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. Fri, 14 Apr 2017 03:59:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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.

A Chance to Redefine High School Tue, 21 Jun 2016 12:40:26 +0000 The trajectory of public education today is one of both progress and stagnation.

On the one hand, more schools are discarding stale practices in favor of approaches grounded in new research about how young people learn today. There has been a proliferation of new tools that can make learning and assessment easier and more engaging. We’ve replaced a controversial federal law with one designed to encourage more flexibility and innovation. Makerspaces, community gardens, and career academies are springing up on public school campuses.

Yet only some students get to benefit from these exciting developments. There are still deep divides in the American education system.

Across the country and even within counties, there are wide funding gaps. The highest poverty districts receive 10 percent less in state and local funding than the most affluent districts, according to The Education Trust.

There are still deep divides in the American education system.
Racial minorities are hit the hardest by the disparities. An analysis by the Center for American Progress found that schools with at least 90 percent students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with at least 90 percent white students. Whether lack of funding is the cause of worse educational outcomes for students of color or not, CAP says, it certainly doesn’t help close the gaps. High school graduation rates are rising for all students, but black and Hispanic students’ rates are 73 percent and 76 percent, respectively, compared to white students’ 87 percent.

Amid insufficient resources and funding, there is certainly no shortage of ideas for addressing educational inequalities. That is evidenced by the 700 submissions to a contest that asks applicants to redesign public high school to serve all 21st century learners.

Launched in September 2015, the XQ Super Schools Project will award a total of $50 million to at least five schools. Each school will receive $2 million per year over five years. Applicants had to “reimagine” how a typical high school could better prepare all students for the rapidly changing world they will enter when they graduate, whether they go to college or join the workforce. About half of the applicants were selected to advance to the semifinals, and winners will be announced in August.

How would you reimagine high school?

It is no surprise that three of the semifinal “super schools” are in the Pittsburgh area, where educators are constantly reimagining learning. Each submission taps into local industry and innovation to build opportunities for its student body.

Steel Valley School District, serving old steel mill towns, has taken inspiration from its changing surroundings to imagine a changed campus. The redesigned school will hook students into the community, taking advantage of the skills and knowledge of local residents and organizations, and in turn encouraging graduates to stay and become local leaders. The coursework will be experiential and project-based.

At Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh, a team has dreamed up Thinking Lab HS. Students there will become engaged, empathetic members of their communities and of civic society. Activism, research, and experience outside the walls of the school are central, and the curriculum focuses on ecological literacy, culture, and health and well-being. Under the guidance of a mentor, students will work on projects in campus studios and labs.

The third semifinalist, Rivers Cubed Academy, is a college and career program for low-income youth. The school will offer academically rigorous courses as well as technical education, preparing students to follow a pathway to higher education or employment. Transportation is provided, so underserved students from multiple districts can enroll. The proposal is the brainchild of Schools That Can, the Remake Learning Network, and others.

The three Pittsburgh submissions represent different valuable approaches to rethinking learning. Two start from scratch, using the modern world as a jumping off point for setting up students for success. A third bolsters an existing institution, supporting educators and families by taking stock of what the entire community has to offer.

Regardless of who ends up in the final five, the ideas put forth by hundreds of teams across the country demonstrate the kind of out-of-the-box thinking our education system can continue to use—and the chunk of funding demonstrates the kind of support it needs.

The Strengths of Community-Based Makerspaces Tue, 14 Jun 2016 12:00:35 +0000 If you heard that a makerspace was well-resourced, what would you picture?

Maybe a 3D printer. Probably a soldering iron. Ample table space and crafting materials, at least.

But resources encompass more than pricy gadgets and materials. Embracing a broad definition of resourcefulness can promote equity in the maker movement—and is often a necessity in community makerspaces—found researchers from George Mason University.

As we head into a week of exciting maker events, their work provides insight into including everyone in the ongoing celebration of making.

In their paper “Resourceful and Inclusive: Towards Design Principles for Makerspaces,” Kimberly Sheridan, Abigail Konopasky, Asia Williams, and Grace Wingo share their take-aways from studying makerspaces in underserved, mostly African-American communities. They spent time at Game Design through Mentoring and Collaboration, a weekend and summer program run in partnership with George Mason University in Washington; and at Mt. Elliot Makerspace, an all-ages neighborhood spot in a Detroit church basement. Although serving technically “under-resourced” populations, the leaders and participants at both locations epitomize resourcefulness, the researchers found.

Resources encompass more than pricy gadgets and materials.

Asset-mapping is a common practice at the spaces they studied. A popular approach in some community development circles, asset-mapping involves identifying existing strengths and resources and working from there. It’s a reaction to the common process of determining what a community lacks and starting from scratch to fix the problem.

The GMU researchers found that the people at George Mason and in Detroit were constantly thinking about the skill sets and knowledge that community members already possessed. They leveraged their connections with individuals and organizations outside of the makerspace walls.

In the maker movement, the authors write, resourcefulness is too often “celebrated as an individual and self-contained trait—doing it yourself, making it from scratch, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

In the sites they studied, by contrast, a community-oriented resourcefulness built vital bonds with the outside world. Though these “third spaces” created comforting refuges from the norms and power structures in the larger community, they also granted participants access to it. Leaders at George Mason combed the surrounding community to recruit tech experts willing to come teach the youth about their professions. The young people got a window into industries they might not otherwise have considered or felt they could access. The Detroit program had a partnership with Earn-a-Bike, where kids learn to repair and customize bicycles, eventually taking the bike and the skill set home with them.

Leaders at both of the sites had an important understanding that participants themselves were resources.

“The common practice of teaching as soon as you learn is used as a strategy for broadening the resource base,” the authors write.

At George Mason, youth took on the role of mentors. The practice had a dual purpose of empowering the young people and spreading their new skills to other participants. In Detroit, a group of girls developed a popular YouTube channel, broadcasting playful fake newscasts. The project was an important creative outlet for the kids, and through its active follower base drew new participants to the maker program.

These researchers are far from the first to catalog successful practices for designing a makerspace and maker program. The quick traction the maker movement has gained across many learning environments raises the question of what works where.

MakerEd’s Youth Makerspace Playbook is an extensive handbook for starting a maker program from scratch. Written for all kinds of making communities, it also advises readers to do something akin to asset-mapping.

First-timers should “see possibilities in all things, especially the resources they already have,” the authors write. “They should view their community of users as their greatest resource and asset.”

Next week, making will be in the spotlight. The National Maker Faire on June 18 and 19 kicks off the Week of Making, a call from the White House for people across the country to tinker, imagine, and build. Case studies on different communities’ takes on making, like those from George Mason, are good reminders that the call can include everyone.

The research shows that a community-oriented take on resourcefulness is a critical coping strategy for makerspaces lacking the bells and whistles of a well-funded fab-lab. It’s also a great approach for any maker program interested in genuinely empowering and engaging it’s participants and taking advantage of the rich world outside its door.




Forging an Educational Future for Everyone Thu, 09 Jun 2016 12:00:55 +0000 A new report, The Future of Learning in Pittsburgh, adapts KnowledgeWorks’ national learning “forecast” for the Pittsburgh region. The social enterprise organization teamed up with Remake Learning to explore the inevitable changes facing the region—as well as the changes local actors will have to make to ensure an equitable future for all residents.

It is no secret that we are smack in the middle of an era of educational change. Digital advances have brought new tools into learning settings and have prompted big conversations about education innovation. Technology has also been at the center of economic shifts in the Pittsburgh region, with advances in higher education and healthcare industries. Meanwhile, scientific discoveries about young brains have challenged fundamental assumptions about learning.

There is a “growing urgency,” write the authors of the Pittsburgh forecast, to thoughtfully consider the potential impacts of these societal changes on our formal and informal education systems. “Equity is not a given,” they write. The digital innovations could create deeper divides, or be leveraged to engage all learners.

“Equity is not a given.”

Members of the Remake Learning Network have been working to make sure the latter scenario is our reality. But the forecast cautions against satisfaction with current efforts alone. The report pulls out examples of great work in our region— “signals” of both likely and necessary changes. Efforts like these will need to be expanded and emulated as the region forges its educational future.

All education providers “need to prepare learners for new economic realities,” the report says. The contemporary workforce values innovation and collaboration. This means the education system will have to assess and provide opportunities for mastery of real-world skills.

The summer employment program Learn & Earn, for example, places disadvantaged youth in jobs across Pittsburgh. The teenagers work everywhere—corporate offices, urban gardens,—developing a range of marketable skills. Throughout the summer, they earn digital badges, credentials that go in an online portfolio cataloging their experiences and skills.

The forecasters predict that learners and families will become “increasingly conscious consumers and architects of learning, seeking out educational approaches that fit their values and lifestyles.”

They point to programs that already encourage exploration and self-directed learning. At Assemble and MCG Youth and Arts, young visitors can experiment and tinker with tools, figuring out their own creative processes. However, the authors warn, greater choice in education could end up only privileging some families. Regional providers need to make sure all families receive guidance, so that the increasingly flexible learning environment doesn’t empower some and leave out others.

Learners will need to embrace volatility and complexity.

The report also calls for an education system that sets learners up to embrace volatility and complexity. In a rapidly changing world, they could be brought along for the ride or they could learn to become instigators of change themselves.

The program Hear Me helps youth have voices in their communities. It teaches them to use digital media to publish their thoughts on social issues and ideas for community change. Along the same lines, Youth Leading Change empowers young people in Allegheny County to educate people in their communities about education reform and social justice.

After all, the thing about the future is it’s never certain. Even if the weatherman predicts moderate temperatures, you might be surprised by a heat wave or a rainstorm. So people—young and old, students and teachers—have to become agents of change, acting deliberately to include all learners in the future of education.

Can All Teachers Be Students? Tue, 07 Jun 2016 12:30:45 +0000 Today, the role of the teacher is changing. As we rethink how to educate students in our rapidly changing world, teachers in 21st Century classrooms must do much more than transfer information. They must create environments that encourage collaborative, and complex thinking.

Emily Hickman is figuring out how to do just that.

A middle and high school teacher, Hickman has always taken the material she taught seriously. At the same time, she recognized that many of her students were most engaged with the content when it was presented through game-like experiences, such as mock trials.

It was this understanding—and a desire to share best practices with her colleagues—that drew her to TeacherQuest, a professional development program that trains educators to integrate games and game-like learning into their classrooms.

TeacherQuest is among the group of innovative professional development opportunities that have sprung up in Pittsburgh and beyond in recent years, emerging to better prepare teachers like Hickman, working in a new era of education. You won’t find teachers playing board games in all of them. The practices and pedagogies vary, but underlying most is an attempt to replace the dry or insular training experiences of the past with something more meaningful and engaging.

How do you spread and scale up good practices?

These new models are asking important questions. How do you reach diverse audiences and present ideas that are applicable in all learning communities? How do you adapt practices for informal learning settings as well as schools? And how do you spread and scale up good practices beyond the workshop walls?

TeacherQuest, a partnership between the Institute of Play and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Pittsburgh, is based on the teaching practice at Quest to Learn, a school in New York City and Chicago with game design and gameplay at the heart of its pedagogy.

Hickman, now the 21st century research and media specialist at Avonworth Middle and High School, participated in the first summer of TeacherQuest in 2014. It was one of the best professional development experiences of her career.

“It bolstered my confidence,” she said. “It was really well-organized, there was a lot of interaction, and we left with a product”(a game she designed for her class). This year, she will lead the program for other educators. 

Zero-ing in on how teachers and students learn

Educators attend a Project Zero conference at Quaker Valley. Photo/Jeff Evancho

Educators attend a Project Zero conference at Quaker Valley. Photo/Jeff Evancho

TeacherQuest and its ilk are partially reactions to ineffective professional development.

“If you come in with your own expectations and put teachers in a classroom and lecture at them, you’re not going to get a lot out of it,” said Hickman, speaking from experience. “It makes zero sense to me. We know better. We know what works for students.”

She means that teachers, like their own students, thrive in settings that are creative and collaborative, where their ideas are heard and respected.

“Research has shown that teachers find some of the most valuable professional development comes from other teachers,” said Rebecca Rufo-Tepper, TeacherQuest program director. So she gives former participants like Hickman teaching roles.

In many of the new programs, teachers participate in the same learning exercises and processes they will later bring to their students.

That’s the case with the programming from Project Zero, a Harvard University research institute that has done some serious thinking about professional development for a long time.

When Jeff Evancho, an art teacher at Quaker Valley Middle School in Sewickley, Penn., went with his colleagues to Cambridge, Mass., for a Project Zero workshop, he had a “truly transformational” experience. They got a primer in the goals of the Project Zero approach: making thinking “visible” by examining and reflecting on learning processes, and developing “cultures of thinking” where the social and environmental conditions promote learning. The rich blend of theory and practice stuck with the educators in attendance.

"Visible thinking" at Project Zero. Photo/Jeff Evancho

“Visible thinking” at Project Zero. Photo/Jeff Evancho

“It was tied into research and rooted in relevance,” said Evancho, now the Project Zero programming specialist at his district. After their trip to Harvard, Evancho and the Quaker Valley staff ended up replicating their experience at home. With support from the Grable Foundation, the district began hosting conferences for educators throughout the region. They were inspired by the work of Jim Reese, a Project Zero scholar who launched a professional development program in Washington, D.C., and advises on organizing satellite Project Zero conferences.

In the workshops, teachers learn how to make their own thinking visible before introducing the concept to students.

Evancho, who oversees the integration of Project Zero concepts into Quaker Valley’s classrooms and afterschool art program, told a recent success story from a 5th grade math class. When the teacher went to review a student’s assignment, she saw that he had deconstructed a math problem using a routine she had introduced to help students learn by making their thinking visible. Of his own volition, the student had taken extra time to map the purposes and the complexities of the math problem, which also helped his teacher understand his thought processes.

“She got to see inside the mind of a young learner,” Evancho said. The approach benefited teacher and student alike.

Translating ideas for diverse settings

At TeacherQuest, participants start off by articulating a learning goal. They might want to help their students learn to collaborate, for example, or strengthen their multiplication skills.

The activity orients the ensuing experience around individual teachers’ needs and student populations. It’s the kind of practice that makes it possible to hold a professional development workshop for participants from diverse districts.

“Our contexts are very different, but engaged learners are very similar,” Evancho said. Project Zero is “not a canned, packaged thing.” It’s a presentation of ideas that can be adapted to different settings.

Other strong professional development programs might be more grounded in specific applications of ideas, but still take care to address underlying concepts that work under different schools’ circumstances.

At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, participants in the summer Maker Educator Boot Camp attend workshops on maker learning practices. The educators come from schools with wildly different resource levels, so the directors have given thought to “which parts can be adapted and what’s core to a maker experience,” said Rebecca Grabman, MAKESHOP manager.

In many cases what’s “core” are mindsets, not materials.

“What you’re engaging with when you’re doing an activity is not necessarily about hammer and nails,” said Grabman, “but about planning or persistence or collaboration—and those translate well.”

Creating equitable opportunities for professional development

Maker Educator Boot Camp. Photo/Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

Evancho posed the question that all professional development providers should ask: “How do you bring about equity?”

Practices might translate across communities, but only if they reach them. For many programs, it is a challenge to reach beyond familiar faces and scale up.

“Our doors are open but we’re not seeing everyone there,” Evancho said.

Even continuing the conversation among participants after a program ends “can be a real stumbling block,” Hickman said. Some programs develop “communities of practice” with venues, physical or virtual, for educators to bounce ideas and questions off one another. Others, like TeacherQuest, require participants to apply in pairs so they will hold each other accountable and more effectively bring the ideas back to their districts.

Providers say school districts have begun to take the lead on providing professional development opportunities for the whole community, sometimes carving out their niche in the region as the expert on game design or personalized learning. Of course, some are better equipped to do so than others. And the barriers to spread are not unique to the realm of professional development.

“The challenges are the things that plague all schools all the time,” Grabman said. “Time and money are always going to be a problem.”

Groups like the Remake Learning Network aim to reduce resource inequity by connecting a diverse cohort of educators, administrators, librarians, technologists, foundations, and nonprofits who can share practices with each other, formally or informally.

“All of us in Pittsburgh are learning about the power of networks,” Evancho said.

In any community, there are still groups who are likely to be left out of the conversation, or simply miss the memo. But this kind of ecosystem helps ideas get around, as local providers like Grabman and Evancho work to build equitable access to creative teacher training.

A number of innovative professional development opportunities are available in the Pittsburgh area in June and July, including:

In a Rapidly Changing World, What Defines an Educational Innovation? Fri, 03 Jun 2016 17:17:27 +0000 What defines something as an “innovation”? In education, what new ideas or shifts in thinking merit our attention and why? We take a closer look at what constitutes innovative practice in education, and why it matters for the future.

What is Innovation?

Something new. As John Seely Brown, formerly the chief scientist at Xerox said, “Something is innovative because it is outside of the standard.” An innovation can be a method, an idea, or a device, something that creates new value or a shift in thinking.

How does innovation apply to education today? What does it look like in education?

There are many “innovations” in today’s education landscape—teachers making minor, but critical shifts in their instructional practice to better meet the specific needs of their students; partnerships between technology companies and educators to develop instructional technology that change classroom dynamics; or communities coming together to make learning opportunities available not just in school, but in places not traditionally thought of as institutions of learning. In Kentucky, a new “Districts of Innovation” law defines innovation as “a new or creative alternative to existing instructional and administrative practices intended to improve student learning and the performance of all students.”

Driving these innovations is growing conviction that we need to rethink education’s role in a rapidly changing world, where information is at our fingertips and how we learn is more important than what we learn. “In large part,” says Seely Brown in his book, A New Culture of Learning, “the role of the teacher needs to shift from transferring information to shaping, constructing, and overseeing learning environments.” Teachers are also increasingly cultivators. “You don’t teach imagination; you create an environment in which it can take root, grow and flourish.”

Photo by Ben Filio

What innovations—changes in pedagogical practices and shifts in thinking—merit attention?

There are numerous instructional methods and education technologies designed to advance learning innovation. These methods and technologies each have their own unique approaches and specific goals. But three foundational ideas underlie most of today’s innovations in education:

1) Interest-Driven Learning Engages Today’s Students

Kids learn best when they follow their interests. But in traditional pedagogical models, students do work based on what the community or society expects them to know and all students in a given classroom typically learn the same thing. Today some educators are moving away from this “one-sized-fits all approach” and encouraging educators to support students in interest-driven learning.

“When you can connect a passion with peers and a community that supports and motivates you,” said Collective Shift’s Connie Yowell at a recent SXSWedu conference, “and connect that to real opportunities, magic can happen.”

“When you can connect a passion with peers and a community that supports and motivates you, and connect that to real opportunities, magic can happen.”

With support from peers and mentors, and the time and space to create work that they find meaningful, experts like Yowell believe that interest-driven learning can lead to academic achievement, career success, and civic engagement.

For example, teen journalist Nathan Lawyer, whom we profiled in 2013, got his start making his own horror movies, shooting in the hallways of his high school with friends after school.   But after dipping his toe into media production at his school’s broadcast club, and with some guidance from peers and teachers like Kris Hupp, a social studies teacher and 21st Century teaching and learning coach, Lawyer became executive director of his school’s TV channel, producing daily announcements, news, weather and live broadcasting to his peers.

“We were just having fun and goofing around, but then it turned into an actual passion,” Lawyer says.

Lawyer also learned important leadership skills and confidence that he’s taken with him into other projects. For example, he participated in This Day In Pittsburgh History, shooting on location at historical sites and museums in the region. Lawyer also traveled to South Africa over the summer to teach computer skills to local kids and visit national parks, and hopes to work in the non profit field in the future.

Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito and colleagues have created the Connected Learning model to support passion-driven learning like Nathan’s. It rests on bringing three spheres—peers, interests, and mentors—together to support learning. These experts say that to put all young people on a path that unlocks opportunity, educators should be asking, “What are the supports each learner needs in order to achieve her potential?”

Photo by Ben Filio

2) Learning Can Happen Anywhere, Anytime

With digital media, following one’s interests has seldom been easier. Young people can follow their nose and tap into a wealth of knowledge beyond the school walls. The internet expands access to experts, information, and others’ views, and digital tools, from iPhones to online editing software, lower the barriers to creating. Youth today can learn anywhere, anytime. The innovation lies in building vibrant learning ecosystems in communities so all young people can benefit.

“How do we make visible all the learning opportunities happening in a city 24-7 that kids are already doing?” asked Nichole Pinkard, founder of the Digital Youth Network. “How then do we help kids and their parents link to other learning opportunities they might not know about?”

If learning is now an anywhere, anytime activity that lasts our whole lives long, then the responsibility for educating today’s students needs to extend beyond the school system.

Collaboration is central to these efforts. The Remake Learning Network is part of a growing network of education innovation clusters across the country that aim to foster collaboration between diverse sectors to create more learning opportunities for its young people. Remake Learning Network is made up of, for example, more than 250 organizations, including early learning centers and schools, museums and libraries, afterschool programs and community nonprofits, colleges and universities, ed-tech startups and major employers, philanthropies and civic leaders.

3) Students Must be Able to Solve Complex Problems—to Learn How to Learn

The third shift in thinking that merits attention is a focus on 21st century skill-building.

Teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content.

John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio, in an article published in American Educator, emphasizes that “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.”

Today’s educators understand the need to go beyond helping students retain specific content and help them to become learners and to think like problem-solvers. These skills of critical thinking, “systems thinking,” and collaboration are often collectively referred to as 21st century skills.

Mickey McManus, chairman and principle at MAYA Design, has argued the problems facing the globe today are complex, interconnected issues, from climate change to disease management. To solve them requires a deep understanding of the interconnected nature of complex systems.

Game design is another route to build systems thinking and problem-solving skills in young people. Some educators are using Gamestar Mechanic, for example, a video game that teaches kids how to design video games in classrooms to teach skills such as systems thinking, collaboration, and iterative design.

The maker movement is another way to impart 21st century skills. At makerspaces throughout the Pittsburgh region, kids can build things, tinker and experiment, and learn from their own mistakes, which also builds problem-solving and systems-thinking skills. At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP, for example, kids are free to experiment with wood, circuitry, a needle and thread, or old technology that they can take apart and put back together. Kids get ideas, but things usually don’t go right the first time. They’re freer to say, “Oh this didn’t work out, how can I make it work?” And importantly, they work with their peers to solve the problems.

ORC Maker Faire

ORC Maker Faire

Haven’t educators always focused on these “21st century” skills?

All of these innovative practices are facets of the fundamentals of good teaching and learning. One-hundred years ago, when philosopher John Dewey wrote about the purpose of public education, the world was also changing fast. He saw inquiry—following our interests where they lead us—at the center of education and hands-on learning as the way to experience it. Extending that philosophy to today, Gregg Behr wrote recently at Forbes, “We are now immersed in another era of great change, but our education system has not kept up. Dewey’s ideas ring truer than ever, but how do we adapt what he articulated for the modern world?”

Why act now?

Because today’s problems are more interconnected and challenging than ever, and because youth are too easily becoming disconnected from school.

In 2012, 6.7 million youth ages 16-24 were neither in school nor working. They either had dropped out of school or left with too few skills to find a job, became discouraged and disconnected from society’s twin pillars, school and work.

We are now immersed in another era of great change, but our education system has not kept up.

That drift and disconnection squashes hope and dreams for a future. More than four in ten high school dropouts ages 20-24 in 2011 were unemployed year-round. Far too many end up in the prison system, or start families before they’re ready. Others grow frustrated as door after door is shut for lack of the right credentials. Even when they do graduate, far too many students leave school without the set of skills and competencies that can lead to a good job. A recent IBM survey of more than 1,500 global CEOs revealed that it’s virtually impossible to find workers with the skills they need to do the job—because those skills don’t yet exist. Instead, CEOs are looking for employees who can constantly reinvent themselves and solve for the future.

A generation risks being lost as the demands of the world increase, and as the issues of tomorrow only get more complex. Without innovation, education may become a driver of inequality rather than the great equalizer we intend it to be.

ESSA Provides Opportunities for Innovation Tue, 31 May 2016 12:30:41 +0000 The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is teeming with references to innovation. It encourages innovative assessment models. It promotes innovative approaches to literacy, and even innovative geography instruction.

Significantly, the education reform bill, signed into law in 2015, includes grants for education innovation and research. The funds are available to states, local education agencies, or nonprofits to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students.”

Some schools have already been piloting programs that research shows are promising in helping close the achievement gap, and their efforts suggest directions others can take under ESSA in pursuit of innovative practices.

ESSA includes grants for education innovation
Last month we looked at how the 51st State Working Group addresses accountability. Formed last year, the cohort now includes 11 states, all trying out creative educational approaches and sharing best practices. The group’s name references a framework devised by education researchers Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit, and Linda Pittenger to consider what education policies a hypothetical 51st state might implement to best prepare students for academic, personal, and professional success.

As we continue to dig into the potentials of ESSA at Remake Learning, we will return to these states’ early efforts. The law doesn’t go into effect until 2017-2018, but these experiments, chronicled in a report by the Learning Policy Institute and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, provide some insight into what it may give rise to.

There are some common themes among the Working Group states’ innovation and flexibility efforts.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning refers to tailoring lessons and learning pathways for students with different skill levels and interests. It is the rejection of a one-size-fits-all curriculum. The underlying goal of personalized learning, which has taken on a few different definitions, is to cater to a student population that is growing more diverse and to close an achievement gap in which students on either end have vastly different needs.

These days, personalized learning is often associated with education technology. For some tech advocates and companies, personalized learning means systematically collecting data on students to track their individual needs and patterns of learning. But the ideas behind personalized learning predate the digital age, and its contemporary implementations may or may not focus on technology.

The Kettle Moraine School System in Wisconsin is celebrated for its personalized learning efforts. The school has created pathways for different kinds of learners, including an advanced manufacturing program, reports EdWeek. The district also encourages students to pick their own way of experiencing a lesson—by watching or reading information, for example.

Kentucky, one of the working group states, has granted several districts the freedom to explore innovative instructional models, so long as they include certain “critical attributes,” including personalized learning. In the state, that means setting goals for individual students’ progress.

Competency-Based Progression

In a traditional school system, students complete a course after spending a specified number of hours in it, and after receiving certain marks on assignments and summative tests. The movement toward competency-based learning progressions suggests students should move through classes and grade levels when they grasp the material—which in practice could take shorter or longer than a predetermined semester.

Students can take the time they need to master content.

Competency-based progression demands new models of assessing competency. In New Hampshire, state-funded professional development trains teachers to develop performance-based assessments that appropriately test the competencies built in their classes.

In other states and districts, competency-based systems allow students to substitute classroom “seat time” with online classes, community college courses, or internships. In Ohio, for example, the state’s Credit Flexibility Plan allows high school students to demonstrate subject-matter competency by taking a class or through a number of alternative experiences.

Financial Support

For the past few years, Oregon has awarded grants to districts with schools engaged in teaching and learning that involves personalized learning, meaningful assessments, and timely and differentiated feedback. The schools must serve as “demonstration sites,” diligently tracking their successes and failures for the benefit of others. While some Working Group states provide funding for innovation, the Learning Policy Institute notes that Oregon is the only one that specifically funds schools that serve disadvantaged populations.

One school that received the grant, the Academy of Arts and Academics in Springfield, uses a unique grading system. Failing grades don’t exist. Instead, students receive an “incomplete” and have an additional year to work with teachers to pass the course. Students are not ruled by the semester system, but can instead take the time they need to master the content.

Oregon’s program, and the other approaches documented here, show promise, and ongoing evaluation will guide other states and schools in developing similar initiatives to support high-needs students. ESSA awards grants to programs at three stages: development and implementation, evaluation, and expansion. Most of the current projects are in nascent stages. But additional support from ESSA will enable programs like these to more thoroughly test and model innovative approaches that reduce the achievement gap.

Challenge, Collaborate, & Create in Chartiers Valley Fri, 27 May 2016 14:03:29 +0000 The latest in our occasional series of guest posts from Remake Learning Network members sharing stories of their work in the field.

Walking past Chartiers Valley sixth grade science classes during the month of May is always an adventure. You’ll hear a lot of buzzing. You’ll see a lot of lights flashing. You may even smell the remnants of a recent spark in the air.

It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s learning in action.

Each year, Chartiers Valley Middle School students take their understanding of circuits to the next level with an engaging hand-on approach. They begin with an introductory unit on the basics of circuits. Then, equipped with a basic understanding of how circuits work, they roll up their sleeves, grab a screw driver and get to work.

Every student has a different toy or electronic. Some are their own personal belongings, while others have been donated to the project. Either way, students are working with something that interests them.

It’s that connection to something personal or of interest that really drives an inquiry based lesson. Students begin the project full of questions. As they dismantle their toy, they explore, research, discuss and reflect until they find the answers to their questions. Or, in most cases, begin to pose even deeper, more scientific questions.

It all began when Ms. Sara Benis, Chartiers Valley Middle School Gifted Coordinator, and her students took a trip to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh where they participated in a workshop that focused on taking things apart in order to get a better understanding of how they work.

“It didn’t take long to realize that we could run a similar project at our school and reach all of our sixth graders, instead of just a handful of students,” said Ms. Benis, who connected with sixth grade science teachers Ms. Allison Machusko and Mr. Ron Moreschi to turn her vision into a reality.

Another bonus to doing the project at Chartiers Valley? More time. The lesson takes place over several weeks instead of one day, which enables students to dig deeper and take ownership of their learning.

“The expectation is that students will really develop their projects,” said. Ms. Benis. “Not only are they learning the inward workings of their childhood toys, they are creatively designing usable products out of recycled parts.”

Dismantling toys is just the beginning. Once students have a collection of parts, they are tasked with creating something new.

“Students are in complete control of the outcome,” explained Ms. Machusko. “From taking apart their childhood toys to designing – and rewiring – something new, students quickly become invested in their learning.”

This year, Chartiers Valley Middle School Art Teacher, Ms. Sharlynn Mavrich, is involved to help take the project to the next level. Ms. Mavrich will give the students a few tips for creating aesthetically pleasing products.

“The world isn’t magical,” said Ms. Benis. “Through this project, students begin to really recognize that basic science is everywhere.”

The main academic learning revolves around understanding simple circuits. However, this project goes so much deeper. Students learn how to motivate themselves. They learn how to collaborate. And they learn how to create.

“I hope the students learn how to challenge themselves through this project,” said Ms. Machusko. “We provide them with basic instruction to circuits and then it’s up to them to take charge of their own learning through hands-on exploration.”

Students are engaged from the moment they walk through the door each day. They come to class armed with new ideas they are eager to try. They work diligently throughout the entire period. Some days the bell will ring at the end of class and nobody moves toward the door. They want to be right here. In class. Learning.

“There is never a dull moment from the start to the completion of this project,” added Ms. Machusko. “But my favorite part is the excitement you can see on their faces when they make the final connection and their new creation works!”

An Age-Old Push for Science Literacy, With New Tools Tue, 24 May 2016 12:00:05 +0000 Back in the 1990s, a group of private and public officials and academics joined forces in support of nationwide science literacy. The benefits of a strong science education were manifold, they said, with important applications in civic life and the workforce.

“In learning science, students describe objects and events, ask questions, acquire knowledge, construct explanations of natural phenomena, test out those explanations in many different ways, and communicate their ideas to others,” wrote the people who eventually developed National Science Education Standards, guidelines for K-12.

The great questions of the future—how to manage and share the world’s natural resources, say—would demand decision-makers with strong scientific training, they said. Even students who weren’t destined for such positions of power would be most successful in any field if they were science-literate.

“The business community needs entry-level workers with the ability to learn, reason, think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems,” the authors wrote.

Sound familiar? Our contemporary calls for learning that breeds innovation and critical thinking echo those of the past.

But in the 21st century, an era of entrepreneurship and global competition, these skills may be even more valuable. For those growing up in an age of melting ice caps and other climate concerns, science education can produce a sense of urgency and curiosity that leads young people to examine their surroundings through a critical lens.

Our contemporary calls for learning that breeds innovation and critical thinking echo those of the past.

A few years ago, an effort similar to the one in the 1990s yielded the Next Generation Science Standards. Sixteen states have adopted the standards, and most others have expressed interest in them. They urge the teaching of classic science concepts, only with a bit more context—an effort to encourage students to pursue careers in the field. That means teaching underlying ideas that span all science subjects, as well as teaching the practices of scientists and engineers.

“Science literacy” is a broad term, but at its core is inquiry. Students who learn science are encouraged to question how the world works, why natural phenomena occur, and what information is trustworthy. Take the scientific method, that step-by-step process most kids learn around fifth grade. At first glance it is a rote process to be memorized. But it trains young learners to devise questions and make observations, eventually putting informed hypotheses to the test through technical experiments.

The fundamental purposes of science education have not changed much in recent decades. What has changed are the tools available to stoke young people’s curiosity and help them search for answers. Bunsen burners and nature documentaries are now supplemented with uncanny visualizations and robotics kits.

Take Maker Camp, soon to be in its fifth summer. The partnership between Google and Make: magazine leverages video-chat technology to give any teenager with an internet connection a sneak peak into the practices of professional scientists and engineers. One year, participants took a virtual field trip to NASA, where they got to watch a telescope being assembled live.

Elizabeth Babcock, public engagement officer and dean of education at the California Academy of Sciences, has explained that digital technology has become part and parcel of her institution’s science literacy programming. A photosynthesis visualization at the academy brings visitors on a virtual journey through the molecules in a redwood tree. In other cases, digital media initiate genuine engagement, giving learners a more active role in their own science education, Babcock told Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning. After learning about the science and dangers of plastics, teenagers in an academy afterschool program launched a social media campaign to educate their peers.

When employed right, digital tools can support critical inquiry and give students immersive access to the vital issues of the day. That’s been the worthy goal of science education since its start, and one that is all the more urgent today.

Anyone who follows national politics knows that there are big barriers to widespread science literacy. Political and religious interest groups have worked to ban climate change curricula in several states and to prohibit officials from speaking about it publicly. A Yale study found that social consequences of caring about climate change, not a lack of scientific understanding, were the main cause of adults’ apathy about the topic.

That’s particular cause for developing science literacy at a young age. Information saturation, political interests, and societal forces are all at play in the adult world. Before they enter it, young learners need the capacity to parse through information, ask thoughtful questions, and act on the answers.


Demystifying Learning Frameworks: Deeper Learning Fri, 20 May 2016 16:21:20 +0000 Check out the original post for the full list.]]> Deeper Learning is a learning framework that aims to give students 21st century skills and train educators in teaching those skills to students. Its development has been supported by the Hewlett Foundation. Digital Promise, a nonprofit looking to encourage learning through technology, and Getting Smart, an education reform organization founded by Tom Vander Ark have been advocating for the implementation of Deeper Learning.

Because Deeper Learning is defined by what it is not, the methods of implementing it tend to be varied. The only commonalities are its six core competencies, the use of technology in education, and an emphasis on encouraging teachers to develop different, more engaging methods of instruction. Though not universal, a typical theme in Deeper Learning the implementation of  micro-credentials for teachers to ensure they are adequately prepared to use the framework.

Overall Goal

Deeper Learning is a framework targeted at schools and teachers with the goal of making sure students understand academic content at a level that prepares them for college or a career. It does not involve drilling and testing students, but instead requires the synthesis of knowledge and skills learned in the classroom. These skills are measured by six core competencies:

  • Mastery of core academic content
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Working collaboratively
  • Communicating effectively
  • Learning how to learn
  • Developing academic mindsets

The Hewlett Foundation detailed these competencies in 2013.

Theoretical basis

This framework begins with the recognition that the world today is driven by innovation, collaboration, and problem-solving. Additionally, this type of work is more technologically-driven today than it has been at any time in the past. Research has shown that learning in an environment with a focus on these types of skills helps students achieve academically and interpersonally.

Deeper Learning competencies reflect the analytic, interpersonal, and creative competencies needed for success in today’s working world. The goal is to build lessons around these competencies so students can have the opportunity to practice transferring knowledge and applying it, much like they will in their careers. According to the Deeper Learning framework, leadership is fundamental to ensuring that Deeper Learning happens in the classroom. A Deeper Learning leader can rally teachers and the community around the prospect of creating learning outcomes that reflect the role of technology and collaboration in modern society.

Competency emphasis

Academic content forms the backbone of Deeper Learning’s competency-based approach. As students learn the academic content, they should be able to think critically about it and solve complex problems related to it. Collaboration and communication are both competency areas as well. Students should learn how to learn, as described in a competency that includes the motivation and ability to make progress through whatever means necessary. A final competency focuses on the development of academic mindsets, reflected in the idea that students feel they belong, that they can be successful, and that their work is valuable. When these competencies come together, they are often reflected in student-driven, project-based lessons for students to help them gain a deeper understanding of that core academic content.

Instructional approach

Though the framework’s writers were somewhat vague about the instructional approach, there is one item that seems essential: blended learning. Technology in the classroom works as both a skill to be mastered and a method of quickly evaluating and giving feedback to students.

However, the framework is pretty straightforward about the need for changing the practices of teachers. Teachers are encouraged to create more engaging lessons that use tools other than drilling and memorizing to help students learn core content. The framework is less specific about what these practices need to be than it is about the need for them. Deeper Learning is often integrated into professional development and the missions of schools and districts in many descriptions of the framework.

Method of assessment

Deeper Learning advocates for a variety of assessments for students, but is not particularly clear beyond that major point. However, teacher assessments are an integral part of the framework, as teachers who can prove they have mastered a competency receive micro-credentials. Many of these micro-credentials are awarded by bodies outside of Schools of Education. Organizations invested in deeper learning suggest that Business Schools and business in general should be active in assessing teachers this way.

Example: Elizabeth Forward

A student shows off some of the photo work she has been doing in the art room housed withen the Dream Factory.

Deeper Learning has contributed in no small part to the successes of Elizabeth Forward School District. Dr. Todd Keruskin, Assistant Superintendent, believes that Deeper Learning has helped his district increase student engagement while pushing the teachers to become better, more reflective planners. “Deeper learning has helped us focus on content that is beyond project-based learning, beyond increased student engagement and beyond real-world application,” he says about the positive changes he has seen in his district since adapting to the Deeper Learning framework. The teachers in the district have embraced a culture of ensuring the students do most of the work while the teacher acts as more of a facilitator. To help students accomplish this work, the  district has invested in 1:1 iPads and a Digital Media Lab. Both of these upgrades have helped teachers create lessons that are designed to give students an experience they will remember decades from when they learn it. “It’s about remembering the content 20 years from now,” says Todd, explaining the motivation behind the projects his school creates.  Much of this has come from a district-wide focus on Deeper Learning and the ways in which both teachers and principals can make it happen in their classroom.

External resources

A list of Deeper Learning competencies

Deeper Learning Micro-Credentials

The Hewlett Foundation and Getting Smart’s Guide to Deeper Learning

Accountability Expands Under ESSA Tue, 17 May 2016 12:00:04 +0000 “Accountability” became a buzzword during the decade-plus reign of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The impetus of the act, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2002, was to “turn around” public education, seen as failing children for too long. The sweeping reform mandated annual testing in grades three through eight and once in high school. States that did not demonstrate “Adequate Yearly Progress” faced teacher dismissals and, at the extreme, being shut down.

The problem, said critics, was the narrow definition of success—based almost entirely on standardized test scores. The draconian penalties forced schools to focus their energy and resources on preparing students for testing, leaving no room to consider more thoughtful or innovative approaches to education.

States will now track student progress on a wide range of measures.

With the law behind us, states may have an opportunity to devise more meaningful systems of accountability.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law at the end of 2015, states are required to track schools’ and students’ progress on a wider range of measures. They have some flexibility in selecting the measures, so progress is no longer defined by—and severe consequences are no longer tied to—the narrow Adequate Yearly Progress mark. Like NCLB, states’ new accountability systems must include scores from annual testing in math and reading. But another academic indicator is required, as is the graduation rate for high schools (also required under NCLB), English language learners’ proficiency, and at least one other measure of school quality or student success. States have a variety of options for this last indicator, which could be a measure of school safety, say, or of access to advanced coursework. But the indicators must be well-tested, comparable, and applicable statewide.

Some states are experimenting with more comprehensive accountability systems, modeling practices that others could imitate. Even before the law was on the books, several states received NCLB waivers so they could craft more thorough systems of accountability. Last year, 10 states at the forefront of those efforts formed the 51st State Working Group, a cohort that compares successes and hurdles in redesigning accountability. The group’s name references a framework devised by education researchers Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit, and Linda Pittenger to consider what education policies a hypothetical 51st state might implement to best prepare students for academic, personal, and professional success.

In two recent reports, the Learning Policy Institute and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education catalog some of the working groups’ efforts, “data dashboards,” that help track and diagnose areas that need improvement to broader measures of progress. In Kentucky, for example, an accountability system gives the most weight to measures of student success and achievement, but also factors in program reviews and professional growth. There is also an effort to reflect local needs in tailored approaches.

In California, eight school districts are adding measures of improvement and quality to create a more comprehensive accountability system. The resulting school quality report card prioritizes academics but also includes indicators of chronic absenteeism, expulsion rates, and social-emotional skills. However, some teachers’ unions condemned the effort for failing to seek educators’ input, which points to the importance of more inclusive decision-making when revamping accountability systems.

Under NCLB “accountability” took on a stigmatizing definition.

Other states are opting for additional measures of success that better track the development of critical thinking skills, collaboration, and creativity. For example, some states are using waivers to experiment with performance-based assessments designed to measure these skills. Removing the nearly singular significance from math and reading scores affords teachers and districts some flexibility in adopting instructional practices that encourage 21st century-appropriate learning.

If all goes as planned, ESSA will yield systems that comprehensively tackle improvement, responding to shortcomings with thoughtful and productive interventions. ESSA could indeed hold schools and districts accountable—a worthy cause that had taken on a more stigmatizing definition in previous years.

STEM Has Roots in Early Childhood Tue, 10 May 2016 12:30:21 +0000 A child marvels at a butterfly that has emerged from a cocoon in her backyard.

A toddler plays with building blocks, balancing a small one on top of a big one.

A baby learns the concept of cause-and-effect by putting his hands over his eyes.

These young children are all engaging in a rudimentary form of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning. Adults might associate the term with middle school science fairs or technology start-ups, but the truth is the youngest kids are capable of, and naturally inclined toward, STEM-type learning.

“As any parent knows, children are born curious,” said Roberto Rodríguez, deputy assistant to the president for education. “They’re born natural scientists.”

Rodríguez was kicking off the Early STEM Learning Symposium at the White House on April 21. There, officials, educators, researchers, and education technologists gathered to celebrate—and call for more—innovative STEM learning geared toward young children.

Research shows that even the youngest brains are capable of beginning to understand STEM concepts, but only if they are given the opportunity to explore and discover. Patricia Kuhl, University of Washington professor of speech and hearing sciences, has studied how children’s brains grow based on experiences they have starting at seven months.

“To get all the foundations of STEM into the brain early in development, we have to let children’s natural curiosity” blossom, Kuhl said at the White House symposium. “Playing with objects like blocks, playing with water, will feed that brain that wants to tinker with objects, and wants to have an effect on others in the world.”

But why devote a day at the White House to the topic? Because STEM learning can start early, and the STEM achievement gap does too.

A recent study published in Educational Researcher found that girls, as well as children who are racial or ethnic minorities, English language learners, or from low-income homes, demonstrated lower levels of science achievement as early as third grade. These kids typically continued to lag through middle school.

“It’s not a level playing field,” Kuhl said. “You can see, by the age of 5, huge effects of the opportunities to learn.”

Young learners lose out when adults underestimate what they are capable of. With well-paying jobs increasingly demanding a workforce that is well-versed in math and technology, it behooves the public and private sectors to make sure all children have access to STEM education, said leaders at the White House event. That support includes proper compensation and professional development for early learning instructors, said Secretary of Education John King.

Some researchers and companies have created products geared toward developing STEM skills and interest among young children, including those in groups that are underrepresented in the fields.

GoldiBlox is a popular engineering toy designed for girls. The kits, for kids as young as four, include construction pieces and a story that presents the player with a basic engineering challenge. Some of the toys come with action figures—racially diverse girls who carry laptops along with their capes.

Scratch, the free programming language for older kids and teens, has a younger sibling called Scratch Jr. The tool introduces coding concepts to kids ages 5 to 7, who can program games and interactive stories.

In conjunction with the White House event, dozens of organizations made commitments to further STEM opportunities for young learners. The administration also recognized efforts by public and private actors, including a handful in Pittsburgh. The Fred Rogers Company was recognized for its professional development, family resources, and peg + cat,” a TV show that teaches math to preschool-age kids. The Grable Foundation was also recognized for investing in hands-on STEM learning and technology for early childhood educators, and the White House named the Frazier School District in Fayette County, Penn., for overhauling its curriculum and professional development approach to support early STEM learning.

“It’s us rethinking how we’re doing education,” said Frazier Elementary principal Kelly Muic Lombard, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’re implementing the 21st century slant, which is kids being creative, developing their problem-solving skills, and helping them be better collaborators.”


Demystifying Learning Frameworks: Connected Learning Fri, 06 May 2016 15:18:10 +0000 Check out the original post for the full list.]]> Connected Learning is a student-driven, production-centered, openly networked framework. The theory and practice of Connected Learning is based on more than a decade of research and development, largely funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and real-world application by dozens of organizations. Much of the activities that use Connected Learning take place out of school, but the nature of the framework makes it easily transferable between in-school and out-of-school environments.

Overall Goal

Students learn best when they are pursuing their own interests, so the Connected Learning framework builds environments where students can do just that. These spaces allow students to  use technology as a means of expression as well as a tool for learning. Once there is a suitable environment, students can connect with peers and engage in academically oriented activities through their interests. Through this, they develop the essential skills that help them solve problems and collaborate with others.

Theoretical basis

Connected Learning builds on the idea of learning ecologies. Ecologies are interdependent by nature, and bring together opportunities for students to learn, and people to help them make sense of their learning. This kind of learning is particularly well-suited for the digital era, as today’s students see technology as a system that runs through everything in their lives.

Much of the research that led to Connected Learning reflects the idea that young people learn differently today than they did in the past. The places in which young people now learn are no longer exclusively within the walls of schools, or within walls at all. Instead, technology allows them to learn through their connections and networks of knowledge. These ideas form the backbone of a Connected Learning environment.

The Connected Learning framework is based on a desire to make learning more equitable and accessible. It was designed with the goal of creating easily accessible new opportunities for all students, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The knowledge that a student’s environment contributes heavily to his or her success also weighs in the framework, which leads to the connectivity between students, peers, and mentors within communities that can provide the necessary guidance.

Graphic by Connected Learning Alliance

At its core, any Connected Learning environment is peer-supported, fueled by student interests, and academically oriented. It is production-centered, often relying on technology for creation. Participants have a shared purpose and open networks connect students and related groups, whether online or in-person.

There are three design principles

  • Shared Purpose: Social media and the Internet provide a space for students, their peers, and caring adults to come together and work on the same projects and problems.
  • Production-Centered: Learning comes from the act of creating, remixing, and adapting to the work that others do within the same environment.
  • Openly Networked: Environments link the tools for learning with institutions and groups of all types.

and three learning principles that help form a Connected Learning environment.

  • Peer-Supported: All students participate, and learning comes from the interactions and feedback between peers as they produce something.
  • Academically-Oriented: The culture of the environment and the interests of the students are aligned with an area of academic knowledge.
  • Interest-Powered: Students work on projects and inquiries aligned with their passions. This helps them engage in their learning experience and personalize it.

Everyone can participate in these environments, students learn by doing, and there is a constant challenge. Learning in this type of environment is interconnected between students, their work, mentors, and other groups with whom they can share.

Competency emphasis

Connected Learning does not have a list of competencies for individual students to master, largely because it focuses on giving students an opportunity to direct their own creativity or exploration of a topic. However, the success of a Connected Learning environment is measured based on certain principles and core ideas.

Instructional approach

A Connected Learning approach relies on the synthesis of design principles and new media in an environment that encourages children to take part in a production-centered, academically-oriented activity. As long as these ideas are emphasized, a Connected Learning environment can be implemented in any way possible. Quest2Learn Public Schools, YOUmedia at the Harold Washington Library, and The Harry Potter Alliance show the framework as implemented in a classroom, in a single space, and across a web-based network.

Connected Learning leverages peer groups in a way that is uncommon in other frameworks. The support of peer networks for students becomes a key component of a learning environment, and students learn many of the interpersonal skills they need by exchanging feedback with peers and mentors.

Method of assessment

Because Connected Learning uses a production-centered approach, the assessment lies in the creation of something, whether it’s physical or a piece of media.

The extent to which a program uses a Connected Learning approach can be determined based on the presence of the design and learning principles described above. The Connected Learning Alliance leaves it up to the facilitator to decide if their environment fits the framework.

Example: The Labs @ CLP

The Labs has multiple locations including East Liberty.

For teens at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, interests are the key to teamwork and learning experiences. The Labs at CLP have created a space that gives teens the opportunity to dive deeper into audio and video production, art, making, and much more by using Connected Learning principles. Corey Wittig, who runs The Labs’ programs, describes Connected Learning as a way to create connections between caring mentors and a space where youth have access to explore their own interests. In the case of The Labs, the library acts as this space. “The library is for onboarding,” Corey says, because teens will often go there after school. They begin by providing teens with entertainment, and then give them the opportunity to explore different aspects of technology, entertainment production, project-based learning, and making principles. All of the projects are student-driven, and range from a highly successful neighborhood Halloween haunted house to a racial justice documentary. Thanks to Connected Learning, Pittsburgh-area teens were able to engage fully projects like these that, though outside of a traditional curriculum, provided a rich learning experiences in terms of building mindsets, working together, and mastering technology.

External resources

The Connected Learning Alliance

Connected Learning Principles

Aspiring Artist Discovers Digital Expression Fri, 06 May 2016 13:19:14 +0000 Isis Allen, a 7th grade student and aspiring artist, likes that she is able to explore and learn new things after school. Allen is one of a handful of students at Cornell who is developing digital literacy skills as part of Digital Corps.

Last year, middle school students at Cornell stayed after school to remix the web using tools such as Mozilla’s X-Ray Goggles, Thimble, and Webmaker. Students also built and programmed Hummingbird Robots, learned some basic computer programing principles using Scratch, and experimented with MakeyMakeys. Cornell’s Digital Corps program is part of an initiative led by The Sprout Fund to help students develop digital literacy skills.

Sprout’s Digital Corps program recruits educators and professionals and trains them to become digital learning coaches

In both in-school and out-of-school settings, students are paired with Sprout-trained mentors who “…work side by side with youth to demystify robotics, code websites, program mobile apps, investigate online privacy, and empower the next generation of digital innovators,” says Ani Martinez, Program Associate at Sprout and manager of the Digital Corps. “There is an array of other programmatic partnerships that have influenced the Corps’ curriculum and ways of thinking (and vice-versa), including (but not limited to) APOST, the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teen Services Programs, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western PA, Hear Me, and The Pittsburgh Project.”

Students at Cornell have been anxiously awaiting the return of Digital Corps and the district was looking for funding sources to keep the program active. Fortunately in January, Cornell received word that our 21st Century Learning Community grant through the U.S. Department of Education was approved. The grant brought back a wide range of after school activities for our students, including Digital Corps.

Susan Dunning, science teacher, second year Digital Corps mentor and former engineer, was ecstatic by the news. Dunning says, “Digital Corps gives me the opportunity to introduce programming, engineering, design thinking, and robotics to my middle school students.”

The Cornell School District seeks to provide students from Coraopolis and Neville Island with a challenging and rigorous education that prepares them for success. Digital Corps helps fill the void between what students are learning in class and many of the trends in our digital world. It allows our students to explore their interests and become creators of digital content.

Back in 7th grade, Isis is currently modernizing the Grimm’s fairy tale of Rapunzel by building a robotic knight that climbs the princess’ hair. She says, “Digital Corps is fun because you get to try new things and experiment with what you want to do.” She is really looking forward to gaining access to the school’s 3D printer so that she can make a unicorn. Perhaps she will create a robotic unicorn?

Where else is the Digital Corps happening?

Digital Corps lessons and materials are being used by educators and mentors in out-of-school programs throughout the Pittsburgh area, including these neighborhood-based community learning sites:


How can you use Digital Corps lessons in our program?

To help give even more students opportunities to gain the essential digital literacy skills they need to fully participate in today’s world, Sprout’s Ani Martinez and Digital Corps members created resources for youth workers to use to set up their own digital literacy learning sessions.

Check out all of the Digital Corps Teaching Kits including: