This Month’s Learning Innovation: Scratch At South Fayette
Scratch. It’s not something you do only when you have an itch, but, in fact, a computer programming language designed for young learners. And this month we focus on one school district that’s embracing Scratch in a big way.
Students in the South Fayette Township School District are learning Scratch from a very young age. “Second graders are learning to be computer scientists and programmers,” explains Aileen Owens, director of technology and innovation for the South Fayette School District.
“We have a computational thinking K-12 strand that we’ve built, and Scratch is a foundation, the scaffolding of learning,” Aileen says. Scratch is a block-based programming language that is easy to learn and manipulate; it came out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.
And even though second graders are using Scratch to program math and reading games, Aileen hopes to begin teaching South Fayette kindergarteners Scratch Junior soon. There’s a true comprehensive plan in place: students are programming throughout their entire school career. Third, fourth and fifth graders are learning to program Lego robots and designing E-Textiles, wearable clothes that respond to computer commands; middle schoolers are doing sophisticated coding and designing “apps” for mobile devices.
A CMU professor is designing a class in Python, another computer language, for 7th graders. High schoolers are learning Java and AP courses in programming are offered, too. And there’s more: Afterschool clubs, programming teams, partnerships with area businesses to explore the Apps the students design and possibly even “put their products out to market,” Aileen says.
“We are building a common language in computer programming,” explains Aileen. “We feel that high school is too late to learn and be adjusted to programming, so we begin in the very early ages, where we start teaching computational practices and concepts.”
Why is it important to know computer programming? SFSD Superintendent Dr. Bille Rondinelli explains, “We are helping our students learn skills that will make them competitive in the 21st Century. Digital literacy is as much a part of what we do as reading and writing. We are making sure they have the traditional skills, but they have to be digitally literate as well.”
Intermediate Principal Greg Wensell adds, “South Fayette Intermediate School is a role model for what the school district can be doing with the students. This is a fantastic learning opportunity for the students. We’re putting them in the position to truly problem solve, and to create. These skills will translate well past this building.”
Helping Aileen discover the latest technologies has been Educational Technology Broker Norton Gusky, a consultant to the South Fayette School District. He explains that with help from a grant from the Grable Foundation, SFSD has been partnering with other schools and districts like Fort Cherry and the Manchester Academic Charter School on training for the teachers, purchasing equipment like a 3-D printer and E-Textile supplies, doing outreach, and holding workshops.
“With this collaboration, everyone wins,” Norton says. “We want the kids to be creative producers. We want them to not just be using technology, but actually creating the technology. My role is to listen to the folks, understand what they need and help them figure out how to integrate the computational thinking such as Scratch into their programs – whether during the school day as part of the curriculum or as part of an afterschool program.”
A visit to the beautiful computer labs at South Fayette Intermediate School may certainly help you get the itch to learn Scratch, too.
And for more information about Scratch:
Avonworth Middle School is a “School to Watch”
Avonworth Middle School has been redesignated for a second time as a "Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools: School to Watch." The Middle School was first designated as a School to Watch in 2009 and received its first re-designation in 2012. The Schools to Watch program recognizes schools achieving academic excellence, based on criteria established by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.
Middle School principal Mike Hall acknowledged, “We are thrilled to receive our second redesignation as a Schools to Watch school. The entire STW process pushes us to continually look for ways to improve while keeping the developmental needs of middle school students a top priority.”
Middle school administrators and staff members were recognized at the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education State Conference in February. A recognition celebration will also be held at the school this spring, and in June the middle school will be recognized at the National Schools to Watch Conference. Avonworth Middle School is one of only seven schools in Pennsylvania to be re-designated twice.
A robotics project at Ellis School combined art and technology.
Participating in a design challenge are these Avonworth High School students. Photo by Norton Gusky.
Demond Briston and A'mon Rice participate in SLB Radio's 2014 Crossing Fences program at The Kingsley Association in East Liberty. Photograph courtesy SLB Radio Productions, Inc.
Participating in the recent Future Cities Competition were these Propel students.
WQED Cameraman Walt Francis photographs these YMCA Lighthouse students as they make beautiful music – digitally.
Ellis students respond to a recent “Design Challenge.” Norton Gusky photo.
McKeesport Propel students love science!
Sekou Brown, Damani Brown and Ross Tedder hold their published books at the celebration party for Crossing Fences: East Liberty Voices at The Kingsley Association. Photograph courtesy SLB Radio Productions, Inc.