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Pittsburgh shows the way

Marty Levine
May09/ 2014

Gregg Behr of the Grable Foundation, sponsor of Kidsburgh, details for the Harvard Family Research Project “how Pittsburgh gamers, robotics engineers, and designers work alongside educators in and out of school and use digital tools to inspire children’s learning.”

Pittsburgh parents are their kids’ first teachers, and raising the “touch-screen generation” has new educational challenges for parents as well as for the organizations that have come together to remake learning in Pittsburgh, he writes: from schools to libraries, museums, afterschool programs, foundations, community centers and institutions of higher education.

He cites several important Pittsburgh-developed digital literacy tools that are leading the way:

  • The Early Learning Environment, from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, trains teachers, in-home child caregivers and families in digital-media literacy geared to kids up through five years old. The Rogers Center teams with the National Association for the Education of Young Children to continue developing new aids for families and educators navigating this new high-tech world.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s My Story Maker is an online story-telling game that works to promote literacy, while their Message from Me encourages kids to tell their parents about their school activities via digital audio and video. WQED-TV has also provided new resources to help parents use digital tools most effectively.
  • The Kids+Creativity Network, which teams everyone from teachers and software developers, museum officials and librarians, is also a key partner in remaking learning here.

He also writes about “A city-wide approach to remake learning” in the new Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem report from the Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums.

Behr highlights our “deliberate network of citywide partnerships that knit together the expertise of hundreds of educators, artists and innovators,” adding “this hub of learning innovation is one of the first of its kind in the nation.”

Some of the partners highlighted include the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Pittsburgh Technology Council and The Sprout Fund, lauded for their support of research and development in digital learning innovations.

Since children spend only 14 percent of their time in school, the city has also focused on creating connected learning opportunities – self-directed, hands-on learning with other like-minded youngsters – and promoted maker activities centered on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) subjects, with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP a prime spot for such activities.

Schools must still play a large role in the new digital learning environment, of course, and districts such as Elizabeth Forward are leading the way, he says. Their SMALLab lets kids us a Wii-like device for interactive chemistry lessons, while the library is now a space for students to create their own media and classes are emphasizing project-based learning.

“The citywide networks of learning that we’ve established here in Pittsburgh are cementing those opportunities,” he concludes. “We can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Marty Levine