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'A Digital Playground for Teachers'


In a bustling room jam-packed with hi-tech gadgets at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Waterfront office, Sam Cohen drags a cursor across his computer screen. A little pixilated dragon follows close behind. Sam and the dragon swerve to avoid airplanes, cars, and any number of other obstacles as they advance from level to level.

“This is my dragon, the basic sprite, and this first code here, that makes the dragon follow the mouse pointer," he explains, pointing to the screen.

Sam, an eighth-grade student at South Fayette School District, coded this game on his own using a program called “Scratch”. Now, he’s teaching 3rd and 4th grade students in his district how to code their own programs. 

“You can make animations and games," said Cohen, "but I think most of them prefer making games, because they saw this game and they were really excited so they started making their own little games.”

The Scratch program is just one of many displays up at the 'transformED' lab. The idea is to get more teachers on board with using the latest technology in the classroom.

Bridget Belardi is the library media specialist for Foster Elementary in the Mount Lebanon School District. From Kindergarten through 5th grade, Belardi has students use iPads to create projects that span several different classes at once.

“In the classroom, they’re writing their narrative story as part of their writing class. In art class, they’re making the actual puppets, and then when they come to me in the library, we’re actually doing the filming and technology portion," says Belardi. "So, it’s a really nice collaboration between the classroom, the art teacher, and myself.”

The end result is something like a puppet show, like the productions made by fifth-graders Maddy Gineaux, Molly Misacco, and Megan Misacco.

“I did one of Elephant and Piggy, and the Pigeon, and Knuffle Bunny from Willems, and things like that,” says Gineaux.

“I did one of my friends," says Molly Misacco. "They were doctors, and they had silly faces and they were riding animals.”

“And I did one of girls who are at a dance recital, and one of them gets scared and runs off stage, and then the rest of them all dance," says Megan Misacco.

Some of the other educational gadgets include build-your-own-robot kits, panoramic photo technology, and a 3-D printer, which uses layers of plastic to create real objects based on computer animations.

Many of the apps and devices are being used in a few southwestern Pennsylvania schools now, but the goal of the 'transformED' lab is to make the use of educational technology widespread.

Jim Denova of the Benedum Foundation says the lab gives teachers options to bring their curriculums up to par with today’s tech-savvy students.

“They know technology. That boat left the dock," says Denova. "This is a center for teachers, and it allows teachers to figure out how to use those tools that inspire students the most to really educate according to what students need to know.”

The 'transformED' lab is open to all southwestern Pennsylvania school teachers for free, but districts would have to purchase the programs and hardware.