Sunday, June 10, 2018

Spring trip 2018: "Pittsburgh, my boy!"

"Pittsburgh, my boy!" (a favorite and oft-quoted line from Vonnegut's Player Piano)

Why Pittsburgh?

We chose Pittsburgh, in no small part, because it serves as a continued example of the ways in which people influence technology and the ways in which technology influences people. We started the year at Tillers International, a farm and learning center in Scotts, Michigan, where we took classes on traditional skills (such as woodworking, blacksmithing, and ploughing with draft animals). Through our study of Arduino robots and then our study of solar panels, we looked at modern tools that people are using to change the world. We’re finishing our last project, research about the history of Detroit, and learning about the ways in which industry has shaped the people in the city over time. Pittsburgh has a long history of industry and innovation and has continued to reinvent itself as a center of innovation through robotics, computer science, and art. As we finish our year, we’ll return to the conversation about people and tools and the interplay between them over time.

But first, Pittsburgh. We arrived on Monday afternoon and went straight to the Duquesne Incline. The incline was originally built to carry cargo up Mt Washington in the late nineteenth century. It’s still part of the Pittsburgh transit system and people still use it to commute to and from work. The view from the observation deck was breathtaking and it gave us a good sense of the layout of the city: the bridges, the rivers, and the recognizable monuments.

After the incline, we drove to our dorm at the University of Pittsburgh. Once we got settled, we took a city bus to Market Square, a lovely area downtown with restaurants surrounding a small square. Kids walked around and ate in small groups before we reconvened back in the square. Once everyone returned from dinner, we walked across the Roberto Clemente bridge and over to the Water Steps, an interactive sculpture on the bank of the Allegheny River. After a bit of wet frolicking, we took the bus back to the dorm.

On Tuesday, we started our day at the Mattress Factory, an interactive modern art installation museum in the Strip District. We broke into groups and explored a variety of thought-provoking and curious spaces throughout two of the museum’s buildings. Once we finished our visit, we met up with guides from City of Asylum, an incredibly fascinating and inspiring organization that supports writers in exile through several compelling programs. We walked through their writers’ residences and then stopped by their cafe/bookstore/event space, Alphabet City. At Alphabet City, we had the honor of listening to Tuhin Das, an exiled writer from Bangladesh, share some of his poems and talk with us about his experiences.

From Alphabet City, we walked to Randyland, a funky and colorful public art exhibit/installation/interactive space. From Randyland, we drove over to Sienna Mercato Emporia, a “meatball joint” with many non-meatball options for lunch. Post-meatballs (or other delicacies), we walked to the Senator John Heinz History Center, where we saw all sorts of fascinating exhibits and artifacts (notably, a fantastic interactive exhibit on Prohibition and the original set from “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood," among all sorts of other treasures).

After an afternoon learning about the history of the Pittsburgh area, we walked to Condado Tacos for a delicious meal. Then, we went back to the dorm for a few minutes of down time before driving out to Trundle Manor. It’s easier to describe Trundle Manor by explaining what it isn’t instead of what it is. Trundle Manor is not an average museum. It’s not actually an official museum at all. It’s not empty. It’s not predictable. It’s not boring. What is it? It’s the private residence of the peculiar and delightful Velda and Mr. Arm, who welcomed us into their collection of specimens with warmth and charm. Highlights included tall flames, wonders of taxidermy, and the chance to talk about being true to yourself and bringing that which is uniquely yours -- whatever it may be -- into the world. For specific details, you’ll really have to talk with the children.

On Thursday, we woke up and went straight to the Carnegie Science Center. After some time in the Robot Hall of Fame, most of the students went to the “Sportsworks” complex, which included a high ropes course, a “human yo-yo,” a climbing wall, and a chance to run around a bit. Another highlight of the museum was the chance to walk through the USS Requin, a submarine originally set out days before the end of World War II and sent on many lengthy defense and scientific missions, some of which are still classified.

After the submarine stroll, we set off for Carnegie-Mellon University, where we visited the IDeATe space. IDeATe stands for “Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology” and it’s a cross-disciplinary program that connects people doing work in technology and art across the campus. We got to talk with a professor about his coursework, with students working in different spaces (fabrication, woodworking, and animation, among others), and with our outstanding guide. Students asked great questions, of course, and were invited back (as college students) by several of the adults with whom we spoke.

After CMU, we walked to Shadyside for some free time to stroll. Post-stroll, we went to a park for a final night pizza picnic. After soccer, swinging, and groundies, we returned to the dorm for time to hang out and pack.

On Thursday morning, we loaded the buses and set off for Moraine State Park. When we got to Lake Arthur, we met up with Ian and Ryan from Surfs Up Adventures for our paddle boarding eco-tour of the lake. From paddle boarding through small inlets between glacial rock formations to paddle board dodge ball, it was the perfect way to end a wonderful trip.

Traveling with this group of young people is a pleasure. We are particularly grateful to all of our hosts at the University of Pittsburgh, the Duquesne Incline, the Mattress Factory, City of Asylum, the Heinz History Center, Trundle Manor, the Carnegie Science Center, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Surfs Up Adventures. Tremendous, tremendous, thank you to Pamela Bogart and Chris Swinko, who gave up their own lives for four days to join us on this epic voyage. We so appreciate all you did to help make this trip so much fun.

Find all of our photos in the class album. In the mean time, here are a few highlights...

The Duquesne Incline

The Water Steps along the bank of the Allegheny River

Eighth graders looking cool

More cool eighth graders - when did they get so big?

Hanging out in Market Square

Mattress Factory

City of Asylum

Prohibition exhibit at the Heinz History Center

Sportsworks at the Carnegie Science Center

More Sportsworks

A beautiful day (and really neat sculpture) at Carnegie-Mellon University

Three Rivers

Playing at/in the Water Steps

More City of Asylum

Mr. Arm at Trundle Manor

Interesting specimens at Trundle Manor

Velda opening the gifts we made for the musem

These children are absolutely the creators of tomorrow's breakthroughs. 

Inside the USS Requin at the Carnegie Science Center

Learning about Arduino + laser engraver tools designed to improve the lives of senior citizens made by students in a class at Carnegie-Mellon

The animation room at IDeATe (at CMU)

Pizza picnic at the park

Paddle boarding

Learning how to pivot turn on the board

Paddling under part of the North Country Trail, which winds through the park

You can't hear the frogs in the photo, but they were there. 

To continued adventures...

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