The ways we gather, store and understand information are moving further into digital spaces. It is essential that we are providing access to, and creating the foundational skills necessary for, children to navigate these spaces. While there are countless benefits to digitizing our lives, moving into these spaces can be restricting to some of our most vulnerable community members. Access to digital spaces can be affected by various factors in children’s lives such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and parental education. However, many of these factors have little bearing on a child’s digital skills. If we provide access for children to think, play and problem solve in digital arenas, then they will develop the skills necessary to participate in and utilize these spaces. The BLAST (Bringing Libraries and Schools Together) team has been working to ensure that access to digital spaces remains equitable within library services.
Through outreach visits to Pittsburgh Public School classrooms, the BLAST team has been promoting digital access and digital literacy awareness. During visits to third grade classrooms the BLAST team presents facts centered on digital literacy, letting students know that not only are the physical library spaces available to them, so are the digital ones. The BLAST team introduces students to digital resources available through the Library. These include homework help and eResources. By providing classroom demonstrations, the BLAST team walks students through how to reach the Library’s website, search for homework help, download ebooks and how to place holds and renew materials online. BLAST helps students gain access to these resources by providing applications and library cards to students in their classrooms. Each library card is sent home with a letter to caregivers and a printed list of age appropriate eResources for third graders. This has allowed hundreds of Pittsburgh Public School students digital inclusion into the Library even if barriers such as time constraints or lack of transportation prevent them from being able to visit in person.
The BLAST team has delivered a number of programs focused on developing the awareness that students needn’t only be digital consumers but can also be content creators. By participating in BLAST programs that center on pre-coding skills and computational thinking, third, fourth and fifth grade students across the city are strengthening the foundational skills necessary to become digital citizens. The most exciting part of these programs is often when students realize that they already have the skill set necessary to succeed. Students are able to link the concepts and ideas they are using daily in their classrooms to digital skills. As fourth grade students were learning about cause and effect in their classrooms, BLAST delivered a program that introduced coding conditionals. Students were able to apply what they had learned about cause and effect to the conditional program. By incorporating digital literacy into skills that children already have or are working to build, we help them develop multiple skill sets at once.
Zia is an Outreach Specialist with the BLAST team. She is an avid reader, gardener and bee (yes, the insect) enthusiast. She loves giving book recommendations and taking pictures of her three pets.