Monday, March 30, 2015

Photo Club: Portraits & Play

It was a chilly 17 degrees outside on Saturday, so we needed to keep our Photo Club students motivated and moving! We headed up to Grandview Park. Our goal: portraits and play. Each student had to make a portrait of another student in action at the playground.

We encouraged them to not only observe but to direct one another as well. Trey wanted to get a great jumping shot of Robert, and after several tries of working together, they were successful.

 Photo by Trey

Amier wanted to try a more documentary style, so he stayed on the outskirts of the action, making photos from different vantage points. 

 Photo by Amier

 Photo by Amier

To explore different ideas about motion photography, Amier also made an abstract photo of the playground as if it were moving.
 Photo by Amier

Like Trey, Robert wanted to do more stop action photos-- catching his friends in motion. 
 Photo by Robert

We found playing at the park to be a great way to learn about motion photography and portraiture. Our students talked about observing and framing, fast shutter speeds and how to direct action. After a fun-filled session, we were definitely played out and ready to head back to ALEC. 

 Photo by Robert

Photo Club is a project designed by Renee Greenlee, a Photography Intensive student at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  The goal of Photo Club is to provide students with the tools and skills that they need to be the authors of their own visual stories. This project is supported in part by the Spark Fund for Early Learning at The Sprout Fund and is hosted by the Brashear Association's Allentown Learning & Engagement Center (ALEC). 

To learn more about Photo Club, check out our first post


Friday, March 27, 2015

Cooking Together: Bek Hlavach & Black Bean Sliders

We are so pleased to have such an amazing neighbor and friend in Bek Hlavach.  Bek runs an amazing restaurant called Sweet Peaches which offers brunch and lunch options on top of amazing catering services.  Allentown has enjoyed having her a part of our community and has greatly benefited from her presence here.

I asked Bek to kick off our first Cooking Together class with our ALEC attendees. Bek has guest taught a few other times with Brashear Kids. She shared a mini pesto pizza last summer with our summer campers and she also hosted our after school students last spring at Sweet Peaches for a field trip. Both times our students have enjoyed being with her and especially enjoyed her food!

Bek started off by introducing herself and sharing a bit about Sweet Peaches then introduced her assistants, her two twin daughters and a friend. She shared with the attendees what ingredients she would be using that day and how easy they can make this at home as a family. 

Her "assistants" were in charge of various duties, such as mashing the beans, mixing the ingredients together, collecting scraps for compost and making patties. These actions portrayed how easy it is to cook at home with your kids and although they may not be old enough to use the stove or even cut vegetables there are plenty of opportunities to engage them in the kitchen. For smaller helpers you could ask for their assistance in simple tasks like having them hand you various ingredients or tools to help identify what different things are or to collect scraps for compost or refuse.  As I have seen first hand our after school programs children will leap at the opportunity to help. Many days I have too many helpers and have to break up the tasks for the day or pair students off to work together on a task like take the compost out or passing our the snack.

Our attendees were very excited and had lots of questions for Bek, often times talking over one another to ask a question or shout an answer to something.  Bek was very patient with our attendees and was able to answer each of their questions, being a mother might have something to do with her ability to handle a million questions at once.  Every experience we have had with bek has been an extremely pleasant and informative experience. 

Sliders were served buffet style and they were received well by both students and adults.  A couple students had an aversion to black beans but were willing to try it and claimed it was good. We had a lot of fun and look forward to Bek returning again in the future.  Our first Cooking Together class went extremely well and I am pleased we can continue to offer this program in Allentown on a monthly basis.

Would you like to make Black bean sliders at home with your family? Follow this simple and easy to make recipe created by Bek Hlavach.

Thank you Bek, for sharing your time, energy, resources and heart with our students and their families!  We greatly appreciate it your assistance in growing Allentown and making Pittsburgh a healthier community.

Did you catch this great article on Sweet Peaches and Bek?  Feel free to contact her for catering or stop by Allentown for brunch one day.

To learn more about the Cooking Together series and why we think it is important, check out this blog post here.  

Family  .  Community  .  Cooking Together


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Geography for Kids


Teaching geography to children requires some creativity when travel budgets are tight. Since kids can't roam the globe, try to bring the world to them. The facts and figures of geography bore the socks off of most kids, so focusing more on the wonders of the wide world might inspire more interest in young geographers.

At ALEC, the Brashear kids are lucky to have an old classroom map of the world. Despite being a Mercator projection map, it is very useful for our cultural lessons and other geography needs.

Few things get kids involved like a good competition for bragging rights. A small dry erase board or chalkboard could be the start of a daily or weekly geography challenge question. Map literacy is a great skill to develop, with math and graph reading skill overlap, too.

Other great tools for bringing geography to kids can be found online. Lately, the students at ALEC have been having a lot of fun with

This web site features a geography game based on Google's streetview imagery. The player is dropped somewhere in the world with only the scenery and their knowledge to help locate themselves.

The game features a number of map options, ranging from the entire world to individual contries, to single cities. Our favorite map features famous landmarks from all around the globe.

Each round puts the player in a new location and challenges them to guess their location on the inset map. Players have no time limit and can take as long as they want to guess.

After making a guess, the round ends and players are shown how close their guess was. Points are awarded for accuracy.

After completing the five rounds of a game, the player gets to a summary screen. The points total can be shared on social media for extra bragging rights.

This game makes wonderful use of Google's immense collection of streetscape photography, bringing the canals of Venice, the temples of Angkor Wat, the countryside of Japan, and many, many other sights to elementary school students.

- John

Monday, March 23, 2015

Photo Club: Part One

We recently started a new photo education series with Renee Greenlee, our previous Education Coordinator. Photo club is held on Saturdays with a small group of students to allow for more individualized attention with Renee.  

For our first session of Photo Club at ALEC, we explored the streets of Allentown. With cameras in hand, we set out to document the streets where the students live and play. 

​Photo by Jeffrey

We took in the view of the neighborhood and noticed color, line and landscape along the way. The students took their assignments in stride: change your perspective and see what hidden shapes you can find.
Photo by Amier

​Photo by Amier

We walked along the streets the students take every day: to school, to ALEC, to the store.  Even though it was a very familiar environment, they noticed new things, and created images that reflected their more informed perspective. 

Photo by Robert

​Photo by Robert

Photo by Justice

​Photo by Justice

​Photo Club is a project designed by Renee Greenlee, a Photography Intensive student at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  The goal of Photo Club is to provide students with the tools and skills that they need to be the authors of their own visual stories. 
This project is supported in part by the Spark Fund for Early Learning at The Sprout Fund and is hosted by the Brashear Association's Allentown Learning & Engagement Center (ALEC). 

In December we shared a beautiful mini documentary featuring the students at ALEC, which was shot by Renee Greenlee. Please click on the link to view it, you will have a difficult time not smiling through the whole video.
-Renee & Amber

Monday, March 16, 2015

Brashear Kids Go Snowshoeing with Venture Outdoors

Remember when there was snow on the ground a few days ago? You know, from that frozen winter we had here in Pittsburgh. Well, we took full advantage of all the snow here at our after-school program. And it's all thanks to one of our community partners, Venture Outdoors!

Here is one of our 1st graders getting used to walking with the snowshoes! He wanted to make sure I captured pictures of the footprints he left, which you can see in the title photo.

Oh, and did I mention the volunteers and teachers were able to try them out too! It was a lot of fun.

Here is our group getting ready to go on the hike at Granview Park.

Thank You Venture Outdoors!

Our after school students had a blast with this new opportunity! While it may have left their fingers cold, it didn't matter. They all had smiles on their faces and enjoyed the Venture Outdoors experience.

- Corey

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Brashear Kids Learn About Japan

Recently, Brashear Kids had an opportunity to learn about Japanese culture. Between learning about a day in the life of a 10 year old student in Japan and folding their own origami, our students at ALEC had a lot of fun with this lesson. I recently attended a workshop through AmeriCorps about the importance of teaching about Eastern Asian cultures to our students. I was ready to take notes for a Culture Day lesson like this. I'm glad I did.

First, I incorporated a Japan geography trivia game using a digital presentation. I've noticed that our students really dislike not being called on. So, for this "game" I had everyone participate by using their fingers held high to show which answer they thought was correct for each question. This made it a friendly competition and worked really well in my opinion.

Some of the questions generated a lot of interesting discussion. Did you know Japan is made up of 6,852 islands?! Or that 75% of Japan's land is Forest and Mountains?! Here are some screenshots of some of the Japan Trivia questions I included:

Following the trivia game, our students learned about a day in the life of Ryuichi Kishi, a 10 year-old boy living with his family in Maebashioa city, 70 miles from Tokyo. How valuable it is for our young elementary students to learn about what life is like for kids their age in other geographical areas and cultures! 

For many of the culture day lessons at ALEC, I have included this enlightening portion to the lesson thanks to TIME for Kids. They provide these "Day in the Life" excerpts for kids around the world. Here is a snapshot of what these look like:

Retrieved from:
I either take snapshots of each webpage or copy and paste this information into a slideshow where I can add more pictures. Additional pictures I will add usually involve food. Our Brashear Kids love to learn about the food of other cultures and will gladly say "ohhh," "ahh," or "ewww!" But we like to remind them that "eww" isn't always the best response to something unfamiliar. For an example of how I add more photos, here is a snapshot of one of the slides I used on this day:

Following the story of Ryuichi, I wanted to finish the lesson with a discussion and activity on the art of folding in Japan. This is also known as origami. The history of origami dates back before it's name was just about folding paper into cranes, other animals, and boats. Origami was about the art of folding decorative paper, but it was about folding clothes, folding doors, and keeping things simple and creative. This was interesting for me to learn about at the workshop I went to. So, I definitely wanted to incorporate a hands-on activity for our ever-moving students. 

Our students range from 1st grade to 5th grade. And I needed to decide what kind of origami to facilitate. I needed the project to be simple but not too easy where the 5th graders were disinterested. So, I perused the resources I had from the workshop. I went on and found the "Origami Talking Dog." 

Photo Courtesy of:
Our Brashear Kids had a really great time with folding paper to make an origami talking dog. As an instructor, it was amazing and refreshing to watch our fast-finishers (mostly our older kids) help the younger students with finishing their origami. I was wondering, prior to the class, if our younger kids would have too difficult a time with the delicate folds. But, with the help of the adults in the classroom and our helpful 5th graders, everyone was able to make a successful Talking Dog.

If you have older students, or if I was to do an origami project with just our 3rd through 5th graders, I would teach them about the legend of the Thousand Origami Cranes. There is a children's book that would accompany a lesson on this legend perfectly. It is called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. The legend says that someone who created a thousand origami cranes would be cured by the gods. The book is about a girl who is terminally ill and begins making cranes. This would also make for a great community service project that could be donated to the Children's Hospital or the Ronald McDonald House.

One last thing before you go, Japanese animation is another topic that children may find extremely interesting. From the spiritual and cultural themes within Japanese animation, to how Japanese cartoons and animation influenced American animation, and to the timeline of Japanese art history itself; this topic opens the door to a lot of fun learning especially for artistic kids. 

I hope this has inspired you to teach your students or children about Eastern Asia, and specifically Japan. There are a lot of helpful resources at the library and online. Make sure you click through the links I have provided in this post.

- Corey


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