Several local teachers were recognized by the Carnegie Science Center for their science and technology contributions to their schools in 2018.
The awards, given to Western Pennsylvania teachers since 1997, are focused on teachers who incorporate STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — into their lesson plans.
Mary Collins, a seventh-grade teacher at Peters Township, won the “Middle Level Educator” award. Rebecca Colangelo, a second-grade teacher at South Fayette, won the “Elementary Educator” award, and Jim Hausman, a high school English teacher at South Fayette, was an honorable mention for the “High School Educator” category.
Collins, who is only in her fourth year of teaching and her second year at Peters Township, was “blown away” from being awarded.
“To come so early in my career, I was immensely flattered,” she said. “It speaks to the staff at Peters. They’ve been so open to all these changes. They’ve worked really hard about how we can incorporate technology and make that space work. I’m definitely not the standalone recipient. I feel like I represent the whole staff.”
Collins teaches four sections of math and also runs the middle school’s STEM room, which is called the “Hub of Imagination.” The space was dedicated to STEM-related activities last year and allows teachers to incorporate technology, such as computers, virtual reality and robots, into their lessons.
“With the rise of maker spaces, especially in the Pittsburgh area, we wanted to designate that as more than just a computer room,” Collins said. “I think the kids that I have in seventh grade now...they need to have strong problem-solving skills using technology. The earlier we can expose kids to programming and robotics and all those different options, I think it opens their horizons in terms of knowing what types of careers are available and it makes them stronger candidates for those jobs.”
Colangelo, who has been teaching at South Fayette since 1997, recently brought the maker space to her own classroom, which she says is set up for maximum “collaboration.”
“Collaboration is a huge word in my room,” she said. “They’re able to work in groups. We won’t always work at desks, because we’re all over the room. We even have a little maker space where kids can create things if they’re done with their work or if they’re working on a project.”
Her classroom, while it still has desks and a whiteboard, also has Lego tape, comfortable seating and a green screen.
“I think it’s definitely developed over the years,” she said. “I really do think the most important thing a teacher can do for young students is teaching 21st century skills through collaboration. It really sparks their interest.”
Of all the teachers recognized, the most unique is Jim Hausman, who has taught English at South Fayette for the last 14 years. Hausman said he uses his background in science to improve his language arts students and lead the school’s STEM club, which is often winning awards.
“Even though my background is in the sciences, you don’t really think of an English teacher winning a science award,” he said. “I think it shows how all knowledge is connected. A lot of what we do in language arts in terms of interpreting literature is very similar to the same methods that you engage while working through a STEM project.”
Hausman’s passion as an educator is combining his work as an English teacher with his love for STEM.
“Having the chance to work on these STEM projects and work with kids on these scientific kind of things, engages that part of me that really loves science, discovery and exploration,” he said. “But at the same time, I get to teach these really bright kids how to tell those stories of their designs and their products and why they matter.”