Pittsburgh Education Blog Part 2: STEAM Learning

We are thrilled to have two of our 2014 disruptors from honoree city Pittsburgh, PA — Cathy Lewis Long and Gregg Behr — continue with fantastic guest blog posts in their series on the evolving nature of education! 


Left and Right Sides of the Brain Reunite through STEAM Learning

By Gregg Behr, Linda Hippert, and Cathy Lewis Long


Last week, thousands gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the coming together of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics at the first ever STEAM Carnival. The carnival featured immersive gaming experiences, mad science demonstrations, wearable electronics fashion shows, musical robots, and more spectacles celebrating the blending of art and technology.

The festivities was quite the coming out party for STEAM learning, an approach to education that integrates right-brain artistic creativity with left-brain technical rigor through multidisciplinary projects. Students of STEAM learning don’t just write poems in English class and then go tinker with robotics in technology class— they turn those poems into robotic performances.

No wonder, then, that support for STEAM learning has been building for years among both educators and employers. Recognizing that today’s workforce needs to be creative and imaginative, pioneering educators, tech visionaries, and even blue chip CEOs are advocating for the addition of an ‘A’ for arts into the familiar STEM acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The need to prepare today’s students for careers in demanding STEM-related fields has been one focus of the national conversation about the future of education in America. While the projected growth of job opportunities in the STEM field is driving the policy debate, STEM alone won’t be enough to prepare today’s students to thrive in a workforce where creative problem solving and cross-disciplinary collaboration are the norm.

In fact, when the Atlantic asked the world’s leading education thinkers to pick one letter to add to the STEM acronym, the letter they chose was an ‘A’ for the arts.

Why all the emphasis on integrating the arts into STEM subjects? Because that’s where innovation comes from: the intersection of imagination and technical know-how. You see the evidence of STEAM learning, thinking, and doing everywhere you look. From the way your mobile phone fits in the palm of your hand to the latest video game blockbuster to the user experience of your favorite mobile app: that’s STEAM learning in action and it’s at the core of the iterative design process used by leading innovation labs the world-over.

Here in Pittsburgh, STEAM learning has become the norm in many of our regions schools. Since 2009, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, an agency of the Pennsylvania Department of Education that supports public school districts in Allegheny County, has distributed more than $2,000,000 in STEAM Grants to more than 150 schools. With the help of these grants, teachers and administrators have reimagined what’s possible when you bring left and right-brain learning together, instead of keeping them apart.

In the SMArT Lab at Butler Senior High School, a STEAM Grant helped turn an under-used space into an engaging multidisciplinary workshop where students and teachers work side-by-side to work on project-based learning activities that focus on inquiry and creativity.

Chartiers Valley Intermediate School used their STEAM Grant to create a ‘Locomotion Lab’ where students are using repurposed materials and circuitry components to turn art projects into working robots that can respond to their surroundings.

And at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, they’ve razed the silos between shop class, the art room, and the computer lab so students can move seamlessly between all three as they develop creative ideas, design solutions, and manufacture prototypes.

And that’s just scratching the surface of how STEAM learning can do to reset the debate about education and inspire more students to envision themselves as the creative innovators of tomorrow.

As a region that has embraced STEAM learning on a local level, it’s exciting to see the movement gain national momentum. After witnessing the transformational impact STEAM learning has had on students in our region, we’re more confident than ever that it’s not only what students need, but it’s what they want as well. Kids are curious, imaginative, and daring. Why not nurture those gifts of youth and unleash that creative potential?

Imagine if we could commit to providing all of our nation’s children with learning experiences that not only equip them with the technical skills they’ll need to solve our most pressing challenges, but also the inventive creativity to make a better world. If we can do that, today’s youth will be more empowered to enter their futures full STEAM ahead.



Gregg Behr 

In his eighth year as executive director of the Grable Foundation, Gregg Behr manages a grantmaking portfolio advancing high-quality early childhood education, improved teaching and learning in public schools, and robust out-of-school time support. Nationally, Mr. Behr is a trustee for Grantmakers for Education and GreatNonprofits.org; he is also a trustee and former board chair of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. In Pittsburgh, he is a trustee for A+ Schools and the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership. In 2012, he received an honorary doctorate from Saint Vincent College for his work on behalf of children and youth.

Linda Hippert 

Dr. Linda B. Hippert began her career in education by serving as a high school mathematics teacher for 14 years.  She then became a high school principal for five years and was the superintendent of schools in the South Fayette School District for 13 years prior to accepting her position as Executive Director on July 1, 2009. Dr. Hippert’s vision is for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to be the premier resource for educational services for the region with an emphasis on continually striving to achieve excellence in meeting the educational needs of children and adults and those who serve children and adults.

Cathy Lewis Long

Cathy Lewis Long is the founding Executive Director of The Sprout Fund, a non-profit organization that supports innovative ideas and grassroots community projects that are catalyzing change in Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Under Cathy’s leadership, The Sprout Fund stewards the Kids+Creativity Network, a cross-sector, multidisciplinary coalition of researchers, educators, innovators, and civic leaders representing more than 200 organizations including university labs and research centers, regional cultural institutions and child-serving agencies, public, private, and charter school systems, and a burgeoning entrepreneurial private sector focused on technology and media—all working together to build an innovative model for 21st century learning in the greater Pittsburgh region.

Leave a Reply