• Today is: Thursday, November 23, 2017

Google’s ‘Libraries Ready to Code’ initiative highlights Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Stephanie Hacke
November20/ 2017

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is becoming a trendsetter in the world of computer science.

Teaming up with tech guru Google and the American Library Association, the library has joined a cohort of 30 libraries across the country as part of the Libraries Ready to Code initiative. The goal is to develop or enhance computer science programs for kids that will be used as a template for others across the country to mirror.

“This is part of an overall effort to increase computer literacy and offer coding to people of all ages,” says Toby Greenwalt, director of digital strategy and technology integration at the Carnegie Library.

The American Library Association distributed more than $500,000 in grants in October to libraries in the program. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which already has a relationship with Google, will receive resources and test curriculum that will support its efforts to further add computer science and technology into its programming for K-12.

With fewer than half of the country’s K-12 schools offering computer science courses, a library is a place that can help fill that gap, says Marijke Visser, program manager with the American Library Association.

“This is about developing library leaders that will inspire and motivate and offer best practices for incorporating technology, specifically computer science, in their programs,” Visser says.

Even young kids can develop an interest in coding and computer science. Libraries can help promote that excitement.

At Carnegie library, computer science already is incorporated into some programs for kids. With App Assisted Storytime, for example, librarians utilize interactive versions of a story or educational games on an iPad to enhance traditional storytelling. In the Super Science program, a series of lab experiments focusing on STEM education circulate as stand-alone programs for kids. The library has programmable robots — known as Bee-Bots and Pro-Bots — that kids can use, too.

As part of the collaboration, the Carnegie Library plans to enhance its programming and provide feedback to help others.

“A lot of it is going to be idea generating,” Greenwalt says. “Our goal is to identify kids’ interests and then give them the resources to build off of them.”

Unlike school classes with mandatory attendance, he points out, libraries need to offer the kind of programming that draws kids voluntarily.

Through the Google-sponsored Libraries Ready to Code initiative, now in its third phase, the American Library Association plans to learn what works best.

“Libraries really can increase access and exposure and change perceptions about who can code and who can be in this space,” Visser says.

That’s why a variety of libraries, from inner-city to rural with varying demographics, were selected in hopes they would create a curriculum that will work in all libraries. A computer science educational toolkit, tested and developed through Libraries Ready to Code, will be unveiled during National Library Week in April.

“This is a real opportunity for libraries to learn what they need to be doing to support youth in their communities,” Visser says, “and on the flipside, how communities can use their libraries for what they need.”

Pittsburgh-based iGeneration Youth magazine gives teens a global voice

Candy Williams
November20/ 2017

As a little girl, Caroline Molin of Squirrel Hill knew she wanted to be a writer.

“I’ve been interested in writing all of my life, even from before kindergarten when I could barely read,” says Caroline, a 17-year-old senior at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School. “As soon as I started reading books, I knew I wanted to write them as well.”

Her literary repertoire has grown to include novels, creative non-fiction, poetry, and journalism. “I even enjoy writing English essays for school,” she says.

Today, Caroline is gaining experience as a co-editor-in-chief of iGeneration Youth magazine, a monthly print publication with a global focus. The Pittsburgh-produced magazine is written by and for young people, with world-wide contributions from teen writers, photographers, illustrators, comic artists, and entrepreneurs.

The inaugural issue followed a six-week summer Byline Boot Camp, where students learned to plan, produce, publish, promote, and distribute a print magazine on deadline.

iGeneration Youth
Caroline Molin (left) and Lori Cullen work together on an edition of iGeneration Youth.

With offices in Bakery Square, iGeneration Youth is led by a team of veteran journalists, designers, and content strategists headed by Lori Cullen of Highland Park, global editorial director.

Cullen, a freelance writer and editor, moved to the US from Great Britain with her family in 1979 at age 10. As an immigrant of British and Jamaican heritage, she is committed to including immigrant teens in the iGeneration Youth program, as well as kids who are isolated or marginalized.

“We work with youths from across the country and around the globe via telephone, Skype or the internet,” Cullen says. “For example, teens in England, three African countries, and nine states, as well as Pittsburgh, produced the November issue. Their accounts are refreshingly honest – teens don’t approach topics the way adults might think.”

Ali Mugasa, 17, of Sharpsburg, a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School, is a co-editor-in-chief, writer, and illustrator at iGeneration Youth. He was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Africa – where groups fled from ethnic persecution and civil war in Somalia – and moved to Pittsburgh in 2004 with his parents and two brothers.

“My life goal is to be an inspiration to my fellow Somali Bantu people,” Ali says

To Caroline, iGeneration Youth is an opportunity for young people to tell stories that aren’t seen every day in the mainstream media, in articles that represent the diversity of their generation.

“We write about our experiences that the big political leaders don’t always want people to know,” she says. “Our last issue had an article about transgender teenagers and their experiences. … We told stories about Islam. And in an environment where people openly assume the worst of people because of their faith, telling the world our positive experiences with Islam is seen as controversial. Getting our stories out there is important, now more than ever.”

With the first issue under their belts, the young writers and artists are looking forward to their next deadlines.

“Writing for a monthly publication isn’t a small feat, and when I hold the November edition of iGeneration Youth magazine in my hands, I feel an incredible sense of pride. The people that are always looked down upon – our youth – are preparing our greatest work to show the entire city,” Caroline says. “I’m constantly learning how capable we all are of achieving things that we worked hard for.”

Emily Flores, 15, of Austin, Texas, wrote her cover story on young people with disabilities. Confined to a wheelchair by muscular dystrophy, her interest in reading and writing led her to share her experiences on different platforms to empower disabled youth.

Emily was the perfect choice to write about the ABC show, “Speechless,” which stars Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy. She interviewed Fowler for her article, “not only because he was a big star from a hit show, but also a person who was becoming a polarizing role model to the disability community. His show was paving the way for actors and performers with disabilities, which I knew was going to impact the whole world in a great way.”

iGeneration Youth offers several program options for teens, requiring various levels of commitment and skill – ranging from pitching an article or artwork for publication to taking classes online, at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, or the magazine’s Bakery Square office. Four- or eight-week classes in writing, illustration, photography, comic arts, or 2-D animation are offered. Middle school students ages 10 to 13 may work on the middle school version of the magazine.

iGeneration Youth’s incubator program is a small, competitive program in which a select group of Pittsburgh teen writers, photographers, illustrators, comics artists, and animators undergo rigorous, hands-on training in magazine production and the business of journalism. There is a monthly fee for this program, but limited need-based and merit scholarships are offered.

Kidsburgh Heroes: Noelle and Dave Conover of Matt’s Maker Space

Emily Stimmel
November20/ 2017

Like most 12-year-olds, Matt Conover loved playing video games. But for Matt, the games were more than fun; they offered a needed escape from the painful chemotherapy treatments he regularly endured for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

“He used to say, ‘Run, Mom! Get me the computer!’” says his mother, Noelle Conover, of Mt. Lebanon. When Matt lost his battle with cancer after a nine-month hospital stay in 2002, Noelle says, “We never wanted another family to have to run to get the computer, so we raised money for the Matt’s Media for Kids with Cancer Fund.”

Through the fund, Conover and her family ensured that each bed in the pediatric oncology unit was equipped with a computer, PlayStation or Xbox. Over time, the effort grew into Matt’s Media Room 4 Kids with Cancer at Our Clubhouse (formerly Gilda’s Club Western Pennsylvania). And today, the project has taken on a new life as Matt’s Maker Space.

“We believe if Matt were here today, he would most certainly be a maker or some sort of creator,” she says. “This project allows us to keep his memory alive, show other families that there is a way to help grief through giving back and leave a meaningful legacy in our community.”

Matt Conover with his siblings in 2002.

Conover found inspiration through Matt’s dual passions for technology and creative pursuits. Beyond video games, her son loved LEGOs, science experiments, and puzzles. He was always curious, with a desire to understand how things are made and why they work the way they do.

The Conovers recently donated $175,000 to the Mt. Lebanon School District to fund Matt’s Maker Spaces in the district’s seven elementary schools. They made the gift through the district’s Century of Excellence Campaign, which provides opportunities in technology, innovation, fine arts and athletic programming. Each school will receive $25,000 over the next three years to spend as they choose.

Librarians at the schools received training from the staff of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, who coached them in designing spaces that maximize children’s engagement with cutting-edge equipment. The museum is one of 10 national hubs that provide resources for local schools “to create engaging, inclusive and motivating learning experiences through maker education.” The schools will fill the completed rooms with everything from 3D printers to sewing machines, programming tools, robotics equipment and craft supplies.

“What makes the project so great is that each room takes on the personality and skills of the librarian and the school,” Noelle says.

She and her family are hoping to expand the program over the next few years and are exploring partnerships with local organizations and funders to help the project grow. Another future possibility: a competition for elementary-level makers and teachers.

Though Conover is its unofficial spokesperson, she stresses that Matt’s Maker Space is truly a family affair.

“Our daughters are very involved in technology, and as women in STEAM, they are interested in eventually running the organization,” she says.

As chief technologist for mechanical products at ANSYS with more than 30 years of experience in simulation and additive manufacturing, Conover’s husband Dave sees the value of STEAM education every day.

“He is very interested in the next generation of engineers working in maker spaces as children,” Noelle says. “It will only improve their ability to create, collaborate and problem-solve.”

New Rangos Giant Cinema dazzles movie fans at Carnegie Science Center

Tracy Certo
November20/ 2017

This story was first published on NEXTPittsburgh.

We know where we’ll catch the new “Star Wars” movie next month.

The new 2D/3D Rangos Giant Cinema — the most technically advanced theater in Pittsburgh — opened today at Carnegie Science Center and it’s a beaut.

The theater features a 70-by-38-foot Certified Giant Screen, a mindblowing 45-speaker Dolby Atmos surround sound system, and super clear images with brilliant colors conveyed in dazzling detail by 4K laser digital projectors.

Pop on a pair of 3D glasses, as we did, and it’s an in-your-face experience not to be missed as lifelike images jump off the enormous screen, which seems to be just mere feet away.

“It’s truly the future of cinema,” said Ron Baillie, co-director of Carnegie Science Center.

At the grand opening this morning, media and others were treated to various previews of coming attractions, including “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” followed by “The Amazon Adventure,” all of which clearly conveyed the powerfully immersive theater experience.

Take note: it’s not just for kids. “We can now offer a broad range of dynamic content,” said Baillie, including Hollywood feature films, 3D educational movies, multimedia lectures and live cultural events.

All that while viewers can enjoy very comfortable, multi-colored seats with cup holders.“Amazon Adventure 3D” is now playing, and coming soon, “Star Wars.” Tickets are on sale now.

There’s more to come at Carnegie Science Center when the new PPG Science Pavilion opens in June with nine learning labs and a two-level traveling exhibition space which will allow blockbuster exhibits, some of which are eluding Pittsburgh now, said Ann Metzger, co-director of Carnegie Science Center. The expansion also includes a conference and event space with outstanding views of the Pittsburgh skyline.

What every parent needs to know about the YouTube Kids app

common sense
Common Sense Media
November20/ 2017

As parents we juggle a lot, right? Running errands, managing a household, and afterschool activities all play a major role in our day. One thing that often takes a backseat is reviewing apps and websites our kids are interested in. Take, for example, YouTube Kids. I believe this app has the potential to be a great resource for families, although I have some concerns about the advertising, branded content, and inappropriate clips that make their way through the filters. This Common Sense article offers a ton of helpful tips, like how to get started with YouTube Kids, potential privacy and safety implications, and what to watch out for. I especially like the alternatives list, which offers great apps and sites for kids under the age of seven. I highly recommend going through these tips so you and your family can safely enjoy all that YouTube Kids has to offer.  – Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh regional manager of education for Common Sense Media

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

So many kids love watching videos on YouTube, it seemed like a slam dunk for Google to create a special app specifically for the online video service’s youngest fans. And while YouTube Kids offers a colorful, easy-to-navigate environment, a wide range of high-quality videos, a few parental controls, and fun features for kids, it’s been dogged by concerns over its advertising, branded content, and inappropriate clips slipping through the curation process. So is YouTube Kids right for kids — or not?

With its whimsical visuals, silly sound effects, and picture-based navigation, YouTube Kids is fun and friendly — and doesn’t look at all like its parent site. Kids can roam through a vast menu of YouTube videos geared toward their age group by swiping left and right, or they can view channels through the categories at the top of the screen. Despite the drawbacks, YouTube Kids definitely has the potential to be a family’s go-to for kids to watch videos online — if you supervise and enable safety settings.

Read Common Sense Media’s full review of YouTube Kids, and learn more about how it works and how to use it safely (if at all) with answers to parents most frequently asked questions below.

What is YouTube Kids?

YouTube Kids is a kid-targeted version of YouTube that features curated, ad-supported TV shows, music, educational videos, and user-created content. You can create user profiles for each of your kids, so the app can tailor its selections individually. One of the best features of YouTube Kids is the timer, which lets you set a limit (up to an hour) for your kids to play on the app.

What type of videos are on YouTube Kids?

“Shows” features clips and full episodes of popular children’s programming (like Winnie the Poohand Thomas and Friends); “Music” clips include classic and contemporary kids’ songs. The “Learning” section includes access to education-focused clips from sources including Khan AcademyPBS Kids, and TED-Ed, and the “Explore” section features a sprawling range of user-created content, toy-related videos (including many “unboxing” clips), and a more random array of kid-friendly content, as well as channels created by brands such as McDonald’s.

Is YouTube Kids safe?

Parents who download the app assuming that a live human being — or a team of them — hand-select the videos and carefully sort them are often surprised to find out how the curation actually works. YouTube Kids is technically a portal to the main YouTube service. Using what Google calls “a mix of automated analysis and user input,” it filters out the grown-up stuff and funnels the kid stuff to the app … mostly. Inappropriate videos can make it past the filters, and users have reported seeing nudity, alcohol, and profanity, as well as fast food and junk food ads that push unhealthy eating. On the plus side for parents, YouTube offers fair warning that kids may see something that you don’t want them to see and you can block and report inappropriate videos.

Are there ads on YouTube Kids?

Some of the videos have ads, like on YouTube. If parents sign up for a YouTube Red subscription, there are no ads, and kids can watch offline. But kids will still have access to branded channels from fast food or toy companies.

How do I set parental controls on YouTube Kids?

YouTube Kids offers a few basic parental controls. To access these settings, you unlock the “grown-ups only” section by using either a random passcode (written out so that pre-readers can’t use it) or a custom passcode you create. Then you log into your Google account and select the user whose profile you want to add controls to. The main parental control setting is the ability to allow your kid to search for videos in the app or not. (It’s safer not to.) You can also clear the history and pause your watch history, which mainly affects how the app serves up videos.

How do I set content filters on YouTube Kids?

YouTube Kids doesn’t offer content filters. It tries to show “younger” or “older” videos based on the user’s age, what you’ve watched, and terms you’ve searched for. If there’s something you definitely don’t want your kids to see, you’ll have to block those videos when they come up.

How do you set up profiles in YouTube Kids?

YouTube Kids lets you have different profiles for each user — but the profiles simply allow YouTube to track that user’s search history and video views. Once you download the app, you log in with your Google account and set up profiles for your kids in the settings menu. Kids will like the ability to select their avatar and their own passcode (which parents can override) to prevent snooping siblings from sneaking into their profile.

What age is YouTube Kids for?

The app store says YouTube Kids is for 4 and older, but Common Sense Media recommends it for kids 7 and older. In addition to the ads, the commercialism, and the potential to see inappropriate videos, we think it’s better to wait until kids are slightly more mature or to view videos together with your younger children.

Why does YouTube Kids have disturbing videos?

You may have heard about or seen some videos that look like they’re for kids but are clearly not. These videos may use familiar characters from kids’ TV shows, such as Caillou or Peppa Pig, or they may use cartoon graphics such as cars and trucks. The videos have seemingly kid-friendly titles and begin normally, but then become strange and even extremely disturbing. Whoever creates these videos — which have been termed YouTube Poop — has figured out how to use tags (the code that helps Google categorize content) to fool the algorithm. Disturbing videos are more common on the main YouTube channel, but they could pop up in the kid’s app, especially if you allow your kids to search.

What is YouTube doing to make the app safer for kids?

In addition to parental controls, content filters, and turning off search, YouTube has made some policy changes to try to improve the app. The company announced that when videos are flagged on the main YouTube app, they will automatically be age-restricted and therefore blocked from the Kids app. It will also remove the financial incentive of producers of some of this strange content, by eliminating their ability to serve ads on the age-restricted content. However, this all relies on users finding and flagging the inappropriate content before they can pass through to the Kids app, which isn’t foolproof.

What can I do if my kid sees disturbing content?

As with any media product that contains user-generated content, it’s wise to supervise closely and watch together when you can. If you find a disturbing video, you can block it, which makes sure the video doesn’t surface again. You can also report it, which alerts YouTube of the offensive content so that their team can review and remove it if necessary. If your kids are scared by stuff they see, try these methods to comfort them.

What are the alternatives to YouTube Kids?

It might be the biggest, but YouTube isn’t the only fish in the sea. You can find streaming video apps with stricter parental controls, tighter curation, various video sources, and other useful, family-friendly features. Give these a try.