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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
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The Children’s Innovation Project: Building blocks of learning

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This month WQED Multimedia’s Learning Innovation initiative highlights the “Children’s Innovation Project.” This unique educational program began as collaboration between Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 kindergarten teacher Melissa Butler and Jeremy Boyle, a resident artist with CMU’s CREATE Lab. The two wanted to engage young children in broad critical learning with a focus on exploration, expression and innovation with technology.

The project began in Melissa’s kindergarten class in 2010. Melissa and Jeremy created simple components – at first, elementary circuit blocks – that these very young students could use to learn about electricity and circuitry. With these components the children learn to make connections to objects in their own world, by exploring the insides of their toys and common household items like radios, telephones and small computers. In taking both simple and complex technological devices apart and reconfiguring them into something new, they also develop their skills in vocabulary, writing, art, mathematics and social studies.

According to Jeremy,  “We’re very interested in thinking about having an active relationship with technology, rather than just passive.” Adds Melissa: “As a project of the CREATE Lab, we’re interested in technological fluency much beyond technological literacy. We want active engagement, having children understand how technology works and how they can be creators of technology, not just users of it.”

Pilot funding for the project came from SPARK, a program of The Sprout Fund. But the project has really taken off: partners now include Carlow University School of Education, whose graduate students regularly observe and participate; ASSET STEM Education, The Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and others. Children’s Innovation Project is part of the Kids+Creativity network.

“We work with children to think about their habits of learning, and we work with teachers to think about their practices of teaching and learning, and so the project has become a partnership with many people in Pittsburgh who are thinking about what technology means and what learning means,” Melissa explains.

“Children will be likely to become engineers from the work here, but they’re just as likely to become a philosopher, a writer, an artist, anything,” Jeremy adds.

Learn more about the Children’s Innovation Project by emailing here.

Other resources include: Remake Learning, CMU's CREATE Lab and an article in Pop City.
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