Students Who Teach, It's All Part Of Remaking The Education System

Jul 11, 2016

It may be summer, but on a recent sunny June day, a small group of teachers and students stayed indoors. They sat in classrooms at the South Fayette School District campus for a different take on traditional summer school.  

In the STEAM Summer Institute, teachers far out-numbered students, and in some instances, it was the students who were doing the teaching.

South Fayette High School Freshman Parv Shrivastava was one of those students. He taught a room full of teachers how to use programming language. Shrivastava used a block-based programming language know as Scratch, to coax a cartoon cat across a computer screen. Students watched as his work was projected onto a white board.

After the getting the grasp of Scratch, the teachers used Raspberry Pi, or a small computer used to learn programming language. Using that, the teachers put their new skills to the test, using some wires and a resister to turn on and off an LED.

“We’re feeling very accomplished right now,” said Ryan Puz, a recent college graduate. She spent last year as a substitute teacher and is now looking for a classroom to call her own.

Puz said the knowledge level of the students was “mind blowing.”

The two weeks of workshops at the Summer Institute focus on helping teachers incorporate maker space and science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, concepts into their classrooms.

The idea to have students teach the teachers came after watching students teach the computer programing language, Python, to each other, said South Fayette Director of Technology and Innovation Aileen Owens. While at one of the district’s annual summer institutes, she said she realized teachers might also want to learn the language.

“As we looked around at professionals in the field (to teach the class), professionals were very busy and didn’t have a lot of time to devote to this,” Owens said. “So we took the students who have been teaching and then assigned them to be teachers.”

Shrivastava was one of the first students Owens asked to teach.

“It’s a little weird at first, but you get used to it and it’s great,” Shrivastava said.

South Fayette Senior Ashumi Rokadia also took her turn in front of the class.

“It felt really cool just kind of like flipping the roles, I guess,” Rokadia said. 

She admitted that at first it was a little intimidating, but said it was worth the nervousness.

“The reason I like to teach a student, or a teacher, is because it helps me learn better," Rokadia said.  

Bethel Park High School Teacher Christine Robb was in one of the programing classes taught by students.

“Their point of reference of how they came about things was really intriguing to me because it was very different than what I’ve done as a programming teacher,” Robb said.

Students joined a few of the classes as learners alongside the teachers with the goal of helping the teachers better understand how their students would receive new concepts. Owens said the feedback was great and they district's already making plans to use students in next year’s summer workshops. 

Puz said it's important for teachers to step out of their comfort zones and to keep up with the next generation’s way of learning through evolving curriculum.

“Children now, they truly are a different type of learner and this is exactly what we need to be doing,” Puz said.

Fellow teacher and Summer STEAM Institute attendee Emily Rupprecht agreed.

“Programs like the Raspberry Pi, it’s really what’s up and coming,” Rupprecht said. “It’s so prevalent in today’s society. They’ve been trained at such a young age. You see 2-year-olds walking around with their mom or dad’s phone, so they are so used to that type of technology that we are the ones catching up and learning how to implement it.”

The Remake Learning series is a collaboration of 90.5 WESA, WQED, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh.