Connecting Pittsburgh’s Past and Future Through Innovation

How does Pittsburgh’s inventive past connect to its innovative future? Students from Manchester Academic Charter School and Pittsburgh Woolslair are finding out.

Just a short walk from their classroom in the Sarah Heinz House, students from Cara Koloshinsky’s science class at the Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) are digging into Pittsburgh’s past with the Senator John Heinz History Center and adding their voice to topics and themes explored in the center’s exhibit Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation.

Investigating the life stories and major achievements of a dozen Pittsburgh innovators, including global business leader H.J. Heinz, inventor of the bolometer and pioneer of aviation Samuel Langley, optical telescope builder Dr. John Brashear, and astronomer James Keeler, the students are looking for those qualities that are shared by all innovators, regardless of their field.

photo: Ben FilioWorking in collaboration with History Center educators, the students from MACS combined research and creativity to develop video tributes of innovators featured in the exhibit. They conducted research, wrote scripts, and found images to make their tributes engaging and approachable. Using the storytelling app Videolicious, students recorded their narration and put together minute-long videos using the school’s iPads.

“It seemed like a good fit because we are moving toward design-based learning in our school and have an emphasis on technology and innovation,” said Ms. Koloshinsky.

And students agreed. “I like being able to learn new apps on the iPad and to be able to create and edit the videos myself. I also liked that the innovator project was focusing on innovators from Pittsburgh because it shows us local people who have made an impact on history,” said a MACS student.

The History Center has included the student-made videos on its website, where visitors can learn about innovators like George Westinghouse, Rachel Carson, and Dr. Jonas Salk. “Our partnership with Heinz History Center has allowed the students to practice their research and writing skills while learning about history and science through a creative project,” said Ms. Koloshinsky.

photo: Heather MallakIn addition to their video tributes to the innovators featured in the exhibit, students added their own voice through a series of video interviews in which they explored their own creative characteristics, matching their experiences and traits with the qualities they discovered in the innovators they researched.

This collaboration has led to another—the History Center is also working with Pittsburgh Woolslair’s STEAM classes. After seeing the videos that MACS students had created, STEAM teacher Heather Laurent knew she wanted to get her students involved: “This opened the minds of our third through fifth grade students to think about themselves as innovators and to think about what attributes they possess.”

photo: Heather MallakWoolslair students recently piloted museum outreach efforts that take learning out of the textbook and into the environments where these innovators worked and lived. Fifth graders used the same scientific instrument employed by James Keeler to build spectroscopes that detect the rainbow spectrum of natural and artificial light sources. Students then used the same collaborative process used in Jonas Salk’s laboratory to compare healthy and diseased human pathology slides (and they had one tool that Salk never got a chance to use—iPad enabled microscopes). Third and fourth graders learned about the work of George Westinghouse with a design thinking activity that explored systems modification and reasoning.

These programs represent a new approach for Heinz History Center’s Education Department: exploring how the innovation and creativity of people from past has shaped the present while also considering how students can apply an “innovator mindset” to invent their own futures.

Published April 25, 2016