In Pittsburgh, Early Learning Matters

000011352698XSmall-425x282Support for children in early childhood is still a priority in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In fact, the Pittsburgh area has become a center for those who care deeply about supporting learning for very young children and exploring the potential for early learning with technology and digital media.

In Melissa Butler’s kindergarten classroom at Pittsburgh Allegany, an elementary school on the city’s north side, five-year-olds are exploring the idea of technology as raw material.

“As opposed to children just using technology to explore, we want them to be producers of technology,” Butler said, “and create their own circuits and take apart toys and re-appropriate their components for new expression.”

With the help of Jeremy Boyle, Assistant Professor of Art at Clarion University, Bulter’s students have been exploring technology and circuitry to learn about the world around them.

“They [kindergartners] start to understand that everything is made and created and that that’s true of everything around us.” Boyle said.

Bulter and Boyle were among a group of more than 400 educators, technologists, learning scientists, and many others from around the region who gathered last week at Carnegie Mellon University at an event hosted by Pittsburgh’s Kids+Creativity Network.

An umbrella group that includes more than 100 organizations including schools, museums, libraries, afterschool programs, the private sector, and the philanthropic community, Kids+Creativity is leading an effort to strengthen ties in the region. They are emphasizing collaborative, cross-sector approaches to creating new learning opportunities for kids both in and outside of school, with a focus on digital, maker, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has just designated the city a “Hive Learning Network,” part of a community of organizations intended to support tweens and teens, linking young people’s academic achievement, peer social networks, and personal interests so that they can learn “anytime, anywhere.”

In early childhood, a special Kids+Creativity affinity group is collaborating on goal setting, messaging and awareness, and evaluation of impact for the many programs in the region working to advance early learning and development in formal and informal settings.

At a new Early Education STEM Center at Marshall University, educators are working to give very young children age-appropriate experiences with new technologies. Teachers like Brea Wiles, a studio educator at the center, are partnering with local universities and researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, for example, to design and use technology in ways that are appropriate for the early childhood classroom.

The three- and four-year-olds in Wiles’s classroom are using GigaPan technology to examine detailed, high-resolution images of communities across the globe. They are also sharing images of their own projects and communities.

The Rogers Center’s work in defining quality media experiences for young children has included partnerships with key organizations in the Pittsburgh region including the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and the United Way of Allegheny County Literacy Task Force. We’re partnering with PAEYC, for example, to provide resources and guidance in early literacy and digital media literacy for under-resourced parents, family childcare providers, and early childhood educators.

The Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment (Ele),  a web-based support system that also includes on-the-ground professional development and parent awareness, is the focus of much of the Center’s work with other Kids+Creativity organizations.

You can read more about the projects at the Fred Rogers Center, Pittsburgh Allegany, Marshall University, and others working in early childhood at remakelearning.org, a new website and blog designed as a source for ongoing discussions about the learning revolution underway in Pittsburgh and across the country.

We’re so proud to be here in the Pittsburgh region. For more on why, watch the Kids+Creativity Network video:

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