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Pennsylvania ACTE Winter 2015 Newsletter


Connecting Schools with the Science Community: University of Pittsburgh’s Outreach Program

PA Outreach

“Engagement is a precious thing to a teacher,” said Mars Area High School biology teacher Bill Wesley. “When we are back in the classroom after going to the lab and the students started asking why and what if, that is a magic moment you don’t get all the time.”

Wesley has been involved with the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh’s outreach program for at least 15 years. Their outreach program extends the department’s teaching mission to bring an understanding of science to the greater Pittsburgh area through a variety of professional development and classroom activities. One of these activities includes a DNA mapping project at the labs at Pitt.

“When Pitt first started this as a program for teachers, I stuck with it because they were always changing and adding new topics,” Heasley said about the program. “When they started the student piece, I hopped right on it because I know a lot of the professors and the people who run the labs. I knew this would be a great experience for the students.”

Wesley takes about 30 of his AP biology students to Pitt to participate in the DNA mapping program. Wesley and Becky Gonda, Pitt biology outreach coordinator, explained that students take DNA samples from their cheeks and amplify them through a process that generates millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence. Students then use a type of gel to isolate one band of their DNA.

“The kids really soak it up,” said Wesley. “For four hours they are doing meticulous molecular biology. Every little drop is precious. They stick with it. One minor mistake and it doesn’t turn out.”

The 32 students who participated had to earn the right to attend. Wesley requires students to write an essay explaining why they should take part. “It is a feather in their cap,” said Wesley.

Gonda added, “When Bill brings students, they are AP students and they already really know a lot. But when they are in the lab and see the connection and they get really excited, it is that much more rewarding.”

Pitt has a very extensive outreach program with the department of biological science. According to the program’s web site, it is the goal of the program to bridge the gap between the science community and K-12 teachers and students. There are several programs, which include workshops for high school teachers, field trips to Pitt’s facilities, and on-site visits to elementary, middle, and high schools all made possible by funding from the HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program. Gonda said the outreach program serves about 60 teachers a year and about 10,000 students.

“For me it fits perfectly,” said Wesley. “I do a lot of things already in the classroom that Pitt offers. But the deep level you get with this particular DNA project, I could not replicate that in my classroom. It is cost prohibitive.”

Wesley continued, “Being on campus and having that experience, it is the real deal and the students take it more seriously. These students will be going to college and it is great for them to experience a real lab scenario with the advanced protocols and procedures.”

Gonda explained that these outreach programs are important to Pitt because “the university has a responsibility to the community around us. We need to maintain relationships with the community because it is important to spark interest in the sciences early.”

Gonda added, “The main thing about the project is that the students get a good appreciation for how science works. It is not as clear cut as CSI. They need to learn the critical thinking skills to be good scientist that you can’t get from a text book. Not every student will go on to study biology, but it will help them think through problems.”

Wesley adds, “I see the pride they take in doing something extraordinarily difficult and the confidence goes way up. When they first thing about attending university they get scared about They think about the collegiate level. But then they do this program see that it is doable and think, ‘I can do this.’”

For more information about the outreach program and how you can participate, visit www.biology.pitt.edu/outreach

Career Center Consortium Builds CTE Professional Learning Network


“When you have one teacher at your school that teaches their program area, they want to see how other teachers are doing things,” said Mary Grist, Perkins Program of Study Outreach Manager at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC).

But as Sandy Traynor, Assistant Director for Dauphin County Technical School, said “It can’t always happen. Teachers want to collaborate and visit other schools. We need to respond to their needs and make that happen.”

And the response was a professional development day for all CTE teachers from Dauphin, Cumberland-Perry Area Vocational Technical School, Franklin Career and Technical Center, and York County School of Technology.

Lisa Delorenzo, Perkins Program of Study Outreach Coordinator, said that they chose the beginning of the school year for their first event because all of the interested schools had in-service time at the start of the year. “It was a good kickoff to the beginning of the school year.”

Grist explained that the 200 teachers came to York and were divided by CIP codes into breakout sessions. Guidance counselors were allowed to pick which groups they wanted to attend.

Staff at Cumberland developed a rubric of questions that the groups were to cover. Traynor said the agenda was based on a survey on discussion topics the teachers did prior to the event. Leaders from York acted as moderators during the sessions and kept things moving along.

“The teachers took the rubric very seriously,” said Delorenzo. “They did not get far in it. They wanted more time.”

According to Delorenzo, a lot of connections were made during the two different breakout sessions. “There was someone from a school starting a dental program who got to see how other schools were doing it. And there were new teachers who got to meet veteran teachers and set up mentors.”

Grist also said that many of the groups gathered e-mail addresses for an online communities to continue their work throughout the year.

HACC organized a lunch where secondary and post-secondary educators could mingle together. Delorenzo said they pulled administrators together for a round-table discussion during lunch since it is rare for everyone to get together.

Speakers started and ended the day. At the end of the day, notes from the breakout sessions were gathered together and packets were created for every teacher to take with them.

The birth of this professional development day started several years ago with the area’s TechLink consortium. The TechLink consortium involves schools across several districts in South Central Pennsylvania, including part-time programs, comprehensive high schools, and community colleges.

“These consortium partners are used to doing things as a group and see the benefits. They pull resources together to do more things,” said Traynor. Usually the consortium does sessions one CIP code at a time. This was the first time members did an event with all CTE teachers at once.

Looking ahead, the team is responding to the post-survey comments. “The post-event survey was overwhelmingly positive. Most said that they wanted to do it again and more often,” said Delorenzo. “Never before in 20 years and 20-plus events had I seen such positive reviews.”

For this year’s professional development day, there will be some changes. Grist said, “We know teachers want more time together, we are trying to minimize the speaking time and maximize their time together.”

Traynor added, “The big difference this year will be the addition of academic teachers with CTE teachers. At least two of the schools, Dauphin and York, will bring along their academic teachers.”

Traynor also wanted to invite any schools interested in replicating this event to attend this year. “I would welcome anyone who wants to come and see what it is like. We have such a strong partnership with our schools, such a synergy. We really make an effort. This took a lot of coordination and planning, but it is a great day. It benefitted all the teachers that came. They applied what they learned and that makes it very worthwhile.”

If you would like to learn more about this program and attend the professional development day to observe, you can contact Sandy Traynor at STraynor@dcts.org.


A.W. Beattie Students Build School House Museum for McCandless

PA Museum

Retired school custodian Joseph Bullick’s 20-year collection of school artifacts will soon have a permanent home thanks to the town of McCandless and the A.W. Beattie Career Center.

“At 83, this is a labor of love for Joe,” said town manager Tobias Cordek. Seeing the need to preserve Bullick’s hard work, the McCandless Council and Beattie Joint Operating Committee approved plans to build a 2,000-square-foot, one-room schoolhouse to serve as the North Allegheny History Museum.

“The school and the community have always had a great working relationship,” said Beattie’s director, Eric Heasley. “This project made total sense because it fits right into our curriculum.”

The town earmarked about $150,000 for the construction. According to Cordek, about a dozen local businesses are involved, donating labor for items like the foundation work and sanitary sewer installation. The students from Beattie’s carpentry/building construction and heating, ventilation and air conditioning programs will be doing everything they have the training to complete.

The career center provides technical training for tenth- through twelth-grade students from nine northern Allegheny County school districts. Students in the carpentry/building construction and HVAC programs typically work on building a house at some point in their training, but the museum will be treated as a larger house construction project. About 100 students will work on the project over two school years.

The design, by Pine-based RSSC Architecture, replicates two area school houses, explained Cordek. “There will be enough space and storage in the basement for rotating exhibits. We also have an old school bell donated for us to put up. All the students working on the museum will have their name displayed on a plaque. They can come and bring their kids and say, ‘I helped build this.”

“It's a project that will be part of a legacy for the A.W. Beattie students,” Heasley added.

Heasley hopes the professionals his students get to work with will see the potential these students have and want to be mentors or offer summer employment.

Cordek added, “The kids will be able to work with public works crews as well and see what kind of employment might be available through the government.”

Heasley said that the students are currently in their classroom constructing the frame and will then move completed pieces to the site.

Heasley also mentioned the unique opportunities this project affords his students. “The students have been exposed to some things they would not have traditionally done in these programs,” he said. “For example, the students will be working with a crane truck for building the roof.”

Senior Adam David Ramsey is currently working on building the load bearing walls for the museum. “It is a really good idea because we get to help out the community. They do not have to pay as much to get it built and we get the experience. I would love to come back and see it done.”

“It is public construction experience, wrapped in history, and it really involves the community. It is a win-win,” added Cordek.


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