Special Series: Remake Learning

Four of Pittsburgh’s leading media organizations — WQED Multimedia, NEXTpittsburgh, 90.5 WESA and Pittsburgh Magazine — have joined forces on a 12-month initiative dubbed “Remake Learning.” Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, the project will focus on Pittsburgh’s leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.

Remake Learning focuses on the Pittsburgh region’s need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

In Jim Seagriff’s classroom at Taylor Allderdice High School, there are a half dozen furnaces and boilers. A small closet area is set up the way a basement would be. Goggle-clad teenagers adjust knobs on mock refrigerators.

These are HVAC students in the Career and Technical Education program.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

At a lab in Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center, dozens of goggle-clad teenage girls are drilling, hammering and writing code.

They’re the Girls of Steel, and the goal is to build the mind and body of a robot in the next few weeks. Then the girls — and their robot — will enter robotics competitions.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

At Beaver Falls High School, Tim Liller teaches technology education, or the class typically thought of as "shop."

Once a staple of high school education, shop class has fallen by the wayside with the decline of American manufacturing. But here, Liller's students still learn the basics, including how to wire a home and fix small engines. And more recently, they've also been learning how to make solar panels and build hydro and wind generators.

These are skills Liller hopes they can build on when they graduate.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

On a recent Thursday morning at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, eighth graders Tori Hogue and Riley Wolynn are hacking web pages.

It's not "hacking" in the sense that often dominates headlines. The students are using a web program to inspect and manipulate websites, and in the process, learn HTML. 

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

It’s a sunny afternoon on Bell Avenue in North Braddock, and a bunch of kids have gathered around a wooden table set up in what a year ago was just another empty lot.

Now the lot is a kid-driven community garden, and on the table is a microchip called a MaKey MaKey attached to a laptop. Wires that stick out from the MaKey MaKey are clamped onto cherry tomatoes. When the kids squeeze the tomatoes, different musical notes play.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It’s a Thursday morning and a small group, including several child development specialists, is gathered around a table at the South Side offices of The Fred Rogers Company.

They are dissecting a script of an upcoming episode of "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood." Everything is scrutinized: Are certain phrases under copyright? Would a 4-year-old use that word on their own? How much assistance should a character with physical disabilities receive?

They’re making sure the show aligns with Fred Rogers' vision to grow children into competent and caring beings and that every scene and line is age appropriate and holds meaning.

"Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood" is an animated PBS show. It’s based on characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from the beloved "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" that ran for 33 years on public television. 

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

People often think of the library as a place to sit quietly while reading or studying.

But the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is challenging that stereotype by turning the library into a creative hub for teens.

It was the second week of June, and Pittsburgh Public Schools had been out of session for two days. And yet, half a dozen teenagers and pre-teens were sitting around a table, enthusiastically engaging in a lesson about ancient Egypt.

“What do we know about Egypt and why was it such a big deal?” asked Oliva Hric, museum educator with the Carnegie Library of Natural History. “Can you think of anything in the landscape that maybe would make Egypt a really great place to live?”

“Because they were on the Nile River they could have had a good water supply,” answered 12-year-old Jonathan Freeman, clearly familiar with the concept.

Freeman and the other teens weren’t at summer school; they were at The Labs at the Carnegie library’s East Liberty branch.

90.5 WESA

Ethan Welker is a 15-year-old freshman at the University School, a private college prep school in Shadyside. His mom Michele Welker says he’s a smart and curious boy.

“Around the age of 7, he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s,” Michele said. “(Asperger’s is) one of the higher functioning levels of the spectrum.”

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Caroline Combemale moves to her own rhythm. She has been shaped by a loving family, a tenacious personality and a hunger for new experiences. But her life has also been shaped by hardship.

The 15-year-old grew up in Belgium and often lapses into hushed French when she talks to her mother Laura. When they moved to Pittsburgh, where Laura is originally from, Combemale (pronounced Coom-beh-mel) was in grade school.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Three-year-old Aubreaune stands behind an easel showing off her painting of a T-Rex.

“It’s green and purple," she says. "It eats people. Roar!”

She’s among a group of preschool-aged kids and childcare providers who gathered at the Homewood Early Learning Hub for play time on a recent Tuesday. Besides activities for the kids, providers and families use the center to find resources, and share best practices.