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Mar 21

The Propulsion of Young Motivation

The moon had already set over Pittsburgh on the morning of Friday, March 2, as a robotics classroom from Seton LaSalle stepped inside the Pittsburgh office of Astrobotic. Eleven students and two teachers met the people slated to be “the FedEx to the moon.”

The future of education has been evolving. The acronym STEM encapsulates a new approach when a textbook (and a teacher’s education of “facts” are outdated by the exponential growth of information and exercise sets with their standardized tests built to support the incremental building of complex thought have crushed the desire to learn from the very students it sought to empower.

We still need texts and teachers and exercise sets, but STEM education provides propulsion to motivating students through the drudge of learning the basics and mastering the skills.  It taps into the those three keys to human drive: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. It connects students with real world science and makes them a part of the missions that used to be mere dreams for when they finished years of drills and tests and certification check boxes. It makes a distant goal real and visceral, It has the side benefit of reinvigorating the technologists, engineers, and scientists that suffer through their own moments of discouragement and failure.

Seniors Gabrielle Hirsch and Ryan Winter dove deep into the Astrobotic website and news articles preparing interview questions to take place during their classroom visit. Their research fellowship goal is to engage the astronomy and robotics students of Seton LaSalle High School and get them excited enough to persevere the rigor of learning in STEM, while they help tackle real-world problems of space exploration.  The two crafted questions and stole a few minutes with Propulsion Engineer Jeff Hopkins and Systems Engineer Ander Solorzano.




One of the students from Astronomy has been working on a science fair project about the environment on the moon and the difficulties encountered with the regolith (think soil) – sharp ground up meteorites, that create the dust on the surface and get into equipment.  They ran into problems getting the regolith substitutions for the experiment and were amazed to find so much research into creating regolith simulant and the industry that has developed selling regolith simulant of both our moon and of Mars.

Another student listened in rapt attention to the redesigns of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander to the measurements of how much the regolith will life off the surface when the lander touches down,  Protecting the packages for delivery is a primary concern, so these measurement studies lead to real world engineering changes. He hopes his research will lead future students to pursue these experiments,

Jeff Hopkins and I were able to talk as the kids took their pictures upstairs.  He is also trying to inspire juniors and seniors at Robert Morris University in an engineering course he is teaching.  Robert Morris is leading the way in innovative engineering education.  Their offerings of manufacturing, software and logistics engineering have emerged out of partnerships with leading companies like PPG Industries, Westinghouse, American Home Improvement Products, Cutler Hammer, PGT Trucking, Bayer, J&L Speciality Steel, Mobay and others. These partnerships allow for students to get hands on experience solving the problems these companies are facing.





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Mar 18

Take Action involves over 250 students in Bake for Good!

1240 rolls + 6 loaves by over 250 volunteers from grades K-6 and ages 5 to 90 delivered to Meals on Wheels!
Thank you to all the volunteers
  • Aleenia Reich and Bella Rivera (great Take Action Leaders)
  • Taylor Breaden (amazing Take Action coach!!!!)
  • 48 Take Action kids from grades 3 to 6 who stayed 2 hours after school to help!
  • Melanie Houston, Bridget Biggins, Brenden Finn, and Sara McMillen 4th and 5th grade math teachers who asked their students to apply their math and science lessons and make flour, oil, water, yeast, sugar, and hard work into bread dough!
  • Jessica Graff with Kelli Keriotis and Meghan Holl – who celebrated the art of shaping risen bread dough with Kindergarten students – way to go!!!
  • Sisters of St. Joseph for the help with kindergarten shaping the bread, the gloves, and the use of the dining hall for bread shaping.
    PTP for the great volunteers (would not have been possible without Trish!!!)
  • Parents who helped including Mrs. Wagonner, Katy Ake and Lee Ann Tomlinson (and MOST of all parents who continued the lesson at home by making the bread recipe again with their kids!)
  • Barb in the kitchen for the gloves, the pans, and the use of the kitchen.
  • Amelia, Mona, and Chelsea for logistics!
  • Lauren Bensink for empowering everyone!
  • Patty, Mike, and our whole maintenance for the extra duties!
  • The whole Baden Academy Family for the flexibility to take a day to help provide a daily nutritious meal, a friendly smile and a safety check for eligible seniors to help keep them healthy, safe and living independently in their own homes.
  • Mr. Jake from the Media Lab for climbing steps over 40 times to ferry bread dough to rising stations and rush supplies to the gloveless.
Mrs. Wagonner – again – 2 extra hours at an over after a whole day working in the cafeteria.  Thank you!


Thank you to the TimeOnline and Marsha Keefer for the great article and video!!!

Baden Academy Charter School pupils rise to help Meals on Wheels

Marsha Keefer  
Posted Mar 14, 2018 at 2:01 AM

On the surface, the bread-baking class at Baden Academy Charter School taught math and science lessons but incorporated something far greater: helping others.

BADEN — Flour dust coated parchment paper-covered desktops. The smell of yeast permeated the air.

One day last week, Baden Academy Charter School resembled a bakery as four classrooms of fourth- and fifth-graders measured ingredients, mixed them in bowls and kneaded pliable masses of dough into soft, round loaves.

The project incorporated math and science concepts, but intrinsic was a far loftier lesson: It’s important to help those in need.

Approximately 1,250 dinner rolls and six loaves of bread were made and delivered to the Lutheran Service Society’s Meals on Wheels, which provides nutritious meals for eligible senior citizens with physical or financial limitations that prevent them from shopping for and preparing their own meals.

In Beaver County, Meals on Wheels serves 150 clients in 28 communities.

“I think it’s very, very nice that we’re helping out the community,” said 10-year-old Brett Barthelemy, a fifth-grader in Bridget Biggins’ class. “I really enjoy doing it for the greater good. I just think that we should really give back to the elderly a lot. They have done a lot for this generation right now, and I think we should help them.”

Mike Dengel, manager of the county’s Meals on Wheels program, agreed.

“Gosh, it was wonderful,” he said. “Sometimes these kids are impressive when they come up with these ideas on their own and decide to make it happen.”

Lisa Burnsworth of Economy, parent of fifth-grader Brynn, suggested bread baking as a project for the academy’s Take Action Club, an after-school, service-learning club that challenges students to identify local and global issues and encourages them to take action to improve their communities.

Burnsworth directed sixth-grader Aleenia Reich, who founded the club a few years ago, to King Arthur Flour, an American company that supplies flour and baking materials and also sponsors Bake for Good. Burnsworth’s colleague, Eileen Brennan, learned of Bake for Good at a workshop a few years ago.

Bake for Good, launched in 1992, is part of the company’s educational outreach teaching students the know-how of making bread from scratch. Besides learning fractions, reading and understanding recipes and conversion charts, measuring dry and liquid ingredients, and the chemistry behind baking, they also learn problem solving, teamwork, patience and especially compassion by sharing what they make with those in need.

“It makes me feel really good,” Aleenia said. “I know that I’m helping out people who cannot cook for themselves. … It feels really nice that I can help out.”

The young bakers started the day watching a step-by-step, King Arthur Flour tutorial video on bread making.

Afterward, they washed their hands, rolled up their sleeves and in groups of four to five visited a work station laden with bowls, liquid and dry measuring utensils, spoons and ingredients: warm water, flour, yeast, sugar, salt and cooking oil.

Once they filled their bowls with ingredients, they went to desktops covered with parchment paper and set about stirring and kneading.

“Push away, turn it around, roll toward you, push away, turn it around, fold, push — I think I got it,” said a satisfied Dakota Jones, 11, a fifth-grader in Melanie Houston’s class, on his kneading technique.

Partner Hoby Schweikert, 11, gently pressed his fingertips in the soft mound, and when it bounced back, he knew it was ready to be placed in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and clean towel, and then left to rise.

Reflecting on the experience, fifth-grader Andrew Kennaday said baking dough is “a lot harder than you think. You have to have a lot of teamwork ’cause one mess-up and it could destroy the entire thing.”

Later that day, kindergarteners — with the assistance of art teacher Jessica Graff and the Sisters of St. Joseph — divided and shaped dough into dinner rolls that were baked in the cafeteria’s commercial ovens.

Meals on Wheels personnel picked up the rolls that were frozen to keep them fresh, Dengel said. On Monday, volunteers packaged rolls in sandwich bags that will complement meals delivered Wednesday.

Clients, he said, receive two meals: a brown-bag lunch consisting of a sandwich, fruit and dessert and a three-course dinner tray that can be heated in a microwave.

Rolls made by academy students, he said, will be a “little bonus surprise” and “really, really appreciated” by clients. He also gave shout-outs Boy Scouts who are decorating meal bags this week for St. Patrick’s Day and to other school classes that create “little calling cards” to insert in bags with greetings like “have a nice day.”

“All activities we do show that even somebody as young as elementary school students can make a positive difference in the world,” said Taylor Breaden, fifth-grade teacher and Take Action Club’s coach.

Projects have included charitable fundraising to benefit a food bank, cancer studies at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, clean-water initiatives in Africa, Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria and awareness of the plight of the homeless.

Aleenia designs projects and creates lesson and action plans for her colleagues, said Ellen Cavanaugh, director of the academy’s Media Lab, which supports creativity and discovery. Aleenia graduates this year. Third-grader Bella Rivera will helm the club next year.

Take Action Club is but one of several after-school clubs. Others include chess, future engineers, origami, photography and filmmaking, computer and technology, robotics and mobile app design.

Cavanaugh also supervises a number of arts-infused learning projects that pair students with outside mentors in various disciplines — engineering, technology, food science, theater, dance, creative writing, for example.

“I’m always so impressed with what the kids can do,” Breaden said.

Being an arts-integrated school enables the infusion of creative and performing arts into the traditional academic curriculum, she said, and that extends to life, too.

“The whole purpose of us being arts integrated and using arts to teach things is we want those kids to make connections not only cross-curricular, but to things from school to outside life and the arts is a really great way to explore that because it teaches them real-world problem solving.”

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Mar 10

Riding the Winds at St. Francis Institute for Energy Research

On Friday, February 23 2018, ten students and two teachers from Seton La Salle High School were invited to speak with the faculty and staff at the St. Francis University Institute for Energy Research. This visit was planned in conjunction with a fellowship project that the students are hard at work on, writing a children’s book on wind energy (The Boy, The Bird, and the Wind Turbine – coming in May!)

Upon arrival, the students were met by Project Coordinator Michael Sells, and given a tour of the new state of the art science building on campus. This tour included a stop at a tropical fish tank large enough to scuba dive in, as well a lab containing 3D printers, and a look into some of the student lounges which are designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas among peers in the various departments.

After getting to see some of the sights inside, the students met up with the Institute Director, Allison Rohrs, who took them outside the see the tiny house. The house is a small energy efficient structure used to educate people across the whole state about the great ways that sustainable and renewable energy can make a very real impact on their lives.

After the tiny house, the students were brought inside for an incredible lunch and a presentation on wind energy in Pennsylvania. A presentation that included how wind turbines work, how a company maintains them, and how to determine where to place them to begin with.

This information proved very valuable to the students, who had been given a very real connection to the material they were writing about. Tyler Hill, after trying on the harness used to climb some of the smaller (150 foot) turbines said, “My favorite place was the university because I learned more about how turbines work, how gears move and how the windmill turns to face the direction of the wind.” Another classmate Carrie Martson stated, “I wish we had more time there.” While Joshua Mellor shared, “Saint Francis was the place for me because I could listen to the presentation and now I know a little more about how windmills work.”

Not only students had glowing things to say. Developmental English teacher Emily Rosati added “I really enjoyed the entire day! I thought from start to finish my students learned so much and can now feel more anchored to the content that we are writing about.  I loved Saint Francis and felt it was the perfect combination of information, entertainment, engagement, and macaroni and cheese! The kids loved that stop and I was pleasantly surprised with how much they knew!!”

She went on to describe the engagement and animation of several students who aren’t easily engaged.  The visit generated new layers of critical thought as they tried to integrate what they learned that conflicted with some of the details of their book.  It brought a new energy to a project that takes the whole school year to complete.

Again, a special thanks to Allison Rohrs and Michael Sell, as well as the rest of the staff and faculty of St. Francis University. It was truly a special day.


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Jan 28

The Making of Conner’s Virtual Heart

Download the new Virtual Reality App “Conner’s Virtual Reality Heart” from the Google Play Store. 

I want to say thank you to the 5 students from the Grow a Generation Virtual Reality Class who created this awesome VR experience for you. Thank you to Sari Abu-Hamad, Sean McCarthy, Derek Hufnagle, Logan Husek, Jacob Stewart as well as Jacob Gorczyca (their fearless leader) and Andrew Boehm (VR technical assistance).


The fall of 2017, a team of 5 students came together for an introduction to Unity programming and the challenge to build a Virtual Reality experience for children facing heart surgery.  The project was part of another – 8 year old Conner wants to help kids like him, kids who need to face heart surgery, feel more courageous.

The learning curve was steep.  This is the first Unity programmed up we’ve seen through to development.  All the kids worked hard learning about the various aspects in product development and the introductory concepts of Unity Programming.


Narrators: Conner Fritz and Sean McCarthy

Unity Programming

Sari Abu-Hamad, Sean McCarthy, Derek Hufnagle, Logan Husek, and Jacob Stewart with help from Jacob Gorczyca and Andy Boehm.

Heart Model Used in 3D Scan made by Learning Resources

This project was made possible by a Grow a Generation Mini-Fellowship Camp


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Jan 28

Baden Academy’s Jaylee Duncan’s Ted Talk featured in National Playlist!

TEDEd Clubs international headquarters wrote recently about how inspired they were by research fellow Jaylee Duncan’s TED Talk made last year.  They created a new YouTube Playlist, included her video, and sent it out on their international mailing list.

When you listen to the kids she shares a space with, you can’t help but walk away filled with hope for our future.  What an incredible program!  I love that we can acknowledge and celebrate the ideas worth sharing from the young.

Please watch and like and comment on her video!

Introducing our newest YouTube playlist

This week’s newsletter is all about students taking their destinies into their own hands, and committing to #doingsomething! In fact, we asked you on Facebook if you have any ideas your putting into action this year, and a lot of you responded! Aliqa Wasim said, “I’m being more vocal out there!” Aditi Puttur is building up her confidence, “Emphasizing hard work with minimal stress.” And Magd Muuk is “Encouraging more students to speak out.” In order to celebrate all the awesome work you’re doing, we’ve created a YouTube Playlist that highlights moments when TED-Ed Club Members were compelled to take action – to stand up for something they believe in, to lend an ear to a friend, to help protect the world we share, and more.Check out how students around the world are turning ideas into action here!

Apply today to bring a TEDEd Club research fellowship to your school or community group.

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Jan 12

MG Kids Make Chocolate Foam

The Baden Academy “MG” Molecular Gastronomy Kids help us learn about surfactants like soy lethican and methylcellulose as they make chocolate foam. What fun!

Visit for more information about the MG Boys and Molecular Gastronomy.

This amazing project is made possible through a research fellowship.


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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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