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This Month’s Learning Innovation: Games Engaging Teens

Every week, for two hours, dozens of teens gather at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, East Liberty branch. They meet in the afternoons, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., after school is done. Sometimes they get there early and finish homework, often with a little help and guidance from Simon Rafferty, one of the CLP-East Liberty Teen Librarians. They come in the summer months, too, without fail. What is the draw? When 4:30 rolls around, they all head upstairs…for two hours of gaming.

The CLP has found that providing games – video games, old fashioned board games and word games, high tech music games – is a way to draw teens into the library….and keep them coming back for more.

“It’s for teens age 12 to 18,” Simon explains, “and it’s been going on before I even got here, but it’s sort of really blown up in the last year or so. It’s just been a great way to bring teens into the library. When we go on outreach, we talk about gaming and that’s what gets teens excited.”

They play in groups, alone, and even with Simon. “We have an Xbox 360 on a widescreen TV; we have PlayStations,” he adds. “It’s mostly cooperative games because we’re really into having games that are about playing with each other. It’s a very social environment.”

So why are Carnegie Library branches all over the city scheduling weekly Game Days for teens? “The library has been an evolving thing. It’s not all about books anymore. Books are a very important thing that we provide, but we’re also providing movies, music. We’re a cultural experience. And with teens, gaming is such a big part of being a teen, so it’s really important to be able to share that love of gaming in a place like the library,” Simon says.

So, the library is becoming more relevant to teens, meeting their interests. But by providing access to these games, CLP is doing much, much more: It’s also leveling the playing field.

“A lot of these kids can’t afford these games,” Simon continues. “Games are incredibly expensive. And to be cut off from that part of culture can really affect you in school, affect your social aspect.” Gaming helps teens develop many skills: they learn to work with each other; they learn to win – and lose – graciously. They are also picking up some STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – skills through games like Minecraft and SimCity.

But that’s not all CLP does: Gaming leads them to other great CLP programs, like The Labs, a popular and unique program currently at three sites around the city -- East Liberty, the main branch in Oakland and on the North Side.

“The Labs is a place where teens get to use expensive technology and equipment that professionals are using, so they’re using things like Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, DSLR cameras, Garage Band and music equipment and they have great mentors who work with them, teaching them skills to figure out how to use these things to create their own work,” Simon says.

One of those mentors is André Costello, who is also a teen specialist library assistant at East Liberty. “What I do is help with programming, help run these creative technology programs. I have a background in music and graphic design and I help with a lot of the software and things like using robotics kits. I work to get these kids being creative and expressing themselves in a really healthy way.”

The Labs are located in those three locations to be geographically and demographically positioned to provide the least amount of distance to travel and to be in diverse neighborhoods, André explains. Regular programming includes workshops run by Labs’ mentors and open labs where the equipment is available to the teens to use in their own projects. “We do music audio workshops, photo and video design and makers’ crafts,” he adds. And it’s all coordinated by Corey Wittig, Digital Learning Librarian in Teen Services at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

“Our main priority is to reach teens all across the city,” Corey says. “Our ongoing goal is to draw teens to the library, and gaming is one of the ways we do it. It’s an entry point” to bigger programs, like The Labs. “We see it as a tool in our arsenal of engaging teens.”

It’s also a way to practice “Connected Learning,” connecting teens, Corey explains, to “the things that matter in their lives. Eventually, this may help them do better in school, develop job skills, build confidence, meet other kids, adults and mentors. We’re helping to guide teens to something they care about, and connecting them to opportunities around the city and community that may speak to their interests.”

The Labs are actually based on a national program, and they have proven so popular that there are plans to expand to more locations here in Pittsburgh in the future. It – and Gaming – is changing the way teens view libraries.

“This is a different way of thinking about what the library can do for you,” André says. “It’s become more like a community center, a central point where you can come. But the main thing is thinking about the library as a place for making. So this is a starting point for potentially a new thing that can be expanded to other age ranges. So, starting with the teens we’re focusing on this sort of maker space, this maker idea, and it’s technologically centered, which is different for the library, but it still celebrates information.”

These things work really well, André continues, “because I see these kids in here all the time, smiles on their faces, and I’ve seen them go from a place of being standoffish to being really creative. They’re interest driven and they’re on their own and they’re creating without us telling them what to do anymore.”

The library, Simon concludes, “has become a really fun place that’s geared towards teens. We’re really focusing on trying to make the experience unique and something just for them.”

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
CLP The Labs

Educators Dive Into Deeper Learning at TRETC

Over 400 educators met to discuss the Deeper Learning movement at the recent Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference, “Diving In To Deeper Learning,” held in Mars, PA. Over two days they heard from top ed-tech innovators, including Tom Vander Ark, well known author and CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy firm, as well as noted area educators.

Vander Ark is also a partner in an educational venture capital firm that invests in EdTech startups, was president of the X Prize Foundation, and first executive director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Other featured speakers included Daniel Harrold, an English teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist currently teaching junior and senior English at Baldwin High School, located in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District; Jana Baxter, Instructional Media Services Coordinator for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead, PA, and Zee Ann Poerio, K-8 Computer teacher and advisor for the Student Technology Team at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School in Pittsburgh.

Breakout sessions were led by area educators on everything from building 21st Century skills in a one to one teaching environment and “Teaching Science with Minecraft” to Blogging as Reflection/Portfolio. In one classroom teachers were learning to create “Squishy” circuits to teach basic electricity to pre-schoolers; in another, educators played well-known card games and created completely new ones.

TRETC is the premier K-16 educational technology conference in Western Pennsylvania. It is a joint conference run by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, local education leaders and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

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Photos



Emmai Alaquiva, noted area educator, emceed the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, hosted by the Digital Badge Lab at The Sprout Fund. The program explored digital badges and included opportunities to explore out-of-school learning experiences.



Liz Whitewolf, a robotics educator and project manager at Propel Braddock Hills High School, explains the nuances of digital badges at the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit.



math iQ is using innovative approaches to teach math to kids in grades preK-3, with a focus on kids in low-income areas. It is a project of iQ: smartmedia, the educational initiative of WQED Multimedia.



A recent edcampPGH featured discussions and hands-on sessions for local educators. Here’s the schedule from a recent edCamp, held at Propel Braddock Hills High School. (Norton Gusky photo.)



In a special program aimed at female students, the Elizabeth Forward Middle School girls are working with the Arts and Bots program from the Create Lab at CMU. All sixth and seventh graders learn robotics at EFMS’s Dream Factory.



Dr. Lisa Palmieri from The Ellis School shares ideas with other educators at an edTech PGH meet-up.



Springdale Senior High School 10th graders Matt Kern, left, and Cameron Pribulsky flank Sue Mellon, gifted support coordinator for the Allegheny Valley School District. Sue developed a unique program that combines robotics and poetry, and Matt and Cameron helped produce the prototype.



Seneca Valley High School students recently participated in an engineering/robotics challenge sponsored by Penn State Electro-Optics Center. SV had two air and sea teams and one land team; this is the sea team creation.



LaKiesha George, principal of Propel Hazelwood, stands next to the mobile sculpture created by The Mobile Sculpture Workshop and students from Propel Hazelwood. This beautiful piece of public art was created by teen apprentices who worked with the 12-week Mobile Sculpture Workshop program.



Educators learn to make Squishy Circuits at the recently held Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference. The circuits teach basic electricity to the youngest students.

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