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This Week’s Rec2Tech Events Teach Tech Skills to Kids Across the City

September 12, 2016

By Meg Hogan

On the 5400 block of Penn Avenue in Garfield sits a bright office where sunlight pours in. It’s in that office where people who care about Pittsburgh are working up a plan – an evolving plan, meant to grow with the city and its needs – to break down the barriers to accessing valuable technology and problem-solving skills. These skills include coding, art, design, math and science.

Their aim is to prepare more Pittsburghers with better skills so when they enter the workforce they’re able to contribute and collaborate to their fullest effect.

It’s the office of Sprout Fund, which stewards the Remake Learning Network and is part of this week’s Rec2Tech event series.

What is Rec2Tech?

Sprout Fund program associate Ani Martinez explains, “From September 12 through the 16th, we are working with five of the city’s rec centers [to implement a] slate of programming. Every single day after school, at five of those centers, a program provider like Tech Shop will be in that space.”

The week-long initiative is designed to demonstrate the real-world applicability of science and technology skills. Different organizations create lesson plans to work with the children attending. One group participating is the Tech Shop, based in Bakery Square.

They’re going to work with 30 to 40 kids and do what Tech Shop does: Bring their own unique approach to learning and engaging with technology and entrepreneurship and help those kids address a challenge they face every day in their neighborhood,” Martinez says.

Through the different programs each day, the kids will learn that there are many ways to solve a problem.

For a program like Digital Corps, we focus on things like the internet and virtual reality, and that’s a pathway into STEM,” she explains.

“If you’re an organization like Sisters e STEAM, [they will] use more of the traditional scientific method to solve a neighborhood issue.”

The whole point of the event is to connect Pittsburgh’s youth with hobbies and programs that could be a basis for their future careers.

We’re really seeing that as a multifaceted approach to learning and youth engagement. So you’ll see five very different examples of it throughout Pittsburgh,” says Martinez.

And then there’s the festival.

The culminating event will take place at Schenley Plaza on September 17, from 11 a.m. — 2 p.m., and that’s when you’re going to get the sort of festival of learning taking place,” Martinez explains.

“You’ll come, you’ll get to hack a website or have your face painted. You’ll get to play with dirt and understand the ecology of dirt and understand why you need that even in a tech-enhanced world.”

While Rec2Tech occurs over just a few days, the programs and opportunities exist throughout the city on an ongoing basis. “This is a special event. The educators providing programming during the week do that all year round, and they’re part of a network of organizations called the Remake Learning Network,” says Martinez.

The Remake Learning Network represents more than 250 organizations focused on changing the way we learn. “The idea is there is no event that happens in a vacuum and we can build pathways through the entire region as an open ecosystem where learning happens everywhere.”

Rec2Tech Origins

Rec2Tech is the result of:

  • Idea sharing between the various STEAM-focused organizations in the city
  • The maker community in Pittsburgh wanting to take action for the benefit of the younger populations
  • Inspiration from another city’s program

The concept was spurred by an organization in Baltimore called the Digital Harbor Foundation. The foundation was established by a school teacher who wanted a space for his students and discovered that Baltimore had an abandoned recreational center; there was nothing in it.

He bought the center from the city of Baltimore and within a year had completely transformed it into this center for digital learning and computer science and making,” Martinez says.

“It’s since gone on to be one of the best examples of this type of work and incubates other makerspaces in the city of Baltimore.”