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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Educators Talk Best Practices For Student Achievement

Area educators gathered Monday to discuss best practices in promoting student achievement in public education at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s first Learning Together conference.

The day-long conference featured 50 round-table discussions and sessions showcasing what regional educators do to increase achievement in schools.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit is one of 29 units in Pennsylvania. It provides specialized education services to the 42 suburban Allegheny county school districts.

Topics were as diverse as strengthening families, the psychology of race and developing culturally relevant pedagogy, and using physical interaction and gameplay to teach coding in Kindergarten.

“Many of the discussions are featuring best practices regarding integrating technology into the curriculum and alternative education as well as raising achievement standards,” said Sarah McCluan, chairperson of the convention committee and supervisor of communication services at the AIU.

Students from the districts represented their work with STEM projects at the conference.

“We have about 15 to 17 special exhibits as well in addition to the round-tables and discussions. And really it’s giving our students the opportunity to showcase their work as well,” McCluan said.

The AIU has awarded STEAM grants to schools in seven counties for the last seven years to create digital learning spaces in the schools. Fox Chapel Area School District used its grant to create the Digital Dream Lab at the O’Hara Elementary School.

In the Dream Lab, Kindergartners build logic through physically interactive video games. Alison Francis, creativity and literacy program facilitator for the Fox Chapel Area School District led a session at the conference on physical gaming and coding in early education.   

“Our youngest learners are learning to code using physical, manipulative tools. So it’s not just on the computer so its real world and virtual world combined,” she said.

McCluan said the intermediate unit plans to continue the conference as a way to showcase what schools around the region are doing.

“So often we hear the negative things that are going on in our school districts, but our educators are really doing a phenomenal, phenomenal job to put our region on the map nationally,” McCluan said.