• Today is: Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Kristine Sorensen
September12/ 2018

Two local schools are among 46 across the country to be named a “Green Ribbon School” by the U.S. Department of Education. The schools got this award for the many ways they’re helping the environment in their school facilities, classes and programs.

Mt. Lebanon High School and Wexford Elementary School are being honored Sept. 19 in Washington D.C. for the incredible ways they’re helping the environment.

We are featuring both schools, starting with Mt. Lebanon High School

Lunchtime at Mt. Lebanon High School is like a factory; 1,700 kids eating over 3 hours each day, but they don’t just take the easy way out. They make the extra effort to help the environment, even though it takes more time, money and energy.

“It’s not that hard to do. As long as you’re aware of the impact you’re making, it’s easy to make a difference,” senior Henry Silverman said.

The cafeteria provides reusable plates, trays and bowls to reduce waste, uses recyclable and biodegradable plates and cups in place of Styrofoam, provides locally sourced, healthy and gluten-free food options, and composts the food waste from the kitchen like rinds and and leftovers, which are given to a local farm and turned into mulch.

When the school was renovated in 2009, they designed it with a lot of windows to bring in natural light, not just for aesthetics but to reduce the number of electric lights, and those electric lights are all on sensors. But students are taking it one step further, working to get those electric lights to be LED.

“Me and my friends are working on a Powerpoint right now to present to the school board about switching the bulbs in the skywalk to LED bulbs, and we’ve already done the math, and it would save a bunch of kilowatt hours and money every year,” senior Joe Albers explained.

“There’s an initial cost to some of these initiatives, but in the long term, it certainly does save you money. We’re spending less in utility costs. We’re able to recycle much more than we were in the past. We really have some very interesting initiatives where kids feel connected to their environment,” Mt. Lebanon Schools Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer said.

In addition to the green facility, pesticides are prohibited on the plants and garden. The school also supports a student-led environmental club and requires a full-year class in environmental geoscience where students learn about how their actions make a difference in the environment — good or bad.

“This class has changed my outlook on life more than any class in high school, probably,” Albers said.

If you’d like to get your kids excited about STEM learning like these kids are doing, STEM week is coming up the week of Sept. 17 – 23. STEM Fest at the Mall at Robinson on Saturday, Sept. 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will have all kinds of hands-on activities for kids of all ages. There will be everything from virtual reality and forensic science to stem-related career opportunities for high-school-aged kids.

Kidcast Weekender runs away to the circus – and beyond

shrine circus
Kristine Sorensen
September11/ 2018

Family fun at the circus, fall festival season, superhero costumes in person, and special time exploring science with your little munchkins. It’s all in this week’s Kidcast Weekender!

Kidcast dispels concussion myths surrounding group sports

Kristine Sorensen
September11/ 2018

Get the brand new recommendations from the CDC on concussions in kids and dispel 5 myths about concussions with a local expert.


What’s better than a field trip? The Children’s Museum’s museumlab.

Kidsburgh Staff
September11/ 2018

Photo by Ed Massery

This story was first published on NEXTPittsburgh.

By Bill O’Toole

Starting this January, middle school students from Manchester Academic Charter School will be on a permanent field trip.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has entered the final phase of construction on their museumlab wing, a new space dedicated to applying the practical displays and workshops of the museum to the daily needs of intermediate education.

The project has been gestating since early 2016, when the Children’s Museum began raising money to expand their footprint into the beautiful but vacant Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch located near Buhl Community Park and Allegheny Commons.

The 46,000-square-foot building operated continuously from 1890 to 2006, but was forced to close after being struck by lightning.

According to Jane Werner, the museum’s executive director, she and her colleagues were pondering new expansion ideas when public radio host Larry Berger — who has been producing “The Saturday Light Brigade” from SLB Radio Productions’ studios located inside the Children’s Museum since 2001 — suggested they get in touch with the Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS).

The school, located northwest of Allegheny Commons Park, was looking for a new building for their 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

“We met and kismet!” says Werner.

Beyond just giving the students a gorgeous place to learn, the museumlab will offer an innovative approach to education built around using practical exhibits designed by the Children’s Museum. Exhibits will be designed to teach skills in both STEM and the creative arts.

“It creates a great synergy between the two programs,” says Christine Cieslak, project director for the renovation. “They’re able to use our exhibits to inform their learning models, and we will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of our various exhibits based on their educational progress.”

Werner described the project as an ever-evolving curriculum that will pull from a wide range of experts. “It will always be changing,” she says, “with different artists, craftsmen and even technologists, introducing new ideas and processes.”

Though the students from MACS will use the space during the week, the museumlab will also serve as a community resource. The first floor of the museumlab will be open to the public seven days a week. The MACS students will take their core classes on the second floor.

“It is both a public space, where older kids and families with older children can have more in-depth experiences like the ones they participate in at the Children’s Museum, and a school,” says Werner.

The museum will be showing off the construction project with a “Raise the Beam” event on Sept. 21. All told, the project is expected to cost about $18.5 million. Though Cieslak is confident that her team will finish on schedule for the January opening, she says they will still be handling finishing touches well into the spring for the Grand Opening for the entire facility in April.

Since construction began this past January, the crews have uncovered five oil paintings hidden behind the walls, which are currently in storage.

What to ask when your kid brings home a school-issued device

common sense media
Common Sense Media
September11/ 2018

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The 2018-2019 school year is in full swing. Your kids may be sporting a shiny new school-issued device, which can introduce a whole new level of parenting in the digital age. You may have lots of questions, from simple ones like, “What will it be used for?” to more complex ones like, “Does the device track student data at home?” This article will answer some of your questions and help you navigate a healthy media balance at school and home.  – Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh Regional Manager at Common Sense Media. You can find her on Twitter @Jehehalt.Common Sense Media.

By Caroline Knorr

Common Sense Media

Good news, folks: You can cross off pencils and paper from your back-to-school shopping list. School-issued laptops and tablets are steadily replacing workbooks and practice packets. Yes, it’s exciting: a shiny new device kids get all to themselves; software that adapts to their level; and a much-reduced chance of mysteriously missing homework. But you may have mixed feelings — and lots of questions — about managing the device in your home (which probably already has a bunch of screens).

Schools handing out devices will almost certainly send home an information package with rules (called an acceptable use policy, or AUP) for the device’s use, including what the device can be used for and the consequences for misuse. But it’s up to you to figure out how this new device is used at home. Teachers and even other parents can help you work out any challenges you may face. Here are some common questions parents have when kids bring a device home from school.

What will the school device be used for?

Schools have a number of online learning options. Those that implement a 1-to-1 program(meaning every student receives their own device) should have a well-thought-through plan for how these devices will be used in the classroom and for homework. They may assign a few apps or implement an entire curriculum. Depending on whether your school chooses a little or a lot of technology, your kid may be using the device only for lessons and practice work or following specifically sequenced modules for, say, an entire language arts or math class. Some schools simply use the devices to interact on a shared platform, such as Google Classroom (which you can read more about on our educator’s site), for group collaboration, and writing and turning in papers.

If you don’t understand what the devices are being used for in school or at home, make sure to bring these questions to back-to-school night or contact the teachers or administrators individually. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, bring your questions to the PTA or the wider community.

How much time should my kid be spending on the device for homework?

Are students expected to do all their homework on the device, do only some of their homework, or use only a few apps? The answer will give you a good idea of how much time your kid should be devoting to online and offline work. Just as in pre-device days, teachers generally use grade level as a guide for how much homework to assign. If you think your kid is spending too much time on the device for homework, check in with the teacher to better understand his or her expectations.

One of the advantages of online work is that it can track how a student is doing. Some apps time kid’s sessions, which gives teachers feedback on an individual student’s proficiency — even on individual problems. If you have that data, you can get a gauge of whether your kid is on track, stuck on something, or possibly dillydallying. If your kid is consistently taking more time than the teacher recommends, keep an eye on their progress to determine if it’s the homework itself or if they’re watching YouTube videos, playing Fortnite, or chatting in another browser window.

How much time will my kid be spending on the device at school?

When school-issued devices become a part of your kid’s life, it can add up to a lot of screen time. How teachers use the devices at school can be fairly individual. Find out if the teacher plans to have students using devices a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. If the 1-to-1 program is a school-wide initiative, students may use them more. If the devices are unique to your kid’s class or grade, they may be used for a more specific purpose. Some teachers use technology to supplement other work — so just a portion of a class is device-based. Some teachers take advantage of technology’s data processing and only use it for quizzes and tests. Knowing approximately how much time — and for what purpose — your kid is using a device during the day can help you better manage their overall screen time and make sure it’s balanced with physical activity, face-to-face conversations, and fresh air.

What apps is my kid using — and why?

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what apps are on the device, how they were selected, and what the learning purpose is. There’s a huge range of educational appswebsites, and games available, and teachers may use a variety of ways to find the ones that will really benefit kids’ learning. Some teachers have a lot of latitude in choosing software. Some teachers must use a particular platform. Some teachers attend training to learn about new software or even how to implement programs in the classroom. Teachers also share tips and ideas about educational apps with each other online. During a discussion of the apps kids will be using is a good time to ask the teacher about his or her own philosophy about technology in learning.

Are there parental controls or filters on the laptop — or can I install them?

When kids use the school’s Wi-Fi during the school day, the network is filtered, meaning they can’t access inappropriate content such as pornography, information about illicit substances, and even games. But when they come home, unless you have filters on your home network, the gates to the internet are open. You probably won’t be able to download parental controls (or any other software) onto the device (administrators typically disable that capability).

Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there’s a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network. Before your kid begins using the school-issued device, you should review the school’s rules (often you both will need to sign a form saying you did this) and make sure your kid understands your expectations around safety, privacy, and responsible online behavior. Also, be aware that filters sometimes catch too much, preventing your kid from visiting legitimate research sites, and kids can also sometimes figure out ways to get around the filters.

Does the device track student data — at home?

You may have heard about schools keeping tabs on students at home, but that’s extremely rare. No one should be spying on your kid through the device. However, educational apps do track user data to tailor the learning experience to the individual user; anything more than that indicates a poor privacy policy. And teachers may have a dashboard that uses data to report how a student is performing. Also, aside from the apps your kid uses, the teacher may use social media to post photos and other class updates. If so, find out how student privacy will be protected. In all cases, any information that’s collected should be for educational purposes, and companies should not be able to use or make money from student data. (See our student privacy resources for teachers.)

Ask for information on the school’s student privacy policy, including whether they vet the privacy policies of the apps they assign to make sure they’re not over-collecting data. (Learn more about Common Sense’s student privacy initiative.)

Can my kid download anything on the device?

An administrator usually disables download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the learning tools. However, your kid may still be able to play games, chat, and use social media on the device’s web browser, since those services don’t require a download. The device is the school’s property, and anything you put on it — including photos — may violate the AUP, so check the rules. And if your kid has their own device at home, you may want to reserve the school device only for homework.

My kid never gets off his device, and when I ask him to, he says he’s doing homework. What can I do?

No matter what comes home from the school, your house equals your rules. That means you can still establish screen-free times and zones like dinnertime and the bedroom. You can make rules about when devices get shut down at night and where they’re charged (outside of kids’ bedrooms!). And if you think your kid is doing more than homework on his device, you can discuss the downsides of multitasking and your expectations around what the school device is being used for. If you’re still struggling, bring your concerns to the school — you can talk to individual teachers, administrators, or other parents to find solutions.