Summer’s right around the corner…really. Despite the rollercoaster spring we’re all having, summer will arrive. And with it comes a set of great opportunities for Pittsburgh kids and teens to follow their interests and learn something new.

Pittsburgh’s Summer of Learning is getting underway, and in addition to the great programming, kids will get a chance to document their learning in new ways.

Pittsburgh is joining other Cities of Learning in a groundbreaking initiative to pair summer learning with digital badges. Digital badges will enable young people to find new paths of discovery, explore the city’s rich resources, and find out what they can learn, make, do, and ultimately become. (Save the date for the Pittsburgh City of Learning launch event on June 10th!)

If the Summer of Learning is anything like Chicago’s experience in 2013, it’ll be a hit, and might just inspire Mayor William Peduto to a polar plunge like the one Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took after Chicago kids bested him by reading 2 million books over the summer.

Last summer in Chicago, 125 organizations—city departments, the school district, neighborhood nonprofits, and cultural institutions—created a network of programs centered on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). By summer’s end, more than 200,000 young people had taken part in more than 500 programs. The city issued more than 100,000 badges to students who had successfully completed various tasks.

The bonus to badges, as we wrote earlier, is that they motivate learning and show others who might be interested in, say bee-keeping, what steps are needed to become a skilled bee-keeper. With badges, youth can go online and see the work their peers have done and, importantly, see all the work they’ve done and steps they’ve taken along the way.

Badges can also help those who run summer programs better understand what interests kids. Administrators, too, can go online to see what kids like (by the number of badges earned), or where kids dropped out of a program or got stuck on a certain step. Parents should be excited as well, because employers and increasingly teachers back in the classroom are beginning to recognize badges. NASA, the U.S. Department of Education, Microsoft, the 4-H Council, the Manufacturing Institute, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and even some universities recognize badges.

Last year, Emanuel spoke about visiting Summer of Learning sites throughout Chicago and witnessing students’  energy and enthusiasm  “as they challenged themselves creatively, intellectually, and socially.” The high participation level, he added, “confirmed that by turning our entire city into a classroom during the summer, we can make learning fun and accessible for every child in Chicago.”

Indeed. That tradition continues this year in Pittsburgh, so stay tuned.