This Month’s Learning Innovation: Games Engaging Teens
Every week, for two hours, dozens of teens gather at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, East Liberty branch. They meet in the afternoons, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., after school is done. Sometimes they get there early and finish homework, often with a little help and guidance from Simon Rafferty, one of the CLP-East Liberty Teen Librarians. They come in the summer months, too, without fail. What is the draw? When 4:30 rolls around, they all head upstairs…for two hours of gaming.
The CLP has found that providing games – video games, old fashioned board games and word games, high tech music games – is a way to draw teens into the library….and keep them coming back for more.
“It’s for teens age 12 to 18,” Simon explains, “and it’s been going on before I even got here, but it’s sort of really blown up in the last year or so. It’s just been a great way to bring teens into the library. When we go on outreach, we talk about gaming and that’s what gets teens excited.”
They play in groups, alone, and even with Simon. “We have an Xbox 360 on a widescreen TV; we have PlayStations,” he adds. “It’s mostly cooperative games because we’re really into having games that are about playing with each other. It’s a very social environment.”
So why are Carnegie Library branches all over the city scheduling weekly Game Days for teens? “The library has been an evolving thing. It’s not all about books anymore. Books are a very important thing that we provide, but we’re also providing movies, music. We’re a cultural experience. And with teens, gaming is such a big part of being a teen, so it’s really important to be able to share that love of gaming in a place like the library,” Simon says.
So, the library is becoming more relevant to teens, meeting their interests. But by providing access to these games, CLP is doing much, much more: It’s also leveling the playing field.
“A lot of these kids can’t afford these games,” Simon continues. “Games are incredibly expensive. And to be cut off from that part of culture can really affect you in school, affect your social aspect.” Gaming helps teens develop many skills: they learn to work with each other; they learn to win – and lose – graciously. They are also picking up some STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – skills through games like Minecraft and SimCity.
But that’s not all CLP does: Gaming leads them to other great CLP programs, like The Labs, a popular and unique program currently at three sites around the city -- East Liberty, the main branch in Oakland and on the North Side.
“The Labs is a place where teens get to use expensive technology and equipment that professionals are using, so they’re using things like Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, DSLR cameras, Garage Band and music equipment and they have great mentors who work with them, teaching them skills to figure out how to use these things to create their own work,” Simon says.
One of those mentors is André Costello, who is also a teen specialist library assistant at East Liberty. “What I do is help with programming, help run these creative technology programs. I have a background in music and graphic design and I help with a lot of the software and things like using robotics kits. I work to get these kids being creative and expressing themselves in a really healthy way.”
The Labs are located in those three locations to be geographically and demographically positioned to provide the least amount of distance to travel and to be in diverse neighborhoods, André explains. Regular programming includes workshops run by Labs’ mentors and open labs where the equipment is available to the teens to use in their own projects. “We do music audio workshops, photo and video design and makers’ crafts,” he adds. And it’s all coordinated by Corey Wittek, Digital Learning Librarian in Teen Services at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
“Our main priority is to reach teens all across the city,” Corey says. “Our ongoing goal is to draw teens to the library, and gaming is one of the ways we do it. It’s an entry point” to bigger programs, like The Labs. “We see it as a tool in our arsenal of engaging teens.”
It’s also a way to practice “Connected Learning,” connecting teens, Corey explains, to “the things that matter in their lives. Eventually, this may help them do better in school, develop job skills, build confidence, meet other kids, adults and mentors. We’re helping to guide teens to something they care about, and connecting them to opportunities around the city and community that may speak to their interests.”
The Labs are actually based on a national program, and they have proven so popular that there are plans to expand to more locations here in Pittsburgh in the future. It – and Gaming – is changing the way teens view libraries.
“This is a different way of thinking about what the library can do for you,” André says. “It’s become more like a community center, a central point where you can come. But the main thing is thinking about the library as a place for making. So this is a starting point for potentially a new thing that can be expanded to other age ranges. So, starting with the teens we’re focusing on this sort of maker space, this maker idea, and it’s technologically centered, which is different for the library, but it still celebrates information.”
These things work really well, André continues, “because I see these kids in here all the time, smiles on their faces, and I’ve seen them go from a place of being standoffish to being really creative. They’re interest driven and they’re on their own and they’re creating without us telling them what to do anymore.”
The library, Simon concludes, “has become a really fun place that’s geared towards teens. We’re really focusing on trying to make the experience unique and something just for them.”
Mural project at South Allegheny - Big draw for students, families
Students, teachers, administrators, parents – all got to participate in a special project at South Allegheny Elementary School this year. Under the guidance of Art Teacher Gail Ungar, the school undertook a unique project: making a mural. The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' Artist in Residence Program sent the school ceramic and mosaic artist Laura Jean McLaughlin, “who worked with us both during the school day and with an afterschool program, ‘Water, Art & Us,’” according to Gail.
“Water, Art and Us incorporated STEAM and had the involvement of six teachers bringing expertise in art, technology, science, reading, and writing,” she continues. Twenty-six students participated in field trips from RiverQuest, the Pittsburgh Zoo, and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. They read and discussed the book, “Flush,” by Carl Hiaasen, and their experiences “informed the drawings and ideas for our mural which Laura Jean compiled to create our design,” Gail continues.
“The whole South Allegheny community participated in making our mosaic, during the school day and during evening mosaic making nights throughout the school year. Our mosaic is made from clay pieces we made and fired at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, along with ceramic tile, stone, and stained glass donated by families from the South Allegheny greater community,” Gail explains.
The mosaic consists of 15 panels and when hung in the main hallway of the elementary school building will be about 7 1/2 feet tall and 15 feet wide. “We plan on having a celebration and opening the evening of September 3rd,” says Gail.
The mural project was funded by South Allegheny School District, The Consortium for Public Education, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
“The community support was phenomenal -- so much so, that we already have funding for another mural project to begin in the fall,” she concludes.
Media Partnership Focuses on Learning Innovation
WQED Multimedia and our media partners, 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh have been focusing on Learning Innovation for the past months, and have put the media spotlight on everything from innovations in Early Childhood learning to computer science, STEAM and robotics.
The four media outlets, TV, radio, magazine and online magazine, are working together to focus on Pittsburgh leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.
Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, Learning Innovation focuses on the Pittsburgh region's need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.
The Remake Learning Digital Corps have been meeting all over the area, connecting digital learning experts with afterschool program providers. Here a mentor works with a youngster in Carrick. The hope is to activate digital literacies among youth.
Two Homewood youngsters are “learning the digital landscape” through the Remake Learning Digital Corps.
FlipCon14 was held last month in Mars, bringing together hundreds of educators for the 7th Annual Flipped Conference. Flipped learning typically has students watch lectures at home and use class time to work with teachers with more personalized interaction. One of the “gurus” of the Flipped Learning movement, Aaron Sams, right, discusses flipping. Norton Gusky photo.
Flipping educators’ teaching methods are these practitioners of “Flipped Learning.” They were also featured speakers at the recent FlipCon14, held in Mars. Photo by Norton Gusky.
Students at Propel Homestead recently unveiled their Garden Project. These students planted and maintained gardens, with help from Grow Pittsburgh.
Kids get their hands dirty – and have fun “making” at assemble in Garfield.
Students at Manchester Academic Charter School enjoyed an end of the school year carnival, with some family members and friends helping out. Photo by Norton Gusky.
Young filmmakers learn to work with “green screens” to create movie magic, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media camps. Students direct, perform and edit their an original production.
Spread The News
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