Tag Archives: Digital Media Arts

How Today’s Digital Media Helps Kids Find and Tell Their Stories

Where most people would have only seen complicated dots and data, Roxanna Ayala and Uriel Gonzalez saw a story. For a project during their junior year of high school in Los Angeles, the two were given access to GIS maps of their city. The maps were filled with enormous amounts of data about things like population density, per capita expenditures, and income.

Working off what they’d learned from reading Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities,” a book about the wide gap between schools across the socioeconomic spectrum, Ayala and her team plotted every single school in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and compared them to data from schools in Beverly Hills and Malibu. The students aimed to visually explain to their peers and community members how income inequality and segregation were affecting their schools.

“Even though Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools, our schools still continue to be segregated,” Ayala explained in a recent Connected Learning webinar. The webinar was part of a series exploring storytelling and digital-age civics. It included a panel of young people from across the country who are using media to tell stories in unique ways.

“It’s pretty hard to explain to freshmen, ‘You’re being segregated.’ It’s something so complicated. But when they saw it on a map, they saw it was real. They were like, ‘Yeah, I get it,’” Gonzalez said. “We basically told stories through maps. And that was really empowering.”

Good stories connect us to the lives of strangers and help us understand ourselves at the same time. Today, the internet has amplified the power of stories because of the way it allows them to be recorded, shown, and shared with a wide audience.

For kids, this means there’s a platform where they can share their voices and unique perspectives. But while some aspects of storytelling come naturally, using new media often requires learning new skills and practicing—a lot. When kids learn how to create media, not just consume it, a world of opportunities opens up for them to share what matters in their lives.

“Storytelling is a core skill for contemporary activism. The ability to translate deep social concerns into compelling narratives which helps the public reframe their understanding of those issues,” said Henry Jenkins, the principal investigator at the Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project, in a video introducing the webinar series.

And these compelling narratives don’t just come from adults. The Hear Me project, an initiative of Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, has recorded thousands of kids’ stories about topics ranging from bullying to immigration to violence in schools. The audio files are then loaded onto 24 mini stations located in public places around Pittsburgh. There, anyone can listen via a “tin can,” which actually contains digital audio, so listeners can push a button and hold it to an ear to hear the stories young people have to tell.

The project works two ways; kids are empowered by making their voices public, and society gets a look into the lives of Pittsburgh kids. “A society where kids are valued will create kids who value themselves and, in turn, value and better society,” the Hear Me website explains.

Hear Me has done amazing work recording kids’ stories and has received national attention for it. But another project, called This Day in Pittsburgh History, is also teaching teens how to be bona-fide producers of media. This Day in Pittsburgh History is a documentary filmmaking project at Cornell High School.  Each school day, students create minute-long segments that delve into historical events. For example, on January 14, 1953, Pittsburgh’s mayor David Lawrence campaigned for 12 percent of all TV channels to be entirely devoted to education. Who knew?

The students research, write, collect photos and videos, and then record their own voices for the mini-docs, which are broadcast during the school’s daily televised morning announcements. They also trek around the city to museums and meet with history experts. While they’re not telling stories from their own lives, the student filmmakers are gaining crucial media-making skills.

For kids and teens, getting excited about producing their own content is the first step in speaking up in the world. Twenty-one year old Youth Radio project associate Derek Williams perhaps summed it up best in the Connected Learning webinar: “When youth get involved, we’re change makers.”

Using Media to Listen to Youth

Ever heard the phrase, “Conversation is key?” Probably. As journalist and author Melinda Blau wrote for Shareable, “Conversation is the basic unit of human sharing.” This is especially resonant when it comes to engaging youth.

Thinking back to when I was a child, my most influential relationships were with those adults who would take the time to talk with me, find out my interests, and share stories or resources to help me explore them. This level of engaging with youth takes a certain amount of time and commitment, but turns out it’s well worth it. The stories that surface are ones that can surprise and enlighten—as the folks behind the Hear Me initiative, a nonprofit group in Pittsburgh, have found.

The program aims to make sure young people’s voices are included in public dialogue about how to improve their communities. Hear Me works with kids, from all ages and backgrounds, through schools, after-school programs, and community organizations. The goal of the program is to make kids feel heard on issues of “regional and global significance.” The four main topics they discuss are education, health and wellness, community, and environment. The program allows kids to voice their thoughts in a variety of mediums. They share their stories through writing, audio, video, and artwork. The program then blends these responses through “digital storytelling.” It should be noted that the site specifically states that they “don’t do cute,” meaning that they take kids’ thoughts seriously.

Hear Me organizers and participants then take the responses and share them with the world through their website, which has become an online library housing thousands of students’ stories.

It’s not just to collect kids’ stories but to get them out there and let kids know people want to hear what they have to say.

“It’s not just to collect kids’ stories but to get them out there and let kids know people want to hear what they have to say,” Heide Waldbaum, Hear Me’s former director, told PopCity Media. “It’s giving the kids in our region the opportunity to voice things that are important to them in their lives, in their schools and in their communities so they have the opportunity to create positive change.”

The project started at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, a space designed to foster youth’s technological fluency. But the initiative has evolved to work on region-wide issue based campaigns that collect stories based on a specific theme and tied to a strategic action plan.

Their latest partnership is with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Food Security Partnership to raise awareness about food insecurity and to increase participation in school breakfast programs. The program gathered student stories about food security and nutrition from kids around the region. The stories are collected online and shared through social media. The Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership is also sharing the stories with school administrators so they can use it to improve outreach and programming.

The organization’s website is an amazing collection of children’s aspirations and thoughts about the world around them. Now, anybody can read about how eight-year-old Kamir dreams of becoming a chemist, scientist, and a scholar, or how one teenager, Sophie, is coping with the drug abuse rampant in her community. It has even provided a space for nine-year-old Lyric to share endearing illustrations of breakfast foods with peers.

Young learners can visit the site, comment on Lyric’s drawing, for example, and then post their own. In fact, many of the titles reference other stories on the site, creating an ongoing conversation that crosses mediums.

Organizations with similar missions around the country, like Oakland’s Youth Radio and Chicago’s Free Spirit Media, also believe it’s crucial to provide young people a platform for participating in a larger dialogue about issues that affect their communities. Like Hear Me, these organizations also provide mentoring and crucial training in media literacy production that kids will use later on their lives.

The project changed its approach to include more mentoring after realizing that students needed adult support in order to make meaning out of their own stories, according to a great piece on the project at Slate this week. They noticed that students and educators “valued having us, or a third party who has legitimacy and skills to work with kids in the way that we do, visit and bring technology, programming, and ideas to them,” directors told Slate’s Lisa Guernsey.

As Digital Youth Network founder Nichole Pinkard pointed out in a recent interview, even media-savvy children still need development and coaching to create what Pinkard calls more “intentional” content.

“Seven years ago, you wouldn’t assume that someone could make a video on the internet,” she said. Pinkard explained that this once-intensive activity is now something youth can do anywhere and at any time with a smartphone or flip camera. “The challenge is that just because they can do these things with low-level tools, they might think they’re better than they are. A kid can create a video quickly on the phone but that doesn’t mean they’re editing or really creating a story structure around the video. You have to be able to help kids see that just because they can do something technically, it doesn’t necessarily mean they truly understood what they’re doing in any kind of intentional sense.”

This kind of purposeful storytelling is something that Hear Me hopes to foster, providing outreach and mentorship to help children make meaningful connections about their world and the way they describe it. You can help by sponsoring a “kiosk,” or by registering with the site in order to help a child you know to upload stories of his or her own.

Why They Love to Learn

Our new occasional series highlights exceptional students who’ve fallen in love with learning and the unique opportunities in and around Pittsburgh that have triggered their passions. Last week we profiled 14-year-old Caroline Combemale, who in addition to being a full time student at Agora Cyber Charter School, also happens to be an award-winning chess player and YouTube developer. This week we talk with an 18-year-old game designer Allyssa Dangel. Here’s more:

Allyssa Dangel: ‘Lunch is no longer my favorite class’

In the spring of her sophomore year, Allyssa Dangel visited her counselor’s office with an issue in her schedule. She needed to add a class, one to replace the study hall she no longer felt she needed. The only option that struck her interest? A brand new course called “Gaming Through the Ages.”

The course turned out to be the unexpected catalyst for a 180-degree turn in Dangel’s high school experience. Part of Elizabeth Forward High School’s Entertainment Technology Academy, “Gaming Through the Ages” kick-started a sudden zeal for learning and a passion for game design—a career she hadn’t even considered before.

“I didn’t think of myself as smart enough of a person to be a doctor, or good enough with my hands to be a carpenter or something crazy. But when this came along I thought, ‘This is something I could really get into,’” says 18-year-old Dangel, now a senior. “Being in those classes is my favorite part of the day. Lunch is no longer my favorite class.”

The Entertainment Technology Academy (ETA) teaches the principals of game design. Created in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, it was developed with the goal of getting students engaged in their education by incorporating something 97 percent of them do outside of school—play video games. “Gaming Through the Ages,” the first prerequisite in a sequence of over 10 classes, focuses on the history of games from all cultures. It combines a little bit of everything—math, history, problem solving, writing—and a lot of playing hands-on games.

“I didn’t think of myself as smart enough of a person to be a doctor, or good enough with my hands to be a carpenter. But when this came along I thought, ‘This is something I could really get into.’” 
The ETA program resonated so well with Dangel because it combined her two biggest outside-of-school hobbies: art and video games.  Dangel grew up playing “Tomb Raider” and racing games, but her current favorite is the apocalyptic RPG “The Last of Us.” She spends her time outside of school writing fiction and drawing in her sketchbook. But until she met CMU graduate game design students, she never pictured blending the two together into a potential career.

Math teacher Mary Wilson, who taught Dangel’s “Gaming Through the Ages” class, says Dangel always got good grades, but was never really one to seek attention or latch on to an interest. Until she found herself in the course. “Allyssa just absolutely took off from there,” Wilson says. “She made her own plan; ‘Ok, this is what I want to do. I now see that I can take my personal interest in video games and art and formalize that with an educational plan.’”

Dangel started becoming more and more invested in anything her school offered having to do with technology or game design. Wilson says Dangel now said “Yes” to volunteer opportunities, trips, and just about anything offered.

Then, Dangel was invited to speak on a panel at the Reimagining Education Summit in Washington D.C., hosted by Andrea Mitchell. The audience of 200 (not to mention the TV viewership) didn’t make Dangel nervous though—she says she was prepared to talk.

“[Kids] seem to lose interest,” Dangel said, when asked why so many kids give up in school. “They feel that they really don’t need this education in the real world because it’s just your everyday math and English. But if we turn all the math and English into something interesting, maybe something different, and apply more technology to it, they might become more interested.”

With all the game knowledge she’d gained through the ETA program, last summer Dangel applied for the selective CMU National High School Gaming Academy. She spent six weeks in workshops and classes, by the end designing the futuristic art for a strategy game called “Proto-Wars.”

As she heads into her senior year, Dangel is researching colleges with game design programs. She’s looking forward to the internship she’ll have at an outside gaming company as part of the ETA program. With her parents and mentors supporting her, she plans to continue studying to be a game maker.

“The way my life got really extraordinary was all serendipitous,” she says of the sudden enthusiasm she’s found for going to school. “It was all spontaneous and it was all by accident, but it was a great accident.”

School’s Out, But Learning Is In

The Hive Days of Summer are in full swing in the Pittsburgh region. The program gets local teens involved in summer projects that focus on “making and connecting”, and most importantly, learning about everything from printmaking to radio communications to urban agriculture.

If you missed our coverage of the summer-long youth engagement program, Pittsburgh’s Hive Network is partnering with local libraries, museums, and youth organizations dedicated to channeling teens’ energy and enthusiasm during their time out of school. Together they’ve created the Hive Days of Summer, a city-wide campaign with more than 20 organizations partnering to deliver more than 100 summer learning opportunities for tweens and teens now through August.

“Hive Pittsburgh is creating connected learning opportunities that demonstrate the impact digital tools, design thinking, and real world experiences can have on the way young people learn and socialize,” said Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund. “Summer is the perfect time to engage teens outside of the classroom and create experiences in community libraries, museums, art venues, and other spaces to help them foster the creative and technology skills needed to thrive in our digital economy.”

The updated calendar features at least three events per week. Some last a few hours while others are week-long commitments or more. We’ve scanned through the calendar and highlighted a few of favorites, like the four-day camp for students interested in experimental photography.

At the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, students can print their own photographic paper in sepia and blue cyanotype, or make large photomontages and collages. They will learn about the darkroom photo process, create their own handmade prints, and become familiar with nondigital special effects like multiple exposures and solarization.

For students more interested in digital tools and technology, the Hive Days of Summer includes a camp for that as well. MobileQuest CoLab is a weeklong game design and technology camp for sixth and seventh grade students Carnegie Mellon University. The camp will provide space for students to play and design their own mobile games.

At the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library, students can take a comic book workshop to learn the sequential art of creating a comic book, a skill that involves both visual communications and creative writing techniques.

For students more interested in music production, the library is also hosting a free music workshop, where students can learn the basics of beat-making and recording from DJs at Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K., a local organization that mentors youth through music arts and education.

And for those teens interested in making art and building things from scratch, there are other mixed media workshops including an interactive art experience that pairs students with educators and working artists from the Mattress Factory Museum to create “art that appeals to all the senses.” “Get ready to get your hands dirty and to think about art in a whole new way,” programmers warn. Sounds fun to us!

Students can work together to build a metal sculpture from found materials at the Salvage Art Workshop at the historic Carrie Furnaces to be installed on-site in the Carrie Deer Salvage Art Garden.

In addition to the Hive summer programming, there are many options available through a handful of public schools and other local nonprofit organizations dedicated to making this summer one of making, learning, and connecting. As Pittsburgh’s National Public Radio reporter Larkin Page-Jacobs noted, summer learning opportunities abound for the area’s youth. “Whether students are editing video, harvesting tomatoes ,or focusing on math and reading, the Pittsburgh region is packed with all kinds of learning experiences that will make the summer worth remembering,” Page-Jacobs said. We think so too.

The Labs: Geeking Out @ the Library

New Chapter, the newsletter of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, takes readers inside The Labs @ CLP to see how teens are using the library in revolutionary new ways. Read on:

Armed with a movie camera and tripod, Morgan Wable-Keene hurries to stage his next shot before the mid-day sun casts a shadow on CLP – Main’s Portal Entry. He consults with Labs Mentor Molly Dickerson and teen actor Gabe Gomez on the lighting before finally calling “action!”

Morgan, a sophomore at the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, already has a full résumé – director, film editor, composer, producer and screen writer. He describes his latest afterschool project, a seven-minute film he developed as part of The Labs @ CLP’s Scary Story Movie Challenge, as “the X-Files, with time travel instead of aliens.” His goal is to expand his vision into a series of web episodes. Pittsburgh teens like Morgan and Gabe now have their own space to learn and create – on their own or with a Labs mentor.

The Labs @ CLP gives teens free access to digital equipment and software so that they can experiment in photography, graphic design, digital crafts, music production and stop-motion animation.

Libraries and other public institutions have an important role to play in providing opportunities for all young people to have access to sophisticated digital media.

The Labs use non-traditional means to fulfill traditional goals of education, specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Until now I never used Photoshop,” said Gabe, a junior at Central Catholic, between film takes. “It’s rare to have access to this sort of thing. I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”

Morgan agrees, “For the most part teens don’t have access to this type of equipment because of the cost. Thanks to The Labs I can compose music in GarageBand [software that allows users to create music or podcasts]. And since I was here learning it before it was ‘cool,’ I can help others when they get stuck.”

Read the whole story and see more photos at New Chapter online.

Proposal Submission Deadline for DML2013 Quickly Approaching!

The deadline for proposal submissions for DML 2013 is rapidly approaching on November 6th, 2012!

The upcoming conference, themed Democratic Futures: Mobilizing Voices and Remixing Youth Participation, will be taking place in Chicago, Illinois on March 14-16, 2013. This annual event unites scholars and practitioners to engage in collaborative dialogue over theory, empirical study, policy, and practice. By submitting a proposal, you can have a hand in shaping the conversation from which great ideas will grow. Proposals for DML 2013 can be in any of three forms: panel, workshop, or short talk. Each having their own structural strengths, taking advantage of the opportunity to choose a format that best suits your idea is encouraged. Panels: bring four presentations representing a range of ideas and topics together in discussion, are scheduled for 90 minutes, & should include a mix of individuals working in areas of research, theory, and practice Workshops: provide an opportunity for hands-on exploration and/or problem solving, are scheduled for 90 minutes, & should be highly participatory Short talks: short, ten-minute talks where presenters speak for ten minutes on their work, research, or a subject relevant to the conference theme and/or subthemes In addition to selecting a format, a proposal must also fall under one of the five sub-themes for the 2013 conference:

  • “Envisioning 21st Century Civic Education”
  • “Youth Media & Youth Movements: Organizing, Innovation, Liberation”
  • “Whose Change is it Anyways? Futures, Youth, Technology & Citizen Action in the Global South”
  • “Tech for Governance: Community-Driven Innovation”
  • “Digital Media and Learning”

If you’ve got a great idea relevant to the upcoming DML 2013 conference, ready your proposal and get it in by November 6th at 5pm PST. If you’d like to learn more about proposal themes and guidelines, click here.

WQED is looking for a Coordinator & Coaches for Gaming Events!

Want to get involved in the gaming community? Have a bit of experience you can share? These opportunities are for you!

WQED is hosting 2 workshops (one in November and one during the Global Game Jam in January) for middle school kids. These workshops are opportunities for teens to learn more about video game development and enhance their skills!

WQED is searching for the following:

Game On Coordinator:
WQED’s Game On Coordinator has a background in games, events management, and a passion for emphasizing that games can be educational. Previous work with children in the 5th – 12th grade is a plus. This hourly position is flexible for your schedule but the Coordinator will need to be at the events on Saturdays. Needed: 1 passionate person to help us create and grow wonderful gaming workshops for our community.

Game On Coach:
WQED’s Game On Coach’s take small teams of middle schoolers or educators and help them work through gaming processes – storyboarding, design, narrative, mechanics – and should be familiar with the National STEM Video Game challenge as well as national resources to help kids, teachers, and parents build and play games. Needed: 6 – 8 people who will receive an honorarium for their coaching participation for workshop days.

Please contact Jen Stancil at jstancil@wqed.org with resume and cover letter.

What’s happening at World Maker Faire?

The third annual World Maker Faire kicked off Saturday morning at the New York Hall of Science (NySci). Billed as “The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth,” World Maker Faire brings together hobbyists and engineers, teachers and students, hackers and scientists for two days of demonstrations and workshops, exhibits and performances, collaboration and celebration of all things making and doing.

Presented by MAKE Magazine and O’Reilly Media, the Maker Faire is far from the typical science fair!

MakerFaire crowdWhether they’re educating the next generation of creative innovators or fabricating the next industrial revolution, makers are making an impact on the way the world learns, works, and plays.

Among the many thousands of folks and families in attendance, members of Pittsburgh’s Kids+Creativity network are on the ground, taking in the sites, meeting fellow makers, sharing stories and tips, and trying our hand at some of the contraptions on display.
Stay tuned for Spark reports from World Maker Faire throughout the weekend!

Saturday, September 29

Clouds and the occasional misting couldn’t keep the crowds away as makers of all ages and the make-curious gathered to learn, share, create, and celebrate hands-on creativity and Do-It-Yourself design.

Basketball shooting robot

In the Young Makers section, kids and adults alike tried their hand at constructing and deconstructing structures large and small, and programming and reverse engineering gadgets simple and complex.

Here, people put their math skills to the test, computing the trajectory of a basketball-shooting robot and looking for nothing but net.



Parents discuss Larchmont Young Makers group

In the Education Cafe, students, educators, and parents shared stories and strategies for integrating Making into the ways children learn both in and out of schools.

A group of parents shared lessons they learned from starting the Larchmont Young Makers community. Growing from informal basement hang-outs to a community-wide supplemental education and creativity program that’s bursting at the seams.



FLOAT Beijing kites and sensors
Stopped by Deren Guler’s table to see the results of her FLOAT Beijing project, using kites equipped with air quality sensors to give city dwellers the ability to collect data and actively monitor the environmental health of their community.

Deren’s project was one of many examples of how people can apply the DIY maker ethos to meet very real challenges with curiosity, ingenuity, and creativity. Checkout some of the other Sustainability Projects at Maker Faire.


If it wasn’t obvious already, this maker movement thing is for real! Stay tuned for more on Sunday.

Sunday, September 30

Sunday started the day off with a late breakfast, chez Pancakebot, a Lego Mindstorms hack that does everything but the flipping!
Pancakebot making flapjacks

Also inside of NySci, more than 100 makers are demo’ing their latest inventions that remixed the familiar to bridge the gap between the present and the future.

And the USB Typewriter took the next logical step for touch-screen tablets like the iPad…connect them with antique typewriter keyboards, of course!

We spoke with one family this morning who came in for the day and couldn’t believe how one festival could captivate a toddler, a 6 year old, and mom and dad too!

Power Racing Series
Earlier this afternoon, we stopped by the make-shift race track where HackPgh battled it out with other DIY shops from across the country in the Power Racing Series. Challenged to produce a working electric vehicles for just $500, race teams were pitted against one another in this high stakes, high speed, and high efficiency showdown!