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This Month’s Learning Innovation: Message From Me

“Children today, we call them digital natives. They’re born to be able to pick up the iPad because it’s just part of their world,” according to Sue Polojac, the director of programming for PAEYC, the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children.

Even the youngest children can easily master an iPad or simple digital device. But how can that help them educationally and in learning to be better communicators?

“About five years ago, one of our funders challenged us to come up with something for young children,” says Emily Hamner, senior research associate of the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. If anyone could create something to meld education and technology, it’s the CREATE Lab, a place where researchers, engineers, designers, psychologists, educators and artists work together to develop socially meaningful innovation and technologies.

“Most technology is aimed at older children,” Emily continues. And, she explains, at that time the CREATE Lab wasn’t even sure if young children should be gaining access to technology. CREATE director Illa Nourbakhsh wasn’t convinced until a personal incident changed his mind.

“Illa’s mother-in-law works with an early childhood community. She told him that the connection between what happens at school and at home isn’t really consistent.” Imagine asking your three-year-old to relate what happened at their Early Childhood Center that day… So CREATE decided to figure out a way for children to communicate with their parents.

Emily led the team that developed “Message from Me.” These are simple kiosks at childcare centers that enable young children to record their daily experiences by using cameras and iPads to take pictures, microphones to record a message and email to send them to their parents. This allows young children to practice their communication skills and build their self-confidence by talking about their day.

It was tested out at the Children’s School of CMU. Then PAEYC stepped in. They wanted to partner with the CREATE Lab to get these kiosks in centers throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. With funding from PNC and their Grow Up Great program and the Grable Foundation, PAEYC began placing the kiosks throughout Allegheny and Westmoreland County. Over 2000 youngsters are participating, in family childcare centers, Pittsburgh Public Schools, AIU3 Head Start programs, nearly 100 classrooms and centers serving low to moderate income children, ages three to five.

“It’s changing communication between the home and school,” says Sue.

Message From Me - CMU CREATE Lab
Message From Me

Other Resources:
Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children

Local Educator Helping Us Compete For Federal Dollars

Early Childhood programs in Pennsylvania – and Pittsburgh -- may be getting a big boost if Michelle Figlar has a say. Michelle, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association on the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), is sitting on a 20-member blue-ribbon panel tasked by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto with submitting a proposal for a Preschool Development Grant from the Federal Government.

In August, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Pittsburgh; while here Duncan announced that $250 million in federal dollars would be up for grabs among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Pennsylvania can qualify for up to $20 million, but has to get an application in by mid-October. Michelle is helping to write the grant that may ultimately bring a chunk of that $20 million here.

This Pre-School Expansion Grant will be used to create a strategy to serve more four-year-olds in Pennsylvania, explains Michelle. “It’s a great idea, and then Pennsylvania can choose two or more communities” to receive the grant money. Pittsburgh could be one of those beneficiaries, using some of that $20 million “to best meet the needs of children.” If we get some monies, it will be used to increase professional development for teachers, help families gain access to programs that are targeted to four-year-olds, help provide transportation to institutions and achieve high quality programs.

The grants are aimed at helping low to moderate income families, those 200% under the poverty line and giving those families and children access to quality pre-school programs. But it would also free up monies to be used to improve existing early childhood programs – and create new ones.

“It would help four-year-olds in the city of Pittsburgh – that’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Michelle says, who will be heading up the Policy Committee on the Mayor’s panel. “And it will help us with the overall strategic plan for children.”

Arne Duncan’s recent visit made an impression on local teachers and educators. It showed that “our city and new mayor are really committed to young children and families who live in the city,” Michelle says.

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.

Look for new stories, videos and content every month, on WQED-TV, iQ Kids Radio, and on WQED Interactive, and visit our partners at WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh.

Photos



Celebrating the end of another Summer of Learning were visitors to The Sprout Fund’s Pittsburgh Maker Party, held at the Society of Contemporary Craft. (Photo by Ben Filio, courtesy, The Sprout Fund.)



Educators at the South Fayette Summer Learning Institute joined South Fayette Township School District teachers to learn about computational thinking, game design and more. (Photo by Norton Gusky.)



In July, 32 recent high school graduates created “Green Compass” radio features while serving as Heinz Endowments summer interns. The features focused on community issues. SLB Radio provided training and coaching. (Photo courtesy SLB Radio.)



Learning new digital skills with help from mentors from the Remake Learning Digital Corps was this teen.



Getting creative at the recent Second Annual Maker Party, thrown by The Sprout Fund. (Photo by Ben Filio, courtesy, Sprout Fund.)



Heinz Endowments summer interns created radio features on issues ranging from life in public housing to the plight of the honey bee. Training for the “Green Compass” program was provided by SLB Radio. (Photo courtesy, SLB Radio.)



High school students in Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media Program summer camps experienced an “immersion” into filmmaking.



Exploring the heavens were these kids at the Outerspace Maker Party at Assemble.



Propel Schools are the first schools in the Pittsburgh area to use Playworks, an organization dedicated to revamping the concept of recess in schools. Here some teachers learn to “play.”

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 Learning Innovation webpage. Submit stories and videos to learning@wqed.org!

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