can’t wait to get out of school for summer.
Yet just a week into vacation, about 70
students outside of Pittsburgh returned to
Montour School District for its first-ever
Summer STEAM Camp June 22-26. Most campers
were in grades three through eight.
camp, which was funded by a grant from the
Pittsburgh-based nonprofit The Sprout Fund,
exposed students in Montour and neighboring
Cornell School District to potential career
paths in the STEAM - science, technology,
engineering arts and math - disciplines. At
the beginning of the camp, students chose a
course of study and then pursued that course
during five half days of hands-on
activities. Topics included robotics, DNA
analysis, forensics, architecture, chemical
reactions, graphic design, computer
programming and more.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Ghilani says that
STEAM camps are becoming increasingly
popular. He says that not only do they help
students connect with possible future career
paths, but also alleviate the pressures
found in traditional classrooms.
classroom, kids think that if they get a bad
score on a science test that they can never
be a scientist,” says Ghilani. “Here,
they’re not held back by a grade or one
test. They might really enjoy architecture
and now they want to be an architect. This
kind of exposes them to the end product,
getting them interested while superseding
tests or grades.”
Montour, students at various grade levels
gain introductions to STEM - science,
technology, engineering and math - subjects
thanks to curriculums designed by Project
the Lead the Way. The national nonprofit
designs curriculums in the STEM fields with
an emphasis on hands-on learning. Montour
High School students can take up to four
levels of PLTW biomedical and engineering
courses as electives. The school has also
begun teaching PLTW courses at the
elementary and middle school levels.
Christopher Stone, Montour’s director of
education for grades K-6, says that STEAM
experiences such as this year's camp
encourage, educate and prepare Montour's
youth to pursue careers in in STEAM-related
the past few years, Montour has worked
diligently to establish itself as a leader
in STEAM-centered educational initiatives,”
Stone says. “We recognize that to be
successful in today's workplace, individuals
must be creative and use critical thinking
skills, which are best developed through
exposure to unique learning opportunities.
continue these types of opportunities into
the school year to challenge students to be
real-world thinkers,” he says.
for a weeklong camp of interactive learning
came about after Amanda Mascellino, a
Montour elementary teacher, observed her
students’ enthusiasm for a PLTW class she
started teaching this past school year
titled Stability and Motion: Science and
Flight. During the class, students work
collaboratively to design gliders. As they
test and tweak their designs, they gain an
introduction to physics and aeronautics.
they started doing it, they’d say, can we
just stay and keep building? We don’t want
to go to recess, we’ll just stay and work,’”
says Mascellino. “I said, ‘We need to more
of this, as much of it as we can.’”
approached Jason Burik, Montour’s assistant
to the superintendent, and they applied for
a grant through The Sprout Fund. The
organization awarded them a $12,000 Hive
Fund for Connected Learning grant, which
allowed the school to invite students from
both Montour and neighboring Cornell School
District to attend for free. Courses were
all taught by Montour faculty, and in many
cases the school utilized its existing
facilities and equipment.
of the courses, students created inventions
solving a real world problem of their
choice. Working with fifth grade teacher
Bill Black, students designed their
inventions using 3D software and printed
them using the school’s 3D printer. Campers
then pitched their inventions, “Shark Tank”
style, to a panel of Montour administrators.
The panel’s “sharks” consisted of Director
of Instructional Technology and Innovation
Justin Aglio, Director of Curriculum and
Instruction Dr. Chris Stone, Director of
Human Resources Terri Testa and Ghilani.
the students in the “Shark Tank” course was
10-year-old Gavin Rawski.
Shark Tank at STEAM Camp was a dream come
true for me,” says Gavin. “We were
able to learn and have fun designing our
inventions. I loved being part of STEAM Camp
at Montour this summer and I can’t want to
do it again next year!”
In another course, campers worked with
middle school teacher Rick Barie to
construct remote controlled, Moon
rover-style robots with Vex Kits. Students
designed robots that could pick up a plastic
bottle, carry it over rough terrain and
deposit it in a container.
interested in graphic design got to work
with high school teacher Braden Jasin. Using
Adobe Creative Suite design software, laser
engravers and screen printing equipment,
campers made backpacks, t-shirts and
posters. A number of students remarked that
using Photoshop software proved to be the
most challenging aspect of the course.
spearheading the idea for the camp, Burik
and Mascellino also participated by leading
their own courses. Burik, a Lego enthusiast
since the age of 7, led a section giving
campers a unique introduction to
architecture. In addition to fun builds,
competitions and interacting with
architects, students also built a scaled
replica of a new elementary school currently
being constructed on the high school campus.
Campers used 3,500 Lego blocks and worked
directly on top of actual architectural blue
prints to build the model, which will
eventually go on temporary display at The
Mall at Robinson. It will go on permanent
display in the new elementary school once
the building is completed.
the discipline of architecture with the
hobby of Legos is nothing new to Burik. He
started his own Lego model building business
during his senior year in college. He’s
since been commissioned to build Lego models
by professional sports teams and companies
around the world.
more engineers, architects, scientists and
innovators,” says Burik. “Designing and
constructing with Lego blocks allows kids to
become creative thinkers and problem
students working with Burik got an
introduction to architecture, Mascellino led
a multi-discipline course dubbed Full STEAM
Ahead. In it, students built bridges and
other structures out of pipe cleaners, then
tested their designs using weight and wind
forces. They studied chemical reactions by
dropping Mentos in soda bottles to make
geysers, and polarity by creating their own
lava lamps. They even dove into forensics by
learning how to dust for fingerprints,
identify hair samples using lasers, and
conduct DNA and splatter analysis. Students
also performed computer programming using
BitsBox software, which utilizes a
simplified version of Java. Mascellino
bought into BitsBox’ Kickstarter campaign so
her elementary students could use the
different way for them to learn and problem
solve,” says Mascellino.
that during the camp and her PLTW courses,
students benefit from hands-on learning and
by making mistakes.
of our kids, they’re use to us feeding them
information and spitting it back,” she says.
“With this, they’re actually making their
own meaning. It’s nice to see them learn and
be independent learners.”
says he saw a similar benefit to the camp.
STEAM Camp provided a platform in which
students were encouraged to explore, create,
and share,” he says. “Through a week-long
camp of fun and exciting
experiences, students push beyond content to
ignite critical and creative thinking, in
addition to collaboration and
Ghilani says that since the camp, he’s
heard of students continuing to conduct
experiments and engage in activities they
learned about during the camp.
“It’s contagious,” he says. “They want to
keep building and experimenting.”
and other administrators have said that the
school intends to hold the camp again.
to expand the camp and make it even bigger
and better next year,” Burik says.
A video and more pictures of the camp can be