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Dreams animate Eliz. Forward art room at enrichment series

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:30 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Rebecca Grabman of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh discusses computer programming procedures with students taking a summer course at Elizabeth Forward High School that teaches them how to design and create animated video games.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Christian Tsu-Raun, center, from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, advises seventh-graders McKenzie Winter and Hunter Urban on how they can connect the switching device on the table with their computer so it will control a computer animation program they are developing. The girls are among about two dozen students participating in the summer enrichment program at Elizabeth Forward High School.

There's been no shortage of cartoon characters, computers or curiosity in the art room at Elizabeth Forward High School this week.

That's where about 24 children in grades four through eight are participating in Dream Factory 101, an instructional program that teaches students how to use computer animation and design programs used in video games and other applications.

The two-week course is part of the district's summer enrichment program and is one of several being offered that teaches digital skills applicable to a number of media platforms.

During a visit to the art room on Thursday, students were figuring out how to connect the design and animation ideas on their computer screens with physical control devices.

Some of the program controllers they had wired into their computers worked on a simple on-off principle. Others were designed to send signals when they were tilted or sensed movement.

“We're going to animate a spaceship,” said fifth-grader Nathan Yurkovich, who was working with a group of boys who rigged a model of a ship made of Lego blocks and tongue depressors with motion sensors.

When their project is complete, Yurkovich and his partners will be able to use the spaceship as a handheld controller for a computer game similar to Asteroids.

“It's a lot of work,” said sixth-grader Noah Stillwagon, who was puzzling out the programming code needed to make that happen.

Two instructors from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh — Christian Tsu-Raun and Rebecca Grabman — are helping to facilitate the program. They made their way around the art room, stopping at each table to discuss various aspects of each group's project.

“It's about doing crazy stuff and knowing how to do crazy stuff,” is how Tsu-Raun described the course. He said students have been eager to learn and put their knowledge to use, with some continuing to work on projects at home in the evening. Tsu-Raun said the students are at an ideal age to learn, noting, “No one in the world learns faster than an 8-year-old.”

In addition to teaching hands-on design and programming skills, district technology instructor Jeff Stolkovich said the youth are learning how to work in teams and delegate responsibility for the various tasks.

“We want them to experience how a programming team would come together in the real world,” Stolkovich said.

Next week, Stolkovich said students will learn how to use computer-aided drafting programs in conjunction with the school's 3-D printer to make prototype object models out of plastic.

“We're showing them how to go from something that only exists in your mind to an actual physical object,” he said.

Down the hall from the art room in the school's media center, children in first through third grades were participating in another high-tech program called Digital Fun! There, children were using handheld computers to create comic book-styled story boards and animated graphics.

“They're naturals with this,” said Mika Long, who is retiring from her job this year as a district technology teacher. She said the high-tech offerings are part of the district's efforts “to change with the times and the way kids are thinking.”

The district is taking high-tech learning seriously. At a meeting this week, the school board approved a leasing deal with Apple that will outfit every student in the district with a take-home computing device at cost to the district of $550,000 annually.

In recent years the district has used Grable Foundation grants to create gaming instruction programs and facilities at its middle and high schools and to revamp the high school library, outfitting it with digital video and audio studios.

The enrichment program continues through the summer with more high-tech programs and offerings in gardening, cooking, driver's education and SAT preparation.

Course fees are $45 and classes are open to students from outside districts. More information and registration is available online at

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or