Mars Area, South Fayette students share tech skills

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Teachers can learn a lot from students, especially when it comes to new technology.

A team of tech-savvy students from South Fayette Middle School will travel to the Mars Area School District on Monday to train about 50 teachers how to use a computer programming tool called Scratch.

South Fayette has integrated Scratch into courses and clubs at the elementary and middle school levels, and Mars Area would like to do the same in grades 2-8 starting in the fall, said Matt Friedman, Mars Area assistant superintendent for instruction and technology.

"We thought it would be a really cutting-edge idea to have middle school students teach our teachers what [the program] is and how it's implemented into the classroom," Mr. Friedman said. "The students, at the end of the day, will really give you their unfiltered opinions."

The South Fayette team will consist of seventh-graders Megan Broyles and John Barrett and eighth-graders Breanna McCann and Sam Cohen.

They are members of an after-school club focused on Scratch, a beginning programming language developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for creating and sharing interactive stories, animations, games, music and art.

The middle school group has experience teaching Scratch to dozens of elementary pupils at South Fayette and to adults at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference in Pittsburgh. At Mars Area, they will train teachers of grades 2-6.

"I don't find there to be a huge difference between teaching adults and children," Breanna, 13, said. "In most cases, they share the same desire to learn a new skill, and they all find amazement in what they find they can do."

At Mars Area, Breanna said, she and her teammates will present tutorials they created for making cartoons and video games with Scratch. She said it's a fun way to introduce the basics of computer coding.

"I hope the adults learn at Mars that whatever they do with Scratch, they can apply it many different ways, and they can get their students engaged," she said.

Sam, 14, said learning the Scratch program goes hand in hand with habits and skills such as persistence, collaboration, problem solving and asking questions. He said he will encourage the Mars Area teachers to explore the program and follow their imaginations.

"I would want them to have a better understanding, but I would also like them to be inspired to continue learning about new technology and to continue learning about new programs ... so they can teach their students," Sam said.

South Fayette technology director Aileen Owens said as workshop trainers, the students learn how to listen, present information, engage with their audience and help others solve problems.

"Students really love being the experts, and they gain a sense of confidence," Ms. Owens said. "They learn important teaching and leadership skills."

Sam, who aspires to become a computer programmer and designer, said leading workshops has improved his public speaking skills.

Breanna said in an increasingly online world, she expects eventually to use computer programming skills as a fashion magazine editor. "If everything is digital, you're going to have to know it, or you're behind," she said.

Mr. Friedman said he hopes that in the future South Fayette and Mars Area students could collaborate and teach Scratch to other school districts throughout the region. In the meantime, he said, he looks forward to seeing the students and teachers swap roles.

"I can't even remember the last time that something like this has occurred, and I think that this will really be embraced by the [Mars Area] staff."

education - neigh_west - neigh_north - neigh_south

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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