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:
Educators Dive Into Deeper Learning at TRETC
Over 400 educators met to discuss the Deeper Learning movement at the recent Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference, “Diving In To Deeper Learning,” held in Mars, PA. Over two days they heard from top ed-tech innovators, including Tom Vander Ark, well known author and CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy firm, as well as noted area educators.
Vander Ark is also a partner in an educational venture capital firm that invests in EdTech startups, was president of the X Prize Foundation, and first executive director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Other featured speakers included Daniel Harrold, an English teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist currently teaching junior and senior English at Baldwin High School, located in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District; Jana Baxter, Instructional Media Services Coordinator for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead, PA, and Zee Ann Poerio, K-8 Computer teacher and advisor for the Student Technology Team at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School in Pittsburgh.
Breakout sessions were led by area educators on everything from building 21st Century skills in a one to one teaching environment and “Teaching Science with Minecraft” to Blogging as Reflection/Portfolio. In one classroom teachers were learning to create “Squishy” circuits to teach basic electricity to pre-schoolers; in another, educators played well-known card games and created completely new ones.
TRETC is the premier K-16 educational technology conference in Western Pennsylvania. It is a joint conference run by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, local education leaders and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
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Emmai Alaquiva, noted area educator, emceed the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, hosted by the Digital Badge Lab at The Sprout Fund. The program explored digital badges and included opportunities to explore out-of-school learning experiences.
Liz Whitewolf, a robotics educator and project manager at Propel Braddock Hills High School, explains the nuances of digital badges at the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit.
math iQ is using innovative approaches to teach math to kids in grades preK-3, with a focus on kids in low-income areas. It is a project of iQ: smartmedia, the educational initiative of WQED Multimedia.
A recent edcampPGH featured discussions and hands-on sessions for local educators. Here’s the schedule from a recent edCamp, held at Propel Braddock Hills High School. (Norton Gusky photo.)
In a special program aimed at female students, the Elizabeth Forward Middle School girls are working with the Arts and Bots program from the Create Lab at CMU. All sixth and seventh graders learn robotics at EFMS’s Dream Factory.
Dr. Lisa Palmieri from The Ellis School shares ideas with other educators at an edTech PGH meet-up.
Springdale Senior High School 10th graders Matt Kern, left, and Cameron Pribulsky flank Sue Mellon, gifted support coordinator for the Allegheny Valley School District. Sue developed a unique program that combines robotics and poetry, and Matt and Cameron helped produce the prototype.
Seneca Valley High School students recently participated in an engineering/robotics challenge sponsored by Penn State Electro-Optics Center. SV had two air and sea teams and one land team; this is the sea team creation.
LaKiesha George, principal of Propel Hazelwood, stands next to the mobile sculpture created by The Mobile Sculpture Workshop and students from Propel Hazelwood. This beautiful piece of public art was created by teen apprentices who worked with the 12-week Mobile Sculpture Workshop program.
Educators learn to make Squishy Circuits at the recently held Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference. The circuits teach basic electricity to the youngest students.