• Jan. 4, 2018

    High school STEAM students advance Baker playground

    Baker Playground Model Proposing solutions to real-world problems is the backbone of the STEAM curriculum at Upper St. Clair High School. Students from two courses –  STEAM Innovation & Consulting and Advanced Architecture – have worked in tandem to bring Baker Elementary School’s new play spaces to fruition.

    The STEAM Innovation & Consulting course, launched in 2014, forms partnerships between students and corporations and/or organizations throughout the community. The Baker Elementary School playground project was first presented to the student team of seniors Brian McGrady, CJ Stott, Neale Misquitta and Mac Dominic in the fall of 2016. (The four students graduated in June 2017.)

    Dr. Patrick McClintock-Comeaux, principal of Baker Elementary School, challenged students to develop a plan to design and update the school’s outdoor play spaces that maximizes usage while ensuring appropriate supervision.

    Baker students typically go to recess immediately after lunch. The school has a blacktop area and swing set immediately outside the cafeteria. The school’s large playground is located on the other side of the building. While students do go there with their teachers to some degree, the current playground is underutilized. How can we use this more captive space, located adjacent to the cafeteria, during recess time?

    Second, the playground is more than 20 years old. The Baker PTA is beginning an initiative to fundraise to renovate the playground within two years for Baker's 50th anniversary. This problem will obviously be affected by the first problem. There is no use in creating a great playground that few will use.

    The STEAM Innovation & Consulting team, under the supervision of Technology Education Teacher Fred Peskorski, presented its recommendations in December 2016.

    “Based on that presentation, we decided to place our new playground in a completely different location and design than originally anticipated,” Dr. McClintock-Comeaux said. “We’re following the team’s recommendation to replace the existing swing set that can only accommodate seven students at one time with an entire playground that can serve 30-40 students.”

    Installing the new playground equipment within the swing set area ensures that students will be able to use the supervised space during recess. The plan also calls for a renovation of the existing playground – replacing some equipment and adding a smaller swing set.

    In August 2017, Dr. McClintock-Comeaux looked to expand the partnership between Baker Elementary and Upper St. Clair High School – seeking a team of students to create a scaled three-dimensional model of the new playground. Mr. Peskorski turned to his Advanced Architecture students senior Zack Miller and junior Tony Cancilla who were excited about the opportunity and accepted the challenge.

    “Neither of these students had significant prior experience with our 3D solid modeling software, laser engraving, vinyl cutter or CNC machine…all of which had to be learned and utilized in order to design and build this scaled model,” Mr. Peskorski said.

    Zack and Tony met with Dr. McClintock-Comeaux in person to discuss the vision of the project and the plans for the model. In addition, they obtained the model files from the playground contractor in order to 3D print the playground with the machines in the high school’s Fab Lab.

    The playground was presented as a full model including topographical features. 

    “To do this, the boys needed to use our CNC machine to make the lot where the playground would sit. Once again, they had very little background or experience with CNC machines, so they needed to learn the software, machines and processes associated with making a 3D CNC machined part,” Mr. Peskorski said. “The topographical part took in excess of 10 hours of machining to finish. When finished, they painted the features, placed the assembled models, added sawdust for bark, and added signage to the model.”

    Mr. Peskorski finds enormous educational value in providing students with these types of real world experiences.

    “Real-world projects give students a better appreciation for the things that they learn in classes because they are able to see actual applications of theory,” he said. “Additionally, these types of experiences provide them with some insight about themselves as to whether or not they are pursuing something that they really enjoy. The feedback and recognition from people other than their teachers or parents tend to carry a different kind of weight.”

    Since its inception, the STEAM Innovation & Consulting course has established partnerships with All Clad Metalcrafters, EAFab Corporation, Universal Electric Corporation as well as various USC community organizations. However, the Baker Elementary playground project presented a unique experience.

    “My favorite thing about this project is the way it linked two classes together from two different years,” Mr. Peskorski said. “And, having the playground model on display at Baker Elementary may generate interest in STEM-related classes at the high school.”

    The Baker Elementary PTA has been actively fundraising for the new playground, which will cost more than $40,000. The PTA hosted a Monkey Bars and Memories event on Nov. 30, 2017. A Read-A-Thon – challenging students to read as much as they can during a 10-day period – is planned for this month. And, families will have an opportunity to “Buy a Brick” on the new playground.

    Installation of the new playground is planned for this summer.