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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.

South Fayette School District

And for more information about Scratch:
Scratch.mit.edu

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.

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



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

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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