Monthly Archives: May 2018

Student Powered Solutions to roll out more options

When the 2018-2019 school year begins, our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program will roll out new options for participating that are designed to accommodate varying levels of experience with Project-Based Learning well as different financial and time constraints.

SPS program staffers introduced the new options to interested educators at a May 30th information session and will host prospective business partners for a similar briefing in June. The May session drew both past SPS participants as well as educators who wanted to learn about the program and the support it offers for PBL.

Since its inception more than two years ago, SPS has connected schools with companies and other organizations willing to offer real-world projects as classroom assignments. As part of the program, SPS staff have supported educators in implementing PBL and served as their liaisons with companies. In the past year, SPS also began offering formal training in PBL.

An SPS participant tried out a virtual reality mask that was the focus of a Project-Based Learning Experience created in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center

To learn how  a typical SPS experience is organized from beginning to end, attendees watched a video of a project students undertook in the past year with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center.

“Beginning in the fall, we’re going to be offering some different options because we’ve found that some of you have different needs and we’re trying to accommodate them,” Consortium Director of Organizational Advancement Jackie Foor told attendees. Broadly speaking, educators can opt for different levels of training, varying degrees of classroom support and different levels of engagement with business partners, she said, referring to a handout on the new SPS options. The different levels also would carry different program participation fees, Foor said.  (Educators interested in more information can contact the Consortium.)

In addition to describing program changes, SPS staffers briefed educators on the ways PBL can improve student achievement and career preparation. Among other things, there’s research suggesting PBL can improve standardized test scores, problem-solving ability and other soft skills such as communication and collaboration. By supporting students in these areas, PBL also can help schools meet new state standards around career and college readiness, SPS staffers told attendees.

Veterans of the SPS program also shared some of their own thoughts on PBL. Several said that the biggest hurdles for students to get over were understanding that there were no single right answers to the problems they’d tackled and their teachers had no specific solutions in mind nor any specific approaches.

“I just had to keep pushing them and telling them I didn’t know the answer either,” said Doreen Tabb, a Woodland Hills teacher whose class worked with the marketing firm for Remake Learning on ways to attract more parents to Remake Learning Days. That the students kept turning to her out of habit “was frustrating,” she said. But Tabb also said that seeing her students make their final presentations and their visible pride of accomplishment afterward, “made it all worth it.”










BAMSM expansion brings mentors to more kids

Under a mentoring program new to Woodland Hills School District this year, two participating students have benefited enough from their adult mentors that they’ve started trying to do a little mentoring themselves.

D’ Marcus and Keshawn both said adult mentors from the Be a Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) program helped them stay motivated about school so they’re trying to do the same for their peers. 

“I’ve noticed them both mentoring others,” said Woodland Hills teacher Emily Beitler, who accompanied students on a field trip to the Roberto Clemente Museum.

The boys were among a handful of program participants who took a few minutes during the fieldtrip to talk about what they were learning in BAMSM.

“If somebody’s getting bad grades, I try to help them,” explained D’ Marcus, adding that the mentoring program had taught him to “be more respectful of peers and others” and more attuned their needs.

Keshawn said the mentoring program made him realize the importance of teamwork and “the way you need everybody.” Because of that, he’s tried to lend a hand or an ear whenever he notices friends or classmates looking like they might need some help or someone to talk to.

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania launched BAMSM in Pittsburgh ten years ago and over the decade turned it into an award-winning program. To build on that success beyond the city limits, United Way partnered with the Consortium this year to take BAMSM to Clairton and McKeesport Area school districts as well as Woodland Hills. Together the newly added districts drew nearly 40 students and more than 20 adult mentors. Consortium staff members bring together mentors and mentees once a week at each site.

From getting better grades to coping with test anxiety, kids said they found BAMSM helped them with lots of things. Makayla, for example, said activities with mentors in Woodland Hills helped “to calm us down when the PSSAs were coming up.”

Nor were kids the only beneficiaries, said Vann Williams, a Wabtec employee who became an adult mentor in Woodland Hills.

“I got a lot from the kids,” he said. “They’re smart and they’ve got compassion—I think our kids get a bad rap. I think I get more from them than they do from me.”





STEM Camp for Mon Valley kids!

If you know of students currently in 9th  grade who might benefit from a STEM camp, why not give them applications for this three-day program coming up at the end of June. BlueRoof Technologies, one of the Consortium’s Champions of Learning Award winners, is offering a free summer STEM Maker Digital Academy at Penn State Greater Allegheny from 9 am to noon, June 25th through June 28th.

Students must be from Mon Valley schools and have a sponsoring teacher to be considered. Space is limited to only 15 students who will be rising to 10th grade in the fall.  BlueRoof is particularly targeting students who are capable, but not necessarily motivated toward or thinking about a STEM career.

The company has offered STEM encouragement programs for more than 10 years, successfully motivating students with hands-on projects. As part of the upcoming summer program, students will complete electronics projects that they can take home. Learn more or download an application.





Using Project-Based Learning and Video Games to help kids explore careers or build soft skills

The Consortium is pleased to offer two summer workshops for teachers as part of South Fayette School District’s STEAM Innovation Summer Institute.  One is about using video games to help kids explore careers and develop soft skills and another on Project-Based Learning (PBL). 

We’ll host the video game workshop in partnership with Simcoach Games on Monday, June 25th from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm in our offices at 1100 Industry Rd., McKeesport. The workshop on Project-Based Learning takes place from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm on Wednesday, June 27, also in our offices at 1100 Industry Rd., McKeesport.

Lunch is included at each session. Make reservations early because space is limited! Register soon at Eventbrite because space is limited.

  • You’ll find the video game workshop listed as Session S.2.10 Using Video Games to Develop Career Readiness.
  • The PBL workshop is listed as Session S.1.3 Getting to Know Project-Based Learning.

Breakfast briefing on SPS and PBL 

Interested educators should plan on attending a breakfast briefing about our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program and workshops on Project-Based Learning. The agenda will be focused on the benefits of participating in SPS, the Consortium’s project-based learning program, including how to get involved for the 2018-2019 school year. Come hear from last year’s facilitating educators, learn about past projects, and view student work from the 2017-2018 school year. We’ll also discuss upcoming training opportunities for those who would like to learn more about project-based learning. The dress will be casual and free parking will be provided. To register, just click to our Eventbrite page.


LCTE stages mock interviews

At the latest session of Leadership in Career & Technical Education, kids enthusiastically held up “Stop” signs during mock job interviews, calling out behaviors and answers that might give employers pause—from slouching in chairs to looking at text alerts.

A mock interview with Program Director Jenn Sethman

They also practiced introducing themselves with the kind of elevator speech needed to quickly make new contacts. As they have in all four LCTE sessions, the kids had time to network with peers from other districts as well adults supporting the program.

This year’s sessions have helped Trinity, a junior from Steel Center for Career & Technical Education, prepare for situations she knows she’ll confront following graduation.

Among other things, “I knew the term ‘networking’ but I didn’t know what it really meant or how important it was,” she said. Nor was Trinity familiar with LinkedIn, the online network lots of professionals use to connect with others who might help them in their work or job searches. She said she can imagine lots of ways to use it.

At the May session, which again brought together Allegheny County’s four CTCs, students also talked about instances where they’d need the soft skills that LCTE emphasizes. In addition to Steel Center, participating CTCs include A.W. Beattie Career Center; Forbes Road Career & Technology Center and Parkway West Career & Technology Center.

Three previous LCTE sessions engaged students in team-building exercises and other situations to practice the kinds of soft skills needed in the workplace.

Students often need this practice to develop the soft skills that research shows are as important to future success as academic performance. LCTE is just one of several programs the Consortium offers to help students build these skills. Aimed exclusively at CTC students, the program aims to reach students who will need these skills to advance within their fields or take on supervisory roles.