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Dec 08

Bohler: The People That Make Sustainable Happen

On November 17, The Students of Mrs. Steiniger’s Biology class from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic arrived at the brand new Pittsburgh office of Bohler Engineering for a STEM Career tour all about sustainability. Bohler has been consulting on land development projects for a few decades now, and while not always demanded, they do consistently attempt to add as many green touches as possible to their projects.

After a look all around at the office space, including some employees very hard at work, the tour guide Micael Takacs took the students into a conference room for a look at some of the projects he personally had worked on. Mr. Takacs has worked on a number of sustainable projects in the area, including the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes, and the student’s very own Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School. Among the green innovations at both locations are clever systems for rainwater collection and reuse and rain gardens meant to prevent excess rain runoff. The students were very excited to learn that things they see every day have sustainable benefits that they were hitherto unaware of, and now can take on an entirely new meaning.

Mr. Takacs was also able to share knowledge of other sustainable projects of note and interest within the city, including a recently constructed building that can be opened up and cooled passively with natural air currents.

Bohler Engineering proved to be an excellent supplement to the sustainability education being provided by Mrs. Steiniger, and a great foundation upon which to continue building a bright sustainable future.

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Dec 06

Greenest Space in the City

On Friday, November 17th Mrs. Steiniger’s Biology class from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School toured the Center For Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory, as part of Sustainability Stem Career Tour. The Center For Sustainable Landscapes is one of the greenest buildings in the world, meeting the requirements of the Living Building Challenge the strictest classification for a green building project.

After a short lecture explaining how the CSL came into being, they were given a tour showing off its plethora of sustainable features. From simple ideas such a shade that prevents the sun from heating rooms too much in the summer preventing excess air conditioner use to a rainwater collection system that is used for irrigation, the CSL is a modern marvel and perfect example of the ways we can minimize our impact on the environment in a large city.

Students were impressed by features like the lagoon, which aids in filtering waste water from the restrooms, to be reused in the toilets, and the rain gardens which help prevent excess rainwater from becoming a flooding issue for the area. These installations proved to be an excellent real-world example of many of the lessons they have been learning in their class. Even more impressive is the fact that this site, prior to being bought by Phipps, was a refueling depot with ground too toxic for anything to grow. Performing an environmental miracle of sorts, Phipps was able to reclaim land lost to careless destructive actions and turn it into something truly breathtaking.


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Dec 04

Fresh Fish in a Desert

My name is Tim Roos, I’m a sophomore at North Catholic, and I recently went on the sustainability field trip at North. On the field trip, we stopped at the Oasis Farm Fishery in Homewood. The main topic of the tour as sustainability, and how Oasis has incorporated it into its function. Homewood is what is considered a food desert, which is an area that has no access to fresh fruits or vegetables.

At Oasis Farm Fishery, our tour guide, Casey, led us around the greenhouse. There were several aquaponics and trellis systems, growing different types of vegetables including lettuce turnips and beets. Oasis Farm Fishery is impacting its community in more than one way. It is providing vegetables and tilapia to the community, while also offering educational opportunities and is having a positive influence in its surrounding area, helping a community in need.

Our Bio class discussed sustainable agricultural practices such as aquaponics, but I know so much more now that I went to Oasis Farm Fishery. For instance, I didn’t know that you want the roots of plants to be white, which shows that there is a good amount of oxygen present. Oasis Fishery is using the most with what they’ve got. If the temperature becomes too hot in the greenhouse, they cover the sides with a metal-mesh cover, that reflects 50% of the sunlight and warmth, so the vegetables don’t fry to death. Every so often insects enter the greenhouse and eat away at the crops. Once Casey notices the insect problem, he will introduce a predator to the greenhouse. For example, if aphids are the problem, he would introduce ladybugs.

Since Day 1 our biology teacher, Mrs. Steiniger, has taught us that conservation starts with the community. We must adapt to our Earth’s needs. Organizations like Oasis Farm Fishery are pioneers for the future and set a great example for future generations.

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Dec 02

Multidisciplinary Super-team: CMU Sustainability

Fifteen students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic got the incredible opportunity to travel around the Pittsburgh area and learn first-hand about sustainability and engineering. We heard from many great minds in the fields of engineering and conservation.  I was one of these students, and the whole day was eye-opening and I learned an incredible amount of important information.  One of our stops involved going to Carnegie Mellon University in North Oakland to learn about what CMU does to be sustainable. Another purpose was to be educated on their engineering major, and how that class involves a lot of environmental engineering and learning about sustainable engineering.

First, we heard from Gwen Dipietro, the instructor of Introduction to Sustainable Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. She talked about her course and what the experiments her students due to preserve biodiversity and remain sustainability. She also talked about her research she completed in Pittsburgh. She researched the tugboats that move coal through the locks and dams of Pittsburgh. Her goal was to see how much coal went through these locks and dams as well as how often these transports occurred. Her teaching assistant, Genna Waldvogel, also spoke about her life as an engineer and how sustainability plays a large part in it. She discussed her research project to get her Masters Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  It involved the chemicals in the rivers of Pittsburgh and their possible toxicity. These instructors are great examples of sustainability in engineering and making a choice to try to be as sustainable as possible.

Next, Ron Ripper spoke to us about the sustainable practices that Carnegie Mellon practices.  Ron Ripper is the Director of the Hauck Laboratories in Civil and Environmental Engineering. He spoke about how CMU composts and recycles, and the benefits to that. Carnegie Mellon has taken many steps to become more sustainable like paper utensils, wood coffee stirrers, and avoiding styrofoam. Although the benefits are easy to see, the cost of paper utensils is much higher and recycling and composting are time-consuming. This shows how dedicated CMU is to helping the environment and preserving our planet.

Andrea Rooney, the director of undergraduate programs in the department then spoke. She talked about a variety of topics, one of which being a project that her classes completed. It was all about exploring where each part of a product came from. She used the example of a water bottle and spoke about how the cap, wrapper and, even the ink all come from different places, increasing the carbon footprint needed to make the bottle. In her study, it was found that about six times the amount of water in a water bottle is needed to produce that water bottle. It was very interesting to hear all the seemingly nonexistent things that go into making a water bottle.

Finally, we watched a video featuring many of the students in the Civil Engineering Program at Carnegie Mellon University. They talked about their education and the hands-on learning that they get to do on a daily basis. It was very cool to see that all of these students genuinely enjoyed what they were doing. Overall, I learned so much about sustainability and conservation from these great engineering minds. They made me appreciate the little things that get overlooked all the time and realize that everyone can make a difference by doing small things.

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Nov 23

10 Christmas Gift Ideas

Happy Thanksgiving! Let me say how thankful I am for all of you.  Thank you for being someone who wants to inspire kids and make meaningful projects possible!

I know many of you will be shopping Black Friday and planning Christmas gifts for your favorite kids.  Here are a few ideas.

Spend Time! 

Build something, visit something, tell stories …

Give an Experience

We’ll be announcing the Spring G-Mites classes soon.  Let me know if your child has a special request.   Check out the Black Friday deal for Space Camp.

Set the 50% rule  

50% of their time on electronics should be sent creating something for others or developing a skill.  This could be taking tutorials from or Udemy or it could be making a Game or App or a 3D model for a cause or competition.   I encourage you, if you have not already, ask them to pass a typing test or earn a digital passport on Common Sense Media.

Check Ratings

Please, please, read the ratings of any games or media you are buying for children.  Common Sense Media lists ratings and reviews for Movies, TV, Books, Apps, and Games.

Building Materials  Ages 5+

Encourage creative play (and consider joining in!). Get them Magna-Tiles, Polymer Modeling Clay, Snap Circuits, Squishy Circuits, and Sewing Circuits Kit.

Piper Computer Kit  Ages 8-14  ~ $240

Inside, you will also find our revolutionary learning system that teaches kids engineering and programming through a combination of engaging storyline, physical building, and Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft. The kit contains: 

● Beautiful, hand­crafted wooden computer case with HD LCD display
● Fully functioning computer running on a Raspberry Pi 3 Project Board. 1GB RAM. 1200 MHzQuad­Core CPU
● Electronic gadgets including LED lights, buzzers, buttons, switches, sensors and more
● Cables to connect the screen, Pi and 6600 mAh powerbank together
● 8 square foot laminated blueprint explaining how to assemble your Piper Computer
● USB mouse with a retractable cable
● An 8GB SD card that holds your game progress and keeps your creations safe
● Custom Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft adventure that you experience by building and programming electronic modules
● Wifi enabled, new downloadable levels, and sharing capabilities
● Free automatic level updates
● It even comes with a Piper Screwdriver!

Circuit Cubes  Ages 8-12 ~ $48

Circuit Cubes are electronic blocks that enable kids to add power, motion, and light to their toys or projects. Designed by STEM teachers, Circuit Cubes foster confidence and promote problem-solving skills as kids master the basics of circuitry through hands-on play. With Circuit Cubes, kids can unleash their inner creativity and engage in endless fun.

Cue by Wonder Workshop  Ages 11+  ~ $180

Cue is a witty robot with attitude that is powered by breakthrough Emotive AI

  • Build your skills with games and challenges and makes programming your own interactive experiences fun for any level
  • Choose your favorite avatar and explore an amazing depth of personality, expressions and actions
  • Send and receive text messages to share witty comments, memes and funny jokes, keeping you coming back for more.
  • Unlock cue’s secret to coding for any skill level by easily switching between block and JavaScript programming
  • Discover a freestyle environment to program robot adventures using cue’s proximity sensors, encoders, gyro, accelerometer, microphones and more.
  • Engage Cue’s intelligent auto modes (seek, avoid, and explore) to navigate tight corners or obstacles while expressing personality at every turn.
  • Cue is for ages 11+ and works with iOS, Android and Kindle Fire HD 8, 10). 2017 SILVER PARENTS CHOICE AWARD WINNER!

Star Wars Augmented Reality Googles with Light Saber

Feel the Force as you fight for galactic peace with the Lenovo Star Wars™: Jedi Challenges AR headset. It works with an iOS or Android smartphone to enable the game app, letting you engage in virtual Jedi duels. This Lenovo Star Wars™: Jedi Challenges AR headset includes a lightsaber controller and a tracking beacon to arm you for battle.

Coach a STEM Competition Team or Badge Experience

Grow a Generation is looking for teachers and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) enthusiasts to teach summer camps and afterschool workshops.

Choose an already developed curriculum or develop your own for grades 9-12, 6-8, or 3-5. Work with earnest students working hard to develop meaningful projects with tools from the cutting edge of STEM opportunities and 21st century skills.   You control the age group and class size.

Questions can be directed to  Be bold! Apply with a creative idea.


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Oct 30

The Power of a Mentor

The week before school started I was hunched over a computer screen with Paul Flick, a wonderful FedEx programmer, volunteering time to talk me through trying to change scripts in computer batch files to try to get our Dragon Tag system working.

“I ran the file, NOW I get the message Error:  Invalid or corrupt jarfile!”

Paul responded “That’s good.  We’re seeing the same message finally. Rick (or was it Tommy) is reprogramming it now and should have it working soon.”

New files were sent via email, uploaded, downloaded, installed.  All in all, it seemed like 4 programming languages were needed and the interfaces included the computer, the RFID reader, the display screen, the online database, and the programming that connected each to each.

I was definitely not alone at the school.  Mat Davis our director of technology was troubleshooting each time he stopped in to check on our progress.

Holy Cow! When the moment of success came, you would have thought “Reader Success” meant we saved the world, it felt so good!!!

This all started 3 years ago in 2014 when a 5th grade research fellow at Baden Academy asked how we could make bus transportation at the school work better.  

Owen wanted to apply technology to make the bus rides for the youngest members of our school even safer.   

Owen reached out to FedEx to mentor his fellowship and together they developed a working prototype of the new dragon tags.

FedEx spent months with Owen evaluating the various needs of the school, watching us load 250 students onto 16 buses AND traveling to transfer sites where students got off one bus to transfer onto two.  

Small details, such as a request from a transfer school principal to make the tags obvious and red to stand out for them added to the big details of confidentiality and became part of pages of notes before programming began.

The start of the 2015 school year came and FedEx volunteers filled a room and assembled over 100 cards for us to use with our Kindergarten class.  Denise Sabolcik, the VP of IT at FedEx, had her daughter draw the red dragon that was made as part of the tag and the QR codes were outsourced by FedEx to link to the individual student database entry ony of the software they built for the school.  

We entered it all into the system and distributed Dragon Tags for each kindergarten student to wear on their book bag.

Students pass the RFID reader and we can verify they are getting on the right bus.  At the transfer sites, trained staff can use a cell phone to access a password protected site with a QR code and verify emergency information, bus numbers, and give home addresses to the drivers.  Each year an average of 7 ‘saves’ happen where a child is prevented from getting on the wrong bus or a driver has clarification where the youngest of our students need to go.

It is an amazing backup system to the vigilance of parents who communicate clearly and teachers who want every part of the school day to be filled with opportunity.

Each year different components of the system have shifted from FedEx to us. The first year, volunteers from FedEx came in early to assemble the tag, RFID and QR code. This year, the staff at Baden Academy and I had to learn how to order the tags, the RFID and QR Codes, how to troubleshoot the RFID reader that needed to be relocated.

Shout out to Patrick Stalling of MPI Labels who ran samples, made changes, and let us pick up labels a state away at the last minute before school began.

This year, we needed to replace the “Dragon Tag” computer, hence the need for me to learn enough batch programming to rename directory files with the help of self-sacrificing FedEx employees donating their time!

FedEx’s support not only made our kids safer – it made them curious.  Wanting to change the PHP programming that affected the display 4th grade research fellows Dru and Glorian started a programming club.  This year Brynn runs it.  FedEx again came in with volunteers to help!  The club grew and opened this year to 2 rooms: Computer Programming, Robotics, and Mobile App Design.  The club also provides a website of resources for students to pursue after they leave us in 6th grade.

We had a second problem, I’ll let Aderyn explain: “Some of the tags stop working.  Our third grade brought scientific thinking to that problem. Thanks to the generous donations of Atlas RFID and Alien Technology, we set up five classrooms of experiments.”

Aderyn’s TED Ed video was featured on the RAIN RFID website and the conference gathering together companies from around the globe who promote the universal adoption of UHF RFID technology.

Our students, teachers and school were recognized for their excellent work!

All of this was inspired by Owen’s original question to FedEx, “Would you consider becoming a mentor to my fellowship project?”  Their support has been extraordinary and I extend a very public THANK YOU to Mark Bracken, Tommy Moran, Rick Romesburg, Paul Flick, Jeffrey Walter, Robert Minford, and Denise Sabolcik at FedEx. Their support has been extraordinary.  They  didn’t just sign onto mentor Owen. They mentored me and Mat Davis with our school’s IT, Glorian and Dru and now Brynn with Dragon Tag programming, Aderyn and the 3rd grade teachers and students in the RFID experiments, and transformed our school into a hub of technology innovation and education.  Thank you!  

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Oct 08

Seton LaSalle 2017-18 Research Fellows

Congratulations to the students and teachers who have been accepted into the year’s Research Fellows program. This unique program provides support, time, and resources for fellows to initiate and contribute to a year long meaningful project. We encourage you to like and comment on the video.

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Oct 08

Can you 3D print a bump fire stock?

Maybe you can’t 3D print a bump fire stock, but it is possible.  I work with kids, as young as 3rd grade, who are learning to find designs (for example chess pieces) online, edit them in AutoDesk and TinkerCad, and upload them to print in a 3D printer.  The STL file (think of it as the 3D version of a printed out piece of paper you can scan or photocopy in a 2D printer) is available free to download from the web to your computer, then print on a 3D printer.  I would certainly NOT give permission for the 3D printer in the lab to whine away for hours printing out something like this, but there are places students can send that file to that would print it for them.  Several of the kids I work with already have a 3D printer at home (you can buy them for $200 – $1500).

I am challenged as a parent and an educator to deliberately, frequently, and with attention to bias, reevaluate how I address leadership, morality, and a responsibility to build a more beautiful world alongside how to teach 3D CAD Design, 3D printing, and prototyping. I am reminded often of the excerpt of a letter written by a Holocaust survivor to educators, published in Haim Ginott’s “Teacher and Child.”

“I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is:

Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”

I try often and early to teach students to “inspire kids” (our password for many ventures), to not simply lay bricks, but build cathedrals (part of the training to articulate their project missions), to look for the why (Simon Sinek great talk in the leadership curriculum), to “imagineer a more beautiful world” and “quest for a worthy legacy” (part of the call and response for the research fellows).

I deliberately didn’t put the links to the bump fire stock stl files into this post.  If you came here looking for that, please, take time to look at some of the inspiring projects you can get involved with.  Make a gift of yourself for the betterment of others.

Build a 3D printed hand for a child who needs one 

3D print toys for Toys for Tots

Create a shop of  (non-weaponized) speciality items on Shapeways to benefit a charity.

And check out these kids making 3D models for meaningful projects!

If you have a child being trained in firearms, please take the time to teach empathy (all three types – emotional sharing “I feel…  how does this make you feel”; empathetic concern “which of these charities should we give to to help the victims”; and perspective taking “how do you think the kids of this victim are feeling.”)  The stories of 58 dead from Vegas can be found at

Please read it through with them and remember the dead.  Help grow a generation who imagineers a more beautiful world.




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Sep 27

Announcing the 2017-18 Baden Academy Research Fellows



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Sep 03

Virtual Reality Classes to start soon

Virtual reality job openings are up 800%

Fall Programs
at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic
and Seton LaSalle High Schools


Begin to master the latest tools and technologies and put your tech skills to work in the exciting field of VR! We will be learning together from industry experts like Google, Unity, and HTC, and becoming Virtual Reality Developers.

This six week course will focus on foundations. We will start by using the Unity Game Engine to build beautiful Virtual Reality scenes and learn how to make the experience of Virtual Reality more dynamic and responsive by using C# programming in the Unity interface. 

Purchase at:

Virtual Reality
Grades 8-12
6:30-8:00 PM

At CWNC in Cranberry
Tuesday Evenings starting Sept. 26

At Seton LaSalle in Mt. Lebanon
Wednesday Evenings starting Sept. 27

Email DrEllen “at” to request a printable registration form.




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Camps in the News… 

G-MITES Game Design Program teaches theory, design by Caleb Harshberger, Cranberry Eagle

Grow a Generation Breeds Future Engineers and App Developers by Tyler Baum, Pittsburgh Youth Media

5th Grade Environmentalist Erin Cheek Interview Neighborhood Voices

STEM teenagers learn about the math and science of TrueAlleleTrue Allele Technology Newsletter June/July 2015 Newsletter

Platypus Hosts the STEM Careers Tour CMU Cooperative Robotic Watercraft Post

High School STEM Students Visit Point Park’s CSI House, Learn About Forensic Science  Point Park University Arts and Sciences News and Features

Making Meaningful Games: Firefighter Firefight

Future Engineers: 3-D Space Container Challenge

STEM Video Competition 2015

Monday’s STEM Career Tour 2015

Tuesday’s STEM Career Tour 2015

Wednesday STEM Career Tour 2015

Thursday STEM Career Tour 2015

2015 STEM Careers Tour – Friday 2015

Summer Camps @ CWNC 2016



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