This Month’s Learning Innovation: MACS tackles etextiles
They’re sewing. And they’re programming something on the computer. Wait, they’re also discussing circuitry and electricity. These fourth graders at Manchester Academic Charter School in Pittsburgh’s Manchester neighborhood are combining all of these very different activities – and in the process creating T-shirts that seemingly magically light up and make sounds.
What they’re also doing is participating in a STEAM activity – combining elements of science, technology, engineering, arts and math into something that’s easily understandable, and for fourth graders – lots of fun. The students in Lauren Javens’ fourth grade class are working with “etextiles,” fabrics that enable digital components and electronics to be embedded in them – in this case, sewn on with conductive thread. Then, the students can go to their computers, use a simple program and create shirts that light up and even play music.
In the process, they’re learning a multitude of skills – computer programming, the basics of electricity and circuitry, even sewing – and seeing real life applications and imagining the possibilities.
Manchester Academic Charter School is one of three schools that are benefiting from the talents of Melissa Unger, the STEAM consultant for the South Fayette School District. As part of a Grable Foundation grant, Melissa comes to three different schools equipped with all kinds of STEAM activities and teaching computational thinking like Scratch and WeDo Robotics and environmental sustainability. She can be found at South Fayette, Ft. Cherry in southwestern Pennsylvania, and at MACS here in the city, working with the teachers on providing fun – and educational STEAM projects.
“We try to come up with projects that give the students the chance to try out these different disciplines in creative ways, “ Melissa explains.
Here at MACS, Melissa works closely with Lauren and art teacher Anne Batyko. Lauren explains that her students have just completed a unit on “electricity where they learned about simple circuits, parallel circuits and series circuits and also a little bit of computer programming, so this is kind of like a big project that ties it all together.
“They love it,” Lauren continues. “I think the most important thing about projects like this is that it just sparks a lot of interest. Not a lot of fourth graders have experience or have been exposed to computer programming, or using circuitry other than getting a light bulb to connect. So when they see it in real world applications like this it really makes them think, oh, maybe I want to be an electrical engineer when I grow up, maybe this is really a career that I should explore more. So I think that’s the biggest thing with these projects. It really sparks a lot of interest.”
Melissa, who visits three very different schools in her travels as the STEAM consultant, explains that “Etextiles is a project designed to teach computational thinking, circuitry, a little bit of programming for the students and gives them the opportunity to design shirts that light up and are programming in the way they want them to be.
“We use t-shirts because they allow the students to use their creativity and practice circuitry, which they’re already learning, then have a wearable object at the end of the unit that they can actually show off their programming skills with.”
Melissa explains that the schools she visits share a similar vision. MACS is an urban school, Fort Cherry School District is a rural district near McDonald, and South Fayette is suburban, but all “the students and teachers share the same enthusiasm and passion for STEAM learning.”
The fourth graders at MACS love the project. “I think it’s really important to start in the fourth grade,” says Lauren. “They’re nine and ten, they haven’t ruled out any careers right now, they’re still very much interested in everything. They are still very much sponges where they pick everything up. So when they see what we’re doing in class and read about it and use hands-on materials and then get to connect it to make a project like this, it just sparks so much more interest. It makes the learning authentic.”
And this really takes learning to a new level. “It gives our students the opportunity to learn about computers and computer programming; it’s also really great for girls especially to get them more involved in programming and design elements,” Melissa sums up.
“This is going to help the students in the future because they’re already being exposed to computer programming concepts and design concepts that they can then use later on in their education.”
Hundreds Gather For Maker Party
Kids across Pittsburgh have been spending their summer learning through many new and exciting programs at area schools, cultural institutions, educational organizations and more. They recently celebrated their “summer of learning” at the Second Annual Pittsburgh Maker Party, held at the Society of Contemporary Craft in the Strip District.
A few hundred kids and their parents joined educators from Hive Pittsburgh, the Kids+Creativity Network, the Warhol Museum, TechShop, MAKESHOP and Sprout Fund staff at the party, which featured hands-on activities, food and music and learning stations where attendees checked out programs and projects from the Digital Corps, Pittsburgh City of Learning and Hive Pittsburgh.
Among the events: making seed bombs with Gardweeno; blasting away with marshmallow launchers built with inventors from TechShop, creating mini-videos with Steeltown Entertainment staff, and learning the science behind screen printing with educators from The Warhol Museum.
This was the culminating activity of the Pgh City of Learning Summer Campaign, highlighting how important (and fun) summer learning and engagement is for youth before they head back to school in the fall. It also highlighted opportunities to bridge the arts and technology through programs that appeal to, and address the needs of, youngsters.
Media Partnership Focuses on Learning Innovation
WQED Multimedia and our media partners, 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh have been focusing on Learning Innovation for the past months, and have put the media spotlight on everything from innovations in Early Childhood learning to computer science, STEAM and robotics.
The four media outlets, TV, radio, magazine and online magazine, are working together to focus on Pittsburgh leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.
Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, Learning Innovation focuses on the Pittsburgh region's need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.
The Remake Learning Digital Corps have been busy connecting digital learning experts with afterschool program providers. These youngsters in Homestead are increasing their digital literacy.
Checking out a possible shot is this student in Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program’s summer Directors’ Workshop.
A student discusses his film storyboard with Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program Director Susan Howard, standing.
Students from Clairton and the Wilkinsburg afterschool group, FUSE, have been participating in Hear Me 101, workshops that develop writing, technical communication and media literacy skills. Students create short documentaries that explore issues of importance to them. Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program provides help with much of the project.
Youth from Homewood explore the digital world with help from mentors from the Remake Learning Digital Corps.
Hundreds of educators attended FlipCon 14 in Mars. Here Aaron Sams, one of the leaders in the Flipped Learning Movement, shares his thoughts. Norton Gusky photo.
Young learners enjoy time on computers at one of assemble’s summer camps.
Making things the old fashioned way at an assemble summer camp.
“Making” is going to be a big part of the curriculum from K-12 at Avonworth Schools. Here teachers are learning how to include making and design into their classes.
Avonworth Schools have been working with the Children’s Museum MAKESHOP on integrating making into all areas of school curriculum. They received help in a brainstorming session from Maya for Human-Centered Design staff.
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