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This Month’s Learning Innovation: Scratch At South Fayette

Scratch. It’s not something you do only when you have an itch, but, in fact, a computer programming language designed for young learners. And this month we focus on one school district that’s embracing Scratch in a big way.

Students in the South Fayette Township School District are learning Scratch from a very young age. “Second graders are learning to be computer scientists and programmers,” explains Aileen Owens, director of technology and innovation for the South Fayette School District.

“We have a computational thinking K-12 strand that we’ve built, and Scratch is a foundation, the scaffolding of learning,” Aileen says. Scratch is a block-based programming language that is easy to learn and manipulate; it came out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

And even though second graders are using Scratch to program math and reading games, Aileen hopes to begin teaching South Fayette kindergarteners Scratch Junior soon. There’s a true comprehensive plan in place: students are programming throughout their entire school career. Third, fourth and fifth graders are learning to program Lego robots and designing E-Textiles, wearable clothes that respond to computer commands; middle schoolers are doing sophisticated coding and designing “apps” for mobile devices.

A CMU professor is designing a class in Python, another computer language, for 7th graders. High schoolers are learning Java and AP courses in programming are offered, too. And there’s more: Afterschool clubs, programming teams, partnerships with area businesses to explore the Apps the students design and possibly even “put their products out to market,” Aileen says.

“We are building a common language in computer programming,” explains Aileen. “We feel that high school is too late to learn and be adjusted to programming, so we begin in the very early ages, where we start teaching computational practices and concepts.”

Why is it important to know computer programming? SFSD Superintendent Dr. Bille Rondinelli explains, “We are helping our students learn skills that will make them competitive in the 21st Century. Digital literacy is as much a part of what we do as reading and writing. We are making sure they have the traditional skills, but they have to be digitally literate as well.”

Intermediate Principal Greg Wensell adds, “South Fayette Intermediate School is a role model for what the school district can be doing with the students. This is a fantastic learning opportunity for the students. We’re putting them in the position to truly problem solve, and to create. These skills will translate well past this building.”

Helping Aileen discover the latest technologies has been Educational Technology Broker Norton Gusky, a consultant to the South Fayette School District. He explains that with help from a grant from the Grable Foundation, SFSD has been partnering with other schools and districts like Fort Cherry and the Manchester Academic Charter School on training for the teachers, purchasing equipment like a 3-D printer and E-Textile supplies, doing outreach, and holding workshops.

“With this collaboration, everyone wins,” Norton says. “We want the kids to be creative producers. We want them to not just be using technology, but actually creating the technology. My role is to listen to the folks, understand what they need and help them figure out how to integrate the computational thinking such as Scratch into their programs – whether during the school day as part of the curriculum or as part of an afterschool program.”

A visit to the beautiful computer labs at South Fayette Intermediate School may certainly help you get the itch to learn Scratch, too.

South Fayette School District

And for more information about Scratch:
Scratch.mit.edu

Local Educator Helping Us Compete For Federal Dollars

Early Childhood programs in Pennsylvania – and Pittsburgh -- may be getting a big boost if Michelle Figlar has a say. Michelle, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association on the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), is sitting on a 20-member blue-ribbon panel tasked by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto with submitting a proposal for a Preschool Development Grant from the Federal Government.

In August, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Pittsburgh; while here Duncan announced that $250 million in federal dollars would be up for grabs among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Pennsylvania can qualify for up to $20 million, but has to get an application in by mid-October. Michelle is helping to write the grant that may ultimately bring a chunk of that $20 million here.

This Pre-School Expansion Grant will be used to create a strategy to serve more four-year-olds in Pennsylvania, explains Michelle. “It’s a great idea, and then Pennsylvania can choose two or more communities” to receive the grant money. Pittsburgh could be one of those beneficiaries, using some of that $20 million “to best meet the needs of children.” If we get some monies, it will be used to increase professional development for teachers, help families gain access to programs that are targeted to four-year-olds, help provide transportation to institutions and achieve high quality programs.

The grants are aimed at helping low to moderate income families, those 200% under the poverty line and giving those families and children access to quality pre-school programs. But it would also free up monies to be used to improve existing early childhood programs – and create new ones.

“It would help four-year-olds in the city of Pittsburgh – that’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Michelle says, who will be heading up the Policy Committee on the Mayor’s panel. “And it will help us with the overall strategic plan for children.”

Arne Duncan’s recent visit made an impression on local teachers and educators. It showed that “our city and new mayor are really committed to young children and families who live in the city,” Michelle says.

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.

Look for new stories, videos and content every month, on WQED-TV, iQ Kids Radio, and on WQED Interactive, and visit our partners at WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh.

Photos



Celebrating the end of another Summer of Learning were visitors to The Sprout Fund’s Pittsburgh Maker Party, held at the Society of Contemporary Craft. (Photo by Ben Filio, courtesy, The Sprout Fund.)



Educators at the South Fayette Summer Learning Institute joined South Fayette Township School District teachers to learn about computational thinking, game design and more. (Photo by Norton Gusky.)



In July, 32 recent high school graduates created “Green Compass” radio features while serving as Heinz Endowments summer interns. The features focused on community issues. SLB Radio provided training and coaching. (Photo courtesy SLB Radio.)



Learning new digital skills with help from mentors from the Remake Learning Digital Corps was this teen.



Getting creative at the recent Second Annual Maker Party, thrown by The Sprout Fund. (Photo by Ben Filio, courtesy, Sprout Fund.)



Heinz Endowments summer interns created radio features on issues ranging from life in public housing to the plight of the honey bee. Training for the “Green Compass” program was provided by SLB Radio. (Photo courtesy, SLB Radio.)



High school students in Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media Program summer camps experienced an “immersion” into filmmaking.



Exploring the heavens were these kids at the Outerspace Maker Party at Assemble.



Propel Schools are the first schools in the Pittsburgh area to use Playworks, an organization dedicated to revamping the concept of recess in schools. Here some teachers learn to “play.”

Spread The News

Do you have a story of learning innovation? A program, teacher or parent who is making a difference? Tell us about it and we’ll share it on our Learning Innovation webpage. Submit stories and videos to learning@wqed.org!

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