Remake Learning http://remakelearning.org Kids+Creativity is a network of people, projects, and organizations in the greater Pittsburgh region that are empowering children and youth by creating relevant learning opportunities through the compelling use of technology, media, and the arts. Sat, 13 Jun 2015 03:59:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Digital Badges Give Credit Where Credit Is Due http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/19/digital-badges-give-credit-where-credit-is-due/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/19/digital-badges-give-credit-where-credit-is-due/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 19:17:25 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19484 Teens—especially in Pittsburgh—have tons of opportunities to learn outside of school. They can make music with digital tools, experiment with circuitry, and program LED lights. With the help of mentors and others, they expand their horizons and learn new skills, while no doubt benefiting their schoolwork.

Yet most of that out-of-school learning goes undocumented. So how can we track which skills kids pick up when they’re away from the classroom? And once they’ve mastered those skills, how can we get better at helping kids build on them?

Educators and students will explore these questions and more on November 21 at the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit. They will gather with librarians, artists, and researchers to explore innovative concepts, like digital badges and connected learning pathways, as a continued step in connecting in- and out-of-school learning.

A main item on the agenda is digital badges—a new way to document the whole gamut of kids’ learning. Badges are digital credentials that let kids document the skills they’ve learned. Because the badges are virtual, they can convey what the badge holder learned in much more detailed fashion. For example, if you want to find out what a badge like “audio production” really entails, you can click on it and read a description of the skills associated with it or hear the song created at various stages of production. Badges can help present out-of-school learning in ways that make universities and companies pay attention. Simply put, they can give young people credit where credit is due.

Digital badges aren’t just an idea. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), high-tech employers, K–12 programs, and more than 40 universities accept them. Even NASA uses them: “There are common skill sets that NASA and other organizations are seeking,” said Leland Melvin, NASA’s former associate administrator for education. “Badging can be used in a cross-cutting way to help learners, educators, and institutions meet the demands of the future.”

Other examples include:

  • TechShop Pittsburgh, which offered a “Maker Mindset” badge this summer that rewarded kids for learning to think like makers. Earning the badge meant the learner had started approaching problems with an engineer mentality while engaging in the entire making process.
  • The Young Adult Library Services developed a badge system to recognize, improve, and enhance the skills of library staff working with teens.
  • The Providence After School Alliance, which formally launched an open badge system that captures and publicly recognizes student learning in arts, STEM, civics, and other subjects. Students can even use badges to earn elective credits toward graduation from Providence public high schools and can include badges as part of their applications to local colleges.

Badges also help adults who design programs for kids. “I was really excited when I found out that this was happening in Pittsburgh,” said Rachel Shepherd in a ConnectedLearning.tv webinar last summer. Shepherd, the former youth and media program manager at the Steeltown Entertainment Project, explained that badges help her and her colleagues ask themselves what skills they’re ultimately trying to teach.

In a way, adding structure is what badges are all about. Badges can be the breadcrumbs along the pathways of learning, documenting what kids are learning along the way.

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What Does a “Learning Pathway” Really Look Like for a Pittsburgh Kid? http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/18/what-does-a-learning-pathway-really-look-like-for-a-pittsburgh-kid/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/18/what-does-a-learning-pathway-really-look-like-for-a-pittsburgh-kid/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:19:25 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19468 We talk a lot about learning networks and pathways on this blog. But we often get asked, “What does a network actually look like? Is it a concrete thing or just an abstract idea?”

In a nutshell, it’s both.

As we approach the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit on November 21, we thought it might be a good time to answer these questions, and describe what we mean by “learning pathway.” A learning pathway is indeed a real thing, but it’s also an idea that guides our work here at Remake Learning. So what does a pathway really look like for a Pittsburgh kid?

Let’s imagine there’s a high school student, and let’s call her Maria. Maria is really into taking pictures and videos on Instagram, so her teacher recommends she check out the YMCA Lighthouse Program. She gets her first exposure to media production, photo editing, and lends a hand on a short film.

Now that she’s got the basic technical know-how down, she decides to work on some of her own footage at The Labs at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She starts going to open lab hours but ends up sitting in on workshops where she learns about green screens and Adobe After Effects.

At The Labs, Maria discovers Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media Program. She and a group of other students work with Super 8 cameras to make a film they feel pretty good about, so they enter it in the Take a Shot film festival from Steeltown Entertainment.

Up until this point, Maria’s films and photos have all been funny narratives. But she’s interested in using film and storytelling for documentaries, which she’s recently begun watching on YouTube. She wonders if there’s a program where she could try that out—and finds just what she’s looking for at Pittsburgh Youth Media.

By this point, Maria’s schoolwork is starting to reflect these new summer and afterschool opportunities. In school she’s connecting coursework to things she’s learned out of school, and she’s even documented some of her new skills with badges. Plus, she’s way into film.

Maria is not alone in finding these connections and outlets. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work happening in Pittsburgh to make Maria’s hypothetical pathway a reality. Though it might seem as if she happened upon all these media production opportunities by happenstance, a pathway like this actually takes quite a bit of coordination and work on the part of educators in Pittsburgh, both in and outside of school.

At the Kids+Creativity Network we’re working hard to bring together educators and topic area experts across our region to map out these pathways.

How? Seven working groups have mapped out sets of competencies teens need to know in order to advance in robotics or design, for example. And they’re considering which pathways kids could take to gain those skills. For example, the coding and gaming working group considers which specific skills a young person needs to go from a beginning to an advanced level in game design. The group examines which programs are already in place and asks what’s missing.

Ideally, badges will be little breadcrumbs along these learning pathways. Badges are digital credentials that let kids document the skills they’ve learned. Maria’s already completed the camera fundamentals badge at Steeltown Entertainment. Next step could be digital storytelling at Heinz History Center.

“The approach we’re taking is not to churn out a bunch of badges and hope they connect,” said Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund, the nonprofit that’s leading this community effort. “Instead, we’re trying work with potential badge issuers to understand how badges will work within a continuum of in-school and out-of-school learning experiences.”

Every major city has creative afterschool or summer activities. And the idea of connected learning ecosystems, or basically turning cities into big campuses, went national last summer with Cities of Learning in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

In Pittsburgh, we’re building on this momentum by helping connect participating organizations so that they’re familiar with the other opportunities out there. That way, program staff can help young people figure out where they can head next to level up their competencies in gaming, media production, robotics, and more.

To us, these pathways are serious business. An education that prepares kids for the ever-changing future should be multi-faceted, full of chances to explore interests and make mistakes. Schools shouldn’t be the only ones responsible for this education, and we envision these pathways running parallel to that experience, each one enriching the other.

“If we’re talking about learning pathways, we’re having a conversation about how learning is a journey, not a destination,” said Anna Smith, a doctoral candidate who researches learning pathways, in a Connected Learning webinar last year. “And I think we’re hyper-focused in education right now on those destination markers. Our curriculum, our standards, our assessments —what counts as learning is being confined by that.”

Sometimes it’s tricky to visualize what all this work with learning pathways looks like on a large scale—thus hypothetical Maria. But it won’t be hard to see the real results from the new pathways kids in Pittsburgh are trailblazing right now.

We’ll have more to report after workshopping these ideas with more than 400 teachers, students, mentors, and others at the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit this Friday. Follow along on Twitter with #LearningPathways for live updates throughout the day.

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The Gap in Sparking STEM Interest http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/13/the-gap-in-sparking-stem-interest/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/13/the-gap-in-sparking-stem-interest/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:08:27 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19455 When media reports dive into the impending shortage of STEM workers, they often pose the question, “How do we get more kids to pick STEM majors, and stick with them?” Better qualified teachers, more hands-on learning, and earlier introduction are all tossed around as potential pieces to a solution.

But there’s another aspect to the pipeline of workers heading into STEM fields: Low-income kids, who make up almost one-half of US public school students, too often are shortchanged on STEM classes.

There’s also a startling gap between the quality and availability of STEM courses between schools with a large population of minority students and those without. Only 65 percent of high schools with large minority populations offer Algebra II, compared with 82 percent of high schools with small minority populations, according to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Only three in 10 African American students who are likely to succeed in advanced-placement math—a gateway to engineering careers—take the course. This disparity stems from both a lack of both education access and personal confidence, according to Change the Equation.

There’s also a disparity between STEM education in rural and urban or suburban areas. The Carsey Institute found that suburban and urban schools offer, on average, three to four more advanced mathematics classes than rural schools do.

“Rather than trying to squeeze a few more STEM students from populations that can already choose STEM if they want to, perhaps policymakers should focus even more on giving currently underserved populations the ability to make a STEM choice in the first place,” wrote Andrew J. Rotherham, cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners.

Some groups and schools are working to close the gap. McKinley Technology Education Campus in Washington, D.C., offers specialized classes in biotechnology, engineering, information technology, and mass media technology with a hands-on, project-based curriculum. The high school is a Title I STEM magnet school, with approximately 6 of every 10 students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

As Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, told PBS Newshour in a story on McKinley, it’s all about familiarity: Offer a STEM class and students can begin to imagine a future in science, engineering, or math.

Based here in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab expands access to STEM courses for low-income and rural areas with its satellite locations throughout West Virginia. To date, it has partnered with three universities to reach 47 schools in the region, one-half of which have majority low-income student bodies.

One of those satellite locations is the June Harless Center, which brings CREATE technology and training to rural teachers. This summer, the center also hosted three Arts & Bots camps in Mingo County where kids built moving, blinking robots with juice bottles and paper-towel rolls.

We wrote about Mingo Central Comprehensive High School last year, which is in the heart of a region that’s been hit hard by the recession and the decline of the coal industry. By partnering with the CREATE Lab, students in the area are exposed to cutting-edge learning materials like GigaPan cameras and Arts & Bots curriculum.

“It’s tough to show the kids, ‘Hey, you’re going to use this somewhere,’ when they’ve never seen that job,” Richard Duncan, Mingo County STEM coordinator, told me in January. “That’s why we’ve been pulling on the CREATE Lab and our other partners, because we want the kids to see what else is going on outside of this area.”

As we build up the pipeline of future STEM candidates, it will remain critical that we don’t inadvertently shut a door on any child’s future.

 

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Youth Make Media for Community Change http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/11/youth-make-media-for-community-change/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/11/youth-make-media-for-community-change/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 00:09:41 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19439 Bullying, prejudice, and identity: They’re touchy topics, but the Hear Me project has plenty of experience tackling them with grace. The project, an initiative of the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, helps young people share their stories, opinions, and experiences through media. Last Saturday, the organization brought teens, artists, activists, and other community members together for the Media Empowerment Student Summit (MESS), which took place at Carnegie Mellon.

“The goal of the summit was really to try to bring youth who are interested in media leadership advocacy into one space for at least one day—to connect them to each other, and connect them to adults, resources, and allies,” said Jessica Pachuta, Hear Me project codirector.

Pachuta emphasized that although Hear Me was the summit’s main organizer, MESS wasn’t the “Hear Me summit,” per se—it was a community-wide event. Partners included the Environmental Charter School, the University of Pittsburgh, the Youth Media Advocacy Project, Teens 4 Change, Duquesne University, and others.

Hear Me has plenty of experience bringing community members together to listen to kids. In one campaign, Hear Me recorded kids and teens talking about their perceptions of police officers and featured their stories in “tin can” kiosks around Pittsburgh. When Mayor Bill Peduto began searching for his next police chief, the first community voices he heard came from seven of those campaign participants, who met with him for a roundtable. In other projects, young people recorded messages to incarcerated parents, talked about school climate, and expressed their thoughts on food security. The recordings are available on the Hear Me website.

The summit gave teens the chance to learn about the ins and outs of launching media-based projects. Much of the summit focused on helping participants build practical skills. Hear Me tapped nonprofits, experts, and young people in the region to organize various sessions on making media. The day kicked off with an audio workshop led by the Saturday Light Brigade, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that tells the stories of young people and families through radio and audio. Additional workshops taught attendees about making animations and using social media, and a panel of professional filmmakers wrapped up the summit.

But the summit had an additional goal: helping young people discuss the kinds of topics they might use media to address. At workshops, teens discussed stereotyping, race, and youth rights in the education system.

Pachuta said media is the number one tool young people turn to when they’re thinking about becoming advocates. A study by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics found that 41 percent of young people had engaged in “participatory politics” in the 12 months before they’d been surveyed. Teens are participating by joining online political groups, sharing blog posts about political issues, and sending political videos to their peers.

“Anyone who cares about democracy needs to pay attention to this important dimension of politics for young people,” said Joseph Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College and one of the study’s authors. “Participatory politics spread information, mobilize individuals to act, and provide many ways for youth to voice their perspectives.”

When teens gain the ability to voice their views through media, they don’t just learn about animation and videography. They gain a sense of agency—a sense that they can use their experiences to make a real impact in their communities. “It’s so important for them to be participating in [media] creation instead of just consuming it,” Pachuta said. The more effectively they’re able to leverage it, the more powerful their advocacy becomes.

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Helping Children Find Something New Inside Something Known http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/06/helping-children-find-something-new-inside-something-known/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/06/helping-children-find-something-new-inside-something-known/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 21:18:26 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19392 This post originally ran at the Fred Rogers Center. It appears here with permission.

Children sit in a circle around a pile of loose parts. They are asked to play with the parts and talk about what they notice and what they wonder. They play with hinges, a door knob, screws, pieces of plastic, scraps of wood, a small motor, a piece of conductive rubber, a spring, some wires, old circuit boards, a toggle switch, and odd scraps of things.

These students are part of the Children’s Innovation Project, an effort for young children to create with technology in new and meaningful ways. The project is now in its fifth year of development at Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Children observe and debate what they see: “It looks like a part of a sponge.” – “It has a circle.” – “Maybe it’s a waterspouter.” – “I put it together and it turned around.” – “This is metal.” – “I put this in.” – “This is for a light.” Even what makes a hole a hole is debated. Some children think a circle is a hole; after much discussion, they come to share an idea that you can’t poke through all circles.

Next, children take one object back to their table. They begin to draw. Each child picks up a pencil with no eraser and looks closely at one small object. Children move their eyes back and forth between their objects and the paper in front of them. This is slow work. It is quiet. Children are looking so closely to see more. They are often asked, “What more do you see from your drawing?”

After a long period of observational drawing, children come back together to talk. Their drawings are presented to the group and other children are asked to look in the pile to find the object that was drawn.

Teachers ask, “How do you know that is the object s/he drew?” And, “What is good about the drawing?” Children talk about line, shape, and space related to the objects they noticed and drew. They talk about perspective and what someone else saw that they could not see.

This is an example of the kind of learning children experience with the Children’s Innovation Project.  The project was developed from a question posed in 2010 by Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab: “What might innovation with technology look like in a kindergarten classroom?”

Photo/ Children’s Innovation Project

Now in our fifth year exploring this question, we’re finding more questions as we continue to watch and listen to children’s exploration with the raw material of technology.

Our approach to technology as raw material permits us to view technology as a means for—not an end to—learning.

The Children’s Innovation Project grows children’s habits of mind to notice, inquire, and persist. Children take these habits with them as they continue to explore, create, and socialize in the world. They develop a sensibility to notice small things and be curious inside parameters, rather than keep pace with consumption of the never-ending flow of new digital devices.

Our theoretical frame allows us to think about “technology” and “innovation” quite differently from other definitions operating in conversations about young children’s innovation with technology.

“Technology”: Our interest in “technology” is as raw material, rather than a tool. Children explore with the raw material of technology much like they would play with clay, paint, paper, or sand. Locally produced Circuit Blocks are our primary technology materials.

“Innovation”: We think of “innovation” as finding something new inside something known. We ask children (and teachers) to slow down and look closely because there is always more to see. Infinity is in the smallest of things. Depth comes from slow and small.

At first glance, Children’s Innovation Project learning experiences might appear invisible in the end-of-year classroom technology survey (unlike the cool, new technological tool or iPad app), but these are the experiences that empower children in their relationships with a digital world.

We want children to grow a critical relationship with the world—one that encourages tough questions and complicated relationships. We believe this is what will prepare children to become civic-minded adults ready to change the world for the better.

The Children’s Innovation Project will continue to develop in the coming years in partnership with the Fred Rogers CenterCarnegie Mellon UniversityCarlow UniversityClarion UniversityPittsburgh Public Schools, The Sprout Fund, and the Kids+Creativity Network

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A Future in Science http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/05/a-future-in-science/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/05/a-future-in-science/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 18:32:54 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19370 Concerned about the global food crisis, Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey, and Sophie Healy-Thow were compelled to study the impact of bacteria on crop growth.

Their findings—that naturally occurring strains of certain bacteria could significantly speed up crop growth and increase crop yield—may certainly contribute to the fight against global hunger.

The research is impressive even without considering that Judge, Hickey, and Healy-Thow are just 16 years old.

The three teenagers from Ireland won the Grand Prize at the fourth-annual Google Science Fair, whose results were announced this fall. As Grand Prize winners, the teens will share a $50,000 Google scholarship and receive a 10-day trip to the Galápagos Islands sponsored by National Geographic, a personalized LEGO prize from LEGO Education, and the chance to participate in astronaut training at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave Desert.

Thousands of students ages 13 to 18 from more than 90 countries submitted entries by the May deadline to the 2014 Google Science Fair, an online science competition for solo entrants and teams of up to three people. After whittling down the contestants to 18 finalists in early August, a panel of judges assessed student presentations at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters in September to determine the overall winner and standouts in several categories.

Among other amazing inventions created by teens: a flying robot for potential use in search-and-rescue missions; sand filters designed to filter toxic substances from pond water; and low-cost wearable sensors designed for Alzheimer’s patients that alert caregivers via smartphone when the wearer gets out of bed and begins to wander.

The Google competition, however, cannot claim a monopoly on impressive young scientists. We’ve got plenty of them right here in Pittsburgh, including 17-year-old Ananya Cleetus—a student at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh—who made headlines with her invention, a robotic prosthetic hand, which she brought to the 2014 White House Science Fair in late May.

Her project was inspired by summer visits to her grandparents’ home in India. While volunteering there and touring the Jaipur Foot foundation, a nonprofit that develops artificial limbs, she realized the critical need for low-cost artificial limbs for amputees—especially those affected by the stigmatizing disease leprosy.

Internships at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Laboratories and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, as well as experience in competitive robotics, gave her the background she needed to develop her own solution to the problem. Using materials from the Robotics Institute along with Arduino sensors she purchased, Cleetus designed a robotic control system for a 3-D MakerBot-printed hand created from InMoov open-source computer-aided design files.

Cleetus hopes the affordable robotic hand she developed will increase the accessibility of effective prosthetics. In that spirit, she has decided not to seek a patent for her invention.

Although she still has a few years to decide on a profession, Cleetus sees a promising future in biomedical engineering. “It’s a good combination of science and technology,” she said. “As much as I like other fields of science, I enjoy seeing the impact science has on other people.”

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Teaching Digital Citizenship http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/03/teaching-digital-citizenship/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/11/03/teaching-digital-citizenship/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 23:43:22 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19248 The internet: It’s filled with video-based Algebra tutorials, games for language learners, and university-generated advice on how to succeed in college. But it can also be a very dark place, fraught with trolls, misinformation, and temptations to overshare.

The internet can be an especially risky place for kids and teens, who are prone to making impulsive decisions because of their age. “Adolescents are more oriented to the present, so they are less likely than adults to be thinking about the future consequences of what they’re saying,” Laurence Steinberg, psychology professor at Temple University, told the New York Times in an article on teens and the criminal justice system.

It doesn’t help that the internet allows people to do things instantaneously and often anonymously. Case in point: “Why Kids Sext,” an illuminating piece by the Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin. “Surveys on sexting have found pretty consistently that among kids in their upper teens, about a third have sexted,” she wrote. Sending a nude picture to a boyfriend might seem harmless in the moment, but that picture could easily end up somewhere far more public.

What happens on the internet tends to stick around for a while—and that’s a lot to handle for people who’ve spent fewer than two decades on Earth. The implications extend to everything—from finding credible information, to understanding digital copyright, to forging relationships with peers.

In late October, the national nonprofit Common Sense Media led the second annual Digital Citizenship Week to raise awareness about these thorny issues. The goal was to get students to pause, step away from their screens, and think critically about their engagement with the digital world. The week is part of Connected Educator Month, which encourages educators to make full use of online spaces.

As the stories above illustrate, though, digital citizenship is too complex and too important for only a week in the spotlight. Common Sense Media’s K−12 digital literacy and citizenship curriculum has downloadable lesson materials and resources for engaging families and caregivers. Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh regional manager for Common Sense Media, is working with Pittsburgh schools to make full use of these resources. One example for middle school students: “Scams and Schemes,” a lesson that addresses identity theft and ways to prevent it.

Along with the curriculum, Common Sense Media has a wealth of other resources on digital citizenship. Digital Passport, a suite of interactive and collaborative games, teaches third- through fifth-grade users the fundamentals of digital literacy. Digital Glossary translates internet slang, covering classics like “selfie” along with newer terms like “sub-tweeting” (the Twitter equivalent of talking about someone behind his or her back). There’s even an animated video—complete with rapping—on the dangers of oversharing.

The Common Sense Media blog reported that in Grand Island, Nebraska, elementary school classes came up with digital citizenship slogans and used them to decorate their doors and walls. If you believe ten-year-olds don’t need to consider that kind of stuff, think again: A 2011 self-report survey of nearly 21,000 Massachusetts students found that 39 percent of fifth-graders own cell phones. On the other side of the country, many Los Angeles Unified School District teachers pledged to teach five lessons on digital citizenship in the course of the week. The lessons covered subjects like privacy, password creation, and digital footprints.

In the Pittsburgh area, schools have begun addressing digital citizenship year-round with their own curricula. Earlier this year, Mars Area Middle School in Butler County launched a series of 21st-century digital citizenship courses. They zero-in on three main topics: safety, cyberbullying, and social networking.

“You get wrapped up in the conversation and, next thing you know, you say something you shouldn’t have,” Patrick Scott, one of the school’s computer teachers, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s hard in email for the recipient to realize you are joking or sarcastic.”

Both teachers and caregivers can also show younger kids episodes of “Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius,” PBS KIDS’ new animated broadband series on media and technology. The title character, a bespectacled dog, guides viewers through topics like web search and photo sharing in a relatable, entertaining way.

We’re not losing our digital citizenship anytime soon. That means we’ll continue to have unfathomable amounts of information at our fingertips. It also means we need to keep thinking about how to use that citizenship wisely.

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What “Steel City” and “Cottonopolis” Have in Common http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/30/what-steel-city-and-cottonopolis-have-in-common/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/30/what-steel-city-and-cottonopolis-have-in-common/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:29:42 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19221 At first glance, it might not seem like Pittsburgh and Manchester, England, have a lot in common—other than the Manchester neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s north side.

Manchester, with a population of 2.6 million, is a sprawling metropolis and economic powerhouse driving a big chunk of the United Kingdom’s economy. The city is all-out obsessed with soccer, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an authentic Primanti sandwich there.

But at closer look, the two cities have more in common than you’d think. To start, they’re the only cities with Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. (More on that later.) And they’ve both reinvented themselves for a 21st-century economy.

Pittsburgh, once nicknamed “Steel City,” and Manchester, once nicknamed “Cottonopolis,” have all but shed the industries that once drove their economies. In the 1960s and 1970s, textile mills in Lancashire, the county in which Manchester is located, were closing at a rate of nearly one per week as other nations produced textiles cheaper and quicker.

Across the pond, Pittsburgh’s factories were closing en masse and thousands of people were leaving the city for jobs elsewhere. In the 1980s, Pittsburgh lost seven percent of its population.

But the story of renewal that’s happening here in Pittsburgh has caught national attention.

“Pittsburgh, after decades of trying to remake itself, today really does have a new economy, rooted in the city’s rapidly growing robotic, artificial intelligence, health technology, advanced manufacturing and software industries,” wrote journalist Glenn Thrush in the Politico Magazine feature, “The Robots That Saved Pittsburgh.” The story detailed how smart investment and collaboration from universities, start-ups, nonprofits, and health care services have transitioned the industrial economy to an innovative, creative one.

The city has also built a hub of intertwined education opportunities unlike anywhere else. Throughout the city, kids are joining the burgeoning maker movement, using gardens to learn about STEM, and building their own circuits, thanks to the many cultural, science, and education institutions that have joined the Kids+Creativity Network.

This type of collaboration and planning earned Pittsburgh and Manchester a Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award, which recognizes people or organizations that “have broken the mold to create significant impact.” Most of the awards go to people. But in this case, Pittsburgh and Manchester are the only cities to have won the award.

“We’ll never be the biggest city in the world, but we know to succeed we’ve got to be one of the smartest,” said Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester Millennium Limited, when accepting the award for the city. In the 1990s, the city invested in a cultural plan that eventually boosted its presence in the art world and kick-started creative industries by leveraging its three major universities. “What we’ve been trying to do over the last 10 or 15 years is to actually create one single strategy built around place for the entire city where our universities and our businesses can all bind to.”

Sounds a bit like the planning we’ve put into action here.

“What we’re seeing [in Pittsburgh] is an unprecedented collaboration of people and institutions from the entire city pulling together to remake education and rebrand themselves in the process,” said journalist and filmmaker Perri Peltz, who emceed the awards ceremony.

Pittsburgh’s mines were filled with iron ore and Manchester’s air was damp enough to not break the fragile cotton threads. For much of the cities’ histories, geography shaped the economy. But in the 21st century, cities like Pittsburgh and Manchester are tapping into an even more valuable resource: their people.

And just as manufacturers once learned from each other by being in such close proximity, the same goes for education innovation. When universities, schools, afterschool programs, and nonprofits feed off each other, it makes for a new type of innovation chain fit for the 21st century.

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Collaboration and Connection for Digital Age Educators http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/28/collaboration-and-connection-for-digital-age-educators/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/28/collaboration-and-connection-for-digital-age-educators/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:30:40 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19214 In 2012, Connected Educator Month’s first year, Facebook had just gone public, Microsoft Kinect was all the buzz, and Google Hangouts had yet to be introduced. Since then technology’s landscape both in and out of the classroom looks completely different.

That super-speed change is why Connected Educator Month changes each year, reflecting the shifts in how educators are reaching out to the world beyond classroom walls. This year’s Connected Educator Month included workshops, webinars, and collaborations that explored how to harness the web’s connective power for teaching and learning.

This year’s programming had a global focus, as well as an increased emphasis on mobile and blended learning. Also new was a fresh set of seven themes that the programs were structured around, one of which was “student agency, student voice, and the maker movement.”

“When young people create something, it’s not just simply that they’ve created a thing, it’s the ability to disseminate that idea to others,” said Paul Oh, a senior program associate with the National Writing Project, in a webinar on student agency and voice.

The webinar hosted educators who have found unique ways for students to take ownership and share their writing and work. “In our democracy, which is increasingly leveraging these tools of the open web, giving our young people agency and voice with the tools to possibilities to have impact is really critical to their future as full and active participants in our media-rich culture,” said Oh.

ConnectedEdMonth2014We’ve written about this idea before and there were many more examples to point to this month.

Classrooms from New Zealand to Atlanta participated in a pirate-themed challenge to build a tower as high as possible with marshmallows and toothpicks. Everybody tweeted their results in real-time so they could watch what’s working (and what’s not) in a classrooms across the world.

As much as the month focused on getting students hooked into online collaboration, it also connected teachers with other leaders in the fields. Early in the month, Mitch Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab and head of the Scratch team, gave an interactive webinar on ways to grow the kind of thinking and discovery needed for life in the “creative society,” or a future economy that will value novel solutions to problems we probably can’t even anticipate yet.

“We’ve seen over and over that people are willing to work harder and persevere in the face of difficulty if they are working on things they’re really interested in,” Resnick said, adding kids don’t always get that chance in many educational settings.

He used Scratch’s online community to show what it looks like when kids take ownership of their projects online. “If we want kids to be creative thinkers, they need to work on things they’re really passionate about,” Resnick said.

Plus, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cohosted a Twitter chat with “The Connected Educator” coauthor Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach about what connected learning means and how teachers integrate it into their classrooms. (The Hechinger Report has a great rundown of the conversations that ensued.)

When Duncan posed the question of how teachers have used technology to transform learning, Shawna Ford, a K–6 teacher-librarian, responded, “Use tech as a way for students to share their learning/passions with others. For production, not consumption. ”

There was plenty of connecting going on here in Pittsburgh, too. Teachers hopped on a virtual bus and took a “bus tour” of Allegheny County’s districts to check out how leading-edge schools are preparing students for college and careers. Also, the Center for Creativity’s Champions of Change Celebration Luncheon highlighted teachers who are leading the way in the fields of connected learning, the maker movement, and professional development.

While Connected Educator Month is winding down, educators in Pittsburgh seem to have made collaboration and connection a way of life year-round. The education hub of universities, schools, afterschool programs, and nonprofits we’ve created builds off itself, creating a web of programs that turns the whole city into a giant classroom.

There’s no telling what tech innovations will emerge in 2015. But it’s clear from watching Connected Educator Month unfold that when educators connect with each other, it connects kids with more opportunities than ever before possible.

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A Day with the Institute of Play http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/24/a-day-with-the-institute-of-play/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/24/a-day-with-the-institute-of-play/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 14:30:16 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19107 Earlier this month, I was invited to spend an enlightening day with Institute of Play (IOP), a non-profit based in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan that aims to help educators integrate game-design principles into their learning experiences. The future as we know it is rapidly changing and the workforce that today’s students face is widely unknown. During my visit to NYC, I got to witness the power of play and how it is shaping the next generation of innovators at the Quest To Learn (Q2L) public school, opened in 2006 by Institute of Play.

In the spring of 2013, a Remake Learning sponsored Lunch + Learn promoted the opportunity for educators to participate in an IOP PD opportunity at Allegheny Intermediate Unit. Twelve of us engaged in the two week summer MobileQuest CoLab and I have continued to work with the 2014 summer session TeacherQuest. This experience was a turning point in my approach to program development with an ongoing interest in game based, game like and gamified learning. Since I was already familiar and impressed with the impact IOP was making in education, naturally I jumped at the opportunity to visit them on their home turf.

With just a 15-minute walk from Q2L to the IOP offices, the nimble team of learning designers, game designers, and management spend their days bouncing back and forth between the two buildings. During the initial phase, IOP associates spent lots of time in the classrooms– guiding the game design principles, identifying curriculum additions and giving teachers direct access to tools and leaders in the field. Phase two is more focused on capacity building where teachers are empowered to continue the “play” aspect of learning and maintain the core mission of the “quest” learning philosophy.

We began with a curriculum team meeting, held bi-weekly for noobs and weekly for returning Q2L educators. The team is comprised of the Teacher, Learning Designer and Game Designer. The work continues with shared documents that capture the semester goals, challenges, and successes, along with frequent digital check-ins. For this meeting, IOP was working with a French teacher who was getting support printing a mission poster that she designed with her newly acquired Illustrator skills.

She was also seeking input on how to incorporate game play into learning numbers in French. After the meeting, back at the teachers lounge–referred to as Mission Lab, I asked about determining candidates for teaching at Q2L. The Game Designer made it very clear that it was not based on how tech or game savvy the teacher was, it was based on the teacher’s willingness and desire to learn. It was as simple as that. You don’t have to be an expert. Apply with an open mind and be ready to have fun.

At lunch, we talked even more about the successes and challenges with the program, and I shared news of some of Pittsburgh’s success stories. I was proud that Pittsburgh is just as invested in advancing our public school system as NYC is.

I then visited two English Language Arts classrooms referred to as POV. Both teachers were utilizing Socratic Smackdown–“a versatile discussion-based humanities game to practice argumentation around any text or topic for grades 6 through 12.” The game was designed by IOP in collaboration with Q2L teacher Rebecca Grodner. Each room’s experience and engagement level differed slightly as the educators modified the original game. As one smackdown wrapped the teacher complimented a student for their level of examination of the subject matter. She also related that depth of reflection as something she is exploring in her current professional development course, taking the opportunity to share with students her pursuit as a lifelong learner. Next I joined an Earth Science class that was testing buoyancy and learning about volume and mass. The team challenge to earn points was to building an aluminum foil boat to hold the largest quantity of pennies. A student in the midst of construction wanted to share with me what he thought Q2L was all about–”competing while working as a team”.

Currently, the school serves roughly 500 students and the inaugural class will graduate in 2016. Since inception, the school has grown each year and its currently planning on installing a dedicated “makerspace.” Due to the success of their first school, IOP advised on CICS Chicago Quest–a pioneering public charter school in Chicago that has its foundation in the “quest” learning model. As IOP’s reputation grows, they continue to make an impact on learning models across the country. They conduct in-person professional development workshops in Pittsburgh and cities nationwide, augmented by a plentitude of online resources. Both Gamekit–a community site where youth and educators can access game design challenges to practice their game design skills–and Playforce–an online database of learning games and the content and skills they are aligned to, from the player’s perspective–are accessible to anyone at anytime”

By the end of my day with Institute of Play and bopping around New York City, I was exhausted but excited. Excited to get back to work on current projects with members of Pittsburgh’s learning community. Excited that my son, who is now 5 years old, and his peers will grow up with access and resources that will make learning fun and forever.

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Preparing Today’s Students to Build That Next Rocket Ship to Mars http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/23/preparing-todays-students-to-build-that-next-rocket-ship-to-mars/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/23/preparing-todays-students-to-build-that-next-rocket-ship-to-mars/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:53:13 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19188 Mazes made of laser beams. Earrings studded with blinking lights. Science, technology, and engineering are pretty cool, but where would they be without artistic flair? Would the iPhone enjoy so much popularity if it weren’t beautiful as well as useful?

That’s the idea driving the STEAM Carnival, a whimsical, tech-infused event that’ll be taking place in Los Angeles this week on October 25 and 26. With its emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary learning, it’s the kind of opportunity that would be perfectly at home in Pittsburgh.

Though its name might suggest otherwise, the carnival isn’t steam-powered. The STEAM movement recognizes that art (the “A” in STEAM) shouldn’t be an afterthought in STEM fields. Rather, the movement acknowledges that art is actually crucial to the growth and development of science and technology.

John Maeda, the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), is one of the de facto leader of the STEAM movement. In his words, quoted on the STEAM Carnival’s website, “Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered useless, will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously.”

Last year, Maeda testified at a congressional briefing on why it’s important for education reformers to start talking about STEAM instead of STEM. He’s serious about this goal—and for good reason.

A study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) looked at public elementary schools’ arts offerings between the 1999−2000 school year and the 2009–2010 school year. The authors found that in that period, the proportion of schools with designated visual arts classes went from 87 percent to 83 percent. In the cases of dance and theater, the decreases were more dramatic: 17 percentage points and 16 percentage points, respectively.

With arts programs nationwide facing threats from budget cuts, after school programs like the ones in the Kids+Creativity Network play a crucial role in picking up some of the slack. That’s especially true in Pittsburgh.

As a hub for start-ups and game design, the City of Bridges has much to gain from focusing on STEAM learning, whether that’s in the classroom or outside of it. Students poised to enter fields that require a mixture of creative thinking and technical expertise need to know how to engage both the left and right sides of their brains. To give just one example of arts education’s impact: In 1998, Shirley Brice Heath, a linguistics and anthropology professor at Stanford, found that low-income, at-risk students who were heavily involved in afterschool arts programs were two times more likely to win academic achievement awards and four times more likely to participate in math or science fairs than their uninvolved peers.

Of course, plenty of schools and organizations in Pittsburgh have risen to the challenge of providing students outlets for artistic expression. At Elizabeth Forward Middle School, the art room, the technology education room, and the computer science room are no longer separate: They now make up the Dream Factory. The result? Students can learn to create everything from robots to interactive games to 3-D−printed sculptures. With all due respect for traditional arts and crafts, it’s a far cry from making collages.

In many ways, the LA-based STEAM Carnival will be a bigger version of the Dream Factory. Along with featuring fire displays and a mechanical bull—things you probably couldn’t have at a middle school—the carnival will give young attendees the opportunity to create their own entertainment. The carnival’s successful Kickstarter campaign showcases kits for making group games, wearable tech, digital art, and more.

For that extra educational oomph, the carnival organizers have even put together a mentorship team made up of scientists, engineers, and inventors. The goal is to inspire kids to keep up the STEAM learning, “because hey, who’s really stopping you from building that rocket ship to Mars?” the site asks. “We want to give you the ticket to ride.”

Like Pittsburgh, Los Angeles is a City of Learning. This past summer, they pledged to connect kids with citywide educational opportunities and to reward their learning with digital badges. The STEAM Carnival is undoubtedly a badge-worthy event: Attendees can earn three badges, in fact. We’d love to see it in Pittsburgh, pyrotechnics and all.

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Nurturing STEM Learning with Water, Sunlight, and Soil http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/21/nurturing-stem-learning-with-water-sunlight-and-soil/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/21/nurturing-stem-learning-with-water-sunlight-and-soil/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 18:35:07 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=19123 Last year, kids at South Fayette Intermediate School here in Pennsylvania were given a maker problem as old as the agricultural revolution itself: growing lettuce. Third-graders were tasked with building hydroponic gardens out of household items. All year, as part of the Grow-It to Go project for K−4 students, kids got their hands messy and examined how hydroponically grown plants compare with the ones they tended to in their raised-bed gardens outside.

When we think of the most cutting-edge examples of STEM education and making, lasers, 3-D printing, and programmable robots most quickly come to mind. But as eye-catching as tech is, educators with school gardens are teaching kids how a single turnip has systems just as amazing and complex. When school and community gardens are matched with STEM learning, it’s just one more way for kids to see, feel, and smell how STEM takes root in the real world. And earthworms and onions not only provide an unmatched chance for science learning, they’re also a springboard for talking about healthy eating and rethinking where our food comes from.

National nonprofit REAL School Gardens has partnered with 98 schools to build “learning gardens” for children in low-income schools with the aim of boosting STEM achievement. Teacher Scott Smith at Holiday Heights Elementary School in Texas recently talked with Edutopia about bringing his class out to the garden to tackle hands-on math problems like how many cubic yards of soil it takes to fill one of the raised garden beds.

And, of course, the garden lends itself perfectly to science lessons. Perhaps not coincidentally, REAL School Gardens has seen the biggest boost in science test scores in its partner schools.

Smith said the benefit of seeing textbook diagrams come to life makes science real for kids—like when he asked his students to put plastic bags over the plants and measure the condensation later. “Until they see that magic happen, ‘transpiration’ is just another big word with -ation on the end of it,” he said.

Here in Pittsburgh, school and community gardens are as active as all the other hands-on programming sprouting up throughout the city. The ongoing Cook, Grow, Garden program at the Children’s Museum hosts workshops on everything from how to harvest healing herbs to building terrariums. Meanwhile, Tripoli Street Garden Nights give kids the chance to get dirt under their fingernails while gardening at the museum’s quarter-acre lot, Food City.

Last May, the Mattress Factory sponsored a program called the Germination Corps led by artist Jessica Frelinghuysen. Students toted around little “plant packs” filled with vegetable seedlings for a week while learning about food sustainability. The program culminated in a Plant Parade from the Mattress Factory to the YMCA Garden where students returned their plants to the community garden.

“I think in an era of GMOs and big box stores that remove our food supply so much from us; we need to think of ways to remake that connection with life, with where food comes from—with growing,” Frelinghuysen said.

Part of a national network, Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh has been building and educating in gardens for nine years and now has five flagship schools that integrate garden activities into curriculum. Recently, local chefs demonstrated cooking delicious meals with the food the students worked so hard to tend to and harvest.

It’s not just schools diving into the benefits of homegrown plants. Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, told NEXT Pittsburgh a new level of cooperation in city hall has enabled an uptick in more urban agriculture. Across the region, there are more than 70 community gardens, and Pezzino recently said there can be years-long waitlists for a single plot.

“Clearly,” Pezzino said, “people need to grow their own food.”

Getting kids (and adults) interested in healthy food and where it comes from has become a national effort and a key part in addressing the state of childhood obesity in the United States, where more than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Just last week, students from schools with gardens joined Michelle Obama in harvesting squash, lettuce, and sweet potatoes in the White House Kitchen Garden.

But the chance for kids to dig around in a garden means more than enjoying carrots, learning about weather systems, or even the maker-like problem solving that comes with managing hungry rabbits or too much rain. As kids and educators poking around with trowels already know, it’s a place where STEM-related explorations grow naturally, season after season.

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Embodied Learning Labs Bring Abstract Science to Life http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/16/embodied-learning-labs-bring-abstract-science-to-life/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/16/embodied-learning-labs-bring-abstract-science-to-life/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 19:26:01 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=18920 The game is “disease transmission.” Players try to keep their population of avatars alive in a simulated outbreak situation, factoring conditions like population size, availability of medical and food resources, and bacterial versus viral disease modes.

No, this isn’t the latest technology the Centers for Disease Control is using to help combat the spread of infectious disease. (Though it probably could be.) It’s a game scenario created by SMALLab Learning, whose technology is being used in an increasing number of schools in the Pittsburgh area.

Created by a team of researchers and K-12 teachers associated with Arizona State University, SMALLab—which stands for Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Lab—is a kind of 3-D game interface that uses a ceiling-mounted projector, motion-sensor cameras, and a computer to create a kinesthetic learning environment for students.

In these specially constructed embodied learning spaces, students learn by play or physical movement. Students, or players, move around on a 15-by-15-foot foam-rubber mat, similar to a game board, and interact with physical objects and wireless peripherals such as wands. The lab’s motion-capture system sends information on these interactions to the computer, where custom software analyzes student performance and provides real-time feedback and responses related to whatever scenario the teacher has selected—such as disease outbreak, particle interaction, or chemistry lab.

“For example,” the SMALLab website explains, “as students are learning about a physics concept like velocity, they can hear the sound of their actions getting faster. They can see graphs and equations that represent their motions in real time. They can feel the weight of an object in their hand as they interact in real physical space.”

This immersive technology draws on techniques from computer gaming and human-computer interaction, and it allows for collaborative learning. Imagine stepping inside a Wii game and, instead of battling zombies, you experiment with titration in a virtual chemistry lab or explore light wavelength and color. An increasing number of schools throughout the country and in the Pittsburgh area are using this technology to help students strengthen problem-solving and STEM skills in a fun and engaging way.

There’s good evidence that active learning environments enhance knowledge acquisition. According to a National Center for Biotechnology Information publication on embodied learning, “Motor information accrued by the body can affect learning and development by grounding mental representations in motor areas of the cortex and structuring associated perception.”

The authors wrote that applying these theories to science education has exciting potential.

This technology also seems to be a natural fit for the Pittsburgh region, with its deep resources in digital media and gaming.

SMALLab has been in place at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, for two years. A grant from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Grable Foundation helped fund the technology, which is costly to install and requires a 25-by-25-foot classroom with two power outlets and an Ethernet connection.

Students at Elizabeth Forward have been using the lab to learn about angles while manipulating virtual mirrors. They’ve also been using the lab to hone critical-thinking skills while playing a game involving moving brightly colored virtual spheres around the play space.

Recently, Elizabeth Forward joined Pittsburgh Public Schools and McKeesport Area, West Allegheny, and Seneca Valley school districts to create the Pittsburgh SMALLab Consortium to develop software for the SMALLab, in partnership with the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. The agreement, supported by a $56,000 Grable Foundation grant, will extend the reach of this technology to approximately 25,000 students.

“We try to talk about problem-solving. So many of the kids don’t understand,” Todd Keruskin, Elizabeth Forward School District’s assistant superintendent of schools, told TribLive. “You put them in an environment like this, and every kid is engaged.”

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What is “Connected Learning”? http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/14/what-is-connected-learning/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/14/what-is-connected-learning/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 04:11:17 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=18766 Ito is the research director of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California Humanities Research Institute, professor in residence, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation chair in digital media and learning at the University of California, Irvine. She is also the author of “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design” and “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.”

Remake Learning: You’ve probably been asked this a million times, but I’ve found whomever I ask has a different answer: What would you say connected learning is?

Mimi Ito: It’s like a Rorschach test. We may be looking at the same thing but we describe it in different ways. So it’s a fair question. I think of connected learning in terms of young people doing something they’re interested in with the support of their peers and where that experience is connected to a future opportunity—whether an academic pathway, a career path, or civic and community engagement.

Can you point to something you’ve seen lately that is an example of this?

I’ll give you an example from Crystle Martin’s research on one young woman named Maria who is a fan of the World Wide Wrestling Entertainment. She’s very active on the boards of her group. It’s a setting where people write stories together, taking on the roles of their favorite wrestlers. Through her involvement with the group, Maria got interested in creative writing, got a lot of helpful feedback, and gained a lot of confidence. So that’s an example of a person’s interests merging with a peer group to support learning and skill development.

What about the last part—the connection to real-world opportunity?

That’s often very difficult for young people to find. It’s really important that educators, parents, and learning institutions are mediating that. In Maria’s case, she confided in one of her teachers what she was doing and her teacher suggested opportunities for her in school, like writing for the school newspaper. Eventually, with the mentorship of her teacher, she pursued a degree in technical writing.

It sounds like that happened organically. How do you go about structuring things so that kind of opportunity happens more than just by chance?

How can our educational institutions support the kind of learning that happens in informal and peer-based settings?

That’s a really great question. How can our educational institutions support the kind of learning that happens in these informal and peer-based settings? It might be something as simple as an interest survey of students, or helping students run clubs mentored by faculty. Our partners at the National Writing Project have been great at helping young people write for and connect with online affinity groups.

So maybe the question is, where is connected learning in its life span? Is it a great idea that now needs to be built out in a structured way?

Connected learning is naming something that has already been around. When you talk to people who are doing things they love in their lives, they can generally point back to a learning experience where other people validated the thing they love and gave them opportunities to be recognized. So it’s not a new thing; but we believe that today’s technology provides a new opportunity to make that kind of learning more accessible. Maria could connect with people who shared her interests even though they weren’t in her local community.

So when you talk about peer affinity, you’re not talking about people of one’s own age group. You’re talking about people who share your interests.

That’s right. If you happen to love baseball or math or chess, those things are probably fairly well supported in most high school ecosystems. If you’re into chess, you might be labeled a nerd, but you can probably join a chess club and be mentored by an adult expert. But there are lots of other things kids are interested in. Also local peer groups can be such pressure cookers that some kids who wouldn’t join a school club would probably mess around in an online space.

I feel like this mentorship question is tricky. It’s a great idea, but how do you actually make it work? It’s expensive and it’s hard to orchestrate. What’s the reality? Is there a model for this?

Mentorship is critical. All the research points to this. If you can connect meaningfully with a mentor in your area of interest, it’s life changing. We know that, but how to orchestrate? The pain point is there needs to be a strong sense of shared interests and affinity to really realize the full benefits of mentorship. We know we need to provide it, but doing so programmatically is incredibly challenging. We see mentorship emerging organically in large-scale affinity spaces, like the wrestling boards I was telling you about. But that has very different properties from specific career mentoring or educational mentoring. It’s hard to nurture at that scale organically in the same way.

I hear the word “design” used a lot in talk about connected learning. What does design have to do with this?

I think design in this context is different from how you’d think of traditional curriculum design. It’s really about finding the points of connection between spaces and the overall balance of the learning environment and ecology.

So understanding the system.

Yes, that’s right. I’ve been peripherally interested in how product development has changed in the internet era. Now there’s rapid development, feedback, and innovation.

And putting the user at the center.

Right. And understanding you have to tweak and adopt and change as you move forward.

What do you see when you look at what’s happening in Pittsburgh?

From my vantage point one step removed, I think what’s exciting about Pittsburgh is that it seems to offer a range of educational offerings that are supporting connected learning at this more ecosystemic level within a city. Whether it is the Sprout Fund, Hive Learning Network, innovations from Carnegie Mellon University, or so many of the other programs related to connected learning—they seem to have connected fairly organically from the regional ecosystem. Maybe I’m just not seeing all the engineering that went behind building this ecosystem, but as an outside observer, it’s been very exciting to see it grow.

When you talk to people who are doing things they love in their lives, they can generally point back to a learning experience where other people validated the thing they love and gave them opportunities to be recognized.
 What’s the end game for connected learning? What is the dream scenario? Or maybe one step below dream—what is the feasible dream scenario?

There are two pieces for me. One is it would be really great if we could start conceptualizing learning as something that happens across settings—if the conversation could be about how school relates to home and to afterschool programs. So a more learner-centered conversation. What are the supports each learner needs in order to achieve her potential? The other piece I would love is if the online ecosystem really supported learning for young people. There is space for fun, recreational social stuff, and a space for more explicitly educational stuff that is not particularly interest driven. I would love to see more alternatives in the middle.

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Design Thinking in Schools http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/10/10/18566/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/10/10/18566/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 14:34:59 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=18566 The “greengineers” at Newton North High School (NNHS) in the Boston suburbs had a problem. How can you use fish poop to grow fresh vegetables? Ok, so not a typical problem among high schoolers, but for the NNHS students, it was vexing.

The greengineers tackle these kinds of problems daily, including a Whole Foods request to create new uses for old bags and converting mushrooms into Styrofoam. And it’s not just theoretical answers on paper or projects in a science lab. Students at NNHS start with a question and fashion real solutions.

It’s “design thinking” in action.

Bringing together different disciplines and people is an essential quality of design thinking, as is starting with a problem and using the problem-solving process to learn.

“Loosely put, design thinking,” wrote Sandy Speicher, associate partner at global design firm IDEO, a leader along with the K12 Lab Network at Stanford’s d.school in introducing design thinking to schools, “is a set of tools, methods, and processes by which we develop new answers for challenges, big and small. Through applying design thinking to challenges, we learn to define problems, understand needs and constraints, brainstorm innovative solutions, and seek and incorporate feedback about our ideas in order to continually make them better.”

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Design Thinking in Schools http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/09/design-thinking-in-schools/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/09/design-thinking-in-schools/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 04:02:29 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=18548 The “greengineers” at Newton North High School (NNHS) in the Boston suburbs had a problem. How can you use fish poop to grow fresh vegetables? Ok, so not a typical problem among high schoolers, but for the NNHS students, it was vexing.

The greengineers tackle these kinds of problems daily, including a Whole Foods request to create new uses for old bags and converting mushrooms into Styrofoam. And it’s not just theoretical answers on paper or projects in a science lab. Students at NNHS start with a question and fashion real solutions.

It’s “design thinking” in action.

As student Daniel Smith said on the school’s YouTube channel, “the beautiful part of having something like this in class is that it combines a bunch of different aspects that people would do in different classes.” To get the fish poop, full of ammonia, into another tank where bacteria live that break down the ammonia, the students needed to use mechanical engineering skills to design a pump and various systems to get the water to circulate. They also needed to identify and incorporate an appropriate energy source. And of course, they had to have a deep understanding of the ecosystem of fish, bacteria, and aquaponics (biology), because dead fish don’t poop.

“There’s a bunch of aspects that we bring together rather than isolating them,” explained Smith, “which doesn’t happen in the real world.” To ensure this kind of collaboration and hands-on learning, the greengineers have abandoned classrooms for “think tanks,” labs, and workspaces with drills, saws, sewing machines, beakers, stationary bikes, MakerBots, and more.

Bringing together different disciplines and people is an essential quality of design thinking, as is starting with a problem and using the problem-solving process to learn.

“Loosely put, design thinking,” wrote Sandy Speicher, associate partner at global design firm IDEO, a leader along with the K12 Lab Network at Stanford’s d.school in introducing design thinking to schools, “is a set of tools, methods, and processes by which we develop new answers for challenges, big and small. Through applying design thinking to challenges, we learn to define problems, understand needs and constraints, brainstorm innovative solutions, and seek and incorporate feedback about our ideas in order to continually make them better.”

Design thinking is what engineers and other problem solvers do: they identify the problem and work backward to a solution.

Design thinking is what engineers and other problem solvers do: they identify the problem and work backward to a solution. But that’s not as simple as it sounds. It requires the ability to unpack a lot of information—and not get lost in the process—cull the elements that can lead to a solution, and keep the bigger system—whether an ecosystem or a political system—in mind, as students across the nation (and globe) are learning.

Design for Change challenges students around the world to find solutions to problems in their community. Students in Laos, for example, investigated the cause of dirty bathrooms before educating the community and tackling the problem. Design for Change reaches more than 300,000 schools globally.

Closer to home, The Ellis School in Pittsburgh incorporates design thinking into several courses—from introduction to engineering design to computer science. Recently, students addressed issues related to girls’ education worldwide.

“This type of divergent thinking is what propels the innovation our future economy and society depend on,” Kathleen Costanza wrote in a blog last year. “Employers need people with critical thinking skills more than ever.”

In the meantime, students at NNHS are taking on another form of underwater life: algae. Inspired by advances in using algae for energy, the school applied for and received grants from Save That Stuff and an MIT Sea Grant to create their own algae lab—a trailer parked behind the school. As they wrote on their website,

“Once we get the protocol down for growing algae and maintaining cultures, we will experiment with oil-high cultures. Once we are growing oil-high cultures we will then experiment with ways to extract the oil from it, and turn the oil into a bio-fuel!”

The goal, Speicher explained, is to “enable a generation of leaders” who have the tools to “build new systems and rebuild declining ones” and who can “empathically and intelligently shape the world.”

Heidi Moore contributed to this post.

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3-D Printing Creates New Ways to Learn http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/07/3-d-printing-creates-new-ways-to-learn/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/07/3-d-printing-creates-new-ways-to-learn/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 04:27:44 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=18377 Vishnu Sanigepalli was a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School when his calculus class was struggling to visualize the solid at the point where two cylinders intersect. (See? It’s tough to visualize.)

Sanigepalli decided to 3-D print a model to help him and his peers better understand what this intersection looked like. “Before, it was just in my mind, or on a piece of paper or on a computer,” Sanigepalli explained in a MakerBot video. “That wasn’t as cool as having the project in your hand because you’re able to touch it.”

The stories about the amazing things created with 3-D printers just keep coming: a trachea for a newborn baby struggling to breathe on his own, an (adorable) webbed foot for a duck, an entire working car. But as much as 3-D printing has revolutionized rapid prototyping and manufacturing, it’s turning out to be a game changer for teaching and learning. As kids like Sanigepalli watch their creations come to life, layer by miniscule layer, they’re picking up critical STEM skills that equip them for the 21st-century economy.

“The new era of rapid prototyping and the vast accessibility is opening up the field of engineering as a whole,” said Tom Curanovic, senior mechanical engineering instructor at Brooklyn Tech. “We’re seeing a lot more interest from all sorts of students, starting as early as freshman year.”

Brooklyn Tech is using 3-D printers in a required class, “Design and Drawing for Production,” but in schools around the country, educators are using this technology across the curricular spectrum.

You can get a sense of the demand by looking at DonorsChoose, which is only one site where teachers crowd fund their printers when there’s no room in the school’s budget. A New York classroom is looking for a printer for a course called “Art for Engineers.” A teacher in San Jose wants her students to print models of microscopic organisms. And a classroom in Highland Park, Illinois, needs filament spools to print inventions they’ve designed in programs such as SketchUp and Autodesk Inventor.

Accessible 3-D printers are only one type of technology spurring the growing maker movement in Pittsburgh and its classrooms.

“There is an explosion of maker activity in our city,” wrote Mayor Bill Peduto and co-authors Gregg Behr and Subra Suresh in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month. Behr is executive director of the Grable Foundation and Suresh is president of Carnegie Mellon University. The authors highlighted places around the city like AlphaLab Gear and HackPittsburgh where people can make and innovate in their very own neighborhoods. “Digital technology—such as apps and other software, games and robots, some of them invented right here—is opening new pathways for many more people to make and test new ideas, and to build new jobs and the city’s economy right along with them,” they wrote.

In 2011, the Department of Commerce found that growth in STEM jobs, like the ones Peduto praised, was three times faster than growth in non-STEM jobs in the last decade. And, as a Brookings report found, 20 percent of Department of Commerce jobs in the United States in 2011 required a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field.

Christine Mytko, a science teacher at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, California, hosts a blog—Tales of a 3D Printer—detailing the ways she’s engaged kids in STEM fields. For the schools’ graduation last year, each student printed an artifact they wanted to remember from their middle school days. Perhaps most telling was the student who 3-D printed a 3-D printer, explaining that he’s not giving up on 3-D printing his iPad stand. (He later updated the post to say he figured it out.)

Last month, SpaceX and NASA sent a zero-gravity 3-D printer up to the international space station. Yep, you read that right. Astronauts will soon be able to 3-D print in zero gravity to create extra parts and tools. It’s the kind of little news item that makes predicting the future of technology feel utterly impossible. But it seems educators and students agree on one thing—the printing won’t be in 2-D.

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How Classroom Design Can Engage Learners—a Lesson from Finland http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/10/03/18220/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/10/03/18220/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 15:45:06 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=18220 In April 2014, Yarra Howze, then a teacher at Pittsburgh Sterrett 6−8, was selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundationto join a delegation of US educators visiting Helsinki, Finland, classrooms. Since her return, she has stepped into the role of principal at Pittsburgh Allegheny 6−8. We spoke with Howze about her trip and what aspects of the Finnish model she’d like to bring to her new school.

Remake Learning: In the United States, we still have classrooms designed to create future workers in an industrial world. Kids sit at desks working on assignments, the bell rings to signal the end of the “shift,” etc. How has Finland updated the classroom to reflect how kids learn today? 

Yarra Howze: Finns are big on collaboration and build with collaboration in mind. To promote that, nothing in the school had just one function. The cafeteria was also the auditorium and the gym. The classrooms I saw had curtains, foam floors, lot of color, and lots of space for displaying work on the corkboard walls in the hallways, everything had multiple uses.

The classrooms had big windows so you could be in the classroom and look out into the collaborative workspace. One particular school space in an elementary had grade level pods (K-2, 3-5) in the middle of the classrooms. Instead of what we’d call a hallway, there was a collaborative workspace. Kids could take off their shoes, sit on beanbag chairs, and lie on the floor. There were also tables in the classrooms so kids could work in groups with their peers. The desks could be moved easily for independent work or group work. The students had a lot of choice of where to work.

All of the technology was state of the art. Teachers had Smartboards, ceiling projectors, and sound systems in the room to make the environment more enriched and interesting for kids.

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October is Connected Educator Month http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/02/october-is-connected-educator-month/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/02/october-is-connected-educator-month/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 05:14:43 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=18159 Without enough structured time to connect with colleagues, teaching can be an isolating profession. But the digital era has opened a world of opportunities to help educators network with peers 24/7—to compare practices, share resources, and drive innovation in their schools and communities.

This October marks the third annual Connected Educator Month (CEM), an opportunity for educators to leverage online communities to address vital issues in education, forge new connections, and strengthen existing ones.

The month-long series of events was developed in 2012 by the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology as part of the Connected Educators initiative. Last year’s event included more than 300 educational organizations and reached 14 million educators around the world via Twitter.

This year the organizers hope to increase “the quality, accessibility, and connectedness of existing and emerging online communities of practice.” Specific goals include “getting more educators proficient with social media,” “helping schools credential/integrate connected learning into their formal professional development efforts,” and “deepening and sustaining learning among those already enjoying connection’s benefits.”

CEM 2014 is organized with the following seven themes:

  • Blended learning
  • Collaboration and capacity-building
  • Diversity, inclusiveness, and global connected education
  • Educator professional development and learning
  • Leadership for change
  • Student agency, student voice, and the maker movement
  • Whole community engagement (parents, teachers, students, community members)

Participating organizations range from the American Council on Education and the American Federation of Teachers to the Digital Literacy Foundation and Edutopia.

Why is it important for teachers to be connected? In a BAM Radio station podcast, education pioneer Tom de Boor and “The Connected Educator” coauthor Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach discussed the importance of reaching out from inside the classroom walls to form beneficial personal learning networks.

“This idea of being connected, a connected learner, isn’t just about what I know or who I know,” said Nussbaum-Beach. “It’s ‘Do I know what who I know knows?’”

The “true authentic collegiality” that happens online when educators think deeply about what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom can lead to effective change and innovation, she continued.

Someone who’s connected online is “able to connect with people who already have a great deal of wisdom, pull ideas, and incorporate them into [their] own learning,” which “puts professional learning on an exponential track.”

Contrary to being a time sink, de Boor said, online networks help educators save time by providing access to a network of resources that can help them identify the most effective methods or resources. And the more teachers who become connected, the more powerful the group becomes.

The Connected Educators website offers several resources, for educators and other interested parties, for the month of October and beyond.

Nussbaum-Beach’s Connected Educator Month Starter Kit includes 31 days of tips and activities for educators, from using wikis to collaborating with Google Docs.

“This idea of being connected, a connected learner, isn’t just about what I know or who I know. It’s ‘Do I know what who I know knows?’”
This District Toolkit, geared toward school district decision makers, offers advice about making school systems more connected.

A new social media service launched for last year’s Connected Educator Month, edConnectr, uses maps and tags to help educators find like-minded collaborators.

“For educators, finding peers, finding mentors, finding leaders who inspire is vital to stay current and vibrant,” said Mark Sylvester, CEO and cofounder of introNetworks, developer of the edConnectr app. “Teachers have little time for professional development, so the time they do have for networking and collaborating (as a result of connecting) needs to be optimized.”

There’s also an Adopt-a-Colleague Kit to get less-connected colleagues plugged in.

Find the full calendar of Connected Educator Month events here.

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How Classroom Design Can Engage Learners—a Lesson from Finland http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/29/how-classroom-design-can-engage-learners-a-lesson-from-finland/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/29/how-classroom-design-can-engage-learners-a-lesson-from-finland/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:03:47 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17964 Finnish schools are some of the highest-performing in the world. Their success is often attributed to rigorous teacher training, respect of the teaching profession, and an education system focused on reducing inequality. Yet there’s another, often overlooked, aspect of the Finnish success: classroom design. The Finn’s take the learning environment seriously, and they’re revolutionizing the school day as a result. A local Pittsburgh principal got a first-hand look.

In April 2014, Yarra Howze, then a teacher at Pittsburgh Sterrett 6−8, was selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to join a delegation of US educators visiting Helsinki, Finland, classrooms. Since her return, she has stepped into the role of principal at Pittsburgh Allegheny 6−8. We spoke with Howze about her trip and what aspects of the Finnish model she’d like to bring to her new school.

Remake Learning: In the United States, we still have classrooms designed to create future workers in an industrial world. Kids sit at desks working on assignments, the bell rings to signal the end of the “shift,” etc. How has Finland updated the classroom to reflect how kids learn today? 

Yarra Howze: Finns are big on collaboration and build with collaboration in mind. To promote that, nothing in the school had just one function. The cafeteria was also the auditorium and the gym. The classrooms I saw had curtains, foam floors, lot of color, and lots of space for displaying work on the corkboard walls in the hallways, everything had multiple uses.

The classrooms had big windows so you could be in the classroom and look out into the collaborative workspace. One particular school space in an elementary had grade level pods (K-2, 3-5) in the middle of the classrooms. Instead of what we’d call a hallway, there was a collaborative workspace. Kids could take off their shoes, sit on beanbag chairs, and lie on the floor. There were also tables in the classrooms so kids could work in groups with their peers. The desks could be moved easily for independent work or group work. The students had a lot of choice of where to work.

All of the technology was state of the art. Teachers had Smartboards, ceiling projectors, and sound systems in the room to make the environment more enriched and interesting for kids.

How else did the design make learning more engaging?

For starters, there were a lot of nonverbal signals—they just set a tone for the environment and school culture. There were a lot of themed classrooms. One school’s French classroom had chandeliers, mirrors with gold frames, and old, decorative furniture—heavy, solid wood tables. It looked like a little French boutique. At the same school, the math classroom was like a diner—with a black-and-white checkered floor, a Coke machine in the corner, and old-school bar stools with red desks and red chairs.

The kids felt like they owned the space, like it was intentionally set up for them to be inspired.

It made you feel like, “I want to go in there and learn something.” I thought that was absolutely awesome. It was visually stimulating and interesting. The kids felt like they owned the space, like it was intentionally set up for them to be inspired.

That’s great for kids. What about teachers? Was the space designed with them in mind, too?

Yes, the classrooms are designed so that teachers can have different vantage points to see kids in various workspaces, so you might have three different learning environments under one instructor. Having those different levels allows them to tier [instruction] and meet students where they are academically—the spaces are designed for that. They’re meeting the needs of several different learning styles at once.

What else is different about the Finnish model?

Finnish kids start school later—at age 7 or 8. The elementary kids only go to school for four hours. Afterward, there are activities and clubs. Kids are very independent there. They take subways and buses at a very young age. If they have guitar lessons or gymnastics, they’re able to transport themselves.

This goes along with the level of autonomy that teachers have. They come in when their first period starts, and that may start a half an hour later than their colleague depending on their grade level. There’s flexibility in their schedules.

That’s interesting. So different from the “factory” model. How does that autonomy shape kids’ view of learning?

There’s a different way of viewing school there. It’s not presented to them as work in isolation. It’s just a part of life. They don’t get the idea that learning is only done in classrooms.

Walking through the hallways, I saw flat-screens with movies playing with captions from different languages. In the student lounge, there were posters and media spaces. Students are allowed to use their phones. Instead of pulling their phones out to text or use Instagram, they actually used them for their assignments. I asked a group of students why they’re not just talking to their friends instead of working, and they said, “My teacher trusts me, so I feel like I should respect that and get my work done.”

Then when they leave school, the phones are used more like a computer in their pocket. It is viewed as a learning tool.

What about test scores? Do they have the same pressures as here?

In Helsinki, you have a better chance of becoming a doctor or lawyer than becoming a teacher. It’s a rigorous process.
Over there, all schools are equal. They don’t publicize test scores. It’s truly a union of schools, if you will. The thinking is, “Let’s present all of our schools as the best schools.”

How about the teaching profession itself? Does that differ from the US?

In Helsinki, you have a better chance of becoming a doctor or lawyer than becoming a teacher. Universities only accept 10 percent of applicants to teacher programs. It’s such a rigorous process. Teachers are highly regarded and respected as part of the process of changing education instead of being assigned to a classroom and not really having a voice. Rigorous teacher preparation has a lot of impact on the quality of the education system, and it was very refreshing to see.

What changes, if any, will you be implementing here in Pittsburgh at your own school?

As a principal I have certainly taken note of what I experienced in Helsinki and have brought some of those ideas into my building. We have two collaborative workspaces now. We had the lockers removed and tables and chairs put into use for classes to work across the curriculum and across grade levels.

The first things students see when they walk into school are tables, chairs, and positive posters on walls that are setting the academic tone of the learning environment. These elements are telling students that learning is happening here. We have the ability to make warm educational spaces so kids feel like, “I can learn something here. I can be successful here.”

One of the most important aspects of my job is to create a positive educational space, for students and teachers.

What else? How can we do a better job here of supporting teachers so they can do their jobs well?

In Finland, I felt that when I went into those buildings and spoke with those teachers and school leaders, that there was camaraderie there, a level of trust and professionalism, high expectations for performance. Those are all certainly aspects I’ve brought with me in my new role as school principal.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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Startup CEO reaches out to youth with BBBS http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/27/startup-ceo-reaches-out-to-youth-with-bbbs-pittsburgh-tribune-review/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/27/startup-ceo-reaches-out-to-youth-with-bbbs-pittsburgh-tribune-review/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 20:00:25 +0000 http://rml.sproutn.at/?p=18325 In July of 2013, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh received a Hive Grant to bring a new program called STARTup SOMETHING to life. The program would connect teens in Big Brothers Big Sisters with local technology-based start-up companies, allowing them to meet the founders and hear about how they got to where they are. Now, over a year later, the program is still introducing youth to successful mentors like Matthew Stanton, a CMU grad and CEO of his own start-up, SolePower.

On Saturday, Stanton shared the story behind SolePower and some of the biggest challenges confronting a startup with several dozen children and mentors at a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh “Start Something” event held inside TechShop in East Liberty’s Bakery Square.

A series of workshops connects children with the founders of locally based startups to cultivate entrepreneurship and inspire future innovators, particularly among children dealing with challenges such as incarcerated parents, single parents and low-income households.

The event was the sixth that Big Brothers Big Sisters has held in the region, and the first to use additional grant money from Google.

Among other local startups that have participated: iTwixie, a social network that aims to provide a safe, positive online space for “tween” girls; Digital Dream Labs, which develops tablet-based educational games; Thread International, which converts trash into fabric to reusable products in Haiti; and Assemble, a nonprofit learning space for children and adults in Garfield.

Read the full article on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review website.

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The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/26/18008/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/26/18008/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 13:47:01 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=18008 Educators were out in full force this past weekend, for the annual World Maker Faire held in New York City. Billed as the “greatest show (and tell) on earth,” a good chunk of the DIYers, citizen scientists, crafting experts, and tech enthusiasts in attendance were, thankfully, also educators.

And in addition to working on their own projects, these educators were sharing ideas for how to use making in classrooms this fall. The Maker Education Initiative released an online resource library, a digital archive of sorts intended to help educators get started making in education.

But how do these maker projects jibe with the new demands placed on classroom teachers from the Common Core?

Science teacher, author, and blogger Marsha Ratzel is one of the thousands of teachers still navigating the Common Core implementation. Last year, she explained she was skeptical at first of how a student-driven science classroom (akin to the ethos in a makerspace) and the standards could be compatible. Although not specifically dealing with “maker” activities, she’s seen spots in the standards that align with her teaching methods, which revolve around keeping her classroom hands-on and student-driven.

If assessments mirror the broad principles and effective pedagogy that the CCSS authors have championed, there is hope that rote learning and teacher-driven classrooms will not be necessary in order for students to pass the test,” she said.

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Creating “Innovation Ecosystems” to Improve US Schools http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/25/creating-innovation-ecosystems-to-improve-us-schools/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/25/creating-innovation-ecosystems-to-improve-us-schools/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 17:20:16 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17962 How does innovation happen? What is the process that occurs from random aha moment to a verifiable smash hit? And, more important, can that process be designed?

That’s what Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Education Technology at the US Department of Education, is exploring by helping cities create “innovation ecosystems” in education.

The idea, which we discussed in further detail in a recent feature story, is to support innovation by identifying approaches that have worked to accelerate innovation in other industries—like biotech or open data initiatives—and applying them to education.

“In Culatta’s vision of this innovation ecosystem, education, research, and commercial partners collaborate closely,” we wrote. Innovators come up with a new idea, gadget, or approach. Teachers tell them if it could work, and researchers test whether it actually does work to improve the things that matter.

“When these groups work together,” Culatta told us in an interview, “both the products and quality of the educational experience and the validity of the research are improved.”

We’re working towards that vision here in Pittsburgh, drawing on the resources of our entire community to support our students to learn both in and outside of school. Our networks of museums, educators, scientists, and artists are creating new partnerships that can support 21st century learners.

Pittsburgh recently hosted a gathering of several other cities that are in various stages of developing similar innovation ecosystems. Groups from Rhode Island; Knoxville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh; and Baltimore were on hand to share ideas and best practices. You can read more about their experiences in Heidi Moore’s feature story. We’ll be keeping tabs on their progress throughout the rest of the year, so stay tuned.

Is your city creating its own innovation ecosystem? We’d love to compare notes. Leave a comment or flag us on Twitter @RemakeLearning.

 

 

 

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The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/22/the-common-core-meets-the-maker-movement/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/22/the-common-core-meets-the-maker-movement/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 19:11:57 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17923 Educators were out in full force this past weekend, for the annual World Maker Faire held in New York City. Billed as the “greatest show (and tell) on earth,” a good chunk of the DIYers, citizen scientists, crafting experts, and tech enthusiasts in attendance were, thankfully, also educators.

And in addition to working on their own projects, these educators were sharing ideas for how to use making in classrooms this fall. The Maker Education Initiative released an online resource library, a digital archive of sorts intended to help educators get started making in education.

But how do these maker projects jibe with the new demands placed on classroom teachers from the Common Core?

Back in June, Gary Stager, coauthor of “Invent to Learn,” told Education Week that he felt despite some “overlapping interests” between the standards and the maker movement, the two are ultimately “incompatible.”

Could this be true?

“The standards are rooted in this idea of a centralized body of knowledge that all kids must comply with, which is in stark contradiction to the notion that learning is more fluid, more intimate, more personal,” Stager explained. “That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t tick off boxes in the Common Core by having kids have meaningful making experiences. But the notion that some anonymous committee of grownups has made a list of stuff that all kids need to know because that’s what jobs are going to [require] in the future is preposterous. The maker movement prepares kids to solve the problems that [adults] never anticipated.”

The central goal of the standards is to cultivate critical thinking and collaboration and to reinvigorate deeper learning.

Stager’s point brings up many questions about how the two trending education topics relate. On one hand, the controlled chaos of a makerspace, where kids are soldering and 3-D printing, paints a much different image than the traditional classroom with partitioned topics and year-end assessments. But proponents of the Common Core say the central goal of the standards is to cultivate critical thinking and collaboration and to reinvigorate deeper learning. We don’t know what jobs will be ahead of us, they say, but we do know that being able to think critically will prepare learners.

But there’s a hitch.

Sylvia Libow Martinez, coauthor of “Invent to Learn,” said last May that schools tend to place too little emphasis on the standard’s overarching goals: making learning more relevant and experimental, and making it deeper. Instead, too many resources are directed to the specific standards and assessments.

“When we talk about how ‘making’ can align with Common Core, it requires schools and districts to refocus on those overarching goals, and away from how many computers you need to run the tests,” Libow Martinez wrote.

Science teacher, author, and blogger Marsha Ratzel is one of the thousands of teachers still navigating the Common Core implementation. Last year, she explained she was skeptical at first of how a student-driven science classroom (akin to the ethos in a makerspace) and the standards could be compatible. Although not specifically dealing with “maker” activities, she’s seen spots in the standards that align with her teaching methods, which revolve around keeping her classroom hands-on and student-driven.

“If assessments mirror the broad principles and effective pedagogy that the CCSS authors have championed, there is hope that rote learning and teacher-driven classrooms will not be necessary in order for students to pass the test,” she said.

A common misconception is that the Common Core dictates curriculum. Rather, the standards are goals. The path for getting students to achieve them is up to the teacher. First-grade teacher Tommy Young, who was invited to the White House Maker Faire, sought to reach those goals by using lessons embracing hands-on making activities, like having students build monsters using only materials they could afford in their budget.

Teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a project-based learning expert and blogger, recently explained at Edutopia that her method of designing a curriculum doesn’t use the Common Core standards as a starting place at all. Instead, in her English language arts classes, she develops projects and explorations that excite her and her students. Then she goes back, looks at the standards, and “fills in the gaps.” Most of the time, she’s already hit the Common Core targets.

Although the Common Core and the maker movement grew from two very different places, it’s no coincidence both reject memorization and the antiquated idea that schools should act as storehouses of information. Both reflect of a larger shift in how we think about teaching and learning, one that recognizes that rote testing isn’t going to prepare kids for the dynamic world ahead that will ask them to adapt to new technology and problems faster than we have ever had to.

Like Stager said in the Education Week interview, the maker movement equips kids to solve problems we don’t yet know exist. That should be a goal of education as a whole and, like any good maker problem, the best way to do that probably involves more than one solution.

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How Arts Education Can Help Today’s Students Become Critical, Creative Thinkers http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/21/17813/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/21/17813/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 17:09:12 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17813 Antara Cleetus learned to draw from her dad. But the 11-year-old has also learned a great deal from her art teacher at Boyce Middle School in Upper St. Clair, a suburb of Pittsburgh, who taught her that art is just as crucial a part of her education as science or mathematics.

This was a sentiment shared by national leaders in arts and education who gathered in Pittsburgh last week for theArts Education Partnership National Forum. The two-day forum brought hundreds of local, state, and national leaders in arts and education to Pittsburgh to hear frontline examples of innovative arts education and to strategize about how to provide these opportunities for more young people across the country.

Cleetus received the group’s 2014 Young Artist Award. But she is just one of many students in the area who are benefiting from the region’s unique partnerships in and outside of school that emphasize not just the arts, but also STEAM learning. The STEAM acronym stands for the marriage of art and design with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Advocates see this connection as central to preparing our next generation of innovators to lead the 21st-century economy.

Linda Hippert, Executive Director for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, part of the school government structure in Pennsylvania, spoke at the conference about their work to develop the Center for Creativity. The center provides hands-on grants and 21st century professional development to teachers in 42 districts across the Pittsburgh area.

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