Creating 'Breakthrough Moments' At Fort Cherry's Maker Space

May 11, 2016

As part of Remake Learning Days, Essential Pittsburgh is exploring two of the 11 districts and six individual schools in the region that have signed on to the Maker Promise, which is part of the White House-sponsored Digital Promise. While the Digital Promise works to put more technology into schools, the Maker Promise refines that to encourage the creation of maker spaces in schools that may or may not include new technologies.

“People remember things that they make, they remember the things that they do and so maker spaces tend to create these sort of breakthrough moments for students,” said Karen Cator, CEO, Digital Promise.  “They help people really think about their own learning and they are going to remember the things that they made especially if there is something that they invented or they designed that is different than all of their peers.”

To be a part of the maker promise, a school district must dedicate at least one space to making, identify a maker champion who will promote the concept to teachers and administrators, then promise to display some of the students' work.

In the Fort Cherry School District on the border of Allegheny and Washington counties, the Maker Promise is something that Director of Curriculum and Instruction Trish Craig thinks about every day.

She spends time writing grants, consulting with experts and talking to her teachers about how to best implement the concept in the classrooms.

High school science teacher Jeremy Dawson incorporated the educational version of the popular online game Minecraft to task students with creating scale models of their classroom in a virtual world.

“Everyone I know, professionals out there, use terms like ‘this is my team’ and ‘this is my project,’ ‘these are our deadlines.’ So I’m trying to incorporate that idea,” Dawson said.

Adults might struggle with playing a video game and learning from it, he said, but his students don't.

The goal is to get the students to understand the math and science behind modeling, while also learning team project skills used in the work world.

Across the hall, students like senior Taylor Petricca build their own puzzles and board games. Petricca, who opted for a few regular dice and a standard deck of playing cards, said peer testing is tough.

“People will point out the smallest mistake and they’ll exploit that in your game so you need to make everything super concise,” Petricca said. 

Fort Cherry Elementary Center art teachers are working with social studies teachers to bring a unit on Maya and Inca culture to life, transforming a hallway into an interactive art installation with sixth graders acting as docents.

That mix of art into the typical stem subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics starts in the Fort Cherry K-8 unified arts program, which includes art, music, technology literacy, library and physical education.

Four groups of students work through those six classes, which allows each of the unified arts teachers to spend two days getting into the core subject classrooms like language arts and math. 

The Fort Cherry School District is also in the process of revamping it’s traditional shop class into a fabrication lab using grants. The district has also turned a storage area into an audio production lab. 

Craig said the real challenge is to develop the soft skills students will need to prepare for careers that don't exist yet.  

The Remake Learning series is a collaboration of 90.5 WESA, WQED, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.