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Passionate About Bridges

Charlie and Mohammed were some of the first Fellows in our STEM Leadership Center. While Mohammed stepped back for a while, Charlie has moved ahead on his explorations of cutting edge technology fixing the problem in the world he most wants to solve. Check out his latest video!

If you know of any other area 6th-10th graders interested in looking at new technologies in the field of bridge repair, construction, and re-construction, invite them to our STEM Leadership Center to join Charlie’s fellowship!

Visit his website at

Visit the STEM Leadership Center for ways to join Charlie’s and other fellowships!

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Come to the Beaver BookFest Sat. Sept. 7!

Come meet some of the authors from Baden Academy at the Beaver County BookFest 2019 taking place Saturday, September 7th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the charming and historic town of Beaver, PA.

The Main Event on Saturday is free and features our main Authors’ Tent (with 60+ authors!), our popular Children’s Tent with plenty of activities for the little ones, music on the street, and of course, a variety of food and retail vendors.

Come meet local authors and get your books autographed. We can’t wait to see you in September! 

Baden Academy authors wrote 5 new books this year, including one with the Beaver County Historical Society and 5 area geologist, another with scientists from Tel Aviv studying bats and RFID, a third celebrating ceramics partnered with Swindell Dressler and Harbison Walker, another book by the Kids vs. Addiction team with addiction specialists from the ASAM, and Mrs. Keriotis’s kindergarten class again produced a masterpiece of Van Gogh, hedgehogs and smiling kids.

Search for any book title on to purchase it.

Over the last seven years, Grow a Generation has helped over 30 authors produce 15 books alongside phenomenal mentors from all fields of science. Click on the links to learn how to purchase the books. All royalties are sent directly to charities.

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Robot Kittens, Computer Vision, and Chance Encounters

This is a picture of one of our research fellows, Eugene Haley, using computer vision to control the movements of a robotic kitten. The story of how we got here is amazing!

One of the fellowships at the STEM Leadership Center started with Elise Propst, a long time amazing student with a love of four-legged pets (including horses!). Elise started the fellowship to play with 4 legged robots.

(officially… ”  investigate robotics engineers who are working to solve problems inherent in four-legged robots (balance, strength, resilience, sensory function, and adaptability). We want to discover if solutions informed by the biomimetic study of mammalian quadrupeds (cats and horses) would be better. This involves studying the evolution, biology, and physics of how horses, dogs, and other four-legged creatures utilize their legs, hooves, and center of mass. “)

She and her friend Jamison did some research and made their logo, website, and first video for

While Jamison stepped back from the project, Elise welcomed a new project fellow Eugene Haley to work on a 4-legged robot for the upcoming Pittsburgh Science and Engineering Fair. They went in search of one they could build and modify inexpensively and found a kitten then could make from 3D printed parts and about $100 of electronic supplies.

Their kitten was based on an open-source project created by Petoi, the makers of the world’s cutest robotic kitten Nybble. (Open-source means that the complicated programming behind the project is available for the fellows to download and experiment with!)

Zaigham Abbas Randhawa from Petoi with Nybble the Robotic Kitten

So I was invited by friend and prototype wizard Joel Cilli to a networking event called Build 412 Tech. The particular evening included the presentations of competing tech startups for the Rivers Agile $1000 prize and the awesome Pittsburgh Tech Championship Belt. Guess who I met! Last year’s winner Petoi with their software developer, Zaigham Randhawa.

I was able to show him Elise and Eugene’s project and he was eager to meet them. With six days we had an interview set up and filmed. The day included meeting some other computer science students at work on summer projects at CMU and filming an extended interview about the kitten.

Eugene and Elise are back in the STEM Leadership Center editing the interview footage and finishing their original prototype for testing. They are thrilled to have the support of Zaigham and Petoi founder Rongzhong Li to call upon for software help. Their kitten (Orabelle) is being created for the Alzheimers and Dementia patients at Villa St. Joseph, hoping it will create laughter, bring joy, and ward off isolation. Follow news of their project on their website

Do you know a 6th-10th grader who is a potential STEM Leader and Odyssey Fellow? Nominate them today for a special free tour and interview at our STEM Leadership Center evening facility located at Baden Academy in Baden, PA. NOMINATION FORM

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Play NYC

This past weekend I was given a great opportunity by the Games for Change organization to be able to visit the Play NYC event put together by Playcrafting. While there are many conferences for the games industry every year, Play NYC had a feel very few can reproduce. Unlike your every year E3, Comic Con‘s, and frequent PAX events, Play NYC felt like it was truly about the industry and love for gaming rather than just a place to go to play games from big studios flexing their influence. Many of the developers there were smaller independent studios and groups that had a love and a knack for game creation and innovation, leading to wild wacky games that no big studio would ever dare make. Breathing life and wonder into the games they make, these devs really show why gaming is so popular in today’s climate and important in every artistic sense. Come with me as I outline a few of the beautiful games I was able to experience, and portray what it takes for these devs to bring these masterpieces to life.

Most of the games that were shown off at this event were still in development and still had some work to be done. Although the concepts were solid and inspired, execution for most of these projects is well done yet ongoing. This concept is exemplified in a game by GrahamOfLegend called “Super Space Club,” which is a top-down space shooter reminiscent of classic games such as the old Atari game “Asteroids.” Graham had given me the opportunity to talk with him about his game as well as his inspirations for the game while I was waiting to give it a try myself. Inspired by games in the space genre, Graham had set out to create a new game that had a truly classic feel but with a modern twist that would push the game to new heights while keeping the controls simple and accessible for all. 

Although the game was an early version, there were so many tiny details that showed the passion and skill of the dev. Outside in the game looks beautiful yet a little simpler when watching someone play, but these looks can be deceiving. With only two buttons (boost and fire) and a control stick, the controls are easy to learn but take some time to master as you can’t fire and boost at the same time. On its own, this wouldn’t be all that challenging in concept, but the real kicker here is that everything you do uses your health, meaning every time you shoot or use boost your health is reduced. Mentally the game is challenging as you are balancing your attacks and defenses as you play, weighing if destroying one more enemy is worth the risk during a fast-paced firefight. “Super Space Club” was originally made with a traditional black and white space color scheme but Graham was fed up with the idea that these space games had to all be the same drab dark colors, and because of this, the game is now a beautiful array of colors that change as you play. Musically it holds up a fun and relaxing vibe that perfectly matches the visuals allowing a great gameplay experience. 

As I talked to Graham, it became very apparent how much he really cared about his creation, which is refreshing in an industry that has become filled to the brim with remakes and reboots that seem relatively passionless from the outside in. While he has taken some inspiration from classic games and some of his favorites such as StarFox, “Super Space Club” is truly a game of it’s own that when completed will be loved by all who play.

Now I would be remiss if I did not mention Games for Change. Not only did they give me the ability to go check this event out but their intentions fall in line with ours here at Grow-a-Generation. We take pride in allowing kids to create truly meaningful projects that allow them to make a positive difference in the world while also expanding on what they love. Games for Change creates and distributes games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts, as well as encourage others to use gaming as a positive impact in the world. After seeing what they showed off at Play NYC, it couldn’t be more clear that they are serious about their mission, and with so many people gathered around their booth, others were just as excited to see what they had to offer.

On the track of games with purpose, there were many creators there who all want to make positive impacts through the medium of games. “Spywatch Lex” by Scholarcade was an outstanding example of the positive possibilities of game creation as it is meant to teach you a language as you play. You play as a spy trying to take down an evil organization by visiting foreign cities to gain insider intelligence to take down the organization from the inside. Unlike other language learning tools, “Spywatch Lex” focuses on gameplay and fun in an exciting RPG rather than creating a language tool and creating a game as an afterthought. One of the biggest problems with how these games are normally done is that the games aren’t engaging or fun but a game like Spywatch Lex is what can change that and really make a difference in the language learning industry.

Play NYC isn’t the biggest event out there, at times it had seemed a little tight even, but it was well worth the trip are really displayed what is to come in games and the passionate people behind them. Playing a lot of games can skew our perspective of the simple yet greatly fun games that come out all the time, keeping us under the allusion that, because they are easy to understand and easy pick up and play, they must be easy to design and make, but the nuances of game creation is easily lost on those who don’t make them. These creators pour their heart and soul into making these games. Whether they make an impact on the world through messages or meaning, helping us learn, or just brightening our days through fun times and competition, the art form is growing at a rapid pace bringing a little something for everyone. Although in the media today you may see a negative connotation of gaming from time to time, these creators are doing what they love and are making our lives better and more enjoyable in the process. I, for one, am excited to see where these creators will go with their talents and games as they grow and learn. 

And for those interested in some of my favorite games that I think we should all be excited about, I will give a small list of games and developers, some that I’ve already mentioned and some I haven’t, who deserve some love.

Kung Fu Kickball – WhaleFood Games

Super Space Club – GrahamOfLegend

Spywatch Lex – Scholarcade

DogFight – Petricore 

Chromavaders – Corundum Games 

Groove Catcher – Vizmoo

Tendar – Tender Claws

Spencer D’Hondt is a computer science major at Penn State Behrend and a game development intern at Grow a Generation. He also serves as a mentor to the Pa Distance video game Odyssey Fellowship Terms of Service.

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3 Reasons I Love Games For Change!

A photo from the exhibit floor of the Play NYC Conference going on the weekend! (Aug 10-11 2019)

Ten days ago I received a wonderful surprise in my inbox. Games For Change wrote

“Thank you so much for participating in the Games for Change Student Challenge last year. As a token of our appreciation, we would like to offer you a free ticket to Play NYC next weekend, hosted by Playcrafting. ”

Spencer D’Hondt Programmer and Game Design Intern

This extraordinary organization empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place. This invitation empowered one of my summer interns to travel to New York and represent Grow a Generation at the Play NYC event. Thank you, Games for Change! Keep a lookout for his upcoming blog about his experience.

The second reason that I love Games for Change is that they make available all of the keynote talks from their annual conference online for free for me to watch. Those talks have inspired me to go on to inspire my students to create even more spectacular ideas with them. I’ve used them for reference. I’ve used them for knowledge. I’ve shared them with other teachers and with students. Thank you, Games for Change.

The third reason that I love Games for Change is the actual games that they have inspired me to work with our students on. We have two fellowships that are currently working on games; Terms of Service and Endangered.

Term of Service is a group of middle/elementary school students at PA Distance creating a game that teaches kids about those pesky legal agreements (that hold up in court!) that we sign every time we download a game or app. They are partnered with the director of the Privacy Lab at Yale Law School, Sean O’Brien. Spencer, our summer intern, has been working hard trying to debug a scrolling platform issue in the game.

The second game is being created by two elementary students at Baden Academy, partnered with the PA Fish and Boat Commission and PA Wildlife Commission. The kids are producing all the elements for a downloadable board game to introduce students to our state’s endangered fish, amphibian, bird, and mammals with action provoking ideas to help all our state’s living resources not merely survive but thrive.

You can check out their links below as well as the links to other games and apps that Grow a Generation fellowships and camps have helped produce! Games are the largest growing segment of the entertainment industry ($180 billion in revenue last year). Inspiring our students to be creators and not consumers is a big part of our mission!

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2 Exciting High Points from the Rockies

I just returned from a week in the Rocky Mountain National Park and wanted to share with you my two highpoints!  The first involves a moment on little more than a goat path at 10,000 feet with an approaching tornado.  The second was just as exciting!  I got to meet one of the returning High Altitude Observatory scientists, Dr. Paul Bryans, and connect him to one of our Sun Superheroes to talk about his experience of the recent solar eclipse.

The tornado scene felt like it was out of a Hitchcock movie.  My husband and I were hiking back a second trail from a beautiful waterfall.  We failed to download the map or even read the topological one and were surprised to find ourselves making our way along this little goat path with a very sheer drop.  Each turn in the trail brought hope that the trail would widen and our hearts were pounding as we found it just get narrower.  I turned to find David begin to panic with vertigo and saw the storm clouds approaching.  We rushed to make it to where the trail widened where a took a quick selfie. We continued to climb upward and eventually summit, nearly running (our oxygen starved lungs were struggling), and descended again to tree line.  The wind in the trees was deafening.  It wasn’t until the next day we saw the picture below.  Great fun! 

The other highpoint was the High Altitude Observatory.  The actual Observatory is in Hawaii (away from light pollution), but the team of scientists who study the images collected is in Boulder, Co.  The team (pictured below) has spent the last few weeks in the Chilean mountains studying the July 2 total solar eclipse.  Destiney, one of the Baden Academy Sun Superheroes, was able to talk to him briefly on the phone while I was there about his experience.  She expects to follow through in the school year by recording a longer interview via Skype.

A special shout out to Sheryl Shapiro, an HAO administrative assistant, for all the great surprises we brought back for our Sun Superheroes!  I can’t wait to see their reactions.

Check out the Sun Superheroe year end highlights video and feel free to check out their website at

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A New Literacy: The Language of Computers

YMCA Campers stopping by the STEM Leadership Center to learn some coding skills.

The skill of coding is not just about a career in programming, it is a necessary literacy for our future. I am so impressed that the YMCA is taking a lead in Beaver County to make coding education a priority!

Friday was our last YMCA Summer Camp coding field trip. For our final day, we introduced students to a new programming language called “Scratch”. We created logins, placed them on index cards, and sent the kids home inspired to create more. If you look closely, you’ll see one of the leaders, the mentor, the ACSL coach and the Programming club coach in the picture. Check out what the Baden Academy Dragon Tag Programming club accomplished this year…

You can find out more at their website .

We ask each of our Odyssey Fellows in the STEM Leadership Lab to be enrolled in an online programming class. Many start with but often quickly move onto specific challenges. Anthony working on Kryptocurreny Kids is learning C++, Gavin working on solid state batteries in Charging into the Future is focused on Java. Several are working on learning Arduino C++ including 4 Step Robotics and Catching Wave Project Fellows .

I recently attended a #CSforInslusion event sponsored by ReMake Learning. Inviting our students to become literate in computer programming is an urgency causing a groundswell of support. Take a moment to listen to LeTrenda’s recap…

I continue to advocate for better access to computer science opportunities at the Beaver County Quality Education Council. Efforts have not yet met with much success. One superintendent responded to my again raising the issue with the statement “Not everyone wants to become a programmer.” I wonder if, when mandatory education to teach students to read entered the dialog 150 years ago, it was met with the same skepticism.

Our Beaver County CTC was ready to embrace the possibility of a three-year computer science vocational training for any area public school students. The area superintendents unanimously voted it down. Please, advocate for computer science education. Until it is offered in the schools, afterschool programming is the key to getting our students ready!

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Meaningful Projects in 3D Printing

Two young girls stepped up three years ago when they were in 4th grade to lead the Baden Academy Future Engineers club. They were joined by two more this year to lead over 20 kids in meaningful 3-D printed projects. Wow! They have created an amazing legacy. Check out their video and get their book Engineering Wings to the Sun that celebrates 3-D printing ceramics.  I want to include a special shout out to the American Ceramics Society who donated a Materials Science Teaching Curriculum to our school as a thank you for the book.  Piezoelectrics here we come!

Engineering Wings to the Sun Book Cover
Click to purchase

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Learning Leadership with a Chess Club

I received an email earlier this year from one of the first Baden Academy Research Fellows. She is attending a great high school in another state and went to show off the great work she had done starting a chess club at Baden Academy. Oh no! Her information from the chess club site was gone! The new leaders, eager to follow the way too vague instructions “clean up the website,” had deleted all old content. The omission has since been fixed, Skylar is now prominently displayed on the About page of, and her video from 2014 reposted to the website. It is always great to hear from a past student (and I love the occasional glimpses of them growing up on Facebook). The episode reinforced for me how lessons of leadership at a young age stay with you.

The current leaders of our Chess Club received the position by applying to the research fellowship program. They are responsible for designing the flyer and online sign up forms at the beginning of the year, speaking personally to past members with an invitation, promoting their club in classrooms, designing lesson plans that include attendance, sharing news of chess in technology, leading the after-school group through end game scenarios, promoting and celebrating participation in area tournaments and reflecting on their roles as leaders. They also manage the clubs website and design the t-shirt club members can order from the product catalog on their website.

I must admit, I was a bit hesitant to include an afterschool chess club in the middle of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs. I was quickly swayed. The connections to mathematics are evident (and the content of some fascinating Numberphile episodes and science fairs). Even learning about programming a computer to beat chess masters is a journey into the history and future of STEM.

The kids are encouraged to practice on their own with That program uses brute force to beat humans. It calculates the millions of moves that 32 pieces on an 8-by-8 board can make and run every possibility of a problem until the program finds the best solution. This was the method of the computer Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer used to beat Garry Kasparov, the Russian Chess Grandmaster, in 1997. (I am not the only one who names their computers!)

This year we were able to learn about artificial intelligence, the training of a computer to teach itself. Google’s AlphaZero AI computer soundly defeated Stockfish, the world’s best brute force chess program. The difference between the two machines: AlphaZero taught itself how to play like a human.

Lessons of chess, we learned, go far beyond mathematics, far beyond technology, they even teach us about the testing and evaluation of intelligence. Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker author, often visits the topic of chess to uncover some new insight into the human condition. His most recent podcast, Puzzle Rush compared the “finish quickly” measure of intelligence to the “take your time” measure of intelligence. The “finish quickly” includes standardized tests like the LSATs, most classroom tests, and playing chess in a program called Puzzle Rush (on online blitz chess program allowing only 5 minutes for the whole game). The “take your time” measure of intelligence that is a take-home test or the way a classical chess tournament. There is still a time limit, but there is time for calculation, working through possible scenarios, time to prioritize and organize your thoughts. I encourage you to listen! It seems the two different types of measures allow different individuals to rise to the top.

[Side note to parents: If you are traveling this summer, short or long distances, consider playing podcasts like Revisionist History or Science Friday in the car, pausing often to discuss with the kids. Podcasts are a great way to feed their brains all summer long!]

Mr. Jake, our Baden Academy chess coach, (and Mr. Wolf, his predecessor and founder of a chess culture at the school), have pointed out to me that many of the kids who are successful in chess are kids not traditionally held up as the smartest in PSSA standardized tests and benchmarks. Classical chess allows for a different type of intelligence to rise to the top. Our leaders have grown in their awareness of how fragile the self-concepts of “smart” and “intelligent” are in their club members and in themselves.

Our fellowships open up the possibility of cultivating early important lessons in leadership, lessons of collaboration, of managing diverse groups of people, of risking failure, and of having the vision to create a worthy legacy. Thank you, Skylar, for reminding me how these lessons live on!

2014 Baden Academy Chess Club Advertisement

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Build, Solder, and Program an LED Cube

Mon-Tue-Wed July 15-17

from 9 am to 3 pm

at the STEM Leadership Center @ Baden Academy

Participants will be introduced to electronics and the Arduino microcircuit board, learn how to solder, and begin to program light patterns with Java. They will take home their Cubes and Arduinos. They need to bring their own soldering iron (which they can keep!) and lunches. Cost for the 3-day workshop is $145. 

Questions: Dr. Ellen Cavanaugh at 724-266-1498 or drellen@growageneration

Register online at:

Download Mail-In Registration

Questions: Dr. Ellen Cavanaugh at 724-266-1498 or drellen@growageneration

Check out some of our programmers playing with an LED Cube

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