Life of Learning

90.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Summer camp — it’s not just for kids anymore. 

Teachers from around the Pittsburgh area and from as far away as Alabama this week attended the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute at South Fayette Intermediate School to learn how to embed robotics, computational thinking and game design into their curricula.  

Amidst lights flashing  and lots of beeps, elementary school teachers are playing with, or rather experimenting with, littleBits — tiny circuit boards engineered to snap together with magnets.

Life of Learning: A Deeper Look In Innovative Education

May 2, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

From flipped classrooms to blending the arts and sciences, what does it take to bring innovative approaches to the classroom?

Technology and innovation are being utilized as teaching methods by several school districts in the greater Pittsburgh area. This innovation has been recognized as the Pittsburgh area recently received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards in New York and was the only city to get the award.

The Flipped Classroom Approach

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Daniel Funk’s construction technology classroom at Sto-Rox High School is literally buzzing with activity.

Students are confidently working with heavy duty power tools as they finish building small hanging display cases.

“Right now we’re working on the drawers,” said senior Asa Powell. “The drawer fronts are probably the hardest, because they have the knobs and whatnot."

Powell said he regularly looks forward to Funk’s class.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

“A diorama on steroids.”

That's how Susan Mellon describes what she’s doing in her Springdale Junior and Senior High classroom, where students are combining poetry with computer technology and engineering.

“Kids tend to be a little intimidated by poetry, so I thought this would take something they’re intimidated by and don’t like and make it fun,” said Mellon, a gifted support coordinator at the school.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Dream. Discover. Design.

That’s the motto of Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland, a public magnet school focused on the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Essentially, the entire middle and high school shines a spotlight on innovation.

“The whole idea is tinkering, so we play, we tinker, we fail, we figure out what we did wrong, and we work again,” said Ann Gollapudi, who teaches physics and computer science at SciTech.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

When you think back to your school days, or even if you’re still in school, you likely sat through numerous lectures, then went home and worked on math or science problems on your own.  

Now, some teachers, such as Sue Marino at Chartiers Valley High School, are turning the traditional notion of schoolwork and homework on its head by “flipping the classroom.”

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

  

In an effort to combat the rising obesity rates in Allegheny County, physical education instructors in the North Allegheny School District have taken steps to ensure students coming out their system are devoted to lifelong fitness.

Dave Schmidt, the district's Health and Physical Education Department chair, said that over time his department has shifted from a team sports-based curriculum to one that focuses on lifetime exercise activities.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 FM WESA

The major components of living a healthy life are learning about and eating healthy food and the importance of physical fitness. 

With 54 schools in the Pittsburgh Public School System and nearly 26 thousand students, getting them fed requires planning and adherence to government guidelines for nutrition.

In some cases, the food for Pittsburgh public schools is prepared offsite, at a facility in the South Side. 

Curtistine Walker, director of food service for Pittsburgh Public Schools explained “the only schools that receive meals from the satellite site, or I guess you could call it our plant, are those schools that don’t have full service kitchens and right now, there’s probably about 20 that don’t.”

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Last week, a panel of experts gathered at the Community Broadcast Center to discuss what the future of the learning/education system should look like to be as effective as possible for the region’s children. The public forum tackled a range of questions from the audience, including the state of early childhood education.

Ryan Lowe / 90.5 WESA

A 90.5 WESA Life of Learning community forum on the evolution of learning in Pittsburgh was recently held at the Community Broadcast Center.

Listen to a special one hour broadcast of the forum on Monday March 24, 2014 at noon and 8pm, moderated by Essential Pittsburgh host Paul Guggenheimer and produced by Kevin Gavin, Executive Producer for Special News Projects.

Join us for a 90.5 WESA Life of Learning community forum on the evolution of learning in Pittsburgh. Come and ask questions and help us help the community grow.

It will be held on Tuesday, March 18th at the Community Broadcast Center on the South Side at 67 Bedford Square.  Doors open at 6:30 and the forum begins at 7. Among the topics posed, we'll explore:

•   What are the roles of teachers, parents, support organizations in helping to build that system?

On Monday afternoon, a chartered bus wound its way through the steep, narrow roads of the South Hills on its way to Baldwin High School.

On board were employees of HIAS, an agency that works with the State Department in bringing refugees to the United States. HIAS works with Jewish Family and Children’s Services, one of four resettlement agencies in the Pittsburgh area.

Pittsburgh has become a hub for refugees. This week HIAS is holding its national conference here, and among the activities are visits to where refugees live, work — and go to school.

Flickr user dcosand

Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights

Dan Hornberger has been a high school English teacher for more than twenty years. During these years, his concerns regarding schools teaching to standardized tests spurred him to action.

The result is a documentary titled Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights which he produced and co-directed.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Feb 12, 2014
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

 

Dazzled by the bizarre and eccentric characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, children’s author Jonathan Auxier has always been fascinated by peculiar storytelling.

The Vancouver native moved to Pittsburgh to pursue a theater and writing degree from Carnegie Mellon University and fell in love with the city’s charm and enchanting geography. His book, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, spins the tale of a blind orphan who happens to be the greatest thief to ever live. 

The Failure to Educate Many African American Males

Jan 24, 2014

The graduation rate for African American males in Pennsylvania is 57 percent compared to 85 percent for white males--a 28 percentage point gap, according to the latest data from the Schott Foundation for Public Education.  Reasons for the discrepancy are complex.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Quality pre-K programs can help kids later in school, both academically and socially. But many families can’t afford to send their children to pre-school, and government funding for early childhood programs has decreased in recent years.

A statewide effort was launched Thursday to ensure all three- and four-year-olds have access to quality pre-K programs. Michelle Figlar is executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, or PAEYC. She said research has shown children who have access to strong pre-K programs do better overall in school.

When temperatures dropped below zero in the beginning of January every school district and private school in Allegheny County canceled class. But a few schools made sure their students attended class online.

Seton La-Salle Catholic High School in Mt. Lebanon was among them.

Principal Lauren Martin explained they do anything they can to avoid having to tack on make-up days in June for bad weather earlier in the year because parents have already made summer plans and the kids are unfocused and eager to get out of school.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Students from three dozen middle schools across the region gathered at Carnegie Music Hall Saturday for Pittsburgh’s 15th annual Future City competition.

Coordinated by the Carnegie Science Center, the competition challenges students to imagine and build the cities of the future.

Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM programs at the science center, said getting to the actual competition is a semester-long process.

State House Passes Plan to Redevelop School Funding Formula

Jan 16, 2014

The state House has passed a plan that could bring lawmakers back to using a funding formula when doling out money to school districts across Pennsylvania.

The legislation would create a commission to review education funding and make recommendations for a new formula--something education advocates have urged for years.

Flickr user albertogp123

The stereotypes about adults seeking GED certification can be ugly and simplistic. But the reality is that many lack a high school diploma for reasons largely outside their control: health problems, family issues and immigration status, just to name a few.

Some, like Rebekah Petrakovits, were home-schooled without proper oversight from school officials who were supposed to monitor their progress.

The Pittsburgh region will continue as a “Hive Network.”

The MacArthur Foundation, which selected Pittsburgh in February as just the third “hive” in the nation, following New York and Chicago, has re-authorized and funded the project for another two years.

The goal of the Hive Network is to expand learning for young people beyond schools to museums, libraries, afterschool programs and community centers. Participating organizations offer programs to engage youth in learning based on their interests.

The Challenges Of Suburban Homelessness and Education

Nov 21, 2013
Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA


Guests include: Elizabeth Kneebone, Fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty, Chuck Keenan, administrator in Allegheny County's Bureau of Homeless Services, Kyoko Henson, a home and school visitor for the Penn Hills School District, Joe Lagana, founder and CEO of the Homeless Children's Education Fund, and homeless student Kevin Lee, winner of a national scholarship, with his mother Tamara Williams

There are nearly 20,000 homeless school age children in Pennsylvania and that’s a small portion of the 1.2 million across the country.

Local and national experts gathered in Pittsburgh on Friday for the fourth annual Homeless Education Network Summit to discuss an issue of rising concern: suburban poverty, homelessness and the challenge of education.

Since 2000, the number of poor people living in the suburbs grew by 64 percent. And today, about 16.4 million poor people are living in suburbs, compared to 13.4 million in the cities.

Allegheny County is no different.

In the Pittsburgh region alone, the suburban poverty rate increased 15.7 percent between 2000 and 2011; while the city saw a 6.3 percent increase.

It’s no question that technology has changed the world over the last few decades, from how we shop to how we share our lives. In the U.S., many public school districts are in the process of making major changes thanks to technology. Leaders in education and technology are hoping schools get it right because a lot is at stake.

In the not-so-distant past it was pretty commonplace to be taught solely out of a text book and worksheets in the classroom – maybe you’d get a video on a sub day. Today, there are many more options thanks to computers, tablets and other smart devices.

Minority and special-needs students are more likely to be disciplined by being suspended or expelled from schools. That’s according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania: Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools.

The study’s author, ACLU’s Harold Jordan, aggregated data from the commonwealth’s 500 public school districts on out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and removal by police.

University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban Education

When the No Child Left Behind program was implemented in 2002, it had an overall goal of closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged student groups and well-off students and making schools and teachers accountable for the performance of their students on new math and reading standardized tests.

More than a decade later, the program has not had the desired results, says Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University. Students and schools in lower income areas continue to not do as well on standardized tests as students in more affluent areas.

Flickr user Claire Cook44

According to the Nation’s Report Card released last week by the Department of Education, the achievement gap narrowed slightly in Pennsylvania over the last two years.

As Pittsburgh-area schools consider ways to shrink the gap further, they might look to Montgomery County, Maryland.

That Washington, D.C.-area school district has dramatically reduced the gap while posting the highest graduation rate for black males in the nation.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood for The Fred Rogers Co. after landing a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The three-year grant is part of the NSF’s Advancing Informal Learning program and is the foundation’s first preschool mathematics investment in the Pittsburgh region.

About $1.2 million will go toward the development of a new cartoon, “Peg + Cat.” The Fred Rogers Co. is the executive producer of the program, which follows a girl and her cat as they use mathematics to solve everyday problems.

More of Pennsylvania’s fourth and eighth graders are proficient in math and reading than the national average, but the achievement gap between white and minority students in the commonwealth is only shrinking slightly.

"I'm glad to see achievement in Pennsylvania is generally higher than the national average, but it's not where we want it to be and we're still concerned about the racial achievement gaps not closing," said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools in Pittsburgh.

Tammy Terwelp / 90.5 WESA

“Where’s the moral outrage over the lack of equity in education,” asked Duquesne University Dean of Education Olga Welch who attended a recent community forum on the achievement gap held by 90.5 WESA.

“Where is it,” replied forum panel member Jeremy Resnick, a founder of Propel Charter Schools, “it’s missing.”

Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators crowded the Community Broadcast Center recently for a public forum as part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative.

Courtesty photo

You’ll pardon Jordan Tyler, Chelsea Geruschadt, Raina Bradley and Katelyn Ripple if their thoughts occasionally drift from social studies, algebra 2 and physics back to what they absorbed this summer in Italy, Argentina, Spain and Costa Rica respectively.

Jordan: "My experience could be described as amazing, fun, life-changing, unforgettable."

Chelsea: "My experience was once in a lifetime."

Raina: "My trip to Spain was extremely memorable."

Katelyn: "I experienced more in a month than I thought I would experience in a lifetime."

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