Remake Learning Remake Learning 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, 20 May 2017 03:59:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Can a Laundromat Become a Classroom? Tue, 25 Oct 2016 12:00:29 +0000 For many kids, going to the grocery store means trailing listlessly behind harried parents. If they’re lucky, maybe they’ll get to ride in the cart or successfully persuade Mom to buy ice cream.

A few years ago, a Temple University undergraduate student wondered whether the mundane activity could be turned into a learning experience. She launched a study in a supermarket in a low-income neighborhood, placing conversation prompts throughout the space. At the front of the store, she and her research partners put up a sign declaring: “Talking to your child helps their language growth!” In the dairy section, a picture of a cow said: “I am a cow who gives you milk. What else comes from a cow?”

The researchers observed adult-child interactions in the store, tallying how often the customers engaged in various behaviors, like pointing to an object, asking a question, or taking turns in a conversation. The study found that families shopping in the store were almost four times more likely to converse when the new educational décor was up.

Grocery stores are prime places for learning—whether about budgeting or nutrition—but it takes deliberate design to take advantage of the opportunities. A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review proposes that thoughtful efforts could convert any number of public spaces into classrooms of sorts. The article was written by developmental psychologists Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, who worked on the grocery store study and created Urban Thinkscape, a new project exploring learning embedded in cities.

Urban Thinkscape is working closely with residents in West Philadelphia to determine which spaces in their community could become learning sites. One idea: building puzzles and measuring sticks into bus stop benches, so kids are stimulated while waiting. The researchers are also looking at opportunities in “trapped spaces” like laundromats or hospital waiting rooms. They might take a cue from a barbershop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where kids get $2 off a haircut if they read a book aloud to the barber.

Kids only spend about 20 percent of their waking hours at school.

Some scholars talk about “anywhere, anytime learning,” the idea that education should—and often does—happen organically outside traditional institutions like schools. Students spend about 20 percent of their waking hours at school, so it would be a missed opportunity to neglect the rest. It is up to adults to make sure communities are best set up to encourage young people to explore, learn, and create, whether on their own or with peers and adult mentors.

“This is not a new agenda,” notes cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito, a pioneering proponent of “anywhere, anytime learning,” in the Harvard Family Research Project newsletter. John Dewey, she writes, believed that education needed to be seamlessly integrated into daily life. In the 21st century, technology has made that integration both more pressing and more possible—and increasing inequality has made the task all the more urgent.

As the SSIR authors mention, children from higher-income families are more likely to have the chance to augment their school education. Their parents can afford after-school enrichment activities, and have more time to read to them.

By injecting innovative learning opportunities into the spaces we all move through daily—grocery stores, bus stops, parks—all kids can learn anywhere and anytime. And busy families of all sorts can accomplish tasks while engaging their kids in a puzzle or a conversation. In the Temple University supermarket study, the increase in the amount of conversation in the low-income grocery store brought it up to the average amount of discussion that happens among families in higher-income supermarkets, according to researchers.

Plus, if the kids are absorbed in an educational conversation, they might forget to ask for that ice cream.

School Districts Pool Brainstorming Power Tue, 18 Oct 2016 12:00:57 +0000 Pittsburgh educators know their students benefit from collaborative, project-based learning. Now, the grown-ups will give it a go themselves, through a new initiative facilitated by the LUMA Institute.

The Expanding Innovations Project, launched last month, assembles small groups of school districts and local partners to work on a project of their choosing, with funding support.

  • Fox Chapel Area School District, Woodland Hills School District, and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children will collaborate on a 21st century early-learning project.
  • Elizabeth Forward School District will pair up with Duquesne City School District to come up with design challenges for students.
  • Propel Schools, Hopewell School District, and Quaker Valley School District will partner to provide STEAM training for teachers.

Over the course of the year, each group will work to develop new ways to build 21st century skills among their student bodies—skills that are based on students’ interests and that will serve them in the modern economy. LUMA, a Pittsburgh-based design education and training company, uses human-centered design techniques to help solve community problems in the digital age, and will lead trainings for the teams.

Expanding Innovations is supported by the Remake Learning Council, a commission of leaders from the education, government, business and civic sectors who work together to promote learning innovation and expand learning opportunities in the greater Pittsburgh region.

Supporting sustained inter-district collaboration is one way to do just that. School districts too often work in silos and miss out on key opportunities to share resources and ideas. In a region like Southwestern Pennsylvania—where schools have launched a virtual immersion lab, makerspaces, a STEAM magnet program, and innovative professional development programs—there is certainly a lot school systems can learn from one another.

Check back on the blog for an update on the participants’ projects later in the year.

Nine Learning Spaces that are Pushing the Frontiers of Learning Thu, 13 Oct 2016 18:48:30 +0000 President Barack Obama is in Pittsburgh today for the White House Frontiers Conference, a national convening that explores the future of innovation here and around the world. Co-hosted with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, the Frontiers convening is focused on “building capacity in science, technology, and innovation, and the new technologies, challenges, and goals that will continue to shape the 21st century and beyond.”

The Girls of Steel at the Frontiers Conference with their robot chassis.Making sure that young Americans have access to an education that prepares them for the 21st century is, of course, a key part of meeting these challenges. So it’s fitting that the Frontiers conference is taking place in Pittsburgh, where the Remake Learning Network is hard at work pushing frontiers in teaching and learning. And Remake Learning Network members are at Frontiers today, sharing their innovative practices for preparing students for the future: the Girls of Steel Robotics Team are sharing their chassis building kit, which allows young roboticists to build a fully functional remote-controlled robot in just a few hours, the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum’s MAKESHOP is showing off their work at the intersection of research and practice to identify the ways in which children become makers, and Kidsburgh is using Facebook Live to share inspiration and insights from local youth participating in the conference.

Today is a special day in Pittsburgh, but those that are familiar with the work of Remake Learning know that educators and innovators in our region push frontiers in education every day. In fact, Remake Learning is one of the reasons Pittsburgh continues to be on the national map when it comes to innovation and creativity. And the conference isn’t the only place where you can experience innovation in Pittsburgh today. Here are nine innovative learning spaces that are open today for a special open house:

Perry High School is a Pittsburgh public school that empowers students to create social change with classes like Youth Voice and Music Technology, which where students create stunning videos and music that tells their stories. (stop by 10:00am-12:00pm)

Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild is a world-renowned space where high school youth discover and celebrate artistic creation and expression. (stop by 10:30am-12:00pm)

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty branch has a teen section that rethinks how youth use the library. Young people in the library’s Labs program will demonstrate their making skills today with a technology-powered Haunted House. (stop by 4:00pm-6:00pm)

The Homewood-Brushton YMCA is much more than a place to use the pool—youth in this community center use drones to create intricate works of art that demonstrate the strength of their neighborhood. (stop by 4:00pm-6:00pm)

Citizen Science Lab inside the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, is a hands-on laboratory where youth observe, experiment and analyze their world through discovery-based learning. Today, 40 African American middle school girls are working on their entry to the national Seaperch competition. (stop by 4:00pm-6:00pm)

Assemble is a makerspace and after-school center in the Garfield neighborhood that demonstrates how an affordable housing building can be a center for community through arts and technology. (stop by 4:00pm-6:00pm)

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is at the national forefront for maker education. Their MAKESHOP at Hosanna House, a community center just outside of Pittsburgh, is just one example of how they take maker education out of the museum and into communities. (stop by 4:00pm-6:00pm)

Carnegie Science Center’s Fab Lab offers engineering classes to  middle school students using the national Project Lead the Way curriculum. (stop by 3:00pm-6:00pm)

The PAEYC Homewood Hub is a place for Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood to gather learn, and play to improve experiences and outcomes for the community’s youngsters. (stop by 5:30pm-7:30pm)

These nine sites are just a small taste of the people and learning spaces pushing the frontiers of education. We are thrilled to announce that Remake Learning Days, our “open house for the future of learning” will be back in 2017 from May 15th to 26th. Relive this year’s Remake Learning Days by watching the recap video, and then mark your calendar for next year’s celebration!

]]> 21st Century Classrooms for 21st Century Learning Tue, 11 Oct 2016 12:00:01 +0000 ...Continue reading »]]> At my high school most classrooms had at least one wall painted a bold teal. As a student, I heard a rumor that the particular shade was chosen by the school administration because it was “the learning color”—one that kept kids focused and engaged. (Nevermind that the activity that went on inside those walls challenged that notion.)

I can’t verify that the administrators believed in the power of the learning color, but it wouldn’t be the first time educators considered how a school’s physical space encouraged or stymied learning. In the 21st century, as new pedagogies aim to empower students to take charge of their own education, many are noting that traditional classroom designs—with the desks in rows and teachers at the front of the room—won’t cut it.

“Redesigning learning spaces” is one of the trends documented in the 2016 K-12 New Media Consortium/Consortium for School Networking Horizon Report. Each year the organizations team up to chart current forces and technologies influencing education, and to predict what’s to come. In this year’s report, new learning space design is one of two “long-term trends,” predicted to influence teaching and learning, ed tech adoption, and education policy over the next five years. “Rethinking how schools work” is the other long-term trend. Shorter-term trends include collaborative and deeper learning, coding as literacy, and students as creators.

“Redesign” is a blanket term that can mean any number of upgrades to a learning space. At one end of the spectrum are small alterations to classrooms like better lighting or a different temperature. The Horizon report mentions a University of Washington study that found these minor changes can improve academic performance.

When it comes to more substantial changes, the United States is likely a bit behind the curve. New Zealand requires that all public schools include the development of flexible learning spaces in their 10-year plans. The government issued guidelines for improving flexibility and has funded 1,600 new spaces, according to the Horizon report. A common feature is flexible or moveable furniture that can quickly be reconfigured for a group project, technology use, or a lecture.

A couple years ago on this blog, we interviewed Yarra Howze, principal at Pittsburgh Allegheny 6-8. She had recently returned from Finland, where she toured school spaces designed with effective learning in mind. The schools, she reported back to us, strayed away from the compartmentalization common at U.S. schools.

“If you walk into a classroom and all the desks are arranged in rows,” she says, “you are being conditioned for a certain behavior”—behavior that is more passive and less engaged.

“Finns are big on collaboration and build with collaboration in mind,” she said. “To promote that, nothing in the school had just one function.” The cafeteria, for example, doubled as a gym and the classroom desks were constantly rearranged. Within one classroom, there were different kinds of learning spaces, so students with different learning styles each had their needs met.

“Instead of what we’d call a hallway, there was a collaborative workspace,” Howze said. The hallways were filled with colorful beanbag chairs, where students could study or play. The design demonstrated to students that learning can happen anywhere and anytime, not just inside a classroom between bells.

A high school in Denmark, notes the Horizon report, has abolished classrooms altogether. The Ørestad Gymnasium in Denmark is a 1,000-student school in one single, gigantic room. The open design is supposed to promote collaboration and creativity. (Temporary walls can be erected on occasion.)

As the report says, some U.S. schools have taken note. The Journal profiled an elementary school in Athens, Georgia, where desks are replaced with tables, and little alcoves off of the hallways serve as teacher-student or small group meeting spots. The school’s physical building is also leveraged as a learning tool, through an exposed rainwater collection system, and maps of Georgia plastered on the floors.

Learning space design has a direct impact on student conduct, say Lennie Scott-Webber, director of education environments at Steelcase Education, a design firm and shop, in the article.

“If you walk into a classroom and all the desks are arranged in rows,” she says, “you are being conditioned for a certain behavior”—behavior that is more passive and less engaged.

A teacher in the article also notes that classroom reconfiguration can become a design challenge for students themselves. The activity can give them a sense of ownership of the space.

These redesigned schools won’t be anomalies for long if the Horizon predictions come to fruition. The proliferation of mobile devices and wireless internet also promotes flexibility, as classes are no longer tethered to computer labs or electric outlets. The rapid evolution of education technology will likely continue to support or even demand school redesigns.

In fact, the Horizon report—produced each year by an international panel of education and technology experts—goes so far as to predict the trends approaching schools in the near future. And the near future is digital.

In the pipeline, according to the report: wearable technology, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics.

Pittsburgh’s Pioneering Maker Program Goes Coast to Coast Tue, 04 Oct 2016 12:00:45 +0000 It began as an ambitious effort to outfit 10 Pittsburgh schools with maker spaces.

This year that number could increase exponentially, as the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh converts a local project into a national phenomenon.

In 2015, the museum partnered with Kickstarter to help local schools crowd-fund for a maker space. Schools in the area had long been enthusiastic about maker education but felt they lacked the funding and support to launch programming. Museum staff guided 10 schools in developing projects tailored to their needs and capacities.

Ultimately, the campaigns raised more than $100,000. Some have already cut the ribbons on their new spaces and others are forging ahead with the process.

Local makerspace crowd-funding campaigns raised more than $100,000.

At Burgettstown Area Elementary Center, an old science lab is now home to a colorful assortment of beanbag chairs, workspaces, and making materials. The low-tech (clothespins and Legos) shares shelves with the high-tech (circuity and robotics kits).

Lincoln Elementary School is working to build an outdoor maker space. There the students have been tinkering, designing, and brainstorming before the space even opens. From the beginning, the students themselves deliberated about the features and designs they wanted in their new hangout. The consensus: the space would include a treehouse, something involving water, and a community garden. Making their big dreams a reality has been tough—and the task has turned into a fun design challenge for architecture students at Carnegie Mellon University.

Staff members at the children’s museum pondered how to scale the initiative beyond Pittsburgh. Making—learning through building, designing, and generally messing around with all sorts of materials—has fans across the country. So the museum wanted to expand a version of the local pilot to schools elsewhere.

This school year, the museum has teamed up with the nonprofit Maker Ed and Google to support schools across the country. Their Making Spaces program establishes “hubs” in 10 cities—from Bethesda, Maryland., in the east to Redwood City, Calif., in the west. The hubs can be school districts, museums, or other organizations.

In turn, each hub is paired with 10 schools in its own region. The local hubs provide professional development and crowd-funding advice to the participating schools so they can start their own maker programming.

Making has developed from a cult hobby into a mainstream learning approach.

The children’s museum and Maker Ed will be there in the background all year providing support and acting as hubs for schools in their own cities. Google has pledged $1 million to the project.

In recent years, making has developed from a cult hobby into a learning approach embraced by mainstream educators. Studies lending credence to the idea that making can equal learning are accumulating. Many researchers believe making prepares kids for a world and a workforce in which innovation, interdisciplinary thinking, and tech savvy are increasingly valued.

As a result, maker spaces are cropping up at plenty of schools. However, the same schools that lack the funding for robust art and science instruction lack the resources to launch a maker program. Efforts like Making Spaces are attempts to even the playing field. With the school year in full force, we will begin to see how they turn out.

A Brief, Personal History of Augmented Reality Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:04 +0000 My first iPhone was the smallest, most fragile thing I had ever owned. I loved it more than I thought I would, and within a few months, it had revolutionized my life. It helped me navigate my pregnancy, with apps that tracked the growing size of my belly, prepared me for labor, and even timed my contractions. My first iPhone predates my first child, and they’ve both come a long a way in what feels like the blink of an eye.

In the years since my son was born, every important milestone in his life seems to have been mirrored by an iPhone upgrade. They both grew, my son in size and my phone in capacity. The iPhone’s virtual tools make real life more efficient and fun. For us, as for many families, the iPhone has become a ubiquitous part of daily routine. With a tap, we can map the night sky above us, watch the President speak live, have a face-to-face conversation with a loved one across the world, or pay a bill. When I first brought that tiny device into our home, I had no idea how drastically it would shape our interactions with the world. Right in my pocket there’s a digital reality that is central to my physical reality.

Most recently, just as suddenly as my son’s first words, and just as conveniently as Siri’s, virtual and augmented reality experiences have become a normal part of life. We experience an enhanced version of reality modified by technology, and it’s awesome. Google Maps gets us where we need to go, Pokémon Go gets us out and exploring our community, and Google Cardboard gets my son engaged in subject matter like he’s never been before.

This summer, my son and I both had opportunities to use virtual and augmented reality tools in an educational setting. While I led a professional development program for teachers at South Fayette’s STEAM Innovation Summer Institute, my son attended Technology Camp at the Sarah Heinz House. We were both using the same technologies, but with two very different groups of people.

My program, which I ran through the Senator John Heinz History Center, was designed for teachers who were curious about approaches for connecting places across time using digital technologies. The group worked with tools like Google Cardboard, Google Maps Street View Time Machine, View-Master, and Layar to brainstorm authentic applications for integrating archival materials and technology into the classroom. Each educator left with insight on how to enhance learning experiences.

Meanwhile, my son was learning how to be a user and creator of augmented and virtual reality experiences. He grew up surrounded by a digital reality, and now he’s learning not just how to interact with these tools, but how to manipulate them himself. My son and his fellow campers channeled their passion for technology into engagement with the tools that construct their digital realities.

Virtual and augmented reality experiences give educators a unique opportunity to capture the attention of students, and potential applications for virtual reality continue to reveal themselves. We can swim with sharks through the lens of a cardboard box, explore forgotten history in our pajamas, and experience the thrill of an amusement park attraction from the comfort of the couch. Without leaving the classroom, kids can delve into the Great Barrier Reef, sit in the middle of Times Square, or climb Egypt’s pyramids.  A virtual dimension is popping up all around us, and the phrase “we create our own reality” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Mentorship Can Make the Difference Tue, 27 Sep 2016 12:30:23 +0000 Learning scientists have long understood the special role mentorship and adult relationships can play in a young person’s life. Mentor-mentee connections—supportive and serious, yet less authoritative or formal than a teacher or parent relationship—can make the difference for students.

“So much of learning occurs in the context of relationships,” said psychologist Jean Rhodes on Connected Learning TV a few years back. “And when kids are pursuing their interests and going deeper into a topic, having a more advanced thinker [to] help them scaffold that interest can be key to whether they go deeper into it or move away from it.”

The Urban Institute recently evaluated two efforts to serve disadvantaged youth of color in the Washington, D.C., area. The randomized control trials found that both programs have boosted their participants’ educational or social outcomes (with varying degrees of significance).

“So much of learning occurs in the context of relationships.”

The programs and their respective participants differ substantially, but it turns out they share one important ingredient: mentorship.

The first study is a six-year examination of Urban Alliance, a college and career preparation program that places students in paid internships. Each student works with a coordinator who tracks the participant’s performance and checks in with him or her weekly. They have a few longer meetings each year to discuss post-high school plans. Typically, the mentors stay in touch with their mentees on an ad-hoc basis, providing emotional support and connecting them to resources. The evaluation finds mixed results, but for the male students the program increased their chances of graduating high school and attending college. That impact is important, the researchers note, as males report receiving less help on college and career preparation than females.

The second program, the Latin American Youth Center’s Promotor Pathway, pairs at-risk young people with a “promotor.” This adult wears many hats: case manager, mentor, and advocate. Meeting with a promotor is optional, so it is notable that virtually all the youth in the program choose to do so at least weekly. Here too, males’ education outcomes improved significantly. The evaluators also found positive social results, including fewer births.

The researchers note the importance of mentorship in both programs, particularly for young males of color, who face institutional barriers to success. The mentors serve as critical role models in communities where young people “have little exposure to high-skilled employment in their families or neighbors.” They serve as a support system; the promotor students were 9 percentage points more likely to say they had a special adult in their lives than their peers. Research shows that a long-term supportive relationship with an adult makes a difference, Urban Institute explains.

In fact, there have been many studies backing up the notion that mentorship is important. Students who meet with mentors are far less likely than their peers to skip school or use drugs, and more likely to go to college, according to the federal government.

Mentorship is often built into afterschool programs, where the informal and hands-on setting is more conducive to personal relationships. But increasingly, traditional schools are integrating mentor figures into their practice as well.

The Atlantic recently introduced readers to Jessica Valoris, called a “dream director” or a “warrior of possibility” by the organization she works for, the Future Project. In layman’s terms she’s a mentor, hired by public high schools to help students complete creative projects, figure out what they’re passionate about, and build leadership skills.

Traditional schools are beginning to embrace mentorship.

Mentorship has recently received national attention, support, and—in January of this year—its own national month. Mentorship is an integral piece of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), the Obama Administration’s initiative to support young men of color. The White House calls on public and private organizations to improve education and job opportunities for these at-risk students. Some partners have responded by pairing mentors with young men, and the campaign has raised awareness of the importance of mentorship, directing adults to a mentorship opportunity database. The president himself plays mentor to basketball star Steph Curry in a silly sketch.

Pittsburgh has responded to Obama’s call, launching a local MBK effort with an emphasis on increasing access to tech and career-oriented learning opportunities and mentorship for young men of color. The Sprout Fund, the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the Heinz Endowments will support local organizations to boost their digital literacy and career programming.

For some advocates it makes sense that the president is throwing some support behind a mentorship initiative.

“Just as the federal government can see something like health care as a basic need, mentoring should be that, too,” David Shapiro, the CEO of the National Mentoring Partnership, which operates the mentorship database, told The Atlantic. “Having consistent support outside home is essential.”

After all, the government has long funded formal education—and private funders have increasingly followed suit (not without controversy). But there is growing awareness that an effective education system is one that provides opportunities not only at school, but at home, in afterschool programs, and throughout a student’s community. A diverse collage of adults who encourage and teach young people—while also knowing when to step back and allow exploration—is critical to the successes of each piece of the system.





Virtual Reality in Schools Becomes Something Real Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:00:05 +0000 In one local district, students can travel to Ancient Egypt and back, sans time machine or permission slip.

Montour High School in Robinson, Penn., is home to a “virtual immersion lab” where computers come equipped with simulation software and styluses. Students need only throw on some 3D glasses—the kind that make animated characters jump at you in movie theaters—to plunge into a world where they can dissect dinosaurs, examine a human eye, or explore the pyramids up close.

The lab uses education software from zSpace, a California company that has outfitted about 100 such spaces in schools around the country. The cost is steep at $70,000, which Montour covered with a combination of district funds and support from the Grable Foundation and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Kids go nuts over the technology, Justin Aglio, Montour’s director of innovation, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. No surprise there: the lab immerses students in the ancient worlds, infectious diseases, and extinct species that used to be the stuff of textbooks.

Virtual reality is a “powerful empathy tool”

Virtual reality “is a really powerful empathy tool,” Jen Holland, a former product manager at Google, recently told the Smithsonian. She was explaining why more schools should embrace the technology, but many who make media for grown-ups think so too. Since last year, The New York Times has occasionally shipped its subscribers Google’s Cardboard headsets so they can watch original VR films. The first introduced viewers to child refugees; another placed them next to Iraqi soldiers fighting ISIS.

As long as the virtual reality is accompanied by thoughtful lessons and adult guidance, it is just the kind of hands-on, interactive learning we know is valuable. Teachers at Montour can choose to play an active role in students’ exploration, editing the preprogrammed activities or designing their own. They are able to watch what the students are doing from their own screens, providing live feedback when appropriate.

VR could make existing disparities grow wider
As the technology becomes more common, however, there are risks to watch out for. Any time a new device or program comes out and only ends up in certain classrooms, it has the potential to make existing disparities grow even wider. Low-income, black, and Latino families are less likely to have broadband internet access at home, for example, so it is all the more important that their children’s schools aren’t left behind as well. The proliferation of smartphones and the educational technology equipped for them have improved access. But the cost of a virtual immersion lab puts it in the category of programs unlikely to land in most American districts anytime soon.

Montour has vowed to share its lab with other schools in and out of the district. Other educational VR endeavors have placed an emphasis on access.

Earlier this month, visitors to a Pittsburgh recreation center got a week to experiment with a new VR tool in development at Carnegie Mellon University. The students uploaded 360-degree images of their own neighborhoods, editing them to design their ideal community. The program gave them a chance to create, critique, and help determine their own surroundings (if only for the moment).

Google last fall launched its Expeditions Pioneer Program, allowing schools to apply for free kits that included VR viewers, smartphones with educational VR software, and an internet router. The company sent employees to participating schools to train teachers, who also received a free tablet. Within a year, however, Google turned Expeditions into an expensive commercial product.

Tech moves rapidly. Ten years ago, hardly anyone had a smartphone. Ten days ago, some of the Montour students had probably never been outside of the state, let alone “to” Egypt. When it comes to educational technology, it’s important to make sure access plays catch-up with invention.

Rec Goes Tech at Pittsburgh Rec Centers Mon, 12 Sep 2016 12:00:21 +0000 For many kids, the new school year promises a chance at transformation. Some come back after the summer with an edgy new hairstyle. Others vow to actually do the extra-credit assignments this year.

Just like their young visitors, Pittsburgh’s recreation centers are trying on new identities this week.

The Rec2Tech initiative injects five rec centers with a dose of the 21st century. The centers, spread throughout Pittsburgh, typically host afterschool programs where neighborhood kids play sports, get homework help, and receive dinner. But from September 12-16, visitors at 5 of the city’s 10 centers will engage in free STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) activities. Kids ages 7 to 12 will have the chance to participate in everything from programming a virtual neighborhood to dissecting a heart.

“It will be a crazy rainbow of tech and science.”

Rec2Tech is a collaboration among the Sprout Fund, the City of Pittsburgh Office of the Mayor and Department of Innovation and Performance, and Citiparks. It is supported by Comcast NBCUniversal and received initial funding from the MacArthur Foundation.

Rec2Tech is inspired by a Baltimore initiative of the same name, but Pittsburgh’s program capitalizes on the city’s unique network of learning organizations and institutions. Several collaborators—Assemble, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Citizen Science Lab, Digital Corps, Sisters e.S.T.E.A.M., TechShop, and the YMCA—are helping or leading the programming, which will vary at each site.

The result will be a “crazy rainbow of tech and science,” said Ani Martinez, program associate at the Sprout Fund.

At the Phillips Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Carrick neighborhood, kids will turn into urban agriculture experts, building a greenhouse from water bottles. At the Warrington Rec Center in Beltzhoover, they will test a virtual reality tool from Carnegie Mellon University that lets users upload 360-degree photographs of their surroundings and tweak them. The kids will become civil engineers for the week, using the tool to virtually improve their neighborhoods. The Magee Rec Center, on the other hand, will be converted into a laboratory where young scientists will dissect hearts and print 3D models of the organ.

But Rec2Tech is not just a week-long role play. The goal is to introduce Pittsburgh’s young people to the skills and tools they will need in their near future.

“Digital skills and 21st century skills are no longer an option” but a necessity, Martinez said.

Tech employment has ballooned in Pittsburgh, growing by 19 percent between 2010 and 2013. But too many local youths lack training for jobs in this growing sector.

Pittsburgh has an active network of educators and technologists, so the Rec2Tech organizers have leveraged existing facilities and programs, combining them for maximum impact.

“Why not turn our centers, which have been embedded in our neighborhoods, into these places where people can come and really gain access to 21st century skills?” said LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill, deputy chief of education at the Office of the Mayor.

“How do we make these workforce skills accessible to the community?”

“It was a matter of, How do we make these skills that are going to be needed in the future workforce accessible to those that are part of the community already?” she said. 

By meeting kids where they are—literally—the hope is to reach students who lack regular access to STEAM learning. The participants will become acquainted with the host organizations and find out about their year-round programming.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, at Schenley Plaza, parents will get to see what their kids came up with at an interactive party that the Sprout Fund hopes will attract 500 families. There will be 3D printers, robots, screen-printing, and audio recording opportunities. Participants from all five centers will be bused in.

The Rec2Tech partners hope the initiative will become a pilot for a permanent integration of STEAM learning into Pittsburgh’s communities, giving all students the chance to transform themselves over the summer or during the year.


Interest-Driven Learning in the Face of Adversity Tue, 06 Sep 2016 12:30:49 +0000 ...Continue reading »]]> Three sociologists in Baltimore spent a decade getting to know young people growing up in the city’s most impoverished communities. Their new book, “Coming of Age in the Other America,” chronicles the hardship in these neighborhoods—and how some adolescents manage to defy the odds.

For many of the book’s subjects, the barriers they bumped up against seemed impenetrable. As young adults, they suffered from unstable housing, economic insecurity, and in some cases trauma or abuse. Communities like the high-rise developments where the youth live, write authors Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin, have “a legacy of deep racial subjugation, intergenerational poverty, and resource-depleted neighborhoods.” Adversity is institutional. Yet the authors found that the teenagers differed greatly in their abilities to navigate young adulthood, graduate high school, stay healthy, and pursue higher education or a career.

The authors wondered: “What separates young people who stay on track from those who do not?”

Past studies found that personality traits like grit and ability to delay gratification play a large role in determining a child’s destiny. Was “grit” the saving grace here? The authors have their doubts. All the youths they studied exhibited extraordinary resilience and determination. Yet by their teens, many had succumbed to the grinding pressures of poverty. They had lost hope. In other cases, the young people hung onto their dreams only to have serious trouble fulfilling them.

Social forces and systemic obstacles “can shortchange the dreams of even the grittiest and most determined,” the sociologists write.

So what, then, set apart the few who managed to stay hopeful and achieve some of their goals?

The researchers found that the secret was being able to follow a passion and build an identity through it. Some of the teens were obsessed with comic books. Others customized cars or produced music. The authors call those interests “identity projects,” because they gave the youths a sense of pride and purpose.

“The youth who best managed to persevere found a passion through an identity project, which can serve as a virtual bridge between challenging present circumstances and an uncertain, but hoped-for, future,” they write. In some cases, the teens’ interests could be connected directly with lessons at school or job opportunities.

“The youth who best managed to persevere found a passion.”

There is a growing awareness that such “interest driven” learning improves kids’ chances at success. In a video at Edutopia, Constance Steinkuehler, professor of digital media and former White House advisor, talks about the moment when she realized the power of interest-driven learning. She was running an afterschool program in which many high school-aged participants were reading years below grade level. When she gave them books about their interests (video games, in this case), their literacy levels improved dramatically. They were willing to devote the time and effort to comprehending the content.

According to learning scientists like Mimi Ito, the education system needs to do a better job of supporting interest-driven learning.

“Most kids need much more adult scaffolding, support, institutional invitations, and connections in order to connect the interests that they do have to opportunities and trajectories of learning that will really serve them in their adult life,” said Ito during a Connected Learning webinar.

Ito’s point speaks to the value of out-of-school learning programs. Organizations like many in the Remake Learning Network provide space, mentorship, and materials for youth to build on their interests—be it in a gaming club or a community garden. Trained adults can help young people figure out how to turn their existing passions into academic or professional opportunities.

Creative pursuits and the search for identity are part and parcel of any American adolescence, but for low-income students particularly, authors of “Coming of Age in the Other America” find, these experiences can make a huge difference in their ability to transition successfully into adulthood.

As the sociologists said, “Their identity work was not just about discovery, it was about survival.”

A Clearer Pathway for Environmental Education Fri, 02 Sep 2016 12:30:45 +0000 Learning can happen anywhere and anytime, as we are reminded each summer. Education is not simply the domain of schools but of museums, parks, computer labs, kitchens, libraries, and any number of settings where children spend time and explore. Kids are naturally inclined to examine and learn from their environments.

In order for young people to get the most out of disparate learning opportunities, however, they need help drawing connections among those varied experiences and translating them into new opportunities. That’s the basis for the concept of a pathway.

A learning pathway is a deliberately designed set of learning experiences—happening in sequence or simultaneously—that build on one another so the learner develops a depth of knowledge and expertise. Pathways help kids find relevance in classwork and, conversely, turn their out-of-school interests into learning opportunities.

Pathways help kids find relevance in classwork.

There may be no better candidate for a pathways approach to learning than environmental education, which is part of any complete STEM curriculum. Encouraged by the Next Generation Science Standards, environmental education is critical for today’s children, who will inherit a climate in peril. Young people who have hands-on interactions with the natural world on top of their classroom experience will better learn to respect and care for the planet.

An environmental education learning pathway can convene partners who already offer different yet complementary learning experiences in and out of doors. Through the framework of a pathway, they can pool their resources and work together to further students’ interests and understanding.

Pittsburgh learners will soon be able to follow a new environmental education pathway designed to set up participants for success after graduation. The “young conservationist” program, run by a consortium of local environmental organizations, is one of six pathways starting in the city this fall. Following the immersive ecological stewardship program, high school students will gain skills they can use in a career or hone in college. They can do conservation work in their communities, take online classes, and ultimately work as outdoor trip leaders.

This generation will make critical decisions about natural resources.

Career preparation is an important function of many environmental learning pathways. Environmental science jobs are growing faster than most, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The next generation of professionals will have to make critical decisions about natural resources and sustainability measures. Pathways can help leverage the curiosity kids already have about their environments and turn autonomous learning experiences into opportunities for success later on.

Other pathways are geared toward younger students, exposing them to outdoor education early in life. In Mountain View, California, a number of environmental education entities have created a robust pathway for elementary school students. The collaborative includes education nonprofits, an organic farm, the Audubon Society, a marine science institute, the county, and the Mountain View Whisman School District. The partners coordinate with one another, offering hands-on scientific investigation opportunities to youngsters.

Each step along the Mountain View pathway strengthens the impact of the others. By collecting data from wildlife habitats, the students put into practice the scientific method they learn in class. By identifying birds through binoculars, milking cows, and playing in creeks, they can engage directly with the ecosystems they have studied. Follow-up lessons help them retain the knowledge and dig into concepts that piqued their interest.

Pathways, despite the name, are not necessarily linear. As in Mountain View, they can simply lend a valuable framework to a number of engaging learning experiences, ensuring that young people connect the dots and follow paths to new opportunities.

Learning Pathways: A Walkthrough Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:00:03 +0000 The digital age brings a seemingly endless number of options for today’s learners. But it’s also easy to get lost. Enter learning pathways.


What are learning pathways?

Learning Pathways are the routes learners take to discover new ideas, pursue their interests, and develop their skills. These routes involve experiences in school, out of school, and online. School systems, for example, are pedagogical pathways that build on each prior stage of learning. Other pathways are less formal, and can be a road to discovery based on personal interests.

Previously on this site, we’ve dug into the concept of networks and the umbrella of learning innovation. In a sense, pathways are the intersection of these ideas. Access to a network of mentors and innovative education opportunities enables learners to follow a pathway of experiences, building on their interests and developing skills along the way.

Why pathways, why now?

Pathways are important now because the Internet, social networks, and our changing economy have unleashed a seemingly endless number of options for exploring and learning. But in that vastness lies the problem. It’s easy to get lost.

Learning pathways help students draw connections and adapt.
Pathways are the map on a road trip; they guide you from point A to B, but along the way they also reveal the side roads, historical sights, and other detours that add richness to the journey. Without the map, a traveler may have missed those opportunities, or worse, gotten completely lost.

The time to build deliberate pathways is now, says John Seely Brown and co-author Douglas Thomas in their book, “A New Culture of Learning.” In a rapidly changing world, adaptability and the ability to see connections are critical. Students must understand how skills and knowledge build on each other and how to find entry points to new opportunities. They must be able to steer a new course, adapt, and adjust. Learning pathways help imprint that understanding.

But the map alone is not enough.

A family can stop at the historical site on the map, but then what? They need a guide to make sense of what they’re seeing. It’s the park ranger or historical interpreter who adds new insights and maybe sparks a latent interest. In learning pathways, guides are posted along the way to help learners not only see how to get from home to their destination, but to see how the points along the way connect to make the journey more meaningful.

“When kids are pursuing their interests and going deeper into a topic, having a more advanced thinker help them scaffold that interest can be key to whether they go deeper into it or move away from it,” said psychologist Jean Rhodes on Connected Learning TV. Connected Learning, an emerging theory in education, posits that personal passions, strong mentorship, peer relationships, and technology are the key ingredients in a learning pathway.

Pathways help learners connect in- and out-of-school experiences and pursue their interests. Photo/Ben Filio

Where did the idea for pathways come from?

The idea of pathways has been around a long time. But it was in video games where some scholars had an aha moment.

In video games, players advance—level up—only when they master a level. The game is designed to urge the gamer on to the brink of frustration, but not so overwhelming that they give up.

“Good games offer players a set of challenging problems and then let them solve these problems …,” wrote learning scientist James Paul Gee. “Then the game throws a new class of problem at the players, requiring them to rethink their now taken-for-granted mastery, learn something new, and integrate this new learning with their old mastery. In turn, this new mastery is consolidated through repetition (with variation), only to be challenged again.”

Pathways work similarly. Pathways nudge learners to level up, but with more room for discovery and detours along the way.

“The game throws a new class of problem at the players, requiring them to rethink their now taken-for-granted mastery, learn something new, and integrate this new learning with their old mastery.” – James Paul Gee

What’s an example of a pathway in action?

A California school district partners with an afterschool program and the state’s student poll worker program. Teenage participants take an online civics course that includes a unit on app development. After learning about electoral politics and history, they code and create a mobile app that lets their peers find their polling places and look up candidates’ positions on issues relevant to youth. Completion of this task unlocks the real opportunity to work at the polls on Election Day. The pathway leads students from interest and education in politics to practical skill development and real-world opportunities.

Pathways can nudge learners to “level up.”

The Aspen Institute on Learning and the Internet recommended pathways like these in its 2014 report analyzing the needs of 21st century students.

Are pathways linear only, from Point A to Point B?

Learning is not linear and nor are pathways. Becoming part of a robotics club might actually reveal to a young person that robotics is really not their thing. But while designing posters for robotics competitions, they might realize they are interested in graphic design.  

As Kris D. Gutiérrez, professor of literacy and learning sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, cautioned in a webinar hosted by the Connected Learning Alliance, learning is rarely smooth and uncomplicated, and learning pathways should allow for “this wonderful messiness and complication with learning.” 

Youth working in nature

Photo/Ben Filio

Who is working on this idea around the country? 

Some digital learning platforms are incorporating concepts similar to pathways into their systems so that learners can connect the dots between learning experiences. LRNG is one such platform that lets educators create learning “playlists” that lay out a specific sequence of activities that a teen can complete to develop their skills while exploring their interests. Activities on these playlists can be face-to-face or completed online.

Learning is not linear and neither are pathways.
Some organizations are applying playlists and pathways to out-of-school learning, guiding kids as they pursue their interests while accumulating expertise and experience. In Chicago, for example, the Cities of Learning program first engaged youth in learning pathways during their summer of 2013. An online platform created by the Digital Youth Network presented young people with 25 playlists and more than 1,000 summer learning opportunities—from scriptwriting to coding.

Once a participant completed an activity, he or she earned a digital badge, which celebrated and documented new skills (think digitized Boy Scout badge). Then that student could “level up” and unlock a more challenging opportunity in the same field. In one such sequence, the Lights! Camera! Action! Playlist, kids received instructions on how to conduct interviews, brainstorm stories, and shoot and edit videos. In some cases, young people can earn the chance for mentorship from a professional upon completion of a playlist.

What about in Pittsburgh? What else is next?

In Pittsburgh, we have been mapping what learning pathways look like across the city and working to define and develop them since 2014. Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, Remake Learning Network members will pilot six learning pathways that connect complementary programming across multiple organizations. These six pathways are built from programs and organizations in the city, but connecting them more intentionally helps young people follow their interests and hone their skills.

Among them is a “Young Conservationist” pathway run by a consortium of Pittsburgh ecology nonprofits including Student Conservation Association, GTECH Strategies, Venture Outdoors, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. High school-aged students participating in the pathway receive immersive education in ecological stewardship, with opportunities to learn online, do conservation work in their communities, and work as outdoor trip leaders. As they advance along the Pathway they encounter learning experiences that expose them to the variety of disciplines and job opportunities in urban ecology. Students who complete the most rigorous branch of the pathway will earn a Conservation Leader badge that unlocks the opportunity to participate on an SCA National Crew doing conservation work in a National Forest.

With funding support provided by The Sprout Fund, each pathway will provide hundreds of youth from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County with access to Connected Learning opportunities and chances to earn badges when they level up their skills.

Educators, technologists, and community leaders throughout the Pittsburgh area are constantly thinking about how to link up the countless local learning opportunities in order to connect kids to success in and out of school. Whether through networking at the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, aggregating opportunities on platforms like LRNG, or building bonds informally, the idea is to turn the city into a network of pathways for all the local learners.

How Will You Remake Learning This School Year? Wed, 31 Aug 2016 16:09:00 +0000 ...Continue reading »]]> Some teachers may incorporate maker learning into their classrooms for the first time; others may bring STEAM learning into their English language arts or social studies classrooms. Or maybe they’ll find thoughtful ways to innovate with tried-and-true teaching approaches. No matter what, we’re excited to see the innovative ways that Remake Learning Network members will create transformative learning experiences for their students in the year ahead.

Here are a few network members who shared how they’ll remake learning in the 2016-2017 school year.

Karen Aharn
ASSET STEM Education

“ASSET will improve student learning by empowering educators (P-12, in and out of school time) with advanced professional development and STEM materials. See our results at”

Erin Cawley
Avonworth Elementary School, Avonworth School District

“I will continue to strive to ignite a passion for using technology to create in my students. This year I plan to do so with a number of exciting projects that have a goal of being more cross curricular as to bring their learning full circle. I’ve also worked hard to create a new environment in the computer lab where students will feel they are in a comfortable space of their own.”

Michele Crispell
Roche A Cri School, Adams-Friendship Area School District
“I will have an official Makerspace room for the first time as an extension of our library! We started last year by purchasing a few robots, coding sites and building materials and plan to really go full force this year. I am super excited!”

Alison Francis
Kerr Elementary School, Fox Chapel Area School District
“I plan to focus on meaningful family engagement and anywhere, anytime learning for families.”

Chuck Herring
South Fayette Intermediate School

“I am going to utilize LUMA Techniques in my planning and with my students.”

Sheila May-Stein
Perry High School, Pittsburgh Public Schools

“Working with the CMU CreateLab, I will help students and teachers tell compelling stories using data and technology to advocate for change that means something to them in their world.”

Brian White
Superintendent, Chartiers Valley School District

“We are implementing a weekly STEAM period for all 6th and 7th grade students at Chartiers Valley Middle School this year.”

Ruby Wilkosz
Volunteers of America – All of Us Care

“In addition to our Reading and Digital Corps literacy programs, we are expanding literacy programming to include math through cooking, measuring, and finance; science experiments crafted and orchestrated by high school volunteers; and cultural activities that include art appreciation, American Sign Language, etiquette practice, and sewing including Anime costume creation.”

How will you remake learning this school year? Share it on Twitter with the hashtag #RemakeLearning to let us know!

Should Teacher Training Be More Like Medical School? Tue, 23 Aug 2016 12:30:20 +0000 When a student finishes medical school, we don’t expect him or her to simply throw on some gloves and take command of an OR. More to the point, we wouldn’t want them to. Such a vital occupation requires on-the-job training and guidance from veteran professionals. Millions of dollars are spent on medical residency programs each year for a reason.

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, researchers ask why the teaching profession is treated differently. Educators and learners alike would benefit from a teacher residency system, write Shael Polakow-Suransky, Josh Thomases, and Karen DeMoss of the Bank Street College of Education.

In our current system, pre-service teachers typically complete classroom practicums, but the amount of required student-teaching time varies from program to program and is sometimes nonexistent in alternative routes to licensure. Teachers go straight from a certification program into a classroom where they are typically the only teacher. That’s shortsighted, write the authors. Educators with little field training are less effective. And many teachers leave the profession shortly after entering it, feeling unsupported or overwhelmed by the responsibilities. That frequent turnover creates a harmful norm of instability for students and an expensive headache for administrators.

The relatively fast path to the teaching profession is not an accident. In response to teacher shortages, many states have expedited the journey to licensure and employment.

Some states have expedited the journey to teacher licensure.

While adding more steps to full employment could ostensibly make the profession less appealing, the op-ed authors argue the opposite could also be true. The residency programs that do exist pay trainees the salary of an assistant teacher. The participants are afforded the time to get more comfortable and confident before they go it alone.

Data from existing programs show that residency participants are more likely to keep teaching. The retention rate after a few years is upward of 80 percent, while almost half of other new teachers leave the profession, according to the authors. Early studies suggest they are also more likely to improve student achievement, the op-ed authors write.

Getting teacher training right is critical. Strong teachers make the difference for students, so it is imperative that they receive adequate preparation before they are put in charge. According to the RAND Corporation, teachers have two to three times the impact on students’ reading and math test scores than other factors like the school’s resources or administration. And the impact of a good teacher extends far beyond academic achievement. A study by Harvard and Columbia researchers found that teachers who boost students’ test scores also positively affect their likelihood to attend college and receive higher salaries.

Teachers need support to become strong mentors who will stick around.

Strong teachers also provide important emotional support, encouragement, and mentorship to their students. For some students, teachers are the adults who are most present in their lives.

“Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting” and develop academic and social skills, write researchers at NYU. For high school students, these relationships can reduce their likelihood of dropping out by nearly half.

It is in everyone’s interest to give teachers the time and support they need to become strong mentors who will stick around. A number of policies and interventions—innovative professional development, better compensation, licensing standards—aim to achieve that goal. A teaching residency program is another to consider.

Remake Learning Recognized by Stanford Social Innovation Review Tue, 16 Aug 2016 12:00:33 +0000 It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Remake Learning was just a good idea. Back in 2006, the notion a network of new learning opportunities for Pittsburgh’s children was an innovative concept in need of dedicated execution. Today, the network is thriving, with 250 organizations involved.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review recently took note of these accomplishments in “Making School New,” an article tracing the decade-long trajectory of Remake Learning. (The author rightly points out that Pittsburgh’s own Mister Rogers, one of the first to recognize the educational potential of technology, laid the groundwork decades earlier.)

As its name implies, SSIR is a magazine focused on innovation, and the Remake Network is being featured for its original approach to learning and civic engagement.

The article starts where Pittsburgh leaders began a decade ago: with the realization that the education status quo was unacceptable. Children were no longer engaged in their lessons. Teachers were not connecting with their students. Technology was changing, the job market was evolving, and young people’s interests were going in new directions. Educators and city leaders knew they had to rethink the system.

New to the Grable Foundation in 2006, Gregg Behr heard the message loud and clear. He gathered educators, researchers, and technologists to address this “seismic” change in learning. They traded expertise and discussed how the thoughtful use of technology could re-engage young people. They envisioned Pittsburgh as a place where learning happened everywhere—a community where informal and formal education institutions collaborated to create a continuum of opportunities for all young people.

Born from that effort—with a few different iterations and much invaluable support along the way—was the Remake Learning Network. Now, there are more than 250 members in the thriving ecosystem, though we know our work isn’t done.

We are especially pleased to hear our story told on a national stage. It’s always great to be recognized for the hard work the city and the network’s members have done. It’s even more important, however, to see the model gain traction nationally, because innovations in education are still needed to ensure that all children have a chance to engage in learning like the kids in Pittsburgh do.

As Behr says in the article:

“There’s no reason every community in the country couldn’t do what we’ve done. You may not have 250 potential partners, but you probably have schools, libraries, businesses, a community college.” And “that’s enough,” he says, for local leaders to “think collectively about helping kids be future-ready.”

That kind of thinking, Behr suggests, leads to high aspirations. “We want to create a community where the whole region is a kid’s campus,” he says. “Whatever it takes to light up learning—robotics, maker [spaces], gaming, experiences that happen in or out of school—we want to create learning pathways for kids that help them navigate the economy, become great citizens, and thrive as lifelong learners.”

Read more in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Guest Post: Let’s Talk Technology & Young Children Fri, 29 Jul 2016 12:48:27 +0000 As part of the weeklong celebration of educational transformation that occurred throughout the Pittsburgh region called Remake Learning Days, the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent’s College and ISA Learning, Inc. facilitated a conversation about the role of technology in early education.

Let’s Talk: Technology and Young Children was held at the Well facility at Kids + Pediatrics on the evening of Thursday, May 12th and was attended by invited stakeholders with different backgrounds including experts on the NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center position statement, pediatricians, EdTech companies, advocates and early educators. The goals of event organizers, Dr. Jordan Lippman, Executive Director of ISA Learning and Ms. Tanya Baronti, Program Manager at the Fred Rogers Center included clarifying terminology and understanding the opportunities and perceived threats of using educational technology with young children.

“For many practitioners who work with young children, there are so many terms, technologies and tools that appear to emerge daily (even hourly!), that it’s hard for anyone to have a principled perspective,” said Dr. Lippman. Creating a common language or vocabulary is critical for establishing an understanding of the issues and best practices.  According to Ms. Baronti it is critical that “the voices and experiences of people who work with children and teachers are included so we can bring some clarity and context to our conversation.”  To build a foundation for the conversation that is continued here, the Let’s Talk event elicited the preconceptions of participants who then worked in small groups to define terms and clarify understandings; as the event came to a close some participants created messages about Technology and Young Children that we recorded.

Attendees began the session by individually responding visually, emotionally, and bodily to the terms they intended on exploring, which included: Educational Technology, Digital Media, Early Education (Early Childhood Development), Interactive Technology, Active Learning, and Deeper Learning. As a group, they discussed and reflected on why these terms evoke these types of responses and reactions. These responses and reactions were recorded on sticky notes and displayed throughout the session.


Participants worked in small groups to define their understanding of the terms and created simple definitions on chart paper, using these questions as a guide.

  • Do responses have to do with definitions of terms?
  • Are there definitions that are ambiguous?
  • Is it harder to understand these terms as new technology is developed?

Then, using a Round Robin process, groups travelled to the posters created by other groups, and they edited each of the terms and discussed them further. Then, the larger group was asked: Did we come to a consensus on terminology? Why or why not?

Lastly, each small group designated a representative to create a response that would communicate their ‘biggest’ tip about using digital media and technology for caregivers, teachers, parents, and other professionals who work with young children.

What terms to do you struggle to define across education and technology? What other challenges do you face when discussing new technology with other educators? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #TechTalkPGH  and by connecting with @TeamISAPgh, @FredRogersCtr, and @RemakeLearning.

In this exciting multi-part blog series, we will continue to explore and unpack each of these  terms for deeper understanding, as well as post VLOG reactions and responses from attendees. Check back soon for part two!

About ISA Learning:  ISA Learning™ is a Benefit Corporation that promotes the success of all early learners by teaching them collaborative problem solving skills. We use the power of stories and engineering design challenges to create compelling S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math) educational experiences.

About the Fred Rogers Center: Staying true to the vision of Fred Rogers, we help children grow as confident, competent, and caring human beings. An advocate for the positive potential of technology to support children, families, educators, and caregivers, the Rogers Center enjoys many collaborative relationships with educational institutions, research centers, and community organizations.

ESSA More Flexible on ‘Evidence’ of Success Wed, 27 Jul 2016 12:30:54 +0000 Learning innovation has been in the spotlight this year. In December, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law, presenting opportunities for states and districts to try out creative approaches to education. In granting this flexibility, however, the federal government tells states they have a responsibility to make sure the new approaches work.

Under ESSA, states and districts are encouraged or mandated to employ “evidence based” strategies and interventions. When a school is identified as needing improvement, for example, states must step in. Under ESSA, the state can determine its method of intervention, but the approach must be based on evidence of what is proven to help students.

ESSA also includes competitive grants and funding—awarded by the federal government to states, or by states to districts and other institutions. Whether that money is designated for developing literacy, improving American history instruction, or boosting professional development offerings, the recipient’s approach must be based on—you guessed it—evidence. In some cases, federal funds can be used to evaluate new approaches, building evidence in an under-studied field.

What qualifies as evidence?

But what exactly qualifies as evidence? ESSA includes a definition, and it departs from past education laws.

ESSA replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind, and its focus on “evidence” replaces NCLB’s fixation with “scientifically based research.” (The phrase appeared more than 100 times in the law, a fact that didn’t get past critics.) NCLB defined scientifically based research as randomized or experimental trials, which are the “gold standard” of research studies, but also quite expensive to conduct. Critics said the narrow definition wrongfully dismissed other valid forms of research and limited options because many interventions simply had not yet been studied.

ESSA places a lot of weight on evidence but provides a more liberal interpretation of what qualifies. Interventions must demonstrate “a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes.” However, in most cases, it does not have to meet the highest possible standards that, say, a randomized control study would.

ESSA divides acceptable evidence into four tiers:

  • Strong evidence from an experimental study.
  • Moderate evidence from a quasi-experimental study.
  • Promising evidence from a correlational study.
  • Evidence “based on high-quality research findings” that “includes ongoing efforts to determine the effects.”

When states receive federal funds to intervene in low-performing schools, their strategies must at least meet the “promising evidence” mark. All other requirements in ESSA for “evidence-based” interventions can be satisfied with any of the tiers.

The inclusion of “ongoing efforts to determine the effects” is significant, says Brookings Institution’s Martin R. West. Those words, he writes, “if taken seriously and implemented with care, hold the potential to create and provide resources to sustain a new model for decision-making within state education agencies and school districts—a model that benefits students and taxpayers and, over time, enhances our knowledge of what works in education.” The thoughtful testing of promising programs could produce a trove of data, and evidence of what works and what does not.

The implication in ESSA’s definition of evidence, West says, is that states can use some federal funds to pay for evaluations of programs. That should be more explicitly encouraged, he says.

An emphasis on research-based programs is not new for the federal government. Obama’s Investing in Innovation program awards funding based on the strength of the evidence behind an applicant’s proposal. It also requires grantees to conduct independent evaluations of their work. (ESSA replaces i3 with a similar program.)

States and educators are not entirely on their own when it comes to meeting the new mandates. While increasing evidence requirements, the federal government has also boosted support for learning science research in recent years.

Evidence requirements ensure creative practices are based on what helps kids.

The federally funded What Works Clearinghouse reviews and aggregates studies on the strength of learning interventions and the research that evaluates those interventions. It is run by the Institute of Education Sciences, which contracts with education research firms. Policymakers can peruse the database to find studies on a number of topics, from education technology to school choice. WWC does not endorse the programs and strategies it reviews, but it produces “intervention reports” analyzing their effectiveness. The evidence standards WWC uses in its evaluations differ a bit from ESSA’s, which has drawn both criticism and praise.

ESSA emphasizes flexibility and innovation, and some wonder if that is inherently at odds with its devotion to evidence. Others say the evidence requirements provide needed regulation that ensures new creative practices, when possible, are based on some knowledge about what helps kids.

As with all of ESSA, the effect of the evidence-based provisions is anyone’s guess until the law goes into effect in 2017-2018.




Bridging the Digital ‘Gulch’ in Kansas City Mon, 25 Jul 2016 12:30:40 +0000 Thanks in part to a recent influx of technology, there is an active network of social entrepreneurs in Kansas City, Missouri. Together with municipal and corporate leaders, they tackle critical issues like education. At the center of the activity is the KC Social Innovation Center, which, like the Remake Learning Network in Pittsburgh, brings together partners and programs working toward inclusion and growth in the city. Remake Learning sat down with KCSIC’s executive director, Kari Keefe, to get to know, and learn from, another group participating in a network approach to community change.

How did Kansas City become home to a network of innovators and entrepreneurs?

Kansas City is an old town. We’ve got these great historical moments of early settlement and development here along the Missouri River. We were a jazz city, then we became an industrial hub because of our central location. We’re a transportation center. It’s interesting to see the evolution. Today, we’re still a hub of sorts. That is circumstantial to a point, because of unique infrastructure upgrades. We were the first Google Fiber city. That launched a catalytic movement of new technology and developers. We also have incredible city leadership, and large companies have taken a stake in our technology platform.

Kansas City youth develop apps at a camp hosted by Google Fiber. Photo/UMKC

Kansas City youth develop apps at a camp hosted by Google Fiber. Photo/UMKC

Where does learning fit in?

We’ve had a lot of upgrades to our technology and city systems. But we didn’t have the same pipeline of sophisticated infrastructure when it comes to education. Education is an economic development driver. If you don’t have good schools or a good workforce, you can’t achieve those innovative goals that cities strive for. The underpinning of education was the new imperative.

We have a ripening ecosystem of partners, similar to Pittsburgh’s. But you really need those seminal leaders committed to breaking out of systemic constraints. We have 14 separate urban school districts, which has been incredibly challenging but has recently presented opportunities for innovation. Because we have so many districts, we are a heavily populated charter school community. So there’s a natural network of schools willing to explore how innovation can change the way learning takes place. We are also a new LRNG city. Through the platform, young people can find online and community programs where they can explore their interests, earning digital badges as they gain skills. It’s one way to connect the dots between the abundance of learning that’s taking place all across the city.

What kind of innovative work has come out of those initiatives and schools?

KCSIC launched a pilot in the fall of 2015 with Lee’s Summit School District. Two hundred high school and middle school students participated in an innovation challenge, creating prototype projects using data sensors and connected devices in order to solve a problem they saw. Oh my gosh, these kids were so clever. The winning middle school team created an allergy-sensing device for air ducts. It would sense moisture to detect mold and would determine when they needed to be cleaned. There was one device that would trigger your coffee maker as soon as you put on your slippers in the morning. Some solved big social problems; others were just inspiring devices that would make life more enjoyable.

Kansas City Middle school students in built an allergy-sensing device, winning an innovation challenge. Photo/thinkBIG

Kansas City Middle school students in built an allergy-sensing device, winning an innovation challenge. Photo/thinkBIG

What is challenging about this kind of work?

We’re a city of dueling realities. We have tremendous infrastructure prompting a surge in tech creation and development. The flipside to that is one of stark poverty and lack of access, and segregation in a very definitive line that runs along our city. With Goggle Fiber we’ve created what we refer to as a gigabit gulch. It privileges people who already own devices and use the internet regularly, so it made the digital divide grow exponentially. We’re very mindful of those divisions and where they’ll grow without interventions and a community that is resolute in making a difference. With programs like LRNG, we can very methodically make education more accessible.

“If you don’t have good schools or a good workforce, you can’t achieve those innovative goals that cities strive for.”

But how do you convene all these players and interventions into a cohesive project?

Therein lies the challenge. It typically falls to the same organizations to make things fluid and sustain this work. We tend to be a convener. Often our task is to make sure that multiple groups that are trying to do the same thing collaborate and collide more often. That takes money and is often a rather ambiguous level of work, so it’s hard to find the right sources of funding for those initiatives.

We have found particular resonance with coworking spaces, which bring in an energetic community atmosphere. You have civic folks intermingling with academics, students, nonprofits, technologists, and corporate teams. You get cross-sector collaboration. We have also leaned on entrepreneurs in Kansas City, in part because the Kauffman Foundation is in our backyard and they are a huge funding and research entity in the education and entrepreneurship sectors. The Kansas City Public Library is also a huge proponent of cross-sector development. There are corporations that are deeply embedded in these initiatives. Then we’ve got more nascent players like Sporting KC, our professional soccer team. They are incredibly innovative with providing opportunities for young people to interact and engage.

Kansas City is clearly a leader in this realm, but where do you look for inspiration?

Places like Austin and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is definitely the exemplar in prioritizing education, at the municipal level all the way down to the tactical level. That takes extreme discipline from civic leaders and a community of stakeholders and funders.

Aw, thanks.


Putting Science Education Under the Microscope Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:00:18 +0000 It turns out teenagers are quite interested in the sciences. Science class, however, is another story.

The results are in from Students on STEM, a science learning survey conducted by the Amgen Foundation and Change the Equation. The researchers asked 1,569 American high school students about their opinions on science and their experiences learning it.

Students are certainly intrigued. Among those surveyed, 81 percent said they were interested in science topics, and biology in particular. Only 37 percent, however, said they liked science class a lot. Other subjects got better reviews.

Asked what would make science class more interesting, the students said hands-on lab experiments, field trips, and projects related to real life. That doesn’t mean traditional science instruction methods—class discussions and teaching from the textbook—lack value. But the responses are a signal that educators need to find ways to bridge the gap between curiosity and pedagogy.

STEM jobs are growing faster than those in other professions, according to Change the Equation. But many American students—particularly racial minorities, low-income students, and girls—do not end up qualified for STEM fields. Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT in 2013 were deemed ready for college-level work in science. In higher education, nearly half the bachelor’s degree students who started with a STEM major between 2003 and 2009 switched to a non-STEM major or dropped out, according to the U.S. Department of Education. As the Students on STEM survey shows, young people are interested in science—but without engaging, accessible learning experiences, that interest wanes and they miss opportunities for success.

Many educators are testing innovative science learning models to make the subjects more engaging and relevant. “Citizen science,” for example, refers to data collection and analysis by regular citizens, sometimes in collaboration with professional scientists. Citizen science projects can involve community members of all ages, but the model can be powerful for young learners who want to find real-world relevance in their coursework.

One such project in California has teenagers measuring air quality in their surroundings. The lessons grew out of a partnership between the Chabot Space and Science Center and UC Berkeley, where scientists were monitoring local air quality for pollutants. The science center has provided teachers with investigative lessons that have students analyzing the scientists’ genuine data or using handheld monitors to track carbon dioxide levels in places they spend their time.

The connection to professional scientists is key. Adult mentors play a critical role in a young person’s education, research shows. Educators and other adults help scaffold youths’ learning experiences and connect them to academic or professional opportunities.

More specifically, the Students on STEM results show that young people crave connection to adults working in fields that interest them. Among those surveyed, 86 percent said it would be helpful to know a professional in their field of interest, but fewer than half do. Low-income students have even less access to science professionals than their more affluent peers. The teens surveyed said loud and clear that they wanted science education to prepare them for opportunities after high school. Early exposure to professionals and the workforce is one solution.

Some programs simulate science workplace experiences. The Citizen Science Lab in Pittsburgh, for example, offers Hill District high school students the chance to test out a job in the pharmaceutical industry for a summer. The students earn a stipend to learn the process of drug design and computational modeling of proteins over the course of a month.

Other ideas laid out in the Students on STEM report are more straightforward. Respondents said it would be helpful to have greater access to career counseling, more classes related to future jobs, and relevant organizations on campus. The number of students who said they had access to such opportunities was far lower than the number who said they wanted it.

The researchers say businesses and schools can partner to get cutting-edge equipment into classrooms or job fairs on campus. Districts can support teachers by providing professional development opportunities that introduce them to innovative science learning practices. (The Amgen Foundation, which commissioned the report, provides biotech equipment and teacher training to schools.)

It is clear from the survey that young people know what they need to become engaged science learners and future science professionals. It is up to adults to make it happen.

Pittsburgh Strives to Halt ‘Summer Slide’ Thu, 14 Jul 2016 12:00:24 +0000 Classrooms are closed for the summer, but that doesn’t mean learning has to stop. In fact, research shows it’s imperative that it does not.

Today is National Summer Learning Day, aimed at preventing “summer slide” by providing all kids with stimulating and engaging learning options while school is out. Experts estimate students lose up to about two months of material taught during the year if learning is put on hold over the summer. For example, most students lose about two months of math knowledge over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association, which is sponsoring today’s event.

Lower-income students are at the greatest risk for summer learning loss and are more likely to experience the effects of that loss long-term. While middle- and low-income kids make similar strides during the year, during the summer, middle-income kids continue to gain while lower-income kids lose ground. Lower-income children have less access to books and technology at home, research shows. And middle-income children have more opportunities to attend summer camp, travel, or to participate in other enrichment activities, all of which they learn from.

Lower-income students are at the greatest risk for summer learning loss and are more likely to experience the effects of that loss long-term.

According to a study by The Future of Children, low-income families spend seven times less on education enrichment than high-income families, often because summer camps are cost-prohibitive or rare in low-income neighborhoods.

Experts say summer learning should be fun, and emphasize hands-on, project-based activities. In Pittsburgh, Summer16—a collaboration between the city, county, and Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School-Time (Remake Learning is a member)—is a hub for all parents and youth looking for summer enrichment activities. Visitors can search a database of programs packed with activities that vary in cost, location, subject area, and length.

A glance at the offerings reveals that “summer learning” doesn’t have to mean holing up indoors with a math worksheet. Young thespians can perform in Pittsburgh CLO Summer Camp’s rendition of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Green thumbs can grow a garden and turn its bounty into a feast at a Phipps Conservatory summer camp. The whole family can groove to free live music from a solar-powered sound system. And it’s not too late to sign up for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Summer Reading program. They need all the readers they can get if they’re going to reach their goal of 90,000 books read in Pittsburgh this summer.

Even in the absence of formal activities, parents can set goals for kids to complete during their months off. Summer16 suggests active play five days a week, 20 minutes of reading each day, and two open-ended creative projects over the course of the summer. Simple activities like these can flex kids’ creative muscles and build up their confidence before school starts.

Find more resources for preventing summer slide from Summer16 and National Summer Learning Day.

Guest Post: Two days of high intensity ed-tech how-tos Fri, 08 Jul 2016 12:30:13 +0000 Last month, the 1st Annual EdTechTeam Western Pennsylvania Google for Educators Summit took place at Montour School District just outside of Pittsburgh. What impressed us the most about the summit was the quality and energy of the participants and presenters and the intended focus to empower educators with skills and tools they need to remake learning for the 21st century learner.

EdTechTeam Summits Featuring Google for Education are high intensity two-day events that focus on deploying, integrating, and using Google Apps for Education and other Google Tools to promote student learning in K-12 and higher education. The program features Google Certified Teachers, Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers, local tech-teaching rock stars, practicing administrators, solution providers, Google engineers, and representatives from the Google education teams.    Attendees can include teachers, administrators, tech directors, library media specialists, tech support staff, CTOs, and anyone who is interested in finding out more about leveraging Google Apps for Education to support student learning in the region.

The summit started with an inspirational keynote Capes not Required by Jesse Lubinsky, Director of Technology/Chief Information Officer at the Irvington Union Free School District. Jesse set the tone for the conference by sharing stories of extraordinary kids doing amazing things that go beyond the four walls of the classroom. Our goal as teachers is to change our classroom so that we are giving every student the chance to be extraordinary!

The day continued with the opportunity to attend 4 different breakout sessions throughout the day. I will take a moment to highlight a few of them here:

Designing Visual Thinking and Learning: Creative Expression and Google Photos by Ken Shelton. Ken provided an interactive session around photography and creativity to help attendees have a greater understanding of the basics of effective photo composition. Participants traveled the building searching for images that fell into the categories of lines, symmetry, a face and abstract.

Pear Deck 101:100% Student Engagement by Anthony Showalter. Anthony provided an interactive session utilizing the features of Pear Deck. Pear Deck allows you to put Inquiry-Based Learning at the center of your instruction. Pear Deck afforded the attendees to follow the path of inquiry and discovery as self-motivated learners. It was easy for us to ask questions that spark curiosity and challenge intuition instead of just delivering the facts.

More Than a Slideshow:Creative Ways to Use Google Slides in the Classroom by Jesse Lubinsky. This session showed that Google Slides is more than just PowerPoint. Participants were shown various Google Slides presentations that allow students to interact, collaborate and share their presentations.

GAFE Tips, Tricks & Add-Ons by Jody Kokladas. Google Apps for Educators (GAFE) has endless applications to enhance your teaching. Jody shared several add-ons for Google Docs, Forms, Sheets, Slides and Classroom.

The day ended with attendees being brought back together for Demo SLAM, a high-energy, “geek-out” session! Seven presenters had 3-minutes to share their most geeky use or tip and trick of a Google App. At the end of the SLAM, participants were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite.

The excitement and energy displayed after Day 1 was infectious. Attendees were looking forward to returning the next day for more learning. “I had a hard time falling asleep after Day 1 because I learned so much and I kept thinking about it,” said Reading Specialist Anne Stillwagon.

The second day featured a keynote by Ken Shelton that inspired everyone by sharing examples of students using technology in meaningful ways, whether it was sharing their failures (and ultimate successes) with inventions, or sharing their experience of wanting acceptance from their peers. Ken drove home the point that technology use can be transformative for teachers and students, and that no one can use the excuse that they are “not a techie.”

A few of the sessions that stood out to me on day two included:

Google Forms – Your Next Addiction, facilitated by Jody Kokladas (Shady Side Academy Ed Tech Specialist). Jody focused our attention on the many ways teachers can use Google Forms (tip: always start in Forms, not in Drive, because you gain instant access to the template library, rather than starting one from scratch) in the classroom. Lots of nodding heads confirmed that those gathered in the session were eager to learn about Forms and how they reduce the paperwork by automating lots of tasks: field trip permission slips, exit tickets, even automated quizzes that check themselves! (using the Flubaroo add-on).

Shine Up Your Chrome, facilitated by EdTechTeam’s Tracy Arner (GCE/GET), took us into often-overlooked areas of the Chrome browser. From making the browser more secure with personalized logins to adding powerful and highly useful extensions, users can make Chrome work for them and make them more efficient. We probably all know that search terms, etc. can be typed into the box below the Google doodle, but the omnibox (the box at the top of the browser) is designed to handle that and so much more. You can enter calculations, search your GMail and Drive accounts, and find previous search results because of omnibox’s qualities.

Revenge of the Sheets: Learn to use Google Sheets the Jedi Way!, facilitated by EdTechTeam’s Jesse Lubinsky, started off with a surprise: Jesse in full Darth Vader regalia. Nothing like kicking off a session with some humor and a strong theme. Jesse guided us through many applications for Sheets, providing us with a practice spreadsheet with multiple tabs. One of the key bonuses of every session at the GAFE Summit was the sharing of both presentation and supplemental materials from each of the presenters (obviously stored in Google Drive) that could be copied for future use in our work.

All too quickly, it was time for the closing keynote, The Story of Hope, by EdTechTeam’s David Hotler. David’s talk reminded us that an educator’s most important job is to inspire hope in those we teach: just being there and supporting that learner can have a lifelong impact. Examples from his own life and those of others left us with the proper mindset; to take to heart the inspiration and the learning from the summit and share it through our actions and our practice.

Overall, the summit exceeded my expectations. I would like to specially thank the EdTechTeam presenters Ken Shelton, David Hotler, Jesse Lubinsky, and Tracy Arner for their hard work and commitment to education. I look forward to the 2nd Annual summit returning next year. To learn more about the summit, please visit




Will ESSA Prepare Students for Life After High School? Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:51:29 +0000 The high school graduation rate has been creeping up in the U.S., hitting all-time highs in recent years. Each summer, about 3 million students graduate and, en masse, enter the real world. But once they get there, many ask, “Now what?”

Despite the rising graduation rate, fewer students are going to college, even though its economic benefit is increasing. Many who do enroll drop out before finishing. Meanwhile, the employment rate for recent college graduates is still much lower than it was before the Great Recession.

There are many reasons why young people struggle to complete college or to find work, but students emphasize the lack of preparation they receive. More than half the respondents in a survey of high school students said that they don’t believe their schools are sufficiently preparing them for college or for a career—though those were the goals of nearly everyone.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor of the oft-maligned No Child Left Behind act, aims to better equip students with the skills they will need in either higher education or the workforce. The law emphasizes flexibility and innovation in education, giving states and schools some freedom in figuring out how to address problems. But what specific opportunities and requirements are embedded in the law when it comes to college and career readiness?

Fewer students are going to college

In the spring, we took a look at the broader accountability systems required under ESSA and the kinds of innovative educational approaches that might be possible when it goes into effect. This time we’re looking at how the law sets states up to prepare students for life after graduation.

One explicit reference to college and career is in ESSA’s requirements of districts. In order to receive federal funding, districts and other Local Education Agencies have to submit comprehensive plans to states for their approval. These plans must include “strategies to facilitate effective transitions for students … from high school to postsecondary education.” These strategies can include, for example, partnerships with higher education institutions and local employers, or career counseling.

One of the most significant ways states can encourage college and career readiness under ESSA is through their mandated accountability systems that track schools’ and students’ progress. As they did under NCLB, they must include scores from annual testing in math and reading, but ESSA also requires states to monitor additional measures to paint a more comprehensive picture of quality and improvement. States have some flexibility in selecting indicators, which ESSA says can include evidence-based measures of “postsecondary readiness.”

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI), an education think tank, has proposed indicators that determine college or career readiness. The researchers suggest tracking the portion of students who complete college-level coursework, career technical education sequences, or internships, or the portion who receive certificates or digital badges that are recognized by universities or businesses.

Some states encourage career academies and high school internships

LPI has chronicled the efforts of the 51st State Working Group, a cohort of 11 states trying out creative educational approaches and sharing best practices. Their ideas provide a window into what might be possible for all states under ESSA.

South Carolina, for example, tracks participation in AP and dual enrollment programs, as well as the number of students in career programs. Virginia and Kentucky both track the number of students who earn industry-recognized credentials.

It can be a challenge for states to devise accountability measures that reflect both college and career preparation.

“Combining college and career readiness indicators can be tricky as students have different goals for their steps immediately after high school, and different pathways to achieve those goals,” writes LPI. In some cases, states measure whether all students have at least pursued one goal or the other.

Some of these states go further, investing in career pathways or other immersive programs. These concepts are not explicitly encouraged or funded under ESSA, but because the new law has relaxed the focus on standardized testing and performance in specific subjects, it gives states room for such innovative efforts.

What do existing programs look like?

In South Carolina, the Career and Technology Education program gives students in grades 7-12 the chance to participate in sequences that prepare them for specific careers. The state provides a framework to districts and schools for designing programs that launch students into the industry of their choice, be it business, agriculture, or architecture. The sequences integrate academics with hands-on technical instruction and field experience.

In Kentucky, students in grades 6-12 receive college and career advising in conjunction with individualized learning plans. Other states promote career academies or have learning competency goals related to skills needed in adulthood like time management, cooperation, and initiative.

There is some federal funding for college and career preparation built into ESSA as well. The law maintains the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which predates NCLB. The program provides academic enrichment opportunities to low-income kids outside of school hours, at public schools or sometimes at private schools or community centers. Included in the array of services these programs can provide are career and technical education, internships, and “other ties to an in-demand industry.”

College and career readiness requires more than strong schools

States receive funding for the 21st CCLC programs based on their share of Title I funds for low-income students, and then award grants to local applicants. More than $1 billion is awarded each year, but competition is heavy, and only a small sliver of eligible students has access to a center, according to the Afterschool Alliance. The program is the only federal funding source exclusively dedicated to before- or after-school hours, and is supplemented by contributions from partner organizations.

Learning advocates cheered ESSA’s preservation of the 21st CCLC program because college and career readiness requires more than just strong schools. Community partnerships and opportunities for learning in a variety of settings are critical. Students will only be prepared for success in the world outside the school walls if they have exposure to it early on.

A Few Deep Breaths Before the Bell Tue, 28 Jun 2016 12:30:37 +0000 It could be as simple as taking 10 slow breaths before each class. It could mean standing still in a circle for two minutes, trying not to move regardless of distractions. In some classrooms, it could look like group therapy, with the students taking turns focusing on each individual’s story and feelings.

Mindfulness, in its multiple manifestations, is a secular practice inspired by Buddhist meditation. It teaches focus, and awareness and regulation of one’s emotions. Studies suggest that practicing mindfulness can improve attention and reduce anxiety and stress.

Recently, mindfulness has become a buzzword, a hashtag, and a product. Can’t concentrate? There are dozens of mindfulness apps available for purchase. Unconvinced? Read “Why These 4 Celebrities Meditate … And You Should Too!” Or if you work for a corporation like Target or Google, you may have access to free mindfulness training sessions—offered to employees because they boost productivity.

Fad status aside, mindfulness can be a meaningful practice for students struggling with attention and behavior issues. Schools and other educational organizations are increasingly incorporating mindfulness practices into their curriculums to help kids improve academic performance, and for some children to cope with traumatic experiences and be able to focus in class.

For students who are survivors of violence or abuse, for example, sitting in class attempting solve a math problem is a near-impossible task when there’s a storm of anger, fear, and grief brewing inside you.

“When we look at low-performing schools it’s not that these children are unable to learn, it’s that very often they are unavailable to learn,” Madeline Kronenberg, a California school board member, told Mind/Shift. “They’re not able to focus; they’re so fixated on other things that are going on in their lives that it’s difficult for them to be able to find space for learning.”

Education equity isn’t only a question of resources. It requires all students to feel safe and calm in their learning environments. Across all demographics, there are kids who struggle with anxiety and attention issues that impede learning. And they might not yet have the ability to shift focus to the task at hand.

“We tell kids be quiet, calm yourself down, be still,” said Jean-Gabrielle Larochette, an educator who practices mindfulness himself and with his students, in Mind/Shift. “We tell them all these things they need in the classroom, but we’re not teaching them how to do that.”

Schools that have incorporated mindfulness and meditation have seen drops in detentions and suspensions. Educators say students handle conflict better and feel safer on campus. There have been few controlled studies tracking the effect of mindfulness on academic performance, but early research has yielded positive results. In one study, fourth- and fifth-grade students who participated in a four-month meditation program received higher math grades than their peers.

Mindfulness is a tool that helps kids learn how to learn.

Kids praise these programs. A sixth-grade student told Mind/Shift that mindfulness has helped him ignore older bullies’ provocations instead of getting into fights. A high school student told The Atlantic that mindfulness lessons have helped her cope with depression and participate in class. She transferred to her current school shortly after her brother died and her friend was killed. At first, she’d spend the short in-class mindfulness exercises crying, and wrote angry comments instead of meditative reflections. Eventually she decided to listen to the teacher’s instructions and focus on breathing.

“I noticed that I could feel [my breath] in my chest,” she said. “And at that moment, I felt so relieved. The only thing I could think in my mind was, ‘I’m ok.’ ” School has been more manageable since.

Like all education interventions, mindfulness is not a panacea. It doesn’t replace strong curriculums and flexibility, and needed mental health services. It doesn’t replace well-compensated teachers or access to technology. But mindfulness does address students’ emotional well-being, a critical and too often overlooked component of an equitable education system. It’s one tool among many needed to ensure kids are reaping the benefits of school, and learning how to learn.



A “Reel” Youth Perspective on the Future of Learning Tue, 28 Jun 2016 12:20:47 +0000 When I was producing television for teens for NBC in the 1990s, we occasionally had a “very special episode” of a show dealing with a profound issue of the day. One show with an anti-smoking theme even featured a message from President Bill Clinton.

While it hasn’t (yet) featured any presidential cameos, every episode of The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh breaks the mold. It is, after all, a television show that is written, produced, shot, starring, and edited by teenagers that airs alongside traditional programming on a major local network. But what makes their third episode, which debuted this weekend, worthy of the “very special episode” designation, is that it explores the effort that makes the show itself possible: Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning network.

“Today’s students are [the] most creative, engaged, inspired students that we have seen in a generation…this generation is a generation of technology natives the way my generation is not,” Roberto Rodriguez, the Special Assistant to the President for Education, tells the Reel Teens at the kick-off event for Remake Learning Days at Google Pittsburgh, “Your ability to connect digitally to one another and the world around you and to use technology in new ways is really exciting…and will determine the future of our economy.”

Over the course of this half hour—which again, I am amazed to say, was made by students, many of whom still don’t have their driver’s licenses—you’ll watch the Reel Teens visit kindergartners making robots out of toothbrushes, middle schoolers using space simulators to learn about math and science, and kids at TechShop using 3D printers and professional-level software to fabricate their own prototypes.

You’ll also hear from Gregg Behr, the Executive Director of The Grable Foundation who was just honored as a Champion of Change by the White House for his work growing the Remake Learning network over the past decade. “Your experiences demand that we create schools, museums, and libraries that are totally different that integrate making and producing and using technology…because your futures are so different than ours.”

The Reel Teens’ futures really do look different. The U.S. Department of Labor has said that 65 percent of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet. In a previous episode of the show, the teens went to Google Pittsburgh and learned that companies like Google are more interested in a job candidate’s creative problem-solving skills and experience collaborating than they are in their GPA and what school they attended. These trends are a big part of why the effort to Remake Learning is so important, and why this work has started to receive national attention.

And The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh is an exemplary illustration of what Remake Learning is all about. “The Reel Teens Pittsburgh is a huge part of Remake Learning because we are actually experiencing things hands-on and making this television show,” said Zainab “Z” Adisa, a junior at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts Magnet school.

As you watch this very special episode, you’ll see many examples of learning being remade in Pittsburgh. But you’ll also see glimpses of the powerful learning these teenagers experience as they create the show itself. Each Wednesday and Friday, they meet at our offices at Steeltown. They all come from different schools and different backgrounds. Some take three busses to get here. Some are dropped off by their parents. But they all come together each week to make a TV show.

The Reel Teens have learned to shoot video, record sound, conceive segments for the show, write and re-write skits, and do stand-ups. But more importantly, they have learned how to learn from failures, when to ask for help, how to take responsibility for their work, and what it feels like to create something entirely their own. They have accomplished what it normally takes an entire staff of adults working full time to do, all while continuing to do homework for school. But someday, as efforts like Remake Learning continue to gain traction, perhaps making a television show will be part of the next generation’s homework.

The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh airs on Fox 53 at 9:00 on Saturday mornings.  You can see previous episodes of the show and learn more about the Reel Teens at

What’s it take to go from ‘Rec Center’ to ‘Tech Center’? Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:00:17 +0000 As the National Week of Making comes to a close, there’s equal measure of excitement and motivation going around. Excitement for the potential of the maker movement to empower a new generation of creative and capable builders, inventors, and tinkerers ready to overcome today’s most pressing challenges and re-energize the economy. Motivation to determine exactly how such a diffuse and decentralized movement can achieve that lofty vision in a way that is accessible and equitable to all.

A few weeks ago, more than 50 educators and municipal leaders from more than a dozen cities across the country met in Washington, DC to take the first steps toward making hands-on, technology-enhanced learning opportunities not just something that a few children experience at occasional events, but something that cities and towns invest in and support as part of the public, municipal infrastructure.

The idea goes like this: many cities maintain community recreation centers in parks, public housing buildings, libraries, or other neighborhood-based sites and with the right mix of human capital and equipment, many of these recreation centers could be activated anew as makerspaces and tech labs—in other words, going from ‘Rec Center’ to ‘Tech Center.’

Andrew Coy

The meeting was convened by Andrew Coy, Senior Advisor for Making at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Andrew’s experience as the former Executive Director of Digital Harbor Foundation, a nonprofit that led a Rec2Tech conversion project in Baltimore, inspired him to explore opportunities to build a model for similar projects communities across the country, especially in under-resourced communities and communities of color.

Participating cities came from across the U.S., from Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis in the Midwest, to New Orleans in the South and Palo Alto in the West. The size of the cities ranged from major metropolitan centers like Chicago and Los Angeles to small towns like Ithaca, NY and Wenatchee, WA.

Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network was there, represented by staff from the Heinz Endowments, Pittsburgh City Parks, the Maker’s Place, the Remake Learning Council, and The Sprout Fund. The network is working to deepen the impact of local educators and youth workers to provide more young people with hands-on learning experiences that are engaging to their interests and relevant to their future success. The Rec2Tech model is one of several approaches network members are exploring to expand access and equity.

Models to Consider

Two guest speakers shared insights from their experience working to expand access to innovative learning opportunities in partnership with municipal and community spaces.

Shawn Grimes, Executive Director of Digital Harbor Foundation, recalled the history of risk taking, sweat equity, and practical problem solving that went in to the launch of their Rec2Tech conversion in Baltimore. First opened in 2013, Digital Harbor’s Tech Center emerged from a collaboration between Baltimore City Recreation & Parks, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Digital Harbor. Today, they serve 1,300 youth per year with an average engagement of some 40 hours through year-round progressive programs.

Dr. Nichole Pinkard

Dr. Nichole Pinkard, founder of Digital Youth Network, grounded the discussion in the critical issue of equitable access and the changing meaning of literacy in today’s world.

“If a society’s definition of what it means to be literate is tied to the technological innovations of the time,” said Dr. Pinkard, “Then today’s technologies have created a world where computational thinking and making are becoming essential literacies for all.”

To Dr. Pinkard, the Rec2Tech concept has the potential to answer both the equity question and the literacy question: it embeds technology and talent in the communities that children call home and it exposes them to new modes of thinking and the future rewards they can lead to.

Exploring Critical Issues

During the afternoon session, The Sprout Fund led a facilitated discussion about four critical issues related to municipal makerspaces:

  1. Establishing partnerships and collaborations that can support Rec2Tech conversions
  2. Creating high-quality youth programming that is engaging and relevant
  3. Building work readiness skills relevant to careers in high-demand sectors
  4. Identifying best practices regarding space design and technology

Key findings from this discussion will guide ongoing conversations among the emerging national community of practice about municipal makerspaces. You can read the Key Findings and contribute your own thoughts on Medium.

 A Rec2Tech Framework for Pittsburgh

In Pittsburgh, the Remake Learning Network is committed to expanding equitable access to powerful experiences related to making and digital learning.

As announced during the National Week of Making kick off last Friday, the City of Pittsburgh and The Sprout Fund, together with partners from the Remake Learning Network, are working to develop a community-informed plan for Rec2Tech along with site-specific curriculum and demonstration programming for kids at multiple recreation centers across the city. While these efforts are just getting underway, they signal what is possible when educators, youth-serving nonprofits, and municipal leaders come together to make deep investments in community assets for learning.