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Lily&Strum website can predict the perfect gift

Some people are natural-born gift givers. But for the rest of us, there's Lily&Strum, a new website from a Pittsburgh-based startup. 

Visitors to the site can log on for free via Facebook and swiftly find the perfect gift by answering a few simple questions. The site works with visitors to deliver a variety of gift options based upon the occasion and the personal preferences of the gift recipient. Lily&Strum Director of Curation Lauren Urbschat said that every item suggested for purchase has been personally selected by one of the company's curators who comb the web looking for and categorizing unique and interesting items so that you don't have to search the endless Amazon rabbit hole on your own. The site provides recommendations to various online retailers so that all gifts can be purchased at the click of a button.

Despite her various discoveries while curating, Urbschat said she has managed to avoid amassing tons of cool stuff. Instead she passes on her one-of-a-kind finds to grateful friends and family members. 

Lily&Strum functions kind of like the popular music personalization site Pandora, but Urbschat said it was difficult to fine-tune the company's recommendations to make them most useful. After all, how does one categorize a hat or a book about gardening? "We did an event where we brought people together and had them shop with us so we could understand their thought process," Urbschat said, adding that the company is always working to fine-tune its suggestions.

So, whether you're struggling to come up with the perfect gift for an office mate for secret Santa or if you just don't know what questions to ask when shopping for your sister, Lily&Strum can at least point you in the right direction. What you do with their suggestions is up to you.

Can you breathe? Website explores city air pollution

Pittsburgh is known for many things, but its great air quality isn't one of them, according to Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Professor Illah Nourbakhsh, who worked to enable the Pittsburgh Breathe Cam website.

The website allows visitors to observe the air quality in real time from various locations and also read data about it. Nourbakhsh hopes that with information and photographs of the region's air quality, Pittsburghers will put pressure on government officials to enforce and strengthen local regulations surrounding air quality.

"The site came along because we really wanted people to start to have a community discussion around air pollution," he said, adding that 91 percent of cities are cleaner than Pittsburgh. "Other cities that were as dirty as us 20 years ago are cleaner than us now."
 
The site offers views of the air from cameras perched high in the Mon Valley, Oakland, the North Shore and Downtown. Visitors can scan full days of both beautiful and concerning footage, showcasing sunrises over the rivers and also the clouds of pollution that often accompany them.

"We are used to this idea of industry putting out air pollution but we don’t think about the overall public health impact this air pollution causes," Nourbakhsh said, adding that around one-quarter of all emergency room visits in Pittsburgh were related to breathing problems.

The Breathe Cam was developed by Carnegie Mellon's Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE LAB), which explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies. The website allows visitors to match visual conditions with hourly reports of fine particulate matter, ozone and other pollutant levels recorded by Allegheny County Health Department air monitoring stations. Nourbakhsh said he hopes visitors will share their findings on Facebook and be moved to contact the county health department if they see and experience clouds of pollution or strange smells in their neighborhoods.

"It’s really about regulation -- we still have coke plants that have several hundred days of violation per year and our fines are really low so it’s cheaper for them to keep polluting than to clean up," Nourbakhsh said. "As if that’s not bad enough, there is a school in the North Shore that has the worst rate of asthma in the entire state." He said there was no part of Pittsburgh that was untouched by air pollution, though the air is cleaner at higher altitudes.

"The wind directions change all the time here so we need to clean up everything for all Pittsburghers," Nourbakhsh said.

Let Spliddit figure out your tab

Hoping to make battles over bills a thing of the past, Carnegie Mellon computer scientists have developed Spliddit, a new website that promises "provably fair" methods of dividing checks, bills and goods.

Spliddit takes into account a range of factors depending on what's being split. The site even has a section dedicated to sharing credit on intellectual property, to ensure everyone feels good about contributions and attributions in group projects.

When it comes to sharing rent, the website is able to suggest who should occupy which room based upon data provided by potential occupants. Roommates can rate each room based upon individual preferences including size of the room, closet space, number of windows, and then estimate how much each room is worth to them. The algorithm then recommends who should occupy which room and how much each person should pay.

It may sound like magic, but according to Ariel Procaccia, an assistant professor of computer science who leads the Spliddit project, people in the fields of math, economics and computer science have been using complicated algorithms to divide goods fairly for years. Now, average people without high-level math skills can have access to these tools. 

"When we say that we guarantee a fairness property, we are stating a mathematical fact," reads the site's lofty About section. "Formulating fairness in mathematical terms is the beauty of the scientific field of fair division," according to the website.

Any child with a sibling can attest to the beauty of fairness.

Spliddit is a non-profit currently in its beta phase and hopes to deliver results so fair that fighting among children might even be eliminated. But, according to the site, while envy-free splitting is the desired goal, it cannot ever be 100 percent guaranteed.

Touch your data with Kinetica

The Internet has allowed us instant access to more data than we ever imagined. Wikipedia is getting fatter and fatter everyday! However, as information proliferates, the question of how to organize it becomes more pressing. In the past, simple spreadsheets would suffice, but a new company in Pittsburgh wants to tap into the tactile nature of devices like tablets and smartphones and create data you can move and touch.

Jeffrey Rzeszotarski, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute developed Kinetica with assistant professor Niki Kittur. Rzeszotarski says Kinetica's goal is to make data interaction intuitive and allow data to be manipulated more easily.

"I just heard a good quote today that it's not about big data, it's about big answers," Rzeszotarski says. "We are trying to think of ways we can show the data so that people understand what it means and feel empowered to do something with it."


So far, the pair has invited users to manipulate all sorts of data, ranging from what one might find on the back of a cereal box to data related to the Titanic.

"In our testing, we've found that because it matches people's intuition, people can make more findings and communicate their findings better," Rzeszotarski says.

Excel users analyzing data on Titanic shipwreck passengers might extract facts such as the passengers' average age, but Kinetica users also saw data relationships, like the association between age and survival. While learning to use Excel spreadsheets to their maximum potential may be time consuming and boring, Kinetica presents data that seems to be alive as it moves across the screen based upon intuitive gestures. Kinetica users can manipulate information using their fingers to sort, filter, stack, flick and pull data points as needed to answer questions or examine data interaction.

The program also allows users to view multiple data points simultaneously.

"People often try to make sense of data where you have to balance many dimensions against each other, such as deciding what model of car to buy," Kittur says. "It's not enough to see single points—you want to understand the distribution of the data so you can balance price vs. gas mileage vs. horsepower vs. head room."

So when can we get our hands on this magical app? Rzeszotarski says he's still working on it. He recently obtained funding from AlphaLab for Kinetica's parent company, DataSquid and is in the process of testing the app. To get updates as they develop, sign up for Kinetica's mailing list here.

Nebulus brings musicians together in the cloud

For musical collaboration, just look to the cloud and you will find Nebulus, a new website that allows for virtual collaboration without having to store large data files on your home computer.
 
Created by musician and Carnegie Mellon computer science graduate Robert Kotcher, the site allows users to record and edit audio online and add on to tracks that have already been recorded. Kotcher says Nebulus is like a mixture of Google Docs the online document storage and editing application, Apple’s recording software Garage Band, and the popular music-sharing site Sound Cloud, “Except there are no local files you need to store,” he says.
 
Anyone who has a large iTunes collection knows that audio files can take up a huge amount of space on a computer, often slowing down its functionality.

“We are all musicians,” Kotcher says of his startup team, “we all have different musical backgrounds and we’ve all had the same problems, where we go and record our tracks, save it locally, send it to the next guy and eventually you end up with 10 different versions on your computer,” he explains.

If users want to download the final track from Nebulus they can, but they don’t ever have to store the rejected recordings and they can work together to edit the piece like users can in Google Docs.
 
Before cloud computing—yes I said it—musicians would all have to go to the same studio to record a song, creating scheduling problems and requiring travel. If anyone remembers, that great band The Postal Service (circa 2001, hits such as The District Sleeps Alone Tonight) got their name because the band members would actually send eachother recordings in the mail in order to collaborate on songs, because the Internet couldn’t store huge files. Welcome to the future!
 
“What we wanted to do was to emulate what musicians do in the studio through the layering recording process, where one player records a track and then another person comes and records a track over them,” Kocher says. He and his partners are all musicians and they’ve had a great time playing together while perfecting the software.
 
Nebulus is allowing us to share its link with you for the first time publicly, so use it wisely and record your next greatest work at Nebulus.io

Easily choose art with Easely

Pandora picks music, OkCupid gives okay dating suggestions and now, Pittsburgh-based start-up Easely will predict which art you will like.

The art vending website was devised after co-founder and CEO Ashwin Muthiah saw how difficult it was for his girlfriend to make ends meet as an artist. He decided to use his computer science background to attack the problem, and came up with a business that will launch this month. Easely uses visual and textual questionnaires to determine which artworks to send to which users in a process that is part data, part psychology and part gut instinct, according to Muthiah.

Users must tell Easely how much space they have to devote to a work of art and can also let the website know which color palate they prefer. Like the popular glasses website Warby Parker, Easely then lets users try until they buy, mailing ready to hang artwork to your door. "If you don't like what we send you, we’ll go back to the drawing board, literally" Muthiah says.

His goal is to "reinvigorate the social prominence of art" and make it as easy to purchase as other media, which can be obtained by the click of a button.

"A lot of people out there who love art don’t know how to get it or have tons of money to get it," Muthiah says, offering up his site as a solution to the problem.

The art available on Easely is nowhere near as expensive as art purchased through most galleries, giving it a broader appeal. It's Muthiah's hope that by making art accessible, new artists will be able to support themselves and find a market for their work. The website accepts submissions from artists and uses a team of curators to asses the work accepted into its collection. Artists earn 25 percent commission if the work sells.

"I see a lot of young artists turned away from art based upon the market," Muthiah says, explaining why he pays above average comission to artists, "we want to get everyone reengaged with artwork."
 
Fun Fact: Muthiah came to Pittsburgh from Atlanta to join AlphaLab, our friendly neighborhood startup accelerator. He says he will be hiring a software engineer and a business development person soon.

Thinkerous: Helping communities solve problems through structured collaboration

The idea for Thinkerous, the free online platform that helps communities rank problems and track solutions, was born in a Carnegie Mellon residence hall.
 
When Aaron Zhang was a freshman at CMU studying electrical and computer engineering, he noticed it was hard for his peers to openly discuss ideas, and even harder to find a team to build these ideas. The following semester, he put up an “idea bulletin board” in his residence hall.
 
“This was the catalyst to several projects I saw completed,” he says. Among these projects were a custom RFID-protected wallet and a low-cost velcro snowboard.
 
Zhang realized the bulletin board was increasing structured collaboration, which resulted in more creative and productive communities.
 
Zhang and two friends pondered these realizations and developed Thinkerous. They launched the platform by the end of their sophomore year. In fact, it only took a few hours to get the first prototype up, running and public.
 
“People are passionate about solving problems they experience, but often don’t have the resources to do so,” says Zhang. “And people don’t always know how to verbalize their problems, but often have ideas to improve their current situation, whether at work, at home or in the community.”
 
There are lots of tools out there that simplify collaboration – so what’s different about Thinkerous? Structure. Whereas other collaborative software, such as Google Groups, lack organization, Thinkerous provides a guided method to help communities efficiently find and support the ideas that solve its most pressing issues.
 
The website is divided into three sections: Issues, Ideas and Thinkathons. The Issues section features factual problems that community members experience first-hand, while the “Ideas” section contains possible solutions to these issues, as submitted by community members. Thinkathons, are competitions, virtual or otherwise, where community members can work together to bring prototypes and business plans to fruition.
 
“Our platform has unique ranking and matching algorithms, to give decision-makers inside organizations more information when determining which ideas they should invest their resources in,” says Zhang.
 
Thinkathons bring issues and ideas together with judges, prizes and rules for 1-2 day events where people come in with issues and ideas and leave with working prototypes. Zhang compares Thinkathons to hackathons for “business people, designers and people who are actually experiencing the problems that need to be solved.”
 
The company is also piloting “Thinkerous for Enterprise” for corporations, non-profit organizations and government organizations, adding special capabilities like privacy controls, group management and analytics to help track the lifecycle and impact of a submission. Participants in the enterprise pilot include CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, TEDxGrandviewAve and Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Zhang suggests communities with an interest in joining the pilot program contact Thinkerous at team@thinkero.us.
 
Because Thinkerous is always tweaking its algorithms and evolving, it will soon phase out Thinkathons in favor of focusing on enterprise software, as it has much greater long term viability than one-off events surrounding specific issues.
 
“We found that with Thinkathons and the like, most projects end up not surviving past the conclusion of the event and thus don't benefit much from our longer-term analytics and ranking algorithms,” says Zhang.
 
Thinkerous also recently worked with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children to identify and solve leading problems in today's classrooms.
 
“Our software gave the opportunity for teachers from across western Pennsylvania to see which problems were the most common, and the opportunity for the local community to work together directly with teachers to build the solutions,” says Zhang.

Duolingo lands $20 million. Named best ed app in the world by TechCrunch.

Language learning startup Duolingo remains on a winning streak with the announcement of millions in venture funding and another big award.
 
The Pittsburgh company landed its largest investment to date, $20 million, and received a 2013 “Crunchie” as the best education app in the world from TechCrunch. Founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn, generally a low kind of guy, expressed his elation.
 
“It’s pretty rare to see (Crunchie) winners that are not based in Silicon Valley,” says von Ahn. “We’re proud of the fact we won and we’re not that.”
 
TechCrunch touted Duolingo for its ability to teach real language skills through mobile tech in a “gamified” and fun way. The app currently is 20 million users strong and growing.
 
“There are more people learning a language on Duolingo than in the whole U.S. school system,” says von Ahn, who estimates that number at eight million.
 
The funding round was lead by Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Duolingo has previously raised $3.3 million lead by Union Square in 2011 and a $15 million round lead by NEA. Ashton Kutcher and author Tim Ferriss are also investors.
 
Big hiring will take place this year, von Ahn adds. Duolingo will add 16 to its staff of 34 people. It will also begin developing a language certification app that will allow users to take a standardized language test on their smartphone for only $20. Language certification standardized tests usually cost hundreds of dollar, he says.
 
Last December Duolingo was named iPhone App of the Year by Apple. The app owes its design and original concept to von Ahn and his CMU student, Severin Hacker.
 
Duolingo works by leading users through lessons and programs using fun games and exercises. As users translate web phrases, both by reading and listening to the language spoken by native speakers, they assist with the translation of web content, a concept known as crowdsourcing.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Luis von Ahn, Duolingo

Yahoo and CMU a potent force for the future of mobile technologies

Yahoo and CMU have joined forces in the development of a new generation of consumer applications for mobile technologies.
 
The collaboration between a tech company and university is the first of its kind in the country, says Justine Cassell, director of CMU’s Human Computer Institute.
 
CMU’s reputation as a powerhouse in the areas of computer science research and machine learning and Yahoo’s mobile technology databanks will generate not only new technologies but jobs for the region.
 
The five-year-partnership is estimated to be worth $10 million. It gives CMU researchers access to Yahoo’s experimental mobile software data in the creation of new products and technologies.
 
In return, Yahoo gains access to human resources at CMU, says Cassel. Yahoo plans on hiring scientists, researchers and practitioners in the area of machine learning and computer interaction as a result of the deal.
 
“They know CMU is stellar in these areas and by many metrics the best,” says Cassell. “This is a way for them to partner with faculty and students to see who is aligned with their interests.”
 
Dubbed Project InMind, the program includes the creation of a Yahoo-sponsored fellowship program at CMU that will provide financial and research support for computer science students and faculty.
 
Yahoo is focused on personalization, the primary focus of the collaboration. In the future, smartphones will predict where you will be driving later in the day and send you information on how to reserve a table at a nearby restaurants, says Cassell.
 
Or your mobile might remind you to re-subscribe for a piece of software on a set date and will increasingly do so without violating your privacy and giving specific access to your data, she adds.
 
The first two awardees are a computer scientist who is looking at how to better target and tailor news deliveries to meet people’s interest. A second researcher is developing usable privacy metrics.
 
CMU will have ownership over all intellectual property created by CMU but Yahoo will own anything developed with the company and will be able to license property owned by CMU.
 
Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Justine Cassel, CMU
 
 

Bearded in Lawrenceville makes .netMagazine list of top design studios in the world

Lawrenceville boutique studio Bearded has been named an international finalist by .net Magazine, a weighty honor in the world of web design.
 
Founded in 2008, Bearded started out in the home of founder Matt Griffin before he moved to a leaky room in Wilkinsburg and then on to better digs East Liberty. This month Bearded, now at six people, settled into a new space at 3445 Butler Street, a loft-style office in the former and historic public bathhouse building.
 
Bearded is a web design and development studio that specializes in good design and technical innovation. The studio creates responsive, content-managed websites and custom applications that work with everything from browsers to smartphones and large HDTVs, says Griffin.
 
“I was frustrated with the predominant model for designing things on the web,” he says. “Web design is a lot about controlling the chaos of the world. Taking the indigestible and making it clear.”
 
A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Allderdice High School, Griffiin has taught web design at Carnegie Mellon University and writes a regular column for A List Apart.
 
Clients include the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Astorino Architects, 9/11 Tribute Center, Sprout Fund, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Scarehouse and Zoobean.
 
.net Magazine received more than 2,000 nominations from which it selected 20 finalists for the honor of “Agency of the Year.” A public vote iin the coming weeks will narrow the list to five nominees; the final decision will be made by a panel of industry experts.
 
“A lot of the people on the list are our heroes of web design, people we look up to,” says Griffin. “Just to be nominated is fantastic.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Griffin, Bearded

'Internet Famous,' a raunchy comedy with an all-Pittsburgh cast+crew

What happens when a young urban professional living in Pittsburgh goes viral and finds fame on the internet?
 
Internet Famous is a new web comedy series that premieres online tonight, Jan. 22, with a red carpet showing at the Hollywood Theatre in Dormont.
 
Creators Chris Lee (Pitt, MFA grad) and Tom Williams (Pittsburgh Filmmakers) met through friends and quickly found they had a mutual admiration for “good comedy." So they wrote a script and staged a successful Kickstarter campaign, which earned them about $7500, giving them enough to hire an all-Pittsburgh cast and crew.
 
The film was shot on location throughout the city during the recurring heatwaves in July and August of 2013. Lawrenceville, the East End and Shadyside served as backdrops for the story. 

“In a lot of ways, it’s the future of TV,” says Williams. “Netflicks and Hulu are producing original content. Digital production makes it all possible.”
 
The story follows a young urban professional named Andy and his friends—they hang out together at Remedy, by the way—as he discover the highs and lows of instant celebrity and internet fame.
 
“It’s Seinfeld comes to Pittsburgh, but a little more vulgar,” says Williams.
 
The music also draws from the local music scene: The Harlan Twins, Neighbours, Nic Lawless and His Young Criminals, Delicious Pastries and The Gotobeds, to name a few. Spruce Films in Lawrenceville pitched in on the production side.  
 
Trent Wolfred plays the lead role of Andy. A grad of Penn State University, he was last seen in Lucas McNelly’s Blanc de Blanc and is a cast member at Pittsburgh Public Theatre where he is the house manager. Matthew Robison, a graduate of Point Park University, plays Andy’s sex-crazed roommate. His previous work includes local short films and videos.

Seven short webisodes were shot, all of which will be shown tonight at The Hollywood. From here, the producers are hoping to find sponsors and local investors to begin season two. Check out the trailer and premiere.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Williams, Internet Famous
 
 
 

Innovation that Mayor Bill Peduto wants that Pittsburgh needs

While the weather outside was frightful, the inauguration of Pittsburgh’s 60th mayor on Monday couldn’t have been warmer. 
  
From rocker Joe Grushecky intoning “…won’t you be my neighbor” with backup from the CAPA chorus, to poet Vanessa German inciting us to rise up and become change agents on our own front porches, to gospel singers and homemade pierogies, the Pittsburgh promise generated a heat all its own. 
 
“There is nothing wrong with the institutions of this city that cannot be repaired by good faith, square dealing and hard work,” Peduto told the gathered crowd at Heinz Hall.
 
“I will not make the mistake of assuming that my ascension to the office of mayor is, in itself, political reform. It is my job to turn this moment into an opportunity for reform.”
 
A self-described data-driven guy, Mayor Peduto moves into the office armed with 1100 pages of notes generated by a citizen-lead advisory committee that worked through the holidays on ideas to lead the region forward.
 
He has an ambitious to-do list of his own, as well, no less than 100 highly-detailed ways to lead the region, often tapping technology to get the job done.
 
Here’s a sampling of a few of the items on his innovation checklist, things Mayor Peduto wants that Pittsburgh needs:
 
· User-friendly government, beginning with a new cabinet position. Among the first hires will be a chief performance and innovation officer, a job expected to go to Debra Lam. Bring on big data!
 
· City streets with smarter traffic signals. Streamlined digital building permit systems and equal opportunity technology for all.
 
· A green tech and clean tech investment fund.
 
· Quality education and growing STEM opportunities for students.
 
· Showcasing neighborhoods through pedestrian way-finding. It will be interesting to see what this looks like.
 
· And GPS tracking for snow plows.
 
Let the new year and new season for the region begin.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Photos copyright by Brian Cohen.

Glen Meakem believes in the promise of Forever, his followup to Freemarkets

With Glen Meakem's days with Becker Meakem Venture Capital winding down, what’s next for the founder of the wildly successful online auctioneer, Freemarkets?
 
His new endeavor is Forever, a cloud-based, personal social storage site that preserves cherished media memories— vintage photographs, audio, video and digital media—in one standard format, putting it all in a safe and secure cloud. 
 
It’s going to be bigger than FreeMarkets, he predicts.
 
“I don’t want to be in a little dingy on the horizon,” he says, figuring the industry has a $2 billion market potential based on the sheer number of people in the world with family stories to preserve. “I want be leading the Normandy invasion.”  
 
Meakem, the historian in his own family, began thinking about the archiving business back in 1991, the summer he returned home from the Gulf War. Setting out on a road trip to visit relatives, he recorded video footage of his three living grandparents along the way, capturing family stories that might be otherwise lost. 
 
When he was done, he gave a copy to family members. “If you asked them today where it is, not one would know,” he says. “They all lost it.”
 
So where is a family to keep important personal records in the digital age—medical records, wills, documents as well as their personal scrapbooks? Facebook owns everything you upload on its site, he says. DropBox requires a monthly bill and shuts down accounts that fall delinquent.
 
Meakem did the research and found there was no permanent place to both save and share a family legacy privately, for all of eternity, assuming that clouds live forever. Any system also needed the technology to migrate different media formats—like VHS tapes or Super 8—to one standard format. 
 
For a one-time buy in, currently $295, customers join Forever’s permanent endowment, a restricted fund managed as an endowed fund. The one-time payment secures your content for as long as you live, plus one hundred years, he says.
 
“We will never lose anybody’s stuff,” he adds. “Everything is triple backed up in different sites around the world and encrypted. And you own it.”
 
The company, based in Market Square downtown, employs 40 full-time. Since it was officially founded in May of 2012, the firm has raised $13 million. David Ciesinski, a former Heinz executive, has joined as executive vice president.  
 
“My passion and love is setting a vision, inspiring people, leading and selling,” says Meakem of his latest venture. “I just didn’t enjoy being a VC very much. After six or seven years, I realized that I missed being a CEO.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Glen Meakem, Forever

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
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