Tuesday, November 26, 2013

PAEYC UnConference: Game on! Part 2

Laura recently shared that we were given the opportunity to attend a Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (or PAEYC) UnConference.  Because we are an APOST Quality Campaign member we were able to attend this conference on a scholarship, which was extremely generous. We really enjoyed it. It was a positive learning experience and the discovery of how technology and education can can work hand in hand.

As Laura shared in her post, we spent half the day on campus at Carnegie Mellon University with some insightful speakers and the other part on a bus going on field trips! I am a very tactile learner, so I really absorb information when I am experiencing it first hand. The field trips were a genius idea!

The speaker that stuck out the most to me was Illah Nourbakhsh from CREATE Lab. He touched on things that hit home for us in an afterschool setting. He discussed some of  the difficulties teachers have in the classroom, drawing from his personal experience with his mother, a Montessori teacher. One thing he said that was thought-provoking was:

"The rules at home and the rules at school are different. It makes them (kids) schizophrenic! They have a hard time discerning the difference. It is difficult."

Illah developed a litmus test by which he follows to discern if a new technology is beneficial to children and/or a school. I felt that this little test was very helpful.
1. Is it something that makes them more expressive or helps them to communicate?
2. Does it help the teachers?
3. Is the technology empowering the whole staff or is it restricting?

My first field trip was to CREATE Lab located on the CMU campus. Dror Yaron, the community outreach coordinator at the lab, shared a brief overview of what they do and a few projects that are currently happening or are in the works.  The Children's Innovation Project works on engaging young children in technology and introducing electricity and how things work, for example how an electronic toy works. It was fascinating to see that they are teaching young children about components and circuits and how they work.
Message for Me is another initiative they created which essentially opens a new way for parents to talk with their child about their day at school, along with building other skills in the process.  The child goes to a kiosk placed in their classroom and then can send someone on their list (mom, dad, grandparents, etc.) a message that can be a photo and a verbal message spoken through the microphone via email. The kiosk is transparent so the students can see the wires and how things work and which buttons they are pushing.  They are in the process of converting it to an iPhone/iPad app phase which will be more accessible for some.  Exciting!

The next field trip was to Shaler Elementary Dream Flight Adventures in the IKS Titan. If you can imagine what you thought the magic school bus would've been like to be on as a kid, this is it! I was so tickled about this experience. The IKS Titan is a simulator that is located inside Shaler elementary school, the only one in an elementary school in the country! The Simulator is an interactive learning experience when the students step foot onto the bridge of a space ship and go on various themed adventures where they work together to accomplish different tasks. Each student has a specific job and the ship will not function without the teamwork of the class working together. They solve problems, develop teamwork, critical thinking skills and so much more!

photo courtesy of  the Dream Flight Adventures Blog
I was the gunner, so I was given the task of attacking viruses that were a threat and enemy ships or aliens. I have never had so much fun working together with a group of women I had just met a few hours before. It really did bring us together. Watch the video below to get a small taste of what they do. Also see their blog post of our visit here.

Dreams take flight in IKS Titan learning simulator at Shaler Elementary School from Sprout Fund on Vimeo.

The positive outcome of introducing and actively using technology in the classroom as a tool is a way of progressing into the future. Screen time is not all bad, rather it is how we encourage the students to use it.  Creative people, like at the CREATE Lab, are constantly brainstorming ingenious ways to make our community a better place through technology and robotics. Initiatives like the Dream Flight simulator make our children excited about learning and technology. 

This experience made me very excited for looking into new ways we can introduce more creative ideas with our after school programming and possible partnerships.  We currently are partnering with the Hilltop Computer Center, our 4th and 5th grade boys have special classes every Monday and Wednesday where they are learning really fun and useful skills from two awesome AmeriCorps KEYS members! We are thankful for this partnership and are excited to see how it continues to unfold in the future for our students. I can't wait to share what our students have been learning in these classes in a future blog post.


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