• Today is: Sunday, October 18, 2020

Launching new ways of learning in Pittsburgh — and all across America

Remake Learning
October14/ 2020

By Melissa Rayworth

In the foothills of southeastern Tennessee, something remarkable happens each year on Pitch Night.

Several dozen teachers from Hamilton County schools present proposals they’ve crafted during six weeks of planning sessions. They’ve been encouraged to think like entrepreneurs — taking creative risks and finding uncharted pathways to solve problems. Now it’s time to unveil their proposals.

A panel of expert judges and an audience of more than 300 community members, business leaders and educators listen to their ideas on Pitch Night. With help from a local charitable foundation, the winning ideas are given funding to become reality.

Among the ideas that have surfaced since this innovative program, called Teacherpreneur, began in 2014: Two elementary school teachers retrofitted a school bus to create The Passage. This mobile classroom travels to students’ homes to help their caregivers with the challenge of at-home learning.

Teacherpreneur is one of the 16 innovations featured in the Learning Forerunners Across America report.

Another winning idea is Gig City Girls — a girls-only coding club that has welcomed more than 2,500 students and now includes outposts at 20 schools.

This program was born in Chattanooga. But it could be replicated anywhere. It could be done on a smaller scale or a larger one, and it could be used to tackle any issues that a community wishes to prioritize.

Teacherpreneur is just one of 16 innovations from across the United States that are highlighted in a new report called Learning Forerunners Across America, released this week by the global innovation organization HundrED, along with the Pittsburgh-based Remake Learning network and the Grable Foundation. (Download the complete report here.)

These innovations were chosen for the report because they focus on big-picture, system-level, impactful solutions at scale that are successfully operating across multiple schools and/or institutions.

HundrED has been searching for groundbreaking, scalable ideas like these and sharing them globally since 2016. Through a series of Spotlight reports on notable innovations happening in places like Pittsburgh, HundrED shares ideas that can help policymakers, businesses and families to improve learning in their communities.

This new report has been released at an especially powerful moment. The COVID-19 disruption of schooling has presented tremendous challenges while opening up unique opportunities for communities to enact swift, impactful change for the benefit of all learners.

Even for those at the forefront of learning innovation, 2020 has been a year of stunning change. Just six months ago, the 16 organizations highlighted in this report were poised to demonstrate their innovative work during more than 1000 public, hands-on learning events last spring as part of the Remake Learning Days Across America (RLDAA) festival.

The 16 Remake Learning Days Across America regions.

Launched in 2016 as the world’s largest open house for the future of teaching and learning, the 2020 RLDAA was planned to be even larger than any before it. And then, of course, came COVID. Just as the spring dates for the festival approached, holding public, multi-generational, hands-on learning events across communities suddenly became a risk.

But as challenging as it’s been to have events like this postponed until next year, the virus-fueled school disruption has also created a malleable moment for change.

“There may not be another moment in our lifetimes when educators are thinking as boldly about what education and learning might be than right now. We should embrace these innovations as signals about what’s possible,” said Gregg Behr, executive director of the Grable Foundation and co-chair of Remake Learning.

“If we introduce these possibilities to parents, and we genuinely involve families as learning allies alongside our students and teachers,” Behr says, “then we just might actually remake learning for years to come. That’s what is so electrifying about what’s happening right here in Pittsburgh and throughout the 16 Remake Learning Days regions.”

Districts are rethinking longstanding systems of teaching and assessing student progress. Teachers are innovating because they have to, and they’re sharing ideas and best practices with one another, and communities are racing to improve teacher professional development. And districts are sorting through the possibilities and downfalls of digital learning to find the best path forward.

The virus-fueled school disruption has also greatly increased parental involvement in learning — something the Global Family Research Project has found to be truly valuable through data gathered during past Remake Learning Days Across America festivals.

Since its launch in 2016, Remake Learning Days festivals have given parents, caregivers and students an up-close look at the latest learning innovations, inviting them to experience those innovations themselves. Along the way, parents discover places and programs where they can learn with their children. Hopefully, demand for those programs then grows.

But the festival, like the Learning Forerunners report, also serves to spread the word about these innovative programs beyond the borders of the communities where they’ve been created.

“We envision a sharing of best innovations between countries, states, cities, or school networks that have a mission to help every child flourish,” says the report, which was unveiled on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. ET during a live online event launching a year-long celebration of the next Remake Learning Days Across America festival.

Dorie Taylor, producer of RLDAA, hopes that the launch event “can help parents, caregivers and educators across all communities get inspired by the learning kids are doing alongside their caring adults, and think about what they hope to see in their own communities.”

In April and May next year, Remake Learning Days events will be happening throughout the U.S. Depending on the progress of the country’s battle with COVID-19, in-person hands-on arts, maker, outdoor, science, technology, and youth-voice themed learning events will be held nationwide. They’ll happen in California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington D.C. and many points in between. Events include four separate festivals planned for southeastern, central and southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as West Virginia.

And if public, hands-on learning isn’t possible, a slew of virtual events will showcase hundreds of learning opportunities.

As the Learning Forerunners report points out, these publicly showcased innovations “will help set the stage for a global ecosystem: one in which innovators around the world learn from one another, share promising practices, and help every child flourish on this planet that connects us all.”

9 things to do with kids this week in Pittsburgh, from owl prowls to Dr. Frankenbean

Sally Quinn
October13/ 2020

We’re loving this season with fresh-air opportunities to hike trails, visit creatures and enjoy outdoor theater. Cool hands-on activities are within easy reach, while virtual experiences continue to entertain. It’s all covered this week with our top things to do with kids in Pittsburgh.

1. Prowl after owls (in person)

Lace-up your hiking boots, check your flashlight’s batteries and head to a local park to hunt for owls. The National Aviary’s twilight Owl Prowls, led by ornithologist Bob Mulvihill, includes lessons on owl species and behaviors as you follow wooded paths. The Owl Prowl hits Settlers Cabin on Oct. 16, Frick Park on Oct. 18 and 25, and Glade Run Lake on Oct. 24. Your $15 tickets can be purchased here. Recommended for ages 7 and older.

2. Meet Dr. Frankenbean (in person)

Dr. Frankenbean and his sidekick, Ogre, have worked for 20 years to develop genetically modified beans, a project that angers the villagers. Three of the beans end up in the hands of a boy named Jack. Instead of growing into a gigantic beanstalk, they become the outrageous Bean brothers. Madcap shenanigans ensue in the South Park Theatre production of “Jack and the Frankenbeanstalk.” This funny, fast-paced show runs weekends from Oct. 16 to 25 on the outdoor stage. The outing includes bonfires and free s’mores and hot apple cider. Tickets are $5 for kids, $8 for their grownups.

3. Make tie-dyed masks (at home)

You need to wear masks, so why not make them as stylish and fashionable as you can? Carnegie Science Center’s series on Something to Do, Watch and Read came up with this hands-on project. Kids, with adult supervision, can follow the step-by-step directions to make cool tie-dyed masks for the whole family. And while they’re at it, experiment with matching T-shirts, too.

4. Go to a gallery getaway (in person)

Kids ages 3-18 who visit the Carnegie Museum of Art on Family Days will receive an Art Cat bag of gallery adventure activities, drawing materials and cool ideas for continuing the fun at home. The Oct. 17 event is timed to Super Science Days at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, so you can take advantage of both museum happenings with one admission ticket. Get your timed tickets here.

5. Meet the author (at home)

Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ series for kids, Words & Pictures, returns this season in a virtual form. Newberry medalist Lois Lowry is first up on Sunday, Oct. 18. The author of the best-selling “The Willoughbys” brings her new sequel, “The Willoughbys Return.” Tickets are free, but you’ll need to register for this online event.

6. Get RADical (in person and at home)

Check out this week’s free RADical Days virtual and in-person offerings. View the complete calendar here.

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden offers free admission on Thursday, Oct. 15. Make your reservation here.

Fort Pitt Museum takes its turn on Saturday, Oct. 17, and Sunday, Oct. 18. Register for free timed tickets here.

7. Go to the theater (at home)

Prime Stage Theatre’s Zoom production of “Mockingbird” is based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Kathryn Erskine. The story involves Caitlin, a girl on the autism spectrum. She once relied on her brother to make sense of the messiness of emotions and relationships, but now she is on her own to face the world. “Mockingbird” will be presented at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18. Register for your free admission here.

8. Put your artwork on display in a museum (in person)

Kids can get their 15 minutes of fame early in life! The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh offers kids the opportunity to have their artwork displayed in the museum’s windows. Deposit your flat creations – sized at 11-inches-by-17-inches or smaller – in the dropbox on the museum porch. Or mail to: Window Gallery, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, 10 Children’s Way, Pittsburgh PA 15212. Don’t forget to include the artist’s name. Look for your artwork in the windows throughout October and November.

9. Join the Sesame Street conversation on anti-racism (at home)

Families can set their DVRs to record “The Power of We: A Sesame Street Special.” airing at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Oct. 15 on WQED-TV. The program is intended to be a co-viewing experience for kids and parents, who can consult the viewing guide in advance to be prepared to answer questions. In the program, Elmo, Abby and other friends explore their identity and skin color and learn to have pride in their culture and race. Games, singing and celebrity guests add an entertaining touch, along with fun downloadable activity sheets.

Carnegie Library’s 2020 Best Books for Babies is here. Get comfy with your snuggly bunny!

Rege Behe
October13/ 2020

For 20 years, Lisa Dennis has been part of a committee that selects the Best Books for Babies. Since the list’s inception, the significance of reading to infants has only increased.

“What we’ve learned about the way that we learn and the way our brains grow has made it more obvious that it’s important to start reading and talking and singing and playing with babies,” says Dennis, coordinator of the children’s collection at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s main branch in Oakland. “Before they can even understand our words, they are hearing the sounds and getting used to the notion that words mean things. It’s also just a nice way to spend time with your baby.”

Libraries across the country use the Pittsburgh-created Best Books for Babies list. Curated by local librarians and child experts, the list includes board books, lift-the-flap titles, and picture books nominated by panel members, area librarians and publishers.

Some of the criteria for Best Books selection includes:

  • Books that are age-appropriate and aimed at babies from infants to 18 months old.
  • Books that encourage interaction and participation, as well as feature engaging illustrations.
  • Books that allow babies to start to learn about how words sound and start making connections to physical objects through reading.

“Reading books to children exposes them to more words and different words,” Dennis says, “Basically, the building blocks of learning to read many years later are laid with the reading-out-loud experience.”

And she says it should be a fun experience for all.

“Sharing books with babies is something that fits into your day,” Dennis says. “You never want to read because it feels like a chore to you and your child. It’s supposed to be fun, but it’s tremendously important in developing the early literacy skills that will allow the child to learn to read later.”

The 2020 Best Books for BabiesBaby Day (Atheneum) by Jane Godwin and Davina Bell, illustrated by Freya Blackwood. Celebrate the first birthday in words and colorful pictures.

Baby Dream/Sonando Con Bebe (Barefoot) by Sunny Scribens;  Baby Food/Comiendo Con Bebe (Barefoot) by Stefanie Paige Wieder; Baby Play/Jugando Con Bebe (Barefoot) by Skye Silver; all translated by Maria Perez. These board books show babies smiling, eating and waving in black-and-photographs.

Beep Beep = Piip Piip, (Candlewick) by Petr Horacek. A visit to grandma’s house is rendered in brightly colored, shaped pages.  In English and Spanish.

I Love All of Me (Cartwheel) by Lorie Ann Grover, illustrated by Carolina Buzio. From “wiggly toes” to “smelly nose,” all the ways babies see themselves are told in catchy rhymes.

I Thought I Saw a Bear! / I Thought I Saw an Elephant! (Templar) illustrated by Lydia Nichols. Friendly animals and babies play hide-and-seek.

Jump! (Gecko) by Tatsuhide Matsuoka. This board book features leaping animals that look like they are flying off the page.

Love You Head to Toe (Owlkids) by Ashley Barron. Babies are compared to animals in fun and cheery rhymes.

Shapes (Little Bee) by Jane Cabrera. This book is filled with cutout-shaped animal pictures that are fun to touch.

Sleeping Bunnies /The Wheels on the Bus (Child’s Play International) illustrated by Annie Kubler. Two classic songs for kids are illustrated with babies playing together.

Touchwords: Clothes (Chronicle) illustrated by Rilla Alexander. Articles of clothing are shown with related words using simple pictures.

Kristine Sorensen
October13/ 2020

Teaching remotely is a big challenge, but many local school districts are taking advantage of new technologies that make it easier for teachers and a lot more interesting for kids.

Teachers at Pine Richland schools wear wireless microphones, use tracking cameras, document cameras and interactive display boards with mounted cameras so the kids both in school and at home can see the same thing.

In the Elizabeth Forward and Avonworth School Districts, teachers are using Gizmos virtual science labs that allow the students to manipulate the variables and work together, like a real lab.

Student Joseph Maksin grew virtual plants.  He said,  “You got to pick what type of plant you were using, how much soil, the amount of sun it was getting, how much water it was getting, and it would show a time-lapse of how it was growing.”

His biology teacher at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, Rachel Lintelman, said, “I liked that there all these options they were able to interact with, and no kid had the same exact answer as any other kid because they got to all do it how they wanted to.”

Elizabeth Forward schools are taking kids on virtual field trips using Google Earth and PBS online.  American history teacher Amy Williams, at Elizabeth Forward Middle school, says her students followed Marco Polo’s travels on the Silk Road.

“It brings excitement to them in their own bedroom or living room, wherever they happen to be working,” she said.

Avonworth Elementary 6th grader Bavly Naklah loves the new app, Sora, that helps him find books based on his classmates’ recommendations, and he likes getting e-books quicker than physical books.

“You don’t have to wait to go to school or the public library or something like that  to find  a book.   The books (are) in your fingertips, on your laptop, waiting to be opened and to be read,” Naklah says with the enthusiasm of a book-lover.

Avonworth Elementary librarian Sara Osborn said she may continue with e-books after the pandemic because, “The benefit with e-books (that we ) haven’t had in past is that they can get the book (quicker).  Once I order it, it’s in the next day on the e-book platform.”

Reimagining school: Shady Side Academy reopens with in-person learning, plus remote option

Kidsburgh Sponsor
October12/ 2020

This sponsored content is provided by Shady Side Academy.

This fall, schools faced the unprecedented challenge – and profound opportunity – to reimagine the way they deliver an education to their students.

Shady Side Academy was one of a few local schools that opened with in-person instruction for every child, every day, welcoming a record 1,108 PK-12 students on its four campuses in Fox Chapel and Point Breeze. This, of course, was no easy feat. The administration worked around the clock this summer to craft a reopening plan grounded in safety, flexibility and academic excellence.

“When it is safe to do so, we believe children are at their best academically and socially when they attend school in person and form close relationships with their teachers and peers,” said SSA President Bart Griffith Jr.

SSA’s reopening plan fully aligns with federal, state and county public health guidelines, and was designed in consultation with UPMC infection prevention experts. Extensive health and safety measures are in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Each morning, parents complete a COVID-19 screening via mobile app to generate a “green pass” for their child to attend school. Students and employees must undergo temperature checks upon arrival and wear masks. Hallways and stairwells are one-way, with hand sanitizer stations everywhere. Academic schedules keep students in smaller, more consistent cohorts throughout the day, and lunches are delivered to classrooms or served grab-and-go.

Every classroom meets CDC social distancing guidelines, keeping students and teachers 6 feet apart. With 189 acres across four campuses, Shady Side has an advantage many other schools do not – sheer space. Extensive summer renovations expanded existing classrooms, converted common areas into new classrooms, and created new outdoor learning spaces.

Students unable to learn on campus utilize a live remote video attendance option to attend classes alongside their peers via Zoom and Meeting Owl Pro 360-degree classroom cameras.

SSA kindergartners enjoy a socially distant snack on the hay bales in the new outdoor classroom

A month into the school year, students and teachers have settled into new routines and found creative ways to learn and play safely – from a socially distant, restaurant-themed second-grade “book tasting” to a herpetologist visiting a sixth-grade outdoor science class, to seniors enjoying lunch on the quad. Sports teams are competing with strict safety protocols, and music and drama classes are safely rehearsing and performing. Although covered by masks, it’s hard to miss the students’ smiling faces.

“It has been so good for the soul to see students back at school and connecting with friends,” said Griffith.

If it is deemed no longer safe to learn on campus, Shady Side’s plan provides for flexible toggling to distance learning, with an age-appropriate mix of synchronous Zoom classes and asynchronous lessons offered every day in every grade, plus virtual faculty office hours, assemblies and club meetings.

Whether classes are held on campus or online, Shady Side Academy continues to deliver the challenging, engaging curriculum for which it is nationally renowned.

Learn more about Shady Side’s four campuses at monthly Zoom information sessions and Saturday tours by appointment on Oct. 24, Nov, 7 and Dec. 5. Details at www.shadysideacademy.org/visit.