enriching curriculum with some of the most current technology. Students at Holy Sepulcher use Chromebooks to enrich all areas of the curriculum, differentiate lessons, enhance research and strengthen skills in reading, mathematics and writing. Students in third- through eighth-grade receive their own Chromebook. In the fourth-grade classroom, Mrs. Deborah Todd’s students use websites such as accelerated reading and Khan Academy to supplement lessons, provide practice and monitor skills development in reading and math. Each student is encouraged to work at his/ her own pace. Chromebook writing activities are used across the curriculum for research reports and science laboratory data collection and analysis, Bible study, and social studies research. Students look forward to editing, illustrating, completing and presenting assignments in a nearly paperless environment. Students in kindergarten through second-grade use iPad minis to supplement curriculum in a similar way. The strong and consistent use of such advanced technology pushes the students to achieve high academic levels, while becoming fluent and comfortable in the use of technology. The goal is to use this technology while maintaining Catholic schools’ traditional superiority in critical thinking skills and writing. To learn more, visit www.holysepulcher/school.

La Roche College – At La Roche College, students, staff and faculty participated in International Education Week, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education, developed as an opportunity to celebrate the importance of international education and student exchange worldwide. As such, La Roche organized a series of events and programs to promote diversity, to raise awareness of international issues and to celebrate their multicultural community. The Office of Global Engagement also collaborated with the La Roche Design Division so that students could learn about the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The Refugee Experience event was also incorporated into The La Roche Experience (LRX), a required sequence of courses for all traditional freshmen, sophomores and juniors. LRX introduces students to the Catholic principles of peace and justice, issues of diversity and discrimination, conflict prevention and issues of economic justice. Instructors asked LRX students to come up with an equivalent to 12 million, the estimated number of Syrians affected by the conflict, and write down the equivalent on a notecard. Professor Agarwal said, “The goal was to come up with several equivalents to 12 million and visualize them in order to help viewers really understand the enormity of the situation.” The activity included a display of information about refugees and the Syrian Crisis. International Education Week also included presentations and information sessions by The Rukmini Foundation, Global Pittsburgh, the Peace Corps, Eco-Soap Bank and Foundation Bon Samaritan Inc. Other events included Desserts from Around the World and Global Day, a celebration of the cultures represented in the La Roche student body. To learn more, visit

Little Appleseed Learning Center – A caring and nurturing environment for children six weeks to five years old. Little Appleseed realizes that physical activity in the young leads to a lifetime of health and wellness, as well as, being more focused during circle time and classroom time, learning to read, write, count and so much more. Therefore, Little Appleseed has developed an innovative array of both physical and educational activities, both indoor and outdoor. In the indoor gym, children learn motor skills and coordination through soccer, basketball, tricycles, bicycles, hula hoops among much more and in the playground, they have a lawn area for games and sports, a jungle gym, a sandbox, a climber and bike trails for the older children. They also have an innovative curriculum with a different monthly theme and weekly subthemes. The Creative Curriculum they use enables creative play and physical activities, while incorporating language and math skills. The focus is to help children develop socially, emotionally, mentally and physically. To further emphasize the curriculum, once a month they host an In-School Field Trip, such as visits from the Children’s Museum, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh Zoo, Al Amazing the Magician and many other fun field trips. Little Appleseed also extends their focus on health and wellness to their security measures with individualized codes for approved access only and a strictly nut-free environment for the safety of children with allergies. Conveniently located at 615 Warrendale Road in Gibsonia, Little Appleseed Learning Center is near Rt-19, Rt-79, Rt-910, and Rt-228. To learn more, visit, or call (724) 625-4029 to schedule a tour.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School – OLSH students are getting creative in several of the school’s STREAM courses this year. In Engineering Design and Applications class, students are studying composite materials. They began the unit creating small beams out of Laffy Taffy and rice, spaghetti, or Nerds candy. They had to choose their design specifications (e.g. temperature of Laffy Taffy melt), build a mold from aluminum foil and pour the beam. The beams were then tested for load strength and efficiency. Next, the class responded to a design challenge to build a form for a concrete beam and choose a reinforcement material (newspaper, plastic, or metal). The forms were built, concrete was poured, and now they are waiting for the beams to harden completely before load testing. Students in this class are also working on building a contraption to transport a billiard ball a specific distance and trigger an audible sound at the end of a specified time. In Advanced Physics students studying rotational motion and torque built mobiles from recycled materials. They had to balance the forces and have the mobile in equilibrium. Students in 3-D Modeling & Engineering Design recently designed and printed balloon-powered cars using the 3D printer, then measured the distance each car traveled. Students in that course are currently working on constructing bridges made of balsa wood and 3D printed connectors; they will determine the load each bridge can sustain when they are completed. To learn more, visit

Saint Alphonsus – St. Alphonsus employs a variety of technology for all teachers to utilize in their classrooms and in their school activities. Specifically,
• 60 Chromebooks
• 32 iPads
• 16 laptops
• Computer lab with 30 Macs
• All teachers have a Mac on their desktop that is connected to a SmartBoard in the classroom as well as one or two student Macs in the classroom
• All teachers also have a Chromebook for planning activities

In computer class, students learn to be good Digital Citizens and be safe and responsible online.  The students all learn about hardware and software at the appropriate level.  They also cover word processing skills, spreadsheets, presentation and desktop publishing skills. Students learn to type with the proper fingering beginning in kindergarten. Eighth grade is learning what to consider when buying a computer – they even have a budget. St. Alphonsus also utilizes the Code.Org Curriculum to introduce coding through coding concepts and offline and online activities. Students also participate in the Hour of Code initiative which used Star Wars and Minecraft to excite the children about Computer Science and programming. The seventh grade uses Chromebooks in both English and reading classes. Once writing assignments are submitted, the teacher is able to use the comment portion of the program to leave feedback to the students (suggestions, errors, etc.). They then were able to correct and resubmit via Google Docs. Students also share documents amongst each other allowing them to peer review easily. In reading, students were able to use their google accounts to create their own websites. The new school newspaper The Flame uses the Chromebooks to edit and share articles that students compose. Students are using Print Shop 2 to create the layout of the newspaper. To learn more, visit

Saint Bonaventure Parish School – At St. Bonaventure, students make service a year-round commitment. “We strive to instill stewardship in all of our students, from the youngest preschoolers to our soon-to-be high school students,” said St. Bonaventure principal Jacqueline Easley. The parochial school even offers a Service Club for students, who actively seek opportunities to help those less fortunate. Most recently, students throughout the school collected more than 720 food, personal care and paper products for the Little Sisters of the Poor, a North Side organization whose mission is to care for and feed approximately 100 elderly low-income residents, along with scores of staff members. This year marked the school’s fifteenth year of giving to the Little Sisters’ annual food drive, which helps to sustain the organization into spring. In third grade, one little girl inspired her fellow students to make 17 shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies and personal hygiene items for poor children around the world through the Operation Christmas Child program.  The third-graders plan to track the destination country of their packages. In addition, “A toy drive is now underway to benefit North Hills Community Outreach,” said Easley, noting that it’s perfectly normal to have an active service project every month.  Sometimes the projects even overlap. Throughout the year, students participate in a variety of service activities, including nursing home visits, monetary collections for worthy organizations, food, coat and toy drives and other volunteer opportunities. To learn more, visit

Saint James School – Saint James School has developed an innovative new program to teach and inspire virtues. The Saint James School faculty and administration felt that the values of the Catholic faith needed to be assimilated into the overall school efforts in regards to bullying. The school principal attended a session at the National Catholic Education Association convention where the book, Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline by Lynne M. Lang was presented. In the introduction to the book it states: Welcome to a spiritual approach to disciplining that cultivates virtue and provides a rich foundation for fostering faith……. Based on the book, the faculty and administration developed a PEACE PLAN. It is based on the definition taken from the book: A Virtue is a Holy Habit that Imitates God. One virtue was chosen to be the umbrella theme: KINDNESS. Walls of kindness were created on each floor that reflected the students’ commitment to live out the virtue of kindness every day. Each quarter, a new virtue is chosen and ways for the students to put the virtue into practice are discussed. A description of the virtue is created and discussed through scripture and how a virtue looks in regards to ones actions. During the last quarter, a group of 7th and 8th graders became our Peacemaker representatives for the school. They gathered poems, started writing stories about how to be kind to one another, and created a PowerPoint presentation which discussed how to be a good friend. The Peacemakers first presentation was about the difference between bullying and a conflict. To learn more, visit

Saint Sebastian – One of the major objectives of Saint Sebastian School is to teach students to be independent thinkers and problems solvers. Each student is given the opportunity for written and oral presentations from the earliest grades. They present at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science, the Science Bowl, the Crusader Quiz Bowl or the English Festival at Duquesne University. Opportunities for written creativity are offered through the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and publication in Creative Communications. The forensics team won first place against 20 other teams in the Diocesan Finals Tournament. Students in the 7th and 8th grades have a STEM class in addition to regular science class, 8th graders build robotic hands for prosthetics and 7th graders construct a three-floor elevator that can stop at each floor. Service is a part of the daily life at Saint Sebastian. A few of the service projects include: Collecting canned goods for the Saint Sebastian Parish food pantry. Raising monies for the World Health Organization to purchase nets for mosquito protection in Africa. Collecting new slippers, stuffed animals, books and gifts for the long term patients for Children’s Hospital and delivered them to the hospital. Students also support an orphanage in Poland. Students also collect personal care items that are packaged into individual kits and given to the homeless in Pittsburgh. Other service projects included colleting funds that were given to local health and social services such as HEARTH, Genesis House, Make A Wish Foundation and a mission in Chimbote Peru. To learn more, visit

Saint Ursula School – The activities at Saint Ursula School are all going strong and teach a variety of academic and social skills: The robotics team the Robovikings all did a great job at a recent tournament where the students participated in 3 rounds of the table game, and by the 3rd round, they improved their score to 351 points–which is over 100 points more than they earned at the tournament 2 weeks ago! Congrats to the 2015 Robovikings for breaking the school record! For the Pop Song Parody, contest, the team came in 2nd place out of 7! During the Christmas season, the first graders at St. Ursula School received first-hand experience as they use edible materials to create their gingerbread houses. A fun and delicious activity, making and decorating gingerbread houses encourages a variety of interests such as becoming a future architect, engineer or pastry chef! A favorite social activity is their annual Cookies with Santa and is a beloved tradition at St. Ursula. Students in 7th and 8th grade created the games and were there to run them too. Santa was there to meet the kids and have a cookie or two. This day is fun for the young children and for the older students who help. They even have some alumni helping! To learn more about these and their variety of fun and interesting activities, visit

Be sure and look for more Innovations in the Classroom in our February 2016 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. F