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Pittsburgh schools take students on wild rides through science, teach video game design

Students today are hungry for a challenging learning environment that not only engages them, but also prepares them for the 21st century workplace. So what does this look like?

Two high schools in the Pittsburgh region are embracing innovative educational models that teach STEAM skills in creative ways. One is a classroom that looks more like a place you might find at Epcot in Disney World; the other is an academy for future video game designers.

At Shaler High School, students are stepping into an immersive, virtual world called Dream Flight Adventures where they embark on their own missions that take them into the scientific realms of outer space, human body or deep sea.

Before the day of the mission, teachers prep the students. When the day arrives, the excited class takes its spot in a room that is designed as a command center, and moderated by an administrator who serves as flight director. The students manipulate the mission on iPads and follow the journey on a wide screen at the front of the room.

“When kids walk in, many think it will be like a video game, with scripted outcomes, says Gary Gardiner, CEO and creator.  “They quickly realize this is more of a real life experience. There is a lot of screaming and yelling.”

“Once the kids come in here, they are no longer are fifth graders, they are engineers, and hackers and physicists,” adds Michael Penn, GATE teacher and flight director. “They own these jobs. Time stops for them; they are so reluctant to leave.”
Dream Flight Adventure hopes to expand to other area school districts, says Gardiner, who is also manager of education and entertainment initiatives at Idea Foundry.

At Elizabeth Forward High School, Zulama’s Gaming Academy offers students a high school level curriculum based on course work offered at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). The academy teaches STEAM skills through classes on game design, 3D modeling and modern storytelling.
 
In its second year, the program has grown from 30 to 190 students.
 
“It’s changing the way teachers are teaching,” says Nikki Navta, founder and CEO. “It gives students practice for jobs that exist in the real world.”
 
Zulama addresses soft learning skills including working in teams, learning to communicating and collaborating effectively. It’s not about just math, science, art and history, says Navta. It gives students a tangible portfolio of work.
 
“The collaboration and the creation that students get to do is far more intrinsically motivating than any other course that I’ve seen offered in my mere 10 years of education,” says Heather Hibner, a teacher at Elizabeth Forward.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Zulama and Dream Flight Adventures
 
 
 
 

PAEYC's Unconference invites education innovators and app developers to a playgroup

Staying ahead of the early education learning curve is a challenge In a world where young children grow up knowing how operate cell phones before they can talk.
 
PAEYC (Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children) is addressing this with a unique two-day event, “UnConference 2013: Game On!” on Nov. 15 and 16, a play group for educators and technologists who will work together to create cool, cutting-edge learning tools. The hack-a-thon will be held at Google Pittsburgh while the UnConference will be held at CMU in Rashid Auditorium.

The event is open to early childhood professionals, K-4 teachers, art and music teachers, basically anyone looking for a creative jumpstart to meeting young students where they are today.
 
PAEYC has tapped 21 app developers who will be turning ideas from teachers into really great educational mobile apps. More than 200 yearly childhood educators will participate in the event and field trips.
 
“Our goal is to create a diverse community of learners and early childhood educators, technologists and innovators who share a common desire for quality early childhood experiences,” says Cara Ciminillo operations director of PAEYC. 
 
“We want early childhood educators to see themselves as a really important part in the maker movement; they are the first ones to create an environment for children to imagine, explore, and innovate,” she adds.

The unconference includes field trips to several highly innovative learning spaces: MakeShop, CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, MAYA Design, Google Pittsburgh and Tech Shop. Illah Nourbakhsh, director of Create Lab at CMU, is a keynote speaker and Bill Isler of Fred Rogers Company will participate.
 
The event is supported in part by the Spark Fund for Early Learning at The Sprout Fund. Registration is required.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Cara Ciminillo, PAEYC

MakerSwarm, MAYA Design's life-changing, revolutionary do-it-yourself app creation tool

The Internet of Everything is a deceivingly simple yet revolutionary concept that suggests that everyday gadgets—doorknobs, light switches, ovens—can be controlled or manipulated by us through the internet.
 
Imagine a world where everything is embedded with a radio frequency identification tag (RFID) tag. Many everyday products—like cars and retail products—already are. What if you could take these things, create your own app and control everything from your mobile phone?
 
For example, turn on the coffee maker in the morning? Open your garage door?
 
Always looking to the future, MAYA Design has tapped this concept with a product it’s calling MakerSwarm, a software kit that will allow everyone to cobble themselves some cool apps without ever writing a single line of code.
 
While still in development, MakerSwarm promises to unlock the power of trillions of connected devices, revolutionizing home security, our very way of life, say its makers. Think smarter buildings, smarter energy grids and smarter human networks.
 
MakerSwarm started out as a project for DARPA, the government agency that drove the creation of the internet and driverless cars. Seeing the potential, MAYA wanted to create something with a consumer orientation, says Stuart Roth, senior software engineer.
 
Say you want your garage door opener to turn on your house lights every time you pull in the driveway, explains Matthew Casebeer, senior software engineer and game designer. With MakerSwarm, you physically draw a line on your tablet with your finger, connecting a picture of the garage door opener to one of the light switch.
 
Voila, a mobile app! A do-it-yourself smart-house in a package. The possibilities are endless, the team says.
 
“Think of asset tracking,” says Casebeer. “Businesses and hospitals know how much they have of important stock at all times and supplies are reordered automatically. Doctors remotely monitor patient health automatically. The list goes on.”
 
“We’re not creating this with a specific idea of how it will be used,” adds Roth. “Our hope is people will begin telling us ways to use it, which will generate more ideas.”
 
To further facilitate the research, the MAYA team launched a Kickstarter this month to raise money to complete alpha and beta testing. The team is also working with Pittsburgh high school students who are testing the early versions in preparation for the full-scale product, which is about six months away.
 
“MakerSwarm is lowering the entry point to creating your own app,” says Yu-Ling Behr, MakerSwarm community manager. “I’m the least techy person ever, yet I can connect things without knowing one line of programming.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: MAYA Design

A robotic stroller that charges your cell phone? Pittsburgh's 4moms rolls out latest baby gear

The wait is over.
 
Pittsburgh-based 4moms unveiled three new robotic baby gear products Tuesday night: the rockaRoo, a new infant swing seat; the Origami mini, a power-folding stroller with cell phone charger; and a car seat that runs its own safety check.
 
The announcement came after weeks of tantalizing rumors and posts on the 4moms Facebook and Twitter sites, a strategy that kept more than 5000 followers guessing what the next products might be.  
 
The rockaRoo is a streamlined version of the bulky infant swing of old, says Rob Daley, CEO. The point is why swing when you can rock?  It features five speeds, an mp3 hookup and reversible toy balls.The portable swing will be the first product off the assembly line and on the shelf, shipping in December 2013.
 
The Origami mini rivals the prehistoric umbrella stroller, weighing in at less than 16 pounds, with one main difference—it power folds and opens. The mini has many of the same features as the bigger Origami with daytime running lights, LCD display and a cell phone charger, says Daley.
 
Finally, the 4moms car seat takes the simple process of clicking the baby carrier into the base to the next level. Each time the seat carrier (with baby) is fitted into the strapped down base, it runs a safety check on an LED side panel. Additional features include a no re-thread harness, side impact protection bolsters and harness buckle side pockets installation.

Seventy-three percent of all car seats are installed incorrectly, a dangerous situation, says Daley. This car seat addresses the problem.  The seat will be available in 2014.

The presentation was made at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas. Wanna see it all for yourself? Watch the videos.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rob Daley, 4moms


Luke Skurman takes College Prowler to the next level with Niche, K-12 school rankings

Helping students pick the right colleges for themselves has been College Prowler’s sweet spot for 11 years running. So where does the successful Shadyside startup, one of the largest college content websites in the country, go from here?
 
Founder and CEO Luke Skurman has launched a new company and brand called Niche, a site that provides the same trusted in-depth reviews and analyses that has made College Prowler successful, but with expansive content for public and private schools across the U.S., kindergarten to 12th grade.
 
“It was time to think about a bigger vision and brand,” says Skurman, always the forward-thinking entrepreneur. “We’re very pleased with how far we’ve come. We want people to continue making great life decisions.”
 
Niche has amassed 400,000 user-generated reviews and has graded 80,000 public and private K-12 schools since its launch four months ago. More districts will be added with 120,000 public and private schools as the ultimate goal.
 
Families on the move--or merely interested in how their school district stacks up--will find information on popular high school classes, racial diversity, where students go to college, graduation rates and student-written reviews.
 
Many of the same students and parents who had generated reviews for College Prowler participated in the school district surveys, says Skurman. In addition to user-generated reviews, Niche draws on government databases and school administration surveys. 
 
The K-12 school letter rankings—A, B, C, and D—are calculated by comparing a school’s assessment scores on state assessment tests with other schools in their state. 
 
The point is not to become an advocacy group, but to report impartial data, Skurman says. “We want to keep tackling big life decisions…providing as much transparency, insight and clarity on the educational system as possible.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Luke Skurman, Niche

Feministing author and blogger Courtney Martin speaks at a free forum at Ellis on Sept. 25th

 
Courtney Martin is a fresh voice for the reinvention of feminism. Join her for a not-to-miss talk at The Ellis School when she addresses how advocacy and engagement can help girls find their own voices and pursue their dreams.
 
An author, journalist and blogger, Martin was raised by feminist parents in the age of Anita Hill and “Free to Be.”  “It was a beautiful, horrible time,” she told a TEDx audience this year, fraught with confusing paradoxes.
 
“I often say that we were told we could be anything and we heard we had to be everything,” Martin told Pop City this week. “The mistranslation was in the modeling—our mothers are the most dynamic, powerful women we know, but they are also the most exhausted and self-sacrificing, sometimes even self-loathing.
 
“I think young women today are trying to continue the great legacy of expanded success that our mothers have created, but figure out how to integrate more wellness, more joy, less guilt. Not an easy task,” she adds.
 
Martin is the author of two books, "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" and "Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,and an unflinching and articulate social commentator, from her condemnation of beauty pageants to her encouragement of less-than-perfect mothers.
 
“If you don't want your daughter to grow up with a toxic definition of success based on perfection, achievement for its own sake, and appearance, then you have to model an alternative in your own lives, your own conversations, your own family practices and culture,” she says. “Do as I say, not as I do doesn't work.” 
 
Come hear her for yourself. Martin will be at The Ellis School on Sept. 25th beginning at 6:30 p.m. While the talk is free, reservations are required. 
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Courtney Martin

Living the life of a Pittsburgh child is one Wonderaddo day after another

Want to travel the world with your family on a small budget?
 
Wonderaddo is a new website that highlights global opportunities and activities for children right in our own backyard.
 
The site was created by Mandy Yokim, a native of Virginia and graduate of both University of Virginia and Duquesne. Yokim describes herself as a geekie mom who prefers to take her children places where they can learn more about diverse cultures and global issues. 
 
“Parents are so busy these days, they need a resource that spells it all out for them,” she says.
 
Wonderaddo, as the name suggests—addo means inspire in Latin—aims to instill a sense of wonder about the world through opportunities and events, whether its a trip to the World Launch Event at Pittsburgh Public Market or the Ukranian Festival in McKees Rocks.
 
The website is visually appealing, clean and easy to use. The calendar offers  events at a glance being held throughout the year. Specific topics are organized on tabs. A map of the world encourages parents and children to make the connection from a geographic perspective.
 
Yokim’s colleague and mom-friend Cassie Brkich of Brkich Design designed the site.
 
The easiest way to engage a child’s interest is by presenting opportunities that already interest them, be it languages, music or art, says Yokim. Pittsburgh is so diverse, that makes it easy.
 
“It’s a great visual representation of how Pittsburgh is connecting people and places all over the world,” she says.
 
Going forward, Yokim plans to collaborate with groups like Global Pittsburgh and the World Affairs Council to spread the world about the diverse cultural opportunities here.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Mandy Yokim, Wonderaddo

Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire, a carnival of kid-friendly innovation and mind-bending robotics

The Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire, a family-friendly carnival of spectacular innovation, brings its impressive mix of new crafts and old world technologies to the North Side this weekend.
 
There’s even some high-tech mind reading art to make.
 
More than 65 regional makers will be on hand on Sunday, Aug. 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square by the Children’s Museum.
 
Displays and hands-on activities abound, spanning the gamut from 3D technology to robotic exhibits, Indie crafts, power wheel car races, floating origami, SparkTruck and LED wearables.
 
The Girls of Steel Robotics Team, a winning high school science team, will demo their Frisbee shooting, pyramid-climbing robot Eve.
 
It’s not your every day walk in the park, to say the least.
 
Pittsburgh startup Beyond Theory Robotics is one example of just how high the bar is set at this third annual Faire. Shane Adams and Chase Dudley, co-founders, are offering a hands-on experience of the raw power of the human mind.
 
Beyond Theory is developing a robotic prosthesis for arms and hands that is controlled by human thought. Seeing it is believing it, they say. Those on hand will witness their brainwaves in action as signals are transmitted to a smartphone where they will create an abstract work of art.  
 
“People will really enjoy having a piece of artwork derived from their brain waves,” says Adams.
 
The startup plans to enroll in AlphaLab Gear this year, Innovation Works’ new hardware accelerator.
 
“We hope to be inspirational to other makers in the community. Children don’t always get this kind of exposure in their schools,” Adams adds.
 
The Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire is a collaboration of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and HackPittsburgh and primary event sponsor MAKE magazine.
 
The day is made possible with the support of The Spark Fund, The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, Pepsi, Agora Cyber Charter School and pairNetworks.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire; Beyond Robotics

Digital Dream Labs, the next Nintendo for educational gameplay?

Educational games should be fun as well as instructive, which is what Digital Dream Labs is all about.
 
Founded by an ambitious trio, all grads of Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, the team got its start in the museum space with an interactive table installed at the Children’s Museums of Pittsburgh and Houston. The startup is currently in Innovation Works' Alpha Lab. 
 
“Our initial goal was to build a game that would be, one day, the Nintendo of museum gaming,” says Matt Stewart, co founder of the company. He is joined by Justin Sabo and Peter Kinney.
 
The team is in the throes of creating a consumer version of its museum game. To move it along, they have launched a Pilot Program for Pittsburgh, giving local kids, ages four to 12, a chance to offer feedback and purchase it at a discounted price.
 
The game is expected to go on sale for $100. Beta testers will pay $80. In return for  play testing, beta players will get their name in the game credits and receive a free retail upgrade when the product goes on the market.
 
The toy-to-tablet educational platform calls on players to use logic, sequencing, teamwork and fine-motor skills to master the puzzle through digital action. The skills learned are the basis for computational thinking, says Sabo.
 
The game, tentatively named “Cork the Volcano,” is played as an add-on to an iPad or Mac. The hardware includes a block tray and puzzle pieces. As children play, they learn to write simple programs with the puzzle pieces as they solve logic puzzles. The ultimate goal is to save the island; timing is key.
 
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to bridge tech and education in a meaningful way,” says Sabo. “It will definitely change how people look at educational games for children.”
 
The plan is to build momentum and make a big splash at Toy Fair 2014.
 
Watch it in action!
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Stewart, Justin Sabo, Digital Dream Labs

Image courtesy of Digital Dream Labs. From From left to right: Justin Sabo, Corinne Charlton, Matt Stewart and Peter Kinney. 
 

BirdBrain Technologies, cool kits that make robotics learning fun

School projects today certainly aren’t what they used to be. They are way more exciting.

With do-it-yourself robotic technology from BirdBrain Technologies, a CMU spinout, it won’t be long until the stationary diorama is transformed into an action-packed drama.
 
Founder Tom Lauwers is creating kits with all the electronics one needs to build a robot and become an aspiring roboticist. It will take high school projects to the next level.

Originally from San Francisco, Lauwers has spent the last five years working on his doctorate in product design at CMU’s CREATE Lab, tinkering with robot kits and electronics. His goal is to create educationally relevant tools that get high school and college students excited about the world of robotics.
 
His first product, Finch, was a stingray-shaped robot that detects orientation and entertains students while teaching them the finer points of interactive programming. It is currently being used as part of high school science curriculums.
 
The Hummingbird kit is low-cost hardware and software system that allows students to build expressive and communicative robots out of arts and crafts materials. Lauwers points to a project on the table, made from not much more than circuitry and wiring, a few cardboard boxes, foam board and construction paper.
 
“It’s intentionally made not like a toy so people feel empowered to mess with electronics,” he explains “It’s not magical or hard. Once you have something anyone can buy, people will use it in ways you don’t expect.”
 
BirdBrain is manufacturing the kits in China. Many are already being used in public and private schools.
 
The company is one of many up for an award at the 2013 DATA Awards on Thursday night, May 16th, on the North Side. General admission tickets for $25 are available starting at 7 p.m.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Lauwers, BirdBrain Technologies

iTwixie. Empowering young women to hold companies accountable

When Rebecca Gaynier launched iTwixie, the mother of three girls hoped to create an online space where girls could confidently and honestly express themselves—and send a message to companies who cater to tween-age girls.

The social media partnership is taking off. Now in its fourth year, iTwixie has established itself as a positive voice in social media for young girls, ages 7-12. The firm recently relaunched its website, which is attracting10,000 unique views a month.  Substantial growth in the next three years is projected, says Gaynier.

For the AlphaLab startup company, the measure of success is about engaging young girls who come to the colorful website and stay for a solid period, long enough to post comments and vote on pressing issues of the day. On average, girls spend at least 10 minutes on iTwixie, which may not sound like much but is actually a lifetime for girls this age.

“It’s a new era for clients in this marketplace,” Gaynier explains. “Kids today are looking at three screens at the same time. We’re getting comments and feedback, which shows they are captivated. That’s what we’re really looking for.”

The power of the iTwixie platform is the candid feedback that young girls offer to companies and services that want to know what they’re thinking. Many of the products out there for tween girls really stink, says Gaynier. As a business, we’re empowering girls to send a message to companies that says this is what we want.

For example, when Abercrombie began selling pushup bikini bras targeted for seven-year-olds, iTwixie girls expressed their disapproval. When asked what kind of bathing they prefer to wear, they confirmed they preferred bathing suits that stay on in the pool and are brightly colored to one that makes them look like a teenager.

“It’s not what girls want,” says Gaynier.

Companies engage iTwixie because they want to send young girls a message and hear back from them. Robert Morris, for example, recently hired iTwixie to organize a series that would send a message that RMU is a magnet school for girls empowerment.

We only work with organizations, businesses or brands who share our mission to empower girls, says Gaynier. Actually, there's quite a few out there.

“There’s a payoff in this,” she says.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rebecca Gaynier, iTwixie

The Motherhood revisited. Tapping the power of mommy bloggers as social media influencers

Since its inception as a website in 2006, The Motherhood has celebrated the power of women to change the world and make it a better place for children.
 
This week the award-winning mega-blog for mothers, based in Aspinwall, launched a new website that has cemented its position as a for-profit social media marketing company. 
 
With a completely new website, and an assist from Pittsburgh-based Fireman Creative and University of Pittsburgh’s Instutute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE), The Motherhood hopes to achieve what few in the marketing business have done successfully to date: harness the power of social media influencers, in this case mommy bloggers, to promote national brands.
 
The Motherhood was founded by longtime friends Cooper Munroe of Fox Chapel and Emily McKhann of New York City. They created the site in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helping to bring a virtual community of mothers together who were united in their desire to assist families hit hardest by the storm.  
 
“The power of women drove the entire thing,” Munroe told Pop City in 2009. “We saw the power of the web for good and how, by doing our little bit with the website, we were able to make a difference.”
 
Savvy marketing women— they met each other in 1988 working for a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.—they had a long range plan from the start: to nurture a community of woman who would become the social media influencers in their future marketing business.
 
That day has come.
 
“It has been a wonderful journey,” says Munroe. “We work with organizations (and corporations) that really want to reach moms who are social media influencers with a deep and loyal readership. The word of mouth impact is unparalleled, women talking to women about what they care about.”
 
As a marketing company, The Motherhood organizes social campaigns and strategies for companies, promoting everything from the health and welfare of Sub-Saharan mothers to good hygiene, healthy pets and family fun.
 
For example, there’s the Listerine 21-Day Challenge to improve oral health. Merck for Mothers addresses maternal mortality rates in Uganda. The Hershey Camp Bondfire promotes s’mores in the summer.
 
The Motherhood connects the campaigns through thousands of blogger followers who push the stories out on their own blogs. Some of the bloggers, not all, are paid by The Motherhood for their service.
 
Their reach is tantalizing. The Motherhood has more than 14,000 followers--6,000 followers on Facebook alone--a core network of 3000 mommy bloggers and another 10,000 potential bloggers across the country. The company counts many Fortune 500 companies among its clients: Johnson&Johnson, Bayer, Verizon, ConAgra Foods, Frito Lay to name a few.
 
“The most exciting thing is how people in Pittsburgh came together and are reshaping the advertising industry,” says Paul Fireman. “Through the magic of the community they've built, they only need to grab the ticket and take the bus.”
 
“It's not a mommy blog. It’s a whole new marketing channel, a sophisticated business that connects influencers to brands,” adds Bob Stein with Pitt’s IEE. 
 
There may be a question, for some, of corporate accountability. Do social media marketing companies like The Motherhood have a responsibility to ensure that companies are as altruistic as their campaigns claim?
 
Munroe and McKhann believe that is not their role. As a marketing firm, they create, package and deliver information on the campaigns and programs to bloggers who, in turn, spin it into prose on their own websites.

"We believe in the campaigns we work on and the clients projects we bring to bloggers. We take on campaigns that raise all boats," Munroe says.  
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Cooper Munroe and Emily McKhann, The Motherhood; Paul Fireman, Fireman Creative; Bob Stein, University of Pittsburgh
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Do you know what your 7-year old is downloading? Be AppCertain

Kids today. Give them a digital device and they will have it mastered by the age of two.
 
Pittsburgh startup AppCertain wants to help by providing parents with a platform that gives them the tools to stay abreast of their children’s digital prowess. Anytime a child downloads an app to their iOS device, AppCertain sends them an email with detailed information on the potential security risk and educational value of the download.
 
The company is the first to be selected by Birchmere Labs as a studio project, a new investment model for the region. Developed by Birchmere Ventures and partner Sean Ammirati, Birchmere Labs offers seed investments to early stage startups; the most promising among them are then selected as studio projects.
 
Unlike an accelerator or incubator, of which there are many in the region, Birchmere Labs is about taking the seed of an idea and spinning it out as a company. The designation comes with an undisclosed amount of funding and further mentoring from Birchmere’s experienced entrepreneurs, says Ammirati.
 
“Birchmere really helped me run with my idea,” says Spencer Whitman, co-founder and CEO of AppCertain. “We’re at the point now of slowly leaving the Birchmere nest, learning how to operate and stand on our own two feet.”
 
Whitman began developing AppCertain during his years at CMU where he was both an undergrad and grad student working at CyLab. When it comes to reviewing apps, restrictions, ratings and reviews aren’t working for parents, he says.
 
Parents need an easy way to monitor their children’s activity and teach them to be responsible digital citizens without having to take their device away or engage in constant confrontation.
 
The platform, which targets children between the ages of seven and 17, provides information on an app’s security risk and content value. Is an app, for example, capable of accessing sensitive information, like data or photos? How educational or violent is the content?
 
The idea is to give kids the freedom to make their own decisions while giving parents the ability to make sure their decisions are sound, he says.
 
AppCertain, currently in beta, is a free download, but hopes to be an app someday. It currently works only with iOS products--iPhone, iPod, iTouch and iPads--with plans to expand into the Android market.
 
The company has three full-time and four part-time employees and works out of Birchmere Ventures in the South Side.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Sean Ammirati, Spencer Whitman, Birchmere Ventures
 
From left to right: Jim Newsome, Spencer Whitman, and Megan Gilligan.  Not pictured: Sean Ammirati, Lara Schenck, Karmyn Guthrie, and Cyrus Collier, courtesy of Birchmere Ventures

Hear the fastest talking nonprofits in town at Pittsburgh's Social Innovation Fast Pitch

Social Ventures Partners' fast pitch is back, the fast-talking competition that pits some of the most innovative, smaller nonprofits in the region against each other for funding, prizes and visibility.
 
The good news is everyone wins.
 
Borrowing from the venture capitalist “elevator pitch,” the Social Innovation Fast Pitch is a two month program. SVP selects a dozen of some of the most promising philanthropic ideas and social entrepreneurs and gives them an opportunity to work with local leaders to fine-tune and hone their presentation skills into a three-minute pitch.
 
Yours truly is a coach this year, working with a small team to assist Bob Bechtold of the Sarah Heinz House with his pitch for Design House, an after-school program for middle school students that teaches STEM skills to kids when they’re not looking. Through the program, the students are developing the architectural plans for a new bathhouse that will actually be built at their summer camp.
 
“It’s a big hit with the kids,” Bechtold says. “It’s giving the kids a stake in their camp and a sense of belonging and contribution.” 
 
Design House will face some stiff competition at the final competition against other equally deserving programs: Strong Women, Strong Girls; Beverly’s Birthdays; Go! A Vehicle of Change; meetPGH; The Saxifrage School; Miracle League of South Hills; Camp COPES; Sustainable Solutions, Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center; and Quest for Wellness and Recovery Employment Project.
 
"Fast Pitch successfully teaches nonprofit leaders how to develop clear and concise messages to more effectively communicate,” says Elizabeth Visnic, director of social venture partners. ”The skills they gain not only help them to learn how to message their program, they gain immeasurable community support and have an opportunity to win unrestricted funding and prizes."
 
The Social Innovation Fast Pitch Finals will be held at the Fairmont Hotel on March 6th from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Pop City will bestow a capacity prize at the event, with publisher and editor Tracy Certo serving as a judge. 
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Elizabeth Visnic, SVP
 
Image: Chuck Webb, Shepherd's Heart Veteran's Home, 2012 winner

WQED and Saturday Light Brigade bring unique children's radio service to the airwaves

A new children’s radio service, developed in Pittsburgh, is bringing the timeless charm of radio to children and their families along with the latest in educational programming.
 
iQ Kids Radio is a collaboration of WQED and SLB Radio Productions, a family-friendly, commercial-free service that mixes education and entertainment for listeners for 24-hours each Saturday.    
 
The concept is unique, leveraging the assets of PBS to provide trusted radio programming and the authentic voices of children, explains Larry Berger, executive director of SLB Radio, producer of the long-running Saturday Light Brigade.
 
The service is an expansion of the popular Saturday morning show. The programs were carefully developed, researched and vetted in terms of educational standards, he adds.

Programming features youth-created music, storytelling and news/commentary. Kids will learn during the day, boogie down with DJ Daddy Dance Party in the late afternoon and fall asleep at night to bedtime stories.
 
Soothing classical music plays through the night into the early morning hours.
 
"Kids and families need an alternative to what is currently available on the radio," says Berger.  “We’re really looking to present authentic children’s voices in a way nobody has.”
 
The voices of the children is a unique aspect of the program. SLB works with thousands of children a year to record their original stories, says Jennifer Stancil, executive director of educational partnerships for WQED and co-director of the service.
 
“I think kids radio represents what public media can and should be doing to encourage kids to listen imaginatively,” she says. “Commercial-free radio (for children) isn’t a niche but a roaring highway that not many are filling.”
 
iQ Kids Radio airs between midnight Friday and midnight Saturdays. Listeners can tune in by visiting the website or streaming through the free TuneIn Radio app for smartphones and tablets.
 
The service will be free during the pilot phase of the project. It was made possible through seed funding from Junior League of Pittsburgh, a founding partner, with additional support from The Grable Foundation the James McCandless Charitable Trust.
 
Feedback is welcome through wehearyouiqkidsradio.org
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Larry Berger, SLB, Jennifer Stancil, WQED
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