Pittsburgh’s Ecosystem for Kids+Creativity

Merriam Webster defines an ecosystem as “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.” The Kids+Creativity movement in Pittsburgh is creating a new kind of ecosystem for learning in and out of school, beginning with children in the earliest years and continuing through higher education at institutions that work at the cutting edge of innovation in technology and digital media. Once home to Fred Rogers, a media pioneer in his own right, Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania now are home to modern-day Fred Rogers, who—like Fred—make use of child-centered media, technology, and the arts to engage kids in learning, inspire their creative play, and generally provoke their innate curiosity about the world around them.

What started with a few colleagues brainstorming over breakfast has grown into an avant-garde group of nearly 300 education and technology professionals working together to create the ecosystem of “Kidsburgh.” This video, produced by filmmaker Carl Kurlander, a member of our Cooney Forum action team who returned to Pittsburgh a few years ago after establishing himself as a Hollywood writer, producer, and screenwriter, showcases some of the leading organizations and individuals in Kidsburgh.

The “community of organisms” in the Kidsburgh ecosystem generally can be described as working in six major areas of innovation. But, it’s important to note that, just as creativity itself has no boundaries, a great deal of collaboration occurs both within and across the six areas. And, all of the areas will be represented on the Kidsburgh action team at the Cooney Forum.

Thought Leadership. From Maya Design, where research is focused on the complex technological challenges of the next 10 years, to the community-wide “think-and-do-together ” approach of the Making Sparks community-wide brainstorming sessions and collaborative projects sponsored by the Sprout Fund, to the national field building and field bridging programs of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, and extending to other regional forums for creative, out-of-the-box thinking around issues of creativity, innovation, and digital media, Kidsburgh provides many opportunities to seed programs and new initiatives with bold ideas.

Talent. Nowhere in Kidsburgh—or perhaps anywhere in the U.S.—do the arts and technology find as fertile ground for coming together to nurture new talent than at the Entertainment Technology Center of Carnegie Mellon University and the CREATE Lab of the Robotics Institute at CMU. For K-12 arts and technology educators, professional and talent development occurs through the regional programs of the Arts Education Collaborative and the Three Rivers Technology Council. And the Pittsburgh Technology Council plays a leading role in bringing technology entrepreneurs into the Kidsburgh ecosystem.

Design and Programming. If you’re looking for technology-based products and experiences that promote thinking, sharing, and talking about good health, that give young children a voice on issues in the world around them, that enable children and adults to create their own stories, or that give young teens an opportunity to create their own video and other media, then you likely will find what you need in Kidsburgh-based creations such as fitwits™, Voices of Youth Pittsburgh, Hear Me, Carnegie Library Digital Learning (based on YouMedia at the Chicago Public Library), and so much more. The relationships among Kids+Creativity members from colleges and universities, K-12 schools, informal learning organizations, arts groups, and others ensure that everything created for and by kids is grounded in research and principles of learning and child development.

Formal Teaching. In Pennsylvania, the system of intermediate units throughout the state provides leadership in professional development for pre-K-12. In southwestern Pennsylvania, through the Center for Creativity, Arts and Technology, the intermediate units serving Pittsburgh and regional rural counties are making their mark in empowering teachers as both users and creators of technology applications for learning. Through STEAM Grants for school districts, the Intermediate Units are helping to forge new and creative connections among the schools, community organizations, and institutions of higher education to integrate arts and technology across academic disciplines.

Informal Learning. Whether it’s music, theater, museums, filmmaking, youth radio, or informal STEM activities for girls, Kidsburgh is alive with the creative arts and with opportunities for families and children of all ages to share in these world-class formative and informative resources. Many of the organizations for informal learning, including the Carnegie Science Center, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Saturday Light Brigade, and the Warhol use technology and digital media to make creativity through the arts a life-shaping experience for adults and children alike.

Blended Networks. And, it all comes together in a variety of communication networks for sharing and stimulating new ideas. The Kids+Creativity NING and the Pop City blog site spotlight innovation right here in Kidsburgh while also keeping Kids+Creativity connected to new ideas, research, and events from throughout the U.S. Earlier this year, The Pittsburgh Entertainment Project began to make the kinds of connections between digital media creators in our area and Hollywood that we hope to explore even further at the upcoming Cooney Forum.

As Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto recently blogged, “Pittsburgh is Kidsburgh because a group of Pittsburghers are dedicated to making Pittsburgh ‘the best place for kids on the planet’.” Our Cooney Forum action team looks forward to sharing more about our ecosystem for Kids+Creativity at the Forum and throughout the coming year, but we also hope to bring home new ideas and strategies for having an even greater impact for children here and everywhere.

We hope to meet you at USC.

The Kidsburgh Action Team for the Cooney Forum

Gregg Behr, The Grable Foundation (in absentia but always with us in spirit)
Bob Bechtold, Sarah Heinz House
Rita Catalano, Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College
Drew Davidson, Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University
James Denova, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation
Kim Chestney Harvey, Pittsburgh Technology Council
Linda Hippert, Allegheny Intermediate Unit
William Isler, The Fred Rogers Company
Carl Kurlander, Steeltown Entertainment
Michael Robb, Fred Rogers Center
Jane Werner, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Alice Wilder, Kids+Creativity Fellow, The Grable Foundation
Joe Wos, the Toonseum

Video: What Makes Pittsburgh Kidsburgh?

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