Posts tagged ‘multidisciplinary learning’

June 9, 2014

The Fairchild Challenge at Phipps Awards: Celebrating a Year of Hard Work

by Melissa Harding

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At the beginning of the school year, the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps charged local middle and high school students with the task of using all of their art, music, writing and photography skills to reimagine the way they think about environmental science. The Challenge invites students to investigate and engage with some of the most controversial contemporary topics in environmental science and devise imaginative and effective responses. This multi-disciplinary, standards-based outreach program is designed to give students the opportunity to shine in their areas of interest; from singing a song to writing beautiful prose, every student has a talent that can be utilized in this program.

Seven challenges later and over 1,800 students have participated in at least one, many of them more than one. The number of total students engaged in the Challenge, meaning the total number of occasions for participation, is over 3,700. Not only did these students get the benefits of learning more about both themselves and how they relate to the natural world, but they also had the chance to compete for prize money. The five highest scoring middle and high school teams win not just pride, but a check to be used in their school’s environmental science program. Past winners have purchased green houses, started new science projects and taken innovative field trips.

On two separate nights, we honored these students with awards ceremonies. Participants recieved their individual and group awards and learned which schools won the monetary prizes. After the ceremony, all students and family members were invited down to the new CSL classroom for healthy refreshments and a chance to see all of the challenge entries submitted throughout the school year, as well as to check out the Biophilic Art exhibit featuring work from the high school entries. Both nights were lovely and festive occassions for students to bask in their accomplishments.

The Fairchild Challenge at Phipps 2013-14 winners are:

Middle School:
1st place ($1000): Shaler Area Middle School
2nd place ($500): Schaffer Elementary School 6th Grade
3rd place ($250): Carson Middle School, J.E. Harrison Middle School and Keystone Oaks Middle School

High School:
1st place ($1,000): Shaler Area High School
2nd place ($500): North Allegheny Senior High School and Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy
3rd place ($250): Hampton High School

While only five school from each category are able to collect the prize money, all of the students who participated are winners for learning new things, facing tough issues and creating innovative solutions. We celebrate all of our participating schools and students for their hard work!

The above photo was taken by Phipps staff and volunteers.

May 28, 2014

Melissa Harding Presents at American Alliance of Museums 2014 Annual Conference

by Melissa Harding


Last week,  Melissa Harding presented at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) 2014 conference in Seattle, Washington. Melissa presented with colleagues from the Museum of Science Boston, Providence Children’s Museum and Phoenix Zoo on a panel entitled “Grown-ups Wanted: Inviting Adult Learners into Early Learner Spaces“. The presentation outlined the different ways in which these organizations reach an adult audience with their mission and message while simultaneously engaging young children. Melissa spoke about our Little Sprouts and Move with Me programs, which model techniques and provide resources that caregivers can use to interact with their children in the natural world at home and at Phipps.

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

March 18, 2014

Melissa Harding and Amanda Joy Present at Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators 2014 Conference

by Melissa Harding

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Last weekend, both Melissa Harding and Amanda Joy presented at the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE) 2014 conference in Ligonier, PA. Melissa presented at the conference on “Changing Behavior Through Creative Reuse: Using “Trash” Materials in Programming”; this presentation focused on how the department repurposes many “trash” materials in programming, from craft projects to program props, and included demonstrations of how to repurpose old T-shirts to make bags and how to turn magazines into butterflies. Amanda presented on “Cute Critters and Crazy Cartoons: Using Human and Animal Characters to Teach Botany”; this presentation focused on how the department uses animals, cartoons and other characters to help children better relate to botany, including demonstrations of our new Habitats and Discovering Biomes school programs.

We would also like to congratulate Melissa on her re-election to the PAEE Board of Directors as Southwest Regional Director. She hopes that her efforts with the board will create more opportunities to support both students and educators in her region.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.

December 24, 2013

We Were Featured on the Crafty Crow!

by Melissa Harding


In some very exciting news, the Phipps Science Education and Research blog has recently been featured on the Crafty Crow, a children’s craft collective that specializes in “crafts found on weblogs of creative people who either have, or work with, kids.” This awesome website not only features great crafts, but has an “emphasis on projects inspired by nature, crafts that make use of recyclable materials and open-ended art meant to bring families closer together through the creative experience.” We believe in using the same principals for creating sustainable projects in our programs and furthering the mission of Phipps to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being. Featured from our blog is our post on creating jump ropes out of repurposed T-shirts. We were sure happy to make them and even happier to be chosen for this fun, holiday feature!

We are also excited to be putting this cool new button on our sidebar!
Featured on The Crafty Crow!

Check out this wonderful site and be sure to take another look at our Home Connections posts for more ideas about indoor, nature-based activities for kids and families!

To visit the Crafty Crow, check out their website. Click HERE to visit our feature.

To find more cool activities for both inside and out, check out our Home Connections and Backyard Connections posts.

The above photo was taken by Hanna Mosca.

November 26, 2013

Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Climate Change Public Service Announcements

by Melissa Harding

During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, students were asked to think about the impact of their individual and collective actions on climate change and to talk about their findings in the form of a video. Over 110 high school students participated in this challenge! Students created videos to inform their peers about the reality of climate change, while inspiring them to take responsive action. Each entry was less than one minute and done in the form of a public service announcement. The entries submitted were varied in their approach, but all were wonderful. It was hard for the judges,  Director of Education for the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Brady Lewis, filmmaker Mark Dixon, Director Research on Learning at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Mary Ann Steiner, and Interpretive Specialist for Phipps Adam Haas, to choose the winners!

1st Place: Gateway High School  “Paper Stop Animation”

2nd Place: Moon Area High School  “Mother Nature”

 3rd Place :  Shaler Area High School

Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy 

While each challenge has a winner, all participating students are winners for learning more about the world around them!
Thanks to all these wonderful students for submitting these great videos!

November 4, 2013

Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Exploring Nature Through Poetry and Food

by Melissa Harding


This year’s Fairchild Challenge at Phipps started off strong with two great challenges for middle and high school students. The first challenge for middle school students was to explore the nature in their neighborhoods, using art and poetry to describe their experiences. After researching traditional haikus that depict images from nature, participating students were asked to produce their own haikus about nearby nature and provide the reader with impressions of nature “around your block.” Each school was tasked with submitting a book of these haikus with original cover art.

Thirty-two middle schools ended up sending in lovely haiku poems for our first of six challenges. In fact, the entries were so wonderful, with beautiful artwork throughout the books as well as on the covers, that it was hard to pick a winner! The books were covered in painted leaves, Japanese brush-work and original photographs; the poems inside were thoughtful, with one teacher even submitting a book entirely in Spanish (written by her Spanish students). The esteemed panel of judges included botanist, Dr. Stephen Tonsor, nature photographer and Director of Science Education and Research at Phipps, Molly Steinwald, artist, Daviea Davis and poet, Shirley Stevens; the judges thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of choosing the top award winners, as difficult as the task was.

1st Place: Shaler Area Middle School
2nd Place: Harrison Middle School
3rd Place (tie): Carson Middle School and Marshall Middle School

Honorable Mention: West Hempfield Middle School and Shaffer Elementary 6th Grade

Judge’s Pick Awards:
Owen North – Avonworth Middle School
Mikayla Davic– Harrison Middle School
Logan Gibbons -Keystone Oaks Middle School
Tavo Campos -Shaler Area Middle School
Sophia Kachur – Shaler Area Middle School

Check out their beautiful artwork in the slideshow below!

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 The first place winners of all middle school challenges will be invited to appear on the Saturday Light Brigade radio program. The Saturday Light Brigade can be heard every Saturday morning on WRCT 88.3 FM. It also streams live at where the interview will be archived under Neighborhood Voices. Join Shaler Area Middle School students on Saturday, November 16th at 10:35 a.m. Check out the broadcast here.

The first challenge for high school students was to explore where their food comes from, plant to plate. Participants were asked to understand their food’s carbon footprint, considering everything from transportation to pesticides, and then use their knowledge to create a “low-impact” meal. Each meal consisted of a main dish and either an appetizer, side dish or dessert. Students were asked to creatively name their dishes and submit complete recipes, including information about each plant used. They also were required to submit a one paragraph explanation that compared their meal with an average American meal. Finally, before they turned in their submissions, each team of participants was required to prepare one of their dishes and serve it to classmates, who rated it on taste and creativity. These classroom rating were counted in each meal’s final score, along with overall judging done by food experts from the Chatham University Food Studies Program.

Local produce was the star of the primarily vegetarian entries, all of which impressed the judges very much. Meals ranged from simple to complex, but all showed a great deal of thought and effort in the preparation.

1st Place: Shaler Area High School, Pumpkin French Toast with Fried Apples
2nd Place: Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, Chicken and Vegetable Stew  with Homemade Apple Sauce
3rd Place: North Allegheny Sr. High School, Homemade Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and a Local Ingredients Salad

The judges also felt very strongly that the three following entries deserved Honorable Mention:

West Mifflin Area High School, Tomato Zucchini Skillet and Zucchini Salsa
Hampton High School. Pesto Pasta and Smoothie Pops
Shaler Area High School, Autumn Stew with Homemade Pretzels

While each challenge has a winner, all participating students are winners for learning more about the world around them!

The above photos were taken by Lisa Xu.

September 10, 2013

Bringing Hip Hop into the Classroom: Multidisciplinary Learning in Action

by Melissa Harding

Sometimes, to get kids excited about science, you need to experiment. Tom McFadden, an eighth-grade science teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area, knows all about that. Author of the blog Science with Tom (formerly, The Rhymebosome), McFadden has been gaining notoriety for his inventive use of hip hop music in the classroom – first during his tenure as a Human Biology professor at Stanford University and now as a middle school teacher. His most famous work involves a rap battle between Watson & Crick and Rosalind Franklin over who first developed the DNA double helix; most impressively, the entire video was written and performed by middle school students. His blog details the process he uses when teaching science through rap, giving other educators the ability to learn from and emulate his success.

Of course, McFadden is not the only teacher to think about mixing beats with science; the Science Genius BATTLES (Bring Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning and Engagement in Science) competition, sponsored by Columbia University, teaches New York City youth to combine art and culture with science to create amazing music. Created by Dr. Christopher Emdin, a professor of education at Columbia’s Teacher’s College, the Science Genius BATTLES brings together students from all over the city to present their best science raps. Students write rhymes about everything from DNA to gravity; not only that, but that are really good at it.

This is a great accomplishment, because one of the toughest challenges that many teachers face today is getting students interested in science. This is nothing new; the media is filled with reports about widening achievement gaps in STEM subjects and declining numbers of students (especially girls) pursuing science careers. The efforts of both Emdin and McFadden get students really excited about science by using alternative teaching methods; in other words, this is the essence of multi-disciplinary learning. Multidisciplinary learning is really just using art to teach science, poetry to teach history, science to teach photography – mixing up subject areas and melding them together to create exciting and engaging learning opportunities. Multidisciplinary learning works because it meets students where they are. Not every student is good at or interested in every subject; creative teachers know that by reaching out to their student’s hobbies, interests and skills, they can be more effective educators. Hip hop education reaches students through their culture and the art that culture creates.

Dr. Emdin is interested in the future of urban education and has made using urban youth culture as a teaching tool the focus of his research. According to Emdin, “By engaging in a concerted focus on hip-hop culture, science educators can connect urban youth to science in ways that generate a genuine recognition of who they are, an appreciation of their motivation for academic success, and an understanding of how to capitalize on hip-hop culture for their identities as science learners. Such efforts can eventually lead urban youth to become “the best and brightest” in the science classroom and pursue careers in science-related fields.”

While hip hop is not the right way to reach every student, willingness to think outside the box is critical. Pushing boundaries in education is what teachers need to become more effective. Reaching out to students where they are, using tools that they recognize, is a way to make real strides. The term “multidisciplinary” can be a buzz-word used in the education field as a way to sound impressive; sometimes a concept becomes talked about more than practiced, especially when teachers are expected to incorporate every new idea into their curriculum at one time. Fortunately, there are many incredible teachers (and their supportive administrators) who are able to take a leap of faith and try something new, whether it is hip hop education, gardening in the classroom, or starting a business with their students. This is not easy, and sometimes it can take dedicated teachers years of hard work to get their ideas recognized, but it’s effective. Real multidisciplinary learning helps students to make complex connections and expands their minds so that they can see a new world around them. When it’s real, it works.

To read more the Science Genius BATTLES recently held in NYC, check out NPR’s great video story on the competition.

To read more about hip hop education and Dr. Emdin’s research, check out his website.

To learn how Phipps using multidisciplinary learn to teach botany, check out our post on the importance of art in science.

The above videos are courtesy of Tom McFadden and Dr. Christopher Emdin.


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