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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

Hundreds Gather For Maker Party

Kids across Pittsburgh have been spending their summer learning through many new and exciting programs at area schools, cultural institutions, educational organizations and more. They recently celebrated their “summer of learning” at the Second Annual Pittsburgh Maker Party, held at the Society of Contemporary Craft in the Strip District.

A few hundred kids and their parents joined educators from Hive Pittsburgh, the Kids+Creativity Network, the Warhol Museum, TechShop, MAKESHOP and Sprout Fund staff at the party, which featured hands-on activities, food and music and learning stations where attendees checked out programs and projects from the Digital Corps, Pittsburgh City of Learning and Hive Pittsburgh.

Among the events: making seed bombs with Gardweeno; blasting away with marshmallow launchers built with inventors from TechShop, creating mini-videos with Steeltown Entertainment staff, and learning the science behind screen printing with educators from The Warhol Museum.

This was the culminating activity of the Pgh City of Learning Summer Campaign, highlighting how important (and fun) summer learning and engagement is for youth before they head back to school in the fall. It also highlighted opportunities to bridge the arts and technology through programs that appeal to, and address the needs of, youngsters.

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 busy connecting digital learning experts with afterschool program providers. These youngsters in Homestead are increasing their digital literacy.



Checking out a possible shot is this student in Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program’s summer Directors’ Workshop.



A student discusses his film storyboard with Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program Director Susan Howard, standing.



Students from Clairton and the Wilkinsburg afterschool group, FUSE, have been participating in Hear Me 101, workshops that develop writing, technical communication and media literacy skills. Students create short documentaries that explore issues of importance to them. Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program provides help with much of the project.



Youth from Homewood explore the digital world with help from mentors from the Remake Learning Digital Corps.



Hundreds of educators attended FlipCon 14 in Mars. Here Aaron Sams, one of the leaders in the Flipped Learning Movement, shares his thoughts. Norton Gusky photo.



Young learners enjoy time on computers at one of assemble’s summer camps.



Making things the old fashioned way at an assemble summer camp.



“Making” is going to be a big part of the curriculum from K-12 at Avonworth Schools. Here teachers are learning how to include making and design into their classes.



Avonworth Schools have been working with the Children’s Museum MAKESHOP on integrating making into all areas of school curriculum. They received help in a brainstorming session from Maya for Human-Centered Design staff.

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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