Tag Archives: Carnegie Mellon

What’s it take to teach technological fluency to digital natives?

For nearly 30 years, Stehlik has been a computer science (CS) professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU); he was also Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education for over 20 years, and is now Assistant Dean for Outreach. In 1984, when personal computers were a fresh innovation, he helped train the first cohort of Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science teachers. In the digital age of ubiquitous smartphones, Stehlik continues his central role in computer science education.

Gregarious and voluble, Stehlik’s enthusiasm for CS is quickly apparent and highly contagious. Remake Learning spoke to him about spreading the gospel of computer science.

Whether you become a software engineer is less important than understanding the technological milieu in which we live.

What does the Assistant Dean for Outreach do?

While Carnegie Mellon has had tremendous success over the last 15 years with the female demographic—we went from 10% of a class being female to now almost 50%—we have not had as much success with other populations. Part of the outreach job is trying to figure out how to get more underrepresented students into the pipeline—to make the pipeline bigger. That is very much connected to where students learn about professions. Typically, that’s in high school, and high school computer science has not been in the best shape. So we think about how Carnegie Mellon can help in this space.

What should students know by the time they graduate high school? And what can they gain from early exposure to CS, even if they don’t pursue a CS degree?

They should know how to think. A lot of computer science is about problem-solving and figuring out how to implement the solution in a constrained programming language, which is an exercise in moving between layers of abstraction. It’s also incredibly creative, because you and I can come up with different solutions. We can argue about efficiency, or elegance, or clarity, so you start looking at layers of problem-solving—not just what answer is correct, but which is better.

We also know that technology is driving forward the US economy. Whether you become a software engineer is less important than understanding the technological milieu in which we live. What does it mean that elections can be hacked? When we talk about autonomous vehicles, at some point you need to decide how it responds to an unavoidable accident: what do you prioritize, what do you evaluate first? Some developer is going to have to implement this, but some non-developer should be thinking about the ethical implications.

I would also say everybody needs to be able to write a little bit of code, because everything exists in that space now. It’s important to be technically savvy in a tech-oriented world, and this generation is going to need to understand that space incredibly well.

You’re currently working with the South Fayette school district to improve their high school CS program, and teaching an AP course there. How do you get younger students excited about computing?

One of the interesting things in South Fayette is they have a wonderful K-8 computational thinking program. But if you took the kids who came through this program—exploring with Arduinos and robots, Scratch and Snap!—and you dropped them into the current 9th grade Java class, they would look at you like you had three heads.

You want to show the breadth of computer science as being way more than programming. I can envision a curriculum that lays the foundations in the 9th year with a bunch of different electives: robotics, machine learning. But you need wonderful programs in K-8, and then you need to look at what you’re doing in the high school and make sure you’re ready to engage these kids when they get there. The Remake Learning initiative is a perfect example: you’re thinking about how you can engage people in this technology now.

Do you notice a gender gap in either enrollment or performance in the K-12 classes? If so, what are your thoughts on how to narrow it?

In my AP class, there’s definitely a skew. But I think if you show things to kids in elementary school, before they’ve really figured out what they want to be, we’ll find a lot more people attaching to computing. I don’t think use of iPhones skews male or female, so why should thinking more deeply about that technology?

And people attach to technology in different ways. Some kids like to play with robots, some don’t; some kids like to play with graphical things, some don’t. The more varied the contexts you embed the technology in, the more likely you’ll be to not see those striations. Indeed, this is why it’s a fundamental access issue—it’s keeping the keys to the kingdom locked up that I think drives some of those gaps.

You spent two and a half years working at CMU’s Qatar campus. Qatar is highly ranked in average years of schooling, life expectancy and quality of life. But it’s also a monarchy ruled by Sharia Law. With programming, people can build their idea and share it widely with nothing more than a computer, which feels very democratic. Do you think computer science has a role to play in advancing equality in the world?

Oh yes, absolutely. It goes back to what we were just talking about: when you present these tools more widely, the equity and democratization issue comes as a matter of course.

For many women in that part of the world, being exposed to higher education and computing is a fundamental alteration of the expected career path. It’s no longer that you can only stay home and be married, you now have this other opportunity. My sense is that a lot of the Qatari females will have fundamentally different conversations with their daughters than they are having right now with their mothers.

Researching your work as an educator, it’s clear you are a deeply beloved professor who inspires students and colleagues alike. You have both a scholarship and a fellowship named after you, and at least two students have even asked you to participate in their weddings. What’s been your central philosophy as an educator?

Dave Kosbie, who’s a very good friend and colleague of mine, put it more succinctly than I think I ever could. As he tells it, the three rules are:

  1. Students come first
  2. If you want people to work hard, you have to work harder
  3. Attend to the whole student, not just their mind

Photo courtesy Aileen OwensI have a couple of my own on my website, and you can pick whichever subset of those you like.

People say ‘do what you love.’ I believe I’m one of the few that gets to do that. And if you love what you do, I think you owe it to everybody you come into contact with to be enthusiastic about it, and in some sense, to be an evangelist for it indirectly. I don’t have to tell people computer science is cool—what I should be doing is showing them it’s cool by how cool I think it is.


You can see Mark Stehlik’s TEDx talk, “What is your fractal dimension?,” at Qatar’s Education City, here.

Pittsburgh Youth Speak Out to Improve Relations with Police

Like many Pittsburgh youth, 19-year-old Curby Anderson has faith in the ideals of policing. When asked on camera to describe his vision of a police officer, he said he wants to see “a person that is dedicated to the work, that works hard, and believes that he can protect other people.”

But Anderson, a resident of Troy Hill, worries that police officers in his neighborhood sometimes may not live up to that vision. He fears police may be quick to make judgments, such as “this person’s gonna be bad, so we’re going to send them off to prison.” He’d like police officers to know the neighbors, particularly local youth, before making that call. “You never know, he could turn his life around.”

Anderson was one of more than 100 young people throughout the city who voiced their opinions of and experiences with Pittsburgh police as part of a campaign organized by the Hear Me project and Allies for Children.

Hear Me is an initiative of the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. It aims to ensure young people’s voices are included in public dialogue about how to make community change. The project records kids’ stories, which are then collected on the project’s website and installed in innovative “tin can” kiosks embedded with audio files. These kiosks are placed in coffee shops, libraries, and recreational spaces around the city for the public to listen to the stories.

Hear Me’s latest campaign is about public safety. It’s collecting stories from young people about their interactions with, and perceptions of, law enforcement officers.

As part of this work, seven participants, including Anderson, met with Mayor Bill Peduto in May as he kicked off the search for the city’s next police chief. And Anderson joined the city’s screening committee to help review applications for the job. After the meeting with Peduto, Hear Me continued to encourage youth to make their voices heard at community forums, the last of which was held July 24.

The most satisfying part is seeing how many young people wanted to take part in the conversation.

“For me, the most satisfying part is seeing how many young people wanted to take part in the conversation,” said Jessica Kaminsky, the Hear Me project manager who coordinated the campaign.

By partnering with approximately 20 other local youth-serving organizations, Hear Me reached young people from 33 neighborhoods. Children as young as age 6 took part, as well as young adults up to age 20. The majority—53 percent—described their perceptions of police as positive, whereas 35 percent labeled police as neutral, and only 12 percent termed them as negative.

But when young people told their stories of experiences with the police, the picture became more complex. Of the 35 youth who described their perception of police officers as neutral, 23 shared stories of negative experiences with police officers. The report concluded, “In our interpretation, these 23 students recognized the role of police officers as positive public officials, but a negative personal experience changed their perception to neutral.”

“Students want to know police officers. They want more positive interactions,” said Kaminsky. “They want to establish a positive relationship instead of react to a negative situation.”

In Hear Me’s recordings, youth also offer some very specific recommendations for the next police chief. “I would tell the chief of police to be responsible and increase officers’ activities with youth, maybe through the schools,” said Kevin, age 15, from Beltzhoover. (As a matter of policy, Hear Me does not publish last names of youth on its website or in other materials.) “If you’re young and they talk to you a lot, you’ll grow up and understand that they’re there to help you. . . . You can trust them. If they don’t talk to you or anything you’ll think they’re kind of mean.”

“Make sure he isn’t a person who prejudges quickly and thinks things through before he acts,” advised Andre, age 15, of Spring Hill.

“Look for someone who cares about the community,” suggested Brittany, age 18, of Brighton Heights. “Someone who can target teenagers to help them become better people.”

Stories collected through this campaign are compiled in a portfolio on Hear Me’s website and can also be hear at a kiosk near you.

Can the Power of Citizen Science Help Save the Environment?

For all human innovation has given us, the unfortunate truth is it’s also caused harm to the only planet we’ve got. And while there’s a slew of amazing technology that’s helping prevent and reverse the damage, most of it’s in the hands of scientists and engineers. But what if technology could bridge that gap and directly allow people to monitor changes to their own environment?

Deren Güler’s FLOAT project did just that. In 2008, while she was a grad student at Carnegie Mellon, Güler and cocreator Xiaowei Wang used Kickstarter to fund FLOAT, which fitted kites with simple sensors to test Beijing’s air quality. The kites’ sensors were connected to LED lights that changed color depending on the air quality, turning from green to hot pink depending on the level of pollutants they detect. Tapping into the 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition of kite flying, the kites created hundreds of tiny air quality testing stations at a time when no official reports were accessible to the city of 17 million.

“Making electronics and computation accessible to a diverse, wide audience of people is something that is really important to me. This is somewhere where people need to have the power of measuring air quality in their own hands.”

-Deren Güler

“Kite flying is a very playful way to start to talk about issues of air quality,” said Wang in a ChinaFile video about the project. “It’s really poetic, too. It’s this vehicle that’s of the air, literally.”

More than just raising awareness about air pollution, the kites and FLOAT workshops gave agency to people by turning them into active data collectors.

“Making electronics and computation accessible to a diverse, wide audience of people is something that is really important to me. Because this is somewhere where people need to have the power of measuring air quality in their own hands,” Güler said.

Güler’s other work also involves creating accessible tools for makers and tinkerers from all walks of life. She’s the creator of Invent-abling, gender-neutral electronics kits that have made their way into places like Assemble and Makeshop.

On the other side of the globe, a 2007 HASTAC grant-winning project from University of California Berkeley professor and game designer Greg Niemeyer called Black Cloud also turned measuring air quality into an emotional experience.

PuffTrons—boxes Niemeyer and his team created to measure carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, light, noise and temperature—were installed in Los Angeles at sites around Manual Arts High School. However, the students weren’t told where the sensors were and had to use clues from the data to locate them next to busy streets, dry cleaners, and even next to their own school—which turned out to be the most polluted spot of all.

The students used what they found to recommend changes. For example, carbon dioxide levels in their classrooms were at high enough levels to make them sleepy and cause headaches, so they installed plants and kept doors and windows open.

Although Black Cloud was an in-school game, the data armed students with concrete information about the air they were breathing.

“This is the kind of authentic knowledge that can make real change,” said Andy Garcia, the English teacher whose students teamed up with Niemeyer to play the game. “From this project we could easily write a policy recommendation letter to the city council based on the health environment around them.”

Like any good game, the goal wasn’t to lecture kids but rather get them to explore and figure pollution out themselves.

“We didn’t tell people who got sensors much about CO2, but they noticed patterns and became curious. It was their own curiosity and ultimately their own questions that drove them to find meaning in the technology,” Niemeyer said of the project in a CITRIS interview.

Getting people involved in protecting the environment isn’t just limited to air pollution. British scientists are also turning to publicly collected data for an entirely different environmental problem—a sudden invasion of Spanish slugs. The rapidly growing Spanish slug population isn’t native to the ecosystem and has potential to wreack havoc on British crops this winter. So scientists launched SlugWatch, an online portal and Twitter account where people can pitch into the nationwide effort of researching and combating slugs by reporting sightings, uploading photos, and learning how to trap them.

Everywhere you look, tools that were once only in scientist’s labs are turning up in our own hands. The potential of technology to connect people with conservation efforts is endless, important, and sure to grow.

Game On: Teachers Learn to Bring Gaming and Play into the Classroom

Thanks to the Institute of Play’s MobileQuest CoLab, Pittsburgh educators took part in a two-week intensive professional development program for teachers to explore the learning potential of play, game design, and mobile technology.

Eighteen middle school teachers spent the second week of July playing games like Marco Polo and Ninja, a physical game where the goal is to “attack” other players, or “ninjas.” Teachers also played Minecraft and used game-design platforms like Gamestar Mechanic, which promotes science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts while teaching the principles of game design. Participants then worked to dissect and modify the games to make them more engaging for their students.

“When they start modifying games, they become designers and they start to understand how to intervene into systems so they can make richer experiences,” Nancy Nowacek, director for mobile programs at the Institute of Play, said to WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR affiliate.

During the second week of the program, teachers played these games with sixth and seventh grade students attending the Institute of Play’s MobileQuest CoLab summer design camp at Carnegie Mellon University.

Pittsburgh’s Youth Media blog explains:

The campers worked in small teams to create their own minute-long physical games using cones, hula-hoops, and other simple objects. The focus was on the game design process, from brainstorming the original idea to writing the rules of the game to modifying the design. Each game also utilized one iPad app, thus introducing technology into the game in an engaging but supplementary manner. As explained by Nancy Nowacek, Director of Mobile Programs at the Institute of Play, the camp was about teaching kids to “look at technology as a tool but not necessarily the focus in learning.”

In addition to playing and designing games, students at the camp worked together to design new games for an exhibition on the last day of camp.

This combination workshop/summer camp is based on the Institute of Play’s MobileQuest model, which has programs in both New York and Chicago. The New York-based nonprofit is behind the two Quest to Learn schools, in New York and Chicago. It has been championing the importance of game-based learning and training teachers to use games in their classrooms since it was founded in 2007. The organization is led by game design guru Katie Salen, who believes that games have the power to teach complex systems thinking—skills that today’s students are going to need in the workplaces of the future.

Nowacek explained that games are integral to learning because gaming is an “intellectual and emotional experience” for the player, who can become so engrossed that they will do just about anything to continue to move forward. Critical thinking, problem solving, detecting patterns, and finding innovative solutions to circumvent these patterns are all skills Nowacek said games can reinforce.

“Games are really great because they offer constant challenge towards their players so there is a kind of constant feedback that happens as people are playing games,” said Nowacek. “They are not only engaged with the system of the game but with one another.”

Brian Waniewski, managing director of Institute of Play, also led some of the sessions. He said every form of play is a form of risk, practice, or experimentation.

“One of the interesting things about games for us is that they unlock a state of being known as play, and in play all sorts of magical things happen,” he said. “People will take risks that they won’t otherwise take in real life. They will try again and again at a problem that they would have otherwise failed at. They will do really difficult things and have fun doing that. So that state of play known as being is really important when you’re trying to get kids and adults to learn.”

Soon-to-be eighth-grader Kaine Blakey Crumpton told WESA that he’d like to see these kinds of activities happen during the regular school year. “It teaches us new things like how to interact with other people trying to create things,” he said, “and it really gives us a chance to meet new people and see what they can do, and you can also figure out in yourself what you can do too.”

Educators said they came away from the experience with new ideas about how to use games and gaming structures for learning in their classrooms.

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as like something they do gathering information,” said Christopher Foster, a teacher in the Elizabeth Forward School District. “I have always done maybe a review game, but not a strategy of them going out and finding the information on their own through a game, so that’s going to be something that I use, definitely.”

At The Museum, DIY Learning

This post originally appeared at the Fred Rogers Center.

At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP, kids have a chance to uncover their inner tinkerer. Whether creating a paper shadow puppet with LEDs for eyes, a drill-powered skateboard, or a newspaper chair you can really sit in, the kids and their parents are engaging in one of the most effective ways to learn—hands-on or experiential learning. They’re also learning to take ownership of the digital world as creators, not just consumers.

The MAKESHOP opened in 2011 as a space within the Museum for visitors to experiment with real tools, materials, and creative process at the intersection of the physical and the digital. These explorations often lead to making tangible products or projects. We’re part of a growing movement of Makerspaces around the country working to promote more opportunities for making and to help better understand how children and families learn through making.

Our permanent exhibit design was built after extensive prototyping with visitors. The MAKESHOP is intended to welcome and engage visitors of all ages, genders, and levels of ability and to encourage collaboration across generations.

Families love the MAKESHOP. Kevin, one of our talented teaching artists, wrote a blog post about repeat visitors Aiden, Thomas, and their dad, who travel all the way from Buffalo, NY, to regularly visit the museum. They come to work on stop-motion animation with a dry erase board.

Makeshop at The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh/ Photo: Vaughn Wallace

Photo: Vaughn Wallace

We also work with schools and teachers to meaningfully integrate making experiences into their Museum learning visits. For example, a kindergarten class from the Environmental Charter School came to work on a design challenge: make a simple machine that would move a ping pong ball from one place to another without touching it. The kids worked together using wood, peg boards, toilet paper rolls, cardboard, and whatever else they could find in the MAKESHOP to build their contraptions. They had to work together to accomplish their goals.

But it’s not just cardboard and glue. We realize the important role that digital media plays in children’s lives, and we continually work to combine technology with more “real world” materials. MAKESHOP is a partnership project between the Museum, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out of School Environments (UPCLOSE), and Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). Together, we develop digital experiences that thoughtfully and intentionally consider the child, the family, the content, and the context of use.  The goal is to advance the use of digital media as an integrated tool for facilitating conversation, exploration, and productive making among young families.

We also give the next generation of designers hands-on experience. Each academic semester, a graduate student design team from the ETC works with UPCLOSE and representative MAKESHOP staff to develop a digital component for the space. This collaboration creates new and changing digital media based experiences for visitors, while participating ETC students learn a tremendous amount about meaningful interaction design for young children and families. These graduate students are encouraged to spend time testing their projects by working alongside MAKESHOP staff and families. As the students develop these digital projects, the MAKESHOP facilitation team develops complementary physical and digital making experiences that build on and extend the digital projects.

In response to our work in MAKESHOP, the Museum is now very interested in finding the productive intersections and tensions between the digital and the physical “real stuff” of children’s lives. We have found that children do not make such distinctions. We believe it is our job to help children and their families envision the familiar aspects and objects of their lives differently, to put the digital and physical pieces together in innovative ways. MAKESHOP enables this kind of envisioning and active innovation.

We’ll be hosting a Mini Maker Faire at the Museum on August 18. Last year we had over 1,800 faire-goers come to make, show off their own inventions, and celebrate DIY learning.

Even if you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you can join in by watching an episode of the MAKESHOP Show, an online resource hub for kid makers with a searchable, multimedia treasure trove of projects voted on by kids and designed with a researched understanding of young makers. The resource includes originally produced videos with  how-tos, maker interviews, junk-creation challenges, and more.

For more, watch the video below and follow our blog at www.makeshoppgh.org. We look forward to seeing you in MAKESHOP at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Robin Shoop and Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy Recognized Again in DML Competition

In early January, the 4th HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition announced the 16 winners of Stage One of the Teacher Mastery and Feedback Badge Competition.

Among the chosen few were Robin Shoop and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy. Fresh off their Stage One win in the Badges for Life Long Learning Competition, Shoop and the Robotics Academy team have also earned recognition for their Computer Science Student Network Teacher Badge System to enhance the abilities of educators to teach Computer Science, Engineering, and other CS-STEM subjects.

Designed to build knowledge, proficiency, and professional development, the Teacher Badge System is a multi-stage learning program that awards Badges to teachers in increments including:

  • Small Badges that provide recognition and motivation to teachers learning new CS-STEM subjects
  • Knowledge Badges to certify teacher’s mastery of new content
  • Teaching Badges to certify their pedagogical proficiency in a new subject
  • Industry Badges to recognize teachers who have attained a professional level of proficiency


The Teacher Badge System also includes Recognition Badges awarded those instructors who make a lasting impact on their students. Recognition Badges are awarded to teachers based on the merits of their students’ performance statistics, and by individual students who wish to recognize their teacher’s impact on their learning.

Learn more about the Computer Science Student Network Badge System that has now earned two Stage One wins in the DML Competition. Congratulations to Robin and everyone at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy for their win and good luck!

Stay tuned to hear more on the DML Competition as we near the third annual Digital Media & Learning Conference in San Francisco on March 1-3, 2012.