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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

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Melissa Butler: Q&A with a top innovative teacher

Melissa Butler, Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5
Melissa Butler, Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5

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In a classroom on Pittsburgh’s North Side, special things are happening. Kindergarteners are using circuit blocks, taking apart toys, reconfiguring them and learning electricity fundamentals. Through an imaginative project created by Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 kindergarten teacher Melissa Butler and Jeremy Boyle, resident artist at CMU’s CREATE Lab, the students are exploring technology from the inside out – and, in the process, are strengthening their skills in writing, arts, vocabulary, mathematics and social studies. Melissa explains how the Children’s Innovation Project helps youngsters make connections to the world around them.
 
Q: What do you want students to learn?
 
A: We want the students to realize they can construct something in the world and that the world is constructed by other people. And that they can take a piece of technology, look at it and know it’s been created by someone. They can imagine how it’s working inside, and they can think about new things they could express in the world.
 
Q: How did CIP begin?
 
A: When Jeremy Boyle was hired at CMU’s CREATE Labs, he was asked to figure out how to approach technology with young children. We’ve collaborated before. This time, we devised simple circuit blocks to help children understand how their toys were created and how they work. We decided to think about using technology as raw material, almost like clay or paint.
 
Q: Where is the project today?
 
A: We began in 2010 with the kindergarten, but several grades now use CIP. The goal is to become school-wide. We have many partners today, including Carlow University School of Education, ASSET, The Fred Rogers Center and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
 
Picture caption:
Teacher Melissa Butler believes creative inquiry leads to critical inquiry. For information on the children’s innovation project, check out: http://cippgh.org
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