Kolby Wagner watches the arm of a laser cutter sweep back and forth to etch into a piece of plywood a design he created moments earlier on a nearby computer.
Inside the fabrication lab at the Intermediate Unit 1 Educational Campus at Colonial in Grindstone, the Connellsville Area Middle School technology teacher and five other area tech educators work on various projects that they can take back to their respective schools and show their students.
Congregating inside the lab for a three-day digital fabrication workshop, the teachers shared ideas and learned to better use the equipment and improve classroom projects so their students can take advantage of cutting-edge technology.
“We’re taking ideas that we can take back to our schools and implement,” said Brian Anderson, Connellsville Area High School tech ed. and digital modeling and fabrication instructor.
“It doesn’t have to be a brand new idea, just a jumping off point to take an idea that someone else came up with and try to make it your own and make it even better,” said Anderson.
The workshop was one of more than 300 events that took place at schools, libraries and community organizations throughout the region over a 10-day period recently as part of Remake Learning Days, an initiative of a regional education network to promote STEM education and maker learning in southwestern Pennsylvania and north West Virginia.
The network, Remake Learning, organized the series of open houses, arts workshops, science experiments, student films and outdoor learning opportunities to spark conversation and discussion around best strategies for new, innovative approaches to education.
“These ten days really become representative of the what’s available (in the region),” said Remake Learning council co-chair Mary Murrin, who serves as social investment team lead at the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, a title sponsor of Remake Learning Days.
Remake Learning connects leaders in education, business and community to create learning experiences for young students that will help them develop skills and think creatively while opening them up to various career pathways.
Murrin said one of the goals of Remake Learning Days is to emphasize innovative learning opportunities in rural areas in the region.
“This region is a STEM area historically, and we’re trying to re-energize that attitude towards STEM and make it accessible with more opportunities,” said Murrin.
“Pittsburgh is known globally for its innovation and progressiveness and how we’re innovating education. One of the things that we’re really trying to do is expand them out into the surrounding communities,” she added.
In addition to the digital fabrication workshop at the IU1 fab lab, other educational events were held at area schools during Remake Learning Days, such as maker fairs at Frazier Elementary and Middle schools that offered various hands-on art and science programs and highlighted students’ classroom work.
At Beth-Center Middle School, student projects created through innovative curriculum such as Inventionland and Trout in the Classroom were showcased.
The middle school STEAM club at Benjamin Franklin School in Uniontown invited students, parents and community members to explore optics through interactive stations at an open house.
A family fun night was held at Yough Intermediate Middle School featuring hands-on STEAM activities including programming robots, building circuits, making homemade bouncy balls and designing miniature parachutes.
At California University of Pennsylvania, the National Robotics League held its national competition, a gladiator-style contest for which students design and build remote controlled robots.
Murrin said holding these kind of events opens doors for children who may not traditionally have had access to STEM-related education and careers.
“There’s a perception that STEM is primarily for boys from well-off families that are going to go into a four-year degree,” said Murrin. “We want to show students that there is not just one straight pathway to college. We want to get them to use the hands and to start thinking about other pathways.”