Photo by Cristina Holtzer
Ella (left) and Christina (right), two student in Ms. Pantilla’s third grade class, show off the skills they have learned through the Children’s Innovation Project.

By Cristina Holtzer

The kids at Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 aren’t just learning English and math; they can also use integrated circuit boards.

On Wednesday, May 21, children at Pittsburgh Allegheny elementary school demonstrated the command of technology that they’d spent school year learning. The Northside school implemented the children’s innovation project in 2010, a technology education program for elementary school students started by two Pittsburgh tech enthusiasts.

Melissa Butler, a kindergarten teacher with a Master’s degree from Penn State and Jeremy Boyle, resident artist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab, “began by having children look at toys.”

They asked children to take toys apart and draw what they saw. Boyle said he was amazed at how easily the children were able to grasp the concept.

“They ended up making schematically correct drawings,” Boyle said.

The evening began at 5:30 p.m. with a musical show of fourth and fifth grade students, followed by a ceremony honoring each child who had completed 100 percent of his or her “innovation homework.” After Butler spoke briefly, students from all grades took their “posts” within the school—stations where they exhibited their knowledge of electricity, circuits and technology until 7:15 p.m.

“The goal here is to broaden a sensibility for innovation in our children,” Butler said at the start of the event. “Today, encourage them to be precise. Effort creates ability. Children are not born smart.”

Northside resident Cheré LeVinen sat with her granddaughter, kindergartener Kaydence Brown, and waited in the auditorium for Brown’s turn to show off her skills. Brown said her favorite part of the innovation project was when she took the toys apart and played with the batteries.

“She could come home and talk to us about circuit boards,” LeVinen said. “I think it’s really crazy to have kindergarteners learning about that.”

Ella and Christina, two third graders in Ms. Pantilla’s class, explained breadboards, thin plastic boards with metal sheets underneath that can be wired together to create a circuit.

“If I want to create a circuit I can put stuff on here, or here,” Ella said, “and stuff will happen.”

More information on the Children’s Innovation Project can be found here.