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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 Wittig, 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.”

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
CLP The Labs

Tinker Squads Encourage Girls to ‘Build’ Their Skills

The Ellis School, with a HIVE Grant from The Sprout Fund, has partnered with regional connected learning organizations to develop Tinker Squads for girls ages 10 to 13. Based at community centers and at schools, Tinker Squads encourage girls in grades 5 to 8 to develop design thinking, tinkering, and making skills. Connected learning is an educational approach that uses out-of-school learning environments (such as afterschool programs and museums), partnerships, and digital learning tools to increase engagement and ignite curiosity in young learners.

The Tinker Squad Program project team, led by The Ellis School, includes ASSEMBLE, the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, the FIRST Robotics Program at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, and Invent-abling. There will be a Tinker Meet on January 14 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Ellis School.

A cross between technology, art and community engagement, Tinker Squads introduce girls in 5th to 8th grade to human-centered design methods, circuitry, the intersection of arts and technology, and engineering design. Tinker Squad girls define and make solutions through hands-on prototypes that address issues students see in their communities. By helping girls build these skills as early as possible The Ellis School hopes to help more girls become interested in STEM majors and careers.

The Ellis School developed the first squad and recruited four other all-girl squads from the Environmental Charter School, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Brookline and ASSEMBLE. Tinker Squad teammates help each other through projects, offer critiques, and show their work at Tinker Meets (Faires) where they will earn digital badges and meet other makers in the community. Each of the four founding Squads will host a "Tinker Teach" session at the Tinker Meet to help team members build skills.

>Each Tinker Squad team member is provided with a toolbox she can keep that includes the switches, origami, textiles, and materials kits from Invent-abling as well a poster that explains the Human Centered Design process and method cards from the LUMA Institute. Teams also went on an all-expenses paid shopping spree at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse where they acquired materials they could use to build prototypes for the Tinker Meet. The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse also led a workshop with each Tinker Squad to coach them through the process of sourcing and selecting materials.

“Our goal is to help young people develop the capacity to engage with the world as problem solvers and makers. Our challenge as educators is to create environments in which skills can emerge naturally in the process of making—a process which often occurs in the company of others,” said Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri. “By ensuring girls have the opportunity to make and tinker we can ensure they build/practice their creative confidence today so that they have a shot at becoming the successful leaders of tomorrow.”

Two Local Educators Win National DILA Awards

Two area educators have received national awards for digital innovation. Aileen Owens, the South Fayette Township School District Director of Technology and Innovation, and Kris Hupp, 21st Century Teaching and Learning Coach at Cornell High School in Coraopolis, have been recognized with Digital Innovation in Learning Awards (DILA). These awards are given by EdSurge and Digital Promise and celebrate teachers, administrators and ed-tech organizations that demonstrate exemplary practices in using technology to support learning.

After receiving more than 1,500 first round applications and nominations from the U.S. and 31 other countries, and more than 550 video submissions, the panel of 10 DILA judges selected five finalists and then winners in each of the 15 categories.

Aileen received two national DILAs in the Administrator Trailblazer and Winner’s Choice categories. She won in the Trailblazer category for implementing an innovative school model. Over the last four years, Aileen has led the implementation of a computational thinking program that starts in kindergarten and builds at each grade level through high school. Students use Scratch to move from block-based code to text-based code, programming Legos and Arduino boards. Students even develop their own apps. The comprehensive program empowers students to be designers and creators from their first day in school and throughout their educational experience.

Kris Hupp was nominated by the Sprout Fund and won the DILA for “Busting Boundaries.” The Busting Boundaries award "recognizes teachers who inspire students to work in-person or virtually with peers in different geographic or cultural communities."

“Although the award was given to me it really recognizes the hard work of our students and staff and the opportunities provided to our students and teachers by Amiena Masoob and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and Tim Devlin at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit,” Kris says. “Through our continued collaboration our students have had the opportunities to collaborate through videoconferencing with their peers around the globe and to interview policy experts.”

Spread The News

Do you have a story of learning innovation? A program, teacher or parent who is making a difference? Tell us about it and we'll share it on our Remake Learning webpage. Submit stories and videos to learning@wqed.org!

Photos



Local teen Mirhir Garimella won top prize at the international Google science fair with a robotics project, a flying robot. Recently a video crew from Google’s London office videotaped Mihir at the Carnegie Science Center.



Kindergarteners from Propel East participated in the nationwide Day of Coding in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. Here they use iPads to learn the basics of coding.



4th Graders at The Ellis School are using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit to craft dioramas that deepen their understanding of setting in literature. These projects are based on the book, “Poppy.”



Propel Northside Third Grade students learn some special coding in honor of Computer Science Education Week. They worked with a tutorial program.



Educators gather to discuss Digital Badging at the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, organized by The Sprout Fund.



Propel East kindergarten students learn a little basic computer coding during the nationwide “Day of Coding.”



Educators from the A.W. Beattie Career Center travelled to the Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in Gibsonia to introduce students to STEAM-centered careers.

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