• Today is: Saturday, September 23, 2017
Kristine Sorensen
September20/ 2017

Computer science is one of the hottest job fields, and Carnegie Mellon University has one of the top programs in the country, but the percentage of women studying computer science has gone down in the past 30 years — from 37% in 1984 to 18% in 2014.

CMU is bucking that trend and increasing its percentage of women in computer science.  This year, there are 102 women and 103 men in the freshman class — almost 50% female.

Amber Griffith, who’s from Butler, Avital Rabinovitch from Massachusets and Abigail Savit from Long Island are three of the freshman women studying computer science. All three say they were attracted to computing because it’s rooted in problem solving. “I really liked doing puzzles and problem solving, and I really liked that there was a field where I could do that for a living,” Savit said.  “For me, it was always the puzzle of it,” Griffith said. “Doing code – it’s taking someone’s words and turning it into syntax for the English language,” she explained.

All of them were used to being te only girl, or one of just 2 girls, in their computer science classes in high school.  Rabinovitch remembered her experience at a summer program at Johns Hopkins University, “I came in and there was only one other girl and it was shocking, but I remembered from my parents that I didn’t feel like being a girl make the content anymore difficult,” she said.

These women love having more women in their classes at CMU but say there’s still pressure as a woman.  “If I mess up, it’s not “Amber doesn’t know code’, it’s ‘girls don’t know code,” Griffith said.

The challenge for girls in science starts early.  A recent study finds girls as young as 6 are already absorbing stereotypes that boys are smarter than girls. Another study found that while 21% of parents encouraged their girls to be actors, only 10% encouraged their daughters to be engineers.

Rabinovitch has worked with many girls and boys at a Boston science center and says, “I think it’s not the interest, it’s getting girls comfortable that this is a field that’s for them too.” She adds, “I would definitely say to all parents out there to let your kids explore everything.”

These three women hope to inspire more girls to join their ranks.  If more girls don’t start pursuing computer science now, the disparity of women in computer science jobs will only increase. Studies show that at the rate it’s going right now, with computer science jobs increasing three times the national average, it’s estimated that women will hold only 20% of computing jobs by 2025.

These girls have advice for girls interested in STEM in any capacity. “Despite what you see in society, you can accomplish just as much as anyone around you, and computer science is one of the coolest fields around there so go get it!” says Rabinovitch.

One way you can get girls excited about science and STEM is at the Girls Rock Science event September 23 and 24 at the Carnegie Science Center.  It’s free with admission to the science center and includes hands-on STEM activities to teach girls of all ages about all kinds of STEM careers.

How to explain scary news to our kids

scary news
Common Sense Media
September19/ 2017

Above photo by Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash 

With all the troubling stories in the news over the last few weeks, I can’t help but think of Mister Rogers who gave some great advice when watching scary things in the news.  He always said, “look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping.” Today, I find myself watching the news and looking for people helping. Mister Rogers is right, there is always a hero that rises out of tragedy. 

It can be really difficult to talk to your kids about what is happening in the news. It helps to know there are resources from Common Sense to help us deliver meaningful conversations with our kids when they see “scary” stuff in the news. Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh regional manager of education for Common Sense Media

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

If it bleeds, it leads. The old newsroom adage about milking stories for sensationalism seems truer than ever today. And with technology doing the heavy lifting — sending updates, tweets, posts, and breaking news alerts directly to our kids’ phones — we parents are often playing catch-up. Whether it’s wall-to-wall coverage of the latest natural disaster, a horrific mass shooting, a suicide broadcast on social media, or a violent political rally, it’s nearly impossible to keep the news at bay until you’re able to figure out what to say. The bottom line is that elementary school-aged kids and some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion — or misinformation.

No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. Many can feel worried, frightened, angry, or even guilty. And these anxious feelings can last long after the news event is over. So what can you do as a parent to help your kids deal with all this information?

Addressing News and Current Events: Tips for all kids

Consider your own reactions. Your kids will look to the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too.

Take action. Depending on the issue and kids’ ages, families can find ways to help those affected by the news. Kids can write postcards to politicians expressing their opinions; families can attend meetings or protests; kids can help assemble care packages or donate a portion of their allowance to a rescue/humanitarian effort. Check out websites that help kids do good.

Tips for kids under 7

Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures (kids may respond strongly to pictures of other kids in jeopardy). Preschool kids don’t need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.

Stress that your family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If the news event happened far away, you can use the distance to reassure kids. For kids who live in areas where crime and violence is a very real threat, any news account of violence may trigger extra fear. If that happens, share a few age-appropriate tips for staying and feeling safe (being with an adult, keeping away from any police activity).

Be together. Though it’s important to listen and not belittle their fears, distraction and physical comfort can go a long way. Snuggling up and watching something cheery or doing something fun together may be more effective than logical explanations about probabilities.

Tips for kids 8–12

Carefully consider your child’s maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your kids tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.

Be available for questions and conversation. At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. But be careful about making generalizations since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they’ll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.

Talk about — and filter — news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.

Tips for teens

Check in. Since, in many instances, teens will have absorbed the news independently of you, talking with them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. It will also help you get a sense of what they already know or have learned about the situation from their own social networks. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don’t dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).

Let teens express themselves. Many teens will feel passionate about events and may even personalize them if someone they know has been directly affected. They’ll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by violence. Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed.

Additional resources

For more information on how to talk to your kids about a recent tragedy, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists or the American Psychological Association. For more on how news can impact kids, check out News and America’s Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News.

Marie-Louise Mares, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, contributed to this article.

About Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org.

10 Pittsburgh farm festivals where you can pick the perfect pumpkin

pumpkin picking
Candy Williams
September19/ 2017

It’s pumpkin-picking time! There’s nothing more fun this time of year than packing the kids in the car on a crisp fall day and heading to a pumpkin farm for some old-fashioned family fun.

The annual pumpkin harvest is a time to celebrate the season by enjoying a hayride to the pumpkin patch, a walk through a cornfield maze, some kid-friendly activities like face painting and pumpkin decorating, petting zoos, and of course, fall-favorite goodies like caramel apples, homemade apple cider, and other festival treats.

Pennsylvania is one of just six states responsible for producing about half of the country’s pumpkins, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The other states are California, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Illinois, which leads the nation in pumpkin crops.

Here are 10 fun-filled pumpkin farms to explore this fall:

pumpkin picking
Hop a ride on the trailer to get to the pumpkin patch at Triple B Farm,

Triple B Farms

At the family-run Triple B Farms in Forward Township, Suzanne Beinlich says pumpkin festivals are all about harvesting homegrown family fun and memories.

“All of Triple B’s activities are designed with adults and children in mind,” she says. “Kids love it when their dads and moms jump on the Jumping Pillow with them, race them up the Tire Mountain, then race them down the Liberty Tunnel Slide. The giggles are heard all over the farm.”

Triple B’s Fall Festival opens Sept. 23 and runs on weekends through “Halloweekend,” Oct. 28 and 29. Pumpkin Fun Yard admission includes a storybook pumpkinland, corn maze, Squirrel Hill Tunnel Slide, duck derby races, Rompin’ Rope Maze, and the observation beehive.

The fun includes two Mad Science and Magic-themed weekends and a Spookley Weekend featuring scavenger hunts. Hayrides are available during the festival. Pick-your-own pumpkins and apples are available at an additional cost.

pumpkin picking
Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere at Soergel Orchards.

Soergel Orchards

Another family-run farm, in operation since the 1850s, Soergel Orchards kicks off its Fall Festival Sept. 23 and continues on weekends through the end of October.

Amy Soergel invites families to try “great food from our Back 40 BBQ and Food Barn, including roasted corn while supplies last and delicious desserts from our Sweet Saloon.” Kids will love the hayrides, pumpkin patch, kettle corn, pick-your-own apples, face painting, and games.

pumpkin picking
Kids can check their growth at Trax Farms’ pumpkin height chart.

Trax Farms

Trax Farms’ 48th Fall Festival begins Sept. 30 and continues weekends through the end of October. Families can plan an entire, very busy day with high-energy entertainment and delicious eats. Activities at the 150-year-old farm in Pittsburgh’s South Hills include a free petting zoo, hayrides, pumpkin patch, a three-acre corn maze, live music, and festival food.

Tickets may be purchased for individual activities, including a train, bouncy house, and bungee jumper. Prices range from $3 to $8 per activity. Hayrides offer a visit to the corn maze and pick-your-own pumpkins. Kids 2 years and younger are free.

The festival menu includes pulled pork sandwiches, kielbasa, corn dogs, apple dumplings with ice cream, hand-dipped caramel and candy apples, and fresh apple cider slush. New food vendors this year will feature vegan items, pitas, and wood-fire flatbreads.

pumpkin picking
Fields of pumpkins are lined up for picking at Schramm Farms & Orchards.

Schramm Farms & Orchards

Starting Sept. 30 through the end of October, Schramm Farms & Orchards in Harrison City, Westmoreland County, will sponsor its weekend Fall Festival. Visitors can hop on a hayride to the pumpkin fields to choose the perfect pumpkins. Kids can find their bliss playing in the play hay, corn stalk mazes, and the corn box, a large bin filled with dried corn, pails, and shovels. A wide selection of refreshments will be available.

Schramm Farms has been in its current location since third-generation farmer Eugene Schramm Sr. relocated it there in 1981. Today, his sons Hilary, John and Ralph run the farm, and his daughter Kathy operates Grandma’s Country Oven Bake Shoppe, with its full line of yummy baked goods, including pies.

pumpkin picking
Little pumpkin pickers head to the fields at Cheeseman Farm.

Cheeseman Farm

Cheeseman Farm, Butler County, welcomes pumpkin pickers on weekends from Oct. 2 to Oct. 27. In addition to picking up a seasonal supply of honey, apple butter, and pumpkins, families can enjoy hay rides, a hay jump, and a petting zoo. Hayrides are $4 per person; free for kids 2 years and younger, with a grownup.

For families with older kids, the farm features Fright Farm with a haunted hayride, corn maze and walkthrough attractions starting Sept. 22 and select evenings during October. The spooky fun begins at dark and is geared toward teens. Kids 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.

pumpkin picking
Test your strength with the biggest pumpkin you can find at Shenot Farm & Market.

Shenot Farm & Market

Hayrides to the pumpkin patch and corn maze are popular attractions this time of year at Shenot Farm & Market, Marshall Township, a six-generation family farm. Beginning the last weekend in September and on weekends in October, plus Columbus Day on Oct. 9, hayrides are offered for $2 per person. Beyond pumpkins, you can buy fall decorations such as cornstalks, straw bales, and colorful Indian corn. Also on the bill of fare are apples, cider, vegetables, and homemade fudge.

SpringHouse

SpringHouse is a third-generation family dairy farm and old-fashioned country store and restaurant in North Strabane Township, Washington County, where tractor rides to the Pumpkin Patch are offered from Sept 22 – Oct. 31. Attractions include giant hay bales, oh-so-cute baby animals, and a 125-character PumpkinLand.

Great Pumpkin weekend festivals get underway Sept. 29 through Oct. 29, featuring pumpkin patch hayrides, giant bale climb and pipe slides, corn maze, Pumpkin Land Characters, and a petting zoo.

pumpkin picking
Make your way through the giant corn maze at Simmons Farm.

Simmons Farm

Fall activities abound at Simmons Farm in McMurray, from corn and hay mazes and hayrides to the five-acre pumpkin patch. Admire the artistry – and get a few ideas of your own – at pumpkin carving displays. Kids can have a blast at the corn play bin, petting zoo, the apple rock labyrinth, and a new straw bale lift.

There even are night hayrides – and private group hayrides – for watching the harvest moon Mondays through Saturdays through Nov. 4. Extra activities on weekends may include food concessions, live country music, and apple picking.

pumpkin picking
Craft activities are part of the fun at Hozak Farm’s festival.

Hozak Farms

Free tractor-drawn hayrides to the pumpkin patch are offered weekday afternoons in October at Hozak Farms in Findlay Township, in addition to pumpkin painting, a straw pile, maze and farm animals. The farm’s Fall Festival will take place on weekends beginning Sept. 30 through October, as well as on Columbus Day, Oct. 9. The fun stuff includes pumpkin painting, face painting, hayrides to the pumpkin patch, pumpkin picking, and refreshments.

pumpkin picking
Cute, fuzzy animals delight kids at Harvest Valley Farms.

Harvest Valley Farms

This small family farm located in Middlesex Township, Butler County, has been celebrating the fall season in a big way for 32 years. On weekends in October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the full-time working produce farm is transformed into a fun-filled, pick-your-own pumpkin festival. Harvest Valley Farms has a long history. Art King is a second-generation farmer; his son and business partner David King is third-generation. Art says their Fall Festival attracts “hundreds and hundreds” of families for seasonal pumpkin fun.

There is no admission fee to participate in activities such as pumpkin bowling, pumpkin carving, hayrides to the pumpkin patch, a cornstalk maze, farm animals, scheduled live music.

“I call it family fun on a real farm,” King says. “We do it for the kids.”

Maker Monday: Amazing Milk Experiment

maker monday
Kidsburgh Staff
September18/ 2017

Science and beauty combine in the Amazing Milk Experiment, this week’s Maker Monday STEM activity. Little kids will find their giggles watching the moving colors swirl across the milk. Older kids might find the science lesson behind the experiment more fascinating.

All liquids, including milk, contain a property known as surface tension. Surface tension is caused by the cohesive forces of the liquid’s molecules. Soap, when applied to any liquid, will reduce the surface tension. In this experiment, the fat and protein molecules in the milk react to the soap. As the soap and fat molecules work to move together in this chemical reaction, surface tension is decreased.   The food coloring allows you to witness this phenomenon as it happens.

It is very cool!

maker monday

Supplies:

Pie pan

3/4 to 1 cup of milk

Food coloring

Dishwashing liquid

Toothpicks

maker monday

Pour enough milk into the pan to cover the bottom. Dot with a variety of food coloring drops.

maker monday

Add 1 drop of dishwashing liquid and watch the colors swirl.

maker monday

This color movement will last for a while with more and more intricate and elaborate patterns developing.

maker monday

Once the movement ends, give the color swirls a little help by twirling and pulling through the colors with a toothpick.

maker monday

It’s quite a sight to see!

For more Maker Monday projects and other fun stuff for kids, visit the Kidsburgh Activities page.

Kristine Sorensen
September13/ 2017

It might seem crazy to use an Uber-type service for your kids, but it’s actually happening right here in our area. Two local moms formed a ride-sharing company just for families, so it’s safe and puts parents and children at ease.

Ali Lucas and Lori Pollock, both from Peters Township, started Kid Lift a year ago.  It’s a transportation service to help parents get kids to activities, the orthodontist, the mall or anyplace.

“We’re moms. We’re busy moms,” Lucas said.  “We know the need of trying to get everyone everywhere and how hard it is.”  Pollock adds, “A lot of working parents, their (kids’) activities are scheduled at 4. They can’t get there, so we’re there to help them.”

Lucas is one of the drivers and regularly drives Olivia, Whitney and Billy Kiray from school to their home in South Fayette to dance and hockey, all while their parents are at work.

Dad Bill Kiray says, “It was really a lifesaver for us,” after his wife went back to work and wasn’t available to drive the right kids after school.  Kiray says carpooling and grandparents weren’t an option, so Kid Lift is a perfect solution so 14-year-old Olivia and 10-year-old Whitney can keep up with their classes at Ultimate Dance Complex in Peters.

Whitney says her friends and dance teacher were shocked when she told them she took an “Uber” to dance but that she likes it. “I just like how it takes me to my dance, and that’s kind of my passion,” she says.

Kid Lift differs from Uber in several ways.  First, the drivers all have clearances,  including FBI, child abuse, and criminal background checks.  Their driving records are posted on their website.  The driver texts a photo of herself in advance so the child knows who’s coming.

Kid Lift drivers also text the parent when they pick up and drop off the child, and if the parents would like, the kids can Facetime or Skype with the parents while they’re in the car so they can actually see that everything’s OK. The drivers are willing to meet with a family in advance if that would make them feel more comfortable, especially when the children are pretty young.  They’ve driven kids as young as 3.

Kid Lift rides are usually scheduled in advance.  A ride up to 5 miles is $12.   Six-10 miles is $17. There are discounts for recurring rides or $5 extra for last-minute rides.

Right now, Kid Lift only has about 10 to 20 regular families and they operate only from Downtown Pittsburgh to the South Hills, but they hope to expand to other areas soon. They’re looking for more drivers and more funding right now.