Remake Learning http://remakelearning.org Kids+Creativity is a network of people, projects, and organizations in the greater Pittsburgh region that are empowering children and youth by creating relevant learning opportunities through the compelling use of technology, media, and the arts. Wed, 25 Mar 2015 03:59:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Embodied Learning Labs Bring Abstract Science to Life http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/16/embodied-learning-labs-bring-abstract-science-to-life/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/16/embodied-learning-labs-bring-abstract-science-to-life/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 19:26:01 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=18920 The game is “disease transmission.” Players try to keep their population of avatars alive in a simulated outbreak situation, factoring conditions like population size, availability of medical and food resources, and bacterial versus viral disease modes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So understanding the system.

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

And putting the user at the center.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s “design thinking” in action.

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

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

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

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

It’s “design thinking” in action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heidi Moore contributed to this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEM 2014 is organized with the following seven themes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find the full calendar of Connected Educator Month events here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How else did the design make learning more engaging?

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

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

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

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

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

What else is different about the Finnish model?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Could this be true?

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

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

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

But there’s a hitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Your STEM Back to School Reading List http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/18/your-stem-back-to-school-reading-list/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/18/your-stem-back-to-school-reading-list/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 17:15:12 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17810 We thought it’d be a good time to revisit some of the recent pieces we’ve written about those much-in-demand fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and arts too (STEAM).

Here’s some of our favorites. What were yours?

  1. Apparently you can never start teaching STEM too early. Many may think preschoolers are too young to learn any “real math.” Not so. Early childhood experts say high-quality and challenging math education for 3- to 6-year-olds can build on kids’ natural inclination to explore, tinker, and ask questions. And, research shows math knowledge in prekindergarten is actually the highest predictor of later academic success. But you have to know how to teach math, something that’s not always a given among preschool teachers.That’s why in July, the first group of Head Start educators in Allegheny County began a training program that will eventually train all Head Start teachers in the county.
  1. Employers just can’t get enough STEM majors. In “STEM-ing the Tide of Long-Term Unemployment,” we cover the gap between supply and demand of STEM skills. “Even though the job market for STEM positions is white hot, there is still a dearth of new graduates in these fields relative to other fields like business and humanities.” Get thee to a science class.
  1. Continuing our bad puns in headlines, in “STEAM-ing up STEM, in Congress and the Classroom,” we take issue with the idea that those “other fields” aren’t important. Adding A(rts) to the STEM mix creates important synergy. STEAM learning, said Congressional STEAM Caucus Cochair Aaron Schock, will help “produce graduates with the skills industry identifies as vital in new hires, including collaboration, trial and error, divergent thinking skills, and dynamic problem solving.” (I’ve indeed known several English majors who are divergent thinkers.)
  1. Don’t take only Schock’s word for it—Silicon Valley thinks so too (phew). No, the humanities aren’t dead in the digital age. In fact, they power it. The English, arts, and history majors help us understand our digital age. And they’re what let young people hone their creative edge and succeed in it. As we wrote, in Silicon Valley, employers are on the hunt for humanities majors for one key reason: storytelling. “English majors are exactly the people I’m looking for,” one employer said. To create a successful tech startup today, he explained, you must above all be able to sell the idea to investors, partners, employees, and customers. “And how do you do that? You tell stories.” According to him, good storytellers are much harder to find than good engineers. “That’s why I want to meet your English majors.”
  1. Another hot topic in Silicon Valley is the lack of women in the STEM fields. In “Are ‘Bossy’ Girls Future STEM Leaders?” we discuss how to encourage girls to take the lead in STEM fields. Sheryl Sandberg, for one, suggested banning the word “bossy.” However, as University of Delaware psychology professor Chad Forbes’ research suggests, fear of failure may be the greatest deterrent to success in STEM fields, not concern over being perceived as bossy or aggressive.
  1. But it’s not just in school where STEAM is on the march. In “Helping STEM Learning Take Root Outside the Classroom,” we show how afterschool programs are helping schools fill in the gaps in computer programming and engineering when resources are tight.
  1. Learning about science and math is one thing. But actually applying those abstract concepts is quite another. That’s where NASA is lending a hand. Students in NASA HUNCH (High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) build real-world hardware and prototypes for NASA astronauts and engineers. So cool. In addition, scientists from Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Langley Research Center team with middle and high school students to work on innovative projects. Students from Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg public schools use NASA climate data in a science game led by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and other science educators in the area. Finally, participants in the NASA Data in My Field Trip project pore over global satellite data to answer questions and explore themes related to climate change and Earth’s biomes.

 

Photo/ Enokson

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How Arts Education Can Help Today’s Students Become Critical, Creative Thinkers http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/16/how-arts-education-can-help-todays-students-become-critical-creative-thinkers/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/16/how-arts-education-can-help-todays-students-become-critical-creative-thinkers/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 21:14:45 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17796 Antara Cleetus learned to draw from her dad. But the 11-year-old has also learned a great deal from her art teacher at Boyce Middle School in Upper St. Clair, a suburb of Pittsburgh, who taught her that art is just as crucial a part of her education as science or mathematics.

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

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

“We want to get out of the mindset that the arts are separate from other subjects,” said Jane Chu, president of the National Endowment for the Arts, who spoke at the conference. “They’re an essential component of everyday life and help us become creative, critical thinkers,” and to “think outside of the box,” she said.

Chu was one of a group of leaders who visited Pittsburgh’s influential cultural district. In addition to cultural centers like the city’s Mattress Factory art museum, the city has long been a hotbed for technology start-ups as well as cutting-edge art and design. And today new partnerships are bringing this talent into schools. Educators are using arts and technology to transform teaching and learning environments, so more students can become these creative problem solvers.

Linda Hippert, Executive Director for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, part of the school government structure in Pennsylvania, spoke at the conference about their work to develop the Center for Creativity. The center provides hands-on grants and 21st century professional development to teachers in 42 districts across the Pittsburgh area. This support has resulted in efforts like the C3 Lab at Blackhawk High School where students use 3D printers to design and print parts for broken equipment or Elizabeth Forward Middle School’s “Dream Factory,” where students are building robots from the ground up. In the region, students are recording their own spoken word poetry in school libraries, and designing 21st-century dioramas in history class.

Hippert told us that her journey integrating STEAM learning began years ago when the author Daniel Pink came to talk at a professional development session about his book, “A Whole New Mind,” which addresses the importance of “right-brain qualities” like empathy, inventiveness, and design.

“The message was loud and clear,” Hippert said. “And that’s when the movement started. Being strong in math and science wasn’t enough. To meet future workforce needs, we had to address the whole-brain needs of our students.”

Integrated arts education was one way to do that.

Also speaking at the conference was Bill Strickland whose urban arts centers and unique model of youth arts education began in Pittsburgh in 1968 and are now being replicated across the country. He told us earlier this year that he thinks involving kids in the arts is a crucial way to get them excited about learning.

“I think that kids are built for creative activity,” he said. “I think it’s how we’re built as humans.”

Sandra Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership, agrees. “When students learn in and through the arts they obviously learn something about that art form, but there are these other things that happen,” she said. “It helps to build your creative thinking, critical thinking, your problem solving skills, your resilience, your self confidence, your ability to communicate, your ability to demonstrate what you know.”

For Antara Cleetus, art is, as she puts it: “another way to learn more.” Her painting of a Hindu Goddess earned her the Young Artist Award. As a sixth grader, she’s the youngest recipient in the award’s history.

In the painting, the goddess is shown with a third eye. “In India,” she explained, “they believe that the third eye lets you see things you can’t normally see.”  Indeed.

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Teaching Kids to Think Like Computer Scientists, Without Using Computers http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/12/17723/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/12/17723/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 13:28:26 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17723 Teaching computer science is important for many reasons. Advocates say it’s a vital piece of preparing educated citizens of the 21st century and of meeting the demand for jobs in the new economy.

MIT Media Lab’s Mitch Resnick, the mastermind behind the popular kids coding language Scratch, says that coding teaches mathematical and computational thinking in addition to problem solving, design, and communication skills. And author Douglas Rushkoff, in his book “Program or Be Programmed,” argued that coding is the new literacy of the digital age. Just like we learned to write when we learned to read, he argued, humans should learn not only how to use computers but how to program them.

Over at the Hechinger Report, Annie Murphy Paul profiled a project called Computer Science Unplugged, which uses games, puzzles, and magic tricks to teach concepts of computer science to kids as young as age 5.

“Rather than talking about chips and disks and ROM and RAM,” the organizers wrote, “we want to convey a feeling for the real building blocks of computer science: how to represent information in a computer, how to make computers do things with information, how to make them work efficiently and reliably, how to make them so that people can use them.”

We’ve done similar work here in Pittsburgh with our Remake Learning Digital Corps, which brings technologists into the community to teach digital literacy skills to kids. The workshop leaders often start with games to get kids to understand computer science concepts before turning to the computers themselves.

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Mozilla’s Maker Parties Teach Web to the World http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/11/mozillas-maker-parties-teach-web-to-the-world/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/11/mozillas-maker-parties-teach-web-to-the-world/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 04:53:26 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17716 The invasive Japanese knotweed has become a tricky ecological problem in Pennsylvania. But at the Pittsburgh Maker Party on August 2, Albert Pantone showed kids how to mix the pesky weed with cotton and soda ash, eventually transforming it into handmade paper.

The Pittsburgh Maker Party brought a dozen organizations together at the Society for Contemporary Craft and let more than 200 kids and parents get their hands dirty making seed bombs, creating mobile apps, or shooting marshmallows in the air with a bike pump.

It was only one of more than 2,000 Mozilla Maker Parties held in 368 cities around the globe since mid-July, which aim to “teach the web on a global scale through hands-on learning and making.” The events range in participants, size, activities, and resources available. What they have in common is the goal of equipping people with digital literacy and web skills so they can understand and help mold the web, not just consume it.

To do that, the events often teach partygoers Mozilla’s Webmaker tools like Thimble, which lets users write HTML and CSS on the left of the screen and instantly preview their work on the right. Another tool, X-Ray Goggles, let people peek behind any website and check its code. At the Pittsburgh maker party, the Remake Learning Digital Corps helped kids in attendance “hack” the New York Times’ website and replace the headlines with their own.

In Cape Town, South Africa, Teen girls learned to code with HTML and CSS. Then, they design websites for local community organizations.
 “In English, ‘learning’ can sound like as passive a verb as they come, yet learning is the most all-encompassing, mind-devouring, time-consuming, and dare I say intoxicating experience one may have,” Ani Martinez, head of the Remake Learning Digital Corps, wrote last month in a post about the maker party. “That’s what gives Maker Parties their vibe and why they are such the success they’ve become.”

The maker parties’ success also stems from how easily organizers can share detailed event reports, tweets, and videos with other makers around the world. The posts inspire ideas for future parties and are nearly perfect examples of the body of collective knowledge that makes the internet so powerful.

Here’s a handful of other amazing Maker Parties that taught people about the web, its inner workings, and the power of using it to create:

  • The Brooklyn College Community Partnership hosted a nine-day open house in the first drop-in teen makerspace in Brooklyn. The days were packed with 3D modeling, inventing contraptions that could save people on a deserted island, and debating what should go into a maker manifesto. At the end of the event, kids and educators reimagined their makerspace and built intricate prototypes of a dream space that included hydroponic gardens and a bamboo lounge.
  • The Code4CT program teaches teen girls in Cape Town, South Africa, how to code with HTML and CSS. Then, they design websites for local community organizations. At the Code4CT Maker Party, the girls each brought a friend and passed their new skills on to her.
  • The internet connection dropped out at the Maker Party in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. But the party continued offline as participants discussed how the web functions, voiced their concerns about privacy, and brainstormed other problems—like scams and malware—they find online.
  • At Coworking Monterrey in Mexico, youth got to 3D print their own Maker Party logos and crowns, and they even saw how it might be possible to 3D print a person. They took some great photos in the process.
  • The village of Gangadevipally, India, has no internet connectivity. That didn’t stop Meraj Imran from bringing a Maker Party to the village on a motorcycle to teach awareness about the web to rural families. He used charts to describe HTML tags and 3D prototypes to demonstrate how the internet works.
  • In San Francisco, volunteers and employees of nonprofits got free HTML training to make their websites and newsletters more effective through Aspiration’s Maker Party.
  • At MozFest East Africa in Kampala, Uganda, more than 30 Mozilla Webmaker mentors taught more than 200 kids how to “hack” with Webmaker tools. Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, recently wrote about the party in Uganda and explained the challenge of teaching web literacy with both depthand scale.

“We’ll see more people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making,” Surman wrote. “And more people organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. If we can make happen this summer, much bigger things lay on the path ahead.”

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Teaching Kids to Think Like Computer Scientists, Without Using Computers http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/08/teaching-kids-to-think-like-computer-scientists-without-using-computers/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/08/teaching-kids-to-think-like-computer-scientists-without-using-computers/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:40:40 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17661 Teaching computer science is important for many reasons. Advocates say it’s a vital piece of preparing educated citizens of the 21st century and of meeting the demand for jobs in the new economy.

MIT Media Lab’s Mitch Resnick, the mastermind behind the popular kids coding language Scratch, says that coding teaches mathematical and computational thinking in addition to problem solving, design, and communication skills. And author Douglas Rushkoff, in his book “Program or Be Programmed,” argued that coding is the new literacy of the digital age. Just like we learned to write when we learned to read, he argued, humans should learn not only how to use computers but how to program them.

Folks like Resnick and Rushkoff say the coding itself and the skills one gains along the way are valuable for all citizens of future society, not only those who will become computer scientists.

These days, after all, the hardware and software are changing rapidly. Who knows what will be around when my 8-year-old enters the workforce? How should we prepare him? A group in Australia may have found one way.

Over at the Hechinger Report, Annie Murphy Paul profiled a project called Computer Science Unplugged, which uses games, puzzles, and magic tricks to teach concepts of computer science to kids as young as age 5.

“Rather than talking about chips and disks and ROM and RAM,” the organizers wrote, “we want to convey a feeling for the real building blocks of computer science: how to represent information in a computer, how to make computers do things with information, how to make them work efficiently and reliably, how to make them so that people can use them.”

For example:

“Younger children might learn about ‘finite state automata’—sequential sets of choices—by following a pirates’ map, dashing around a playground in search of the fastest route to Treasure Island. Older kids can learn how computers compress text to save storage space by taking it upon themselves to compress the text of a book.”

We’ve done similar work here in Pittsburgh with our Remake Learning Digital Corps, which brings technologists into the community to teach digital literacy skills to kids. The workshop leaders often start with games to get kids to understand computer science concepts before turning to the computers themselves. Ani Martinez, who leads the program for the Sprout Fund said that participants often play “Harold the Robot,” an activity also used by Computer Science Unplugged. In the game, students give instructions to one of their peers pretending to be a robot. They get to see how well the robot is able to follow their instructions and how their instructions are taken literally.

At Elizabeth Forward Middle School, students get to use their bodies and new technology to act out concepts of math and science and to play games at the school’s SMALLab. The Wii-like space uses a ceiling-mounted projector, motion-sensor cameras, and a computer to create a kinesthetic learning environment where kids can learn physics and learn about human computer interaction.

You may also remember the board game Robot Turtles, which made a splash on Kickstarter when it came out in 2013. The game teaches programming fundamentals to kids ages 3 to 8 without using a computer. It’s designed by a software engineer who’s a father and believes teaching his kids “to program a computer is the single greatest superpower I can give them.”

Engineers hope that these kinds of teaching methods will help overcome barriers to teaching and learning computer science: the hardware for one, but also stereotypes that computer science is, as Annie Murphy Paul wrote, boring or geeky or not for girls.

“The biggest challenges for the future,” wrote Resnick in a 2013 article at EdSurge, “are not technological but cultural and educational. Ultimately, what is needed is a shift in mindsets, so that people begin to see coding not only as a pathway to good jobs, but as a new form of expression and a new context for learning.”

Computer Science Unplugged is available for free download at csunplugged.org.

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Can “Innovation Ecosystems” Improve American Schools? http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/05/17611/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/05/17611/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 15:48:45 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17611 It’s a constant challenge: How do you get all the right people—working in their separate silos—to talk with one another to build a better mousetrap?

In education, technology is inspiring kids in new ways. But ed-tech developers struggle to make the app or new tool work in a real classroom, with its time pressures, technology barriers, and district bureaucracy. Teachers know what may work best, but they rarely have the opportunity to collaborate with tech developers.

Meanwhile, both teachers and developers could benefit from smart research about how kids learn, but it’s too often buried in academic journals and never reaches the classroom or the design lab. And more broadly, how do you spur new education technology ventures locally, while ensuring they have a positive impact on kids, not just bottom lines of tech companies?

What’s needed is a system that joins the new ideas with the professional expertise of teachers and administrators, sprinkled liberally with evidence from research on what works and why.

“There is so much good stuff happening in Pittsburgh—good connections between community, researchers, developers, and the school districts,” said Sara Schapiro, director of the League of Innovative Schools at Digital Promise. “It seemed like a natural place to have this convening and launch this work.” Schapiro believes the US Department of Education and Digital Promise could serve as the anchors and “help organize the disparate clusters all over the country.”

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Why Technology Alone Can’t Change Teaching and Learning http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/04/why-technology-alone-cant-change-teaching-and-learning/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/04/why-technology-alone-cant-change-teaching-and-learning/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 16:35:06 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17620 In the past several years, school districts have leapt into 1:1 computing models. Yet some districts have experienced embarrassing problems.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s billion-dollar rollout—the nation’s most expansive and highest-profile attempt to achieve 1:1—hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Dozens of iPads have disappeared, and students have figured out how to hack the devices to access websites intended to be off limits.

Further, the efficacy of the tools and apps on these devices has proved uncertain at best. The same article reported that “in 2009, the Education Department studied how math and reading software influenced student achievement. The study found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was ‘not statistically different from zero.’”

According to a recent Education Week post on the LA rollout, “The major ‘lessons learned’ from the problems, the LAUSD officials said, included recognition of the need to better involve parents in the effort from the outset; focus more heavily on ‘digital citizenship’ training for students, parents, and teachers; and better gauge schools’ readiness before deploying devices.”

To offset these blunders, the LA school district is making some critical changes to the program. The next set of schools to receive digital devices must demonstrate “instructional readiness” and show they’re prepared to “deploy the devices safely.” They’ve partnered with Common Sense Media to develop “digital citizenship lessons” for LA students and parents, with guidelines on media and technology use.

In addition, the LA school system has started thinking beyond Apple and is adding laptops and Google Chromebooks to their collection of iPads, beginning in September. On the other side of the country, a school district has abandoned the laptop idea altogether after a five-year attempt. The Hoboken Public Schools, citing problems similar to LA’s —including theft, breakage, and hacking—recently shelved its 1:1 program.

“Superintendent [Mark] Toback inherited the laptop program when he arrived in 2011. At first, he tried to keep it going,” wrote Jill Barshay in the Hechinger Report.

“But he faced skyrocketing costs, which hadn’t been budgeted for. The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. Toback said new laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each. Licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.”

None of this would likely surprise James Bosco, the principal investigator of a 2013 Consortium for School Networking project titled “Participatory Learning in Schools: Policy and Leadership.”

In an interview with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Bosco explained that computers weren’t the “game changers” in K−12 schools many hoped or assumed they would be.

“The idea was that if we put the devices in schools, they would be a catalyst and good things would happen because the computers were there,” Bosco said. “With some notable exceptions, what happened was that we put the technology in schools and schools continued doing fundamentally the same things, but using computers to do it.”

But it isn’t all gloom and doom. Bosco said he’s identified some districts that “are making serious efforts to keep the promise of what smart use of digital media can do to help us provide productive and engaging learning environments for our kids.”

As Alan November, cofounder of the Stanford Institute for Educational Leadership Through Technology, wrote in “Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing,” “Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement. Unless clear goals across the curriculum—such as the use of math to solve real problems—are articulated at the outset, one-to-one computing becomes ‘spray and pray,’” meaning “‘spray’ on the technology, and then ‘pray’ that you get an increase in learning.”

In November’s view, the question administrators ought to be asking isn’t what to buy, but how to redesign the culture of teaching and learning to effectively support and integrate new technology. A successful 1:1 program would incorporate a digital literacy curriculum and rely on cross-disciplinary cohorts of teachers collaborating on innovative concepts.

That kind of across-the-board effort characterized Leyden High School District 212’s successful 1:1 implementation. The Franklin Park, Illinois, district owes its accomplishment to “full infrastructure and administrative support,” including teachers who overhauled their instructional delivery methods.

That district, by the way, had been working on implementation since 1999, noted Mary Jo Madda in EdSurge.

In the meantime, more than enough cautionary tales will keep cash-strapped school districts from putting the cart—or iPad—before the horse.

Photo/ Massachusetts Secretary of Education

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Can “Innovation Ecosystems” Improve American Schools? http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/03/can-innovation-ecosystems-improve-american-schools/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/03/can-innovation-ecosystems-improve-american-schools/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 04:02:32 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17601 It’s a constant challenge: How do you get all the right people—working in their separate silos—to talk with one another to build a better mousetrap?

In education, technology is inspiring kids in new ways. But ed-tech developers struggle to make the app or new tool work in a real classroom, with its time pressures, technology barriers, and district bureaucracy. Teachers know what may work best, but they rarely have the opportunity to collaborate with tech developers.

Meanwhile, both teachers and developers could benefit from smart research about how kids learn, but it’s too often buried in academic journals and never reaches the classroom or the design lab. And more broadly, how do you spur new education technology ventures locally, while ensuring they have a positive impact on kids, not just bottom lines of tech companies?

What’s needed is a system that joins the new ideas with the professional expertise of teachers and administrators, sprinkled liberally with evidence from research on what works and why.

Until recently, no such system existed.

But now, that’s changing. Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Education Technology at the US Department of Education, has been leading the charge in building such a system—what he calls an “innovation ecosystem” or innovation cluster in education.

The idea is to encourage, promote, and actively support innovation by identifying approaches that have worked to accelerate innovation in other industries—like biotech or open data initiatives—and applying them to education.

Teachers and principals serve as a reality check for ideas that appear promising in theory but may be impractical to implement.

“Although the domain may be very different, the underlying approaches often can still be very effective,” Culatta wrote in an article in Educause. Key to accelerating the pace of innovation will be to coordinate the efforts of many independent projects. That coordination is at the heart of the innovation ecosystem.

In Culatta’s vision of this innovation ecosystem, education, research, and commercial partners collaborate closely. As he wrote in Educause, the education partners “provide an environment where emerging learning technologies can be tested and new solutions can be developed with input from students and instructors.”

Researchers “conduct basic and applied research related to advancing the field of learning science” and “streamline the collection of data and outcomes to conduct ongoing evaluations of the products and approaches developed in the cluster.” Further, commercial partners “provide investment capital” and “bring to market applied research.” The loop is completed when the teachers and principals “serve as a reality check for ideas that appear promising in theory but may be impractical to implement.”

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

Culatta cited Pittsburgh as an example of a city or region with a thriving education innovation cluster. Partnerships between local foundations and Carnegie Mellon University, among other organizations, have resulted in grants and business incubators that drive learning innovation. The Kids+Creativity and Hive Pittsburgh join together museums, educators, scientists, and artists to work together in new and specific ways.

In early August, a group of newly formed and more mature education innovation clusters came together for a two-day meeting in Pittsburgh. Hosted by Digital Promise in partnership with The Sprout Fund, the conference offered participants an opportunity to share best practices, strategize, and learn more about the model Pittsburgh is building for education innovation.

“There is so much good stuff happening in Pittsburgh—good connections between community, researchers, developers, and the school districts,” said Sara Schapiro, director of the League of Innovative Schools at Digital Promise. “It seemed like a natural place to have this convening and launch this work.” Schapiro believes the US Department of Education and Digital Promise could serve as the anchors and “help organize the disparate clusters all over the country.”

EdInnovationConveningAccording to Culatta, the centrality of a shared vision was one of the most important ideas to emerge from the gathering. Each stakeholder may be working on different parts of the challenge, he said, but when as a region they have shared goals for what they’re trying to accomplish, “all of a sudden they’re not just working on similar coexisting problems, they’re actually collaborating and supporting each other’s work.”

Representatives of Rhode Island’s nascent education innovation cluster attended the August convening to help them identify goals and next steps, one of which is fostering cross-district communication.

“We have a great organic system here, where many educators and administrators have begun integrating technology and working with universities, but we haven’t created a structure to coordinate that,” explained Paula Dillon, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment at Barrington Public Schools.

She identified a program at the Highlander Institute as one representing the kind of collaboration she’d like to encourage in her region. At Highlander, teachers and other district representative receive training in integrating technology into the classroom.

Dillon said Pittsburgh’s mix of businesses and universities reminded her of Rhode Island, and she hopes her region can emulate and benefit from some of the best practices already in place there.

The Baltimore region’s education innovation cluster is a bit further along than Rhode Island’s, but the former focuses more on the technology and commercial aspects. EdTech Maryland, a consortium of 17 tech incubators, is in the process of attaining nonprofit status and becoming a formal organization.

The group hopes to become a broker for ed tech companies and districts. Districts working on a specific app or tool would be able to partner with schools for pilot programs, and schools looking for specific tools would be connected with appropriate research or development teams.

Allovue, a web-based integrated financial data system for schools, is an example of the kind of ed tech innovator that EdTech Maryland hopes to support in the region. The Baltimore Business Journal reported that the company secured $600,000 in seed funding in 2013. Allovue also completed a pilot program in five Baltimore public schools last year, with help from EdTech Maryland.

EdInnovationConvening

Richard Culatta/ Photo: Ben Filio

Katrina Stevens of EdTech Maryland, who also attended the Pittsburgh gathering, explained that her area is ripe for this kind of organization. “We’re small enough that we can get to know all the players and collaborate,” she said. “It really does influence how you can get things done.”

Despite the cluster’s focus on business development, Stevens stressed that EdTech Maryland wants to nurture companies that “really get what happens in the classroom” and that are seeking a “double bottom line,” profit and social good.

“I spent my first 20 years in schools, first as a teacher and then as a principal,” Stevens said. “My perspective is deeply rooted in what’s good for schools and kids. For me it’s crucial that, however the pilot turns out for the company, it has to be positive for the school.”

Part of that, Culatta says, is ensuring that research gets into the loop. “There’s really good educational research happening, but it’s not getting into the hands of teachers, students, and parents in ways that allow them to make a difference,” Culatta said.

To Culatta, the power of education innovation clusters is that they can ensure that the innovations actually move the needle on school improvement by bringing disparate groups together that currently are working independently. “If you have research showing that this is not working or people saying, ‘We’re using this, and it doesn’t help solve this problem,’ you know that before anything gets out of the gate.” The process results in “a higher level of reliability of the tools and services that are coming out of a region.”

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There’s an App for That http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/29/17563/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/29/17563/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:33:25 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17563 For the last two years, a team of rookie developers at South Fayette High School has been toiling away at a special app for tablets. Working with Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Ananda Gunawardena,the group’s app lets students answer math flashcards with a pen or stylus. Although that’s impressive enough, the team just nabbed first place in the Congressional STEM App Challenge for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district.

The project began as a spinoff of Mobile App Lab, an afterschool program started at Winchester Thurston School that has branched out to four additional schools.

There’s no shortage of apps for iOS or Android devices. But educators and students likely have different problems and perspectives from many techie app developers. For teachers, developing an app is a chance to customize a solution for a specific problem they deal with day to day. Further, when students build apps, it empowers them to switch from consumer of technology to creator, and it gives them a tool to solve the problems they see in the world.

Sibling team Ima, Asha, and Caleb Christian said they were talking constantly with their parents about the protests erupting in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown. The incident prompted the three to roll out a beta version app, called Five-O, which they’d already been working on for months. The app lets users document and rate interactions with the police. It has a “Know Your Rights” section in a Q&A format and message boards for community organizing. The app garnered national media attention, with Good Magazine calling it the most comprehensive app designed for police interactions that’s out there today.

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There’s an App for That http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/28/theres-an-app-for-that/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/28/theres-an-app-for-that/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 04:43:05 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17550 For the last two years, a team of rookie developers at South Fayette High School has been toiling away at a special app for tablets. Working with Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Ananda Gunawardena,the group’s app lets students answer math flashcards with a pen or stylus. Although that’s impressive enough, the team just nabbed first place in the Congressional STEM App Challenge for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district.

The project began as a spinoff of Mobile App Lab, an afterschool program started at Winchester Thurston School that has branched out to four additional schools.

There’s no shortage of apps for iOS or Android devices. But educators and students likely have different problems and perspectives from many techie app developers. For teachers, developing an app is a chance to customize a solution for a specific problem they deal with day to day. Further, when students build apps, it empowers them to switch from consumer of technology to creator, and it gives them a tool to solve the problems they see in the world.

For example, frustrated by how educational videos lacked interactivity, middle school teacher Benjamin Levy founded eduCanon, a platform that lets teachers build questions and responses into online videos.

“It’s not until you’re in the classroom that you realize and really understand the pain points,” he recently told Marketplace in an article highlighting a mix of teachers who have created tools for editing essays, sharing lesson plans, or keeping kids walking while learning.

Whereas teachers’ apps often revolve around solving learning-related problems, students’ apps span as wide as their interests and passions.

Sibling team Ima, Asha, and Caleb Christian said they were talking constantly with their parents about the protests erupting in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown. The incident prompted the three to roll out a beta version app, called Five-O, which they’d already been working on for months. The app lets users document and rate interactions with the police. It has a “Know Your Rights” section in a Q&A format and message boards for community organizing. The app garnered national media attention, with Good Magazine calling it the most comprehensive app designed for police interactions that’s out there today.

“[Our parents] always try to reinforce that we should focus on solutions,” Ima Christian told Business Insider. “It’s important to talk about the issues, but they try to make us focus on finding solutions. That made us think, ‘Why don’t we create an app to help us solve this problem?’”

Sixteen-year-old Nick Rubin also created a tool for a problem he saw: the public’s lack of knowledge about campaign contributions. After installing his Greenhouse browser plug-in, users reading news stories can scroll over a congressional candidate’s name and a box pops up showing exactly how much money the candidate has collected from specific industries.

Back in Pittsburgh, as part of a final project last year, high school student Jason Stofko developed a mobile safety app specifically for Seton Hill University where his father works. The app lets students request a safety escort, sign up for alerts, and report safety concerns. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his work on the app not only allowed him to pick up three other coding languages to finish the job, it taught him self-motivation and determination to follow through on a long-term project.

Teaching kids like Jason that they can be creators of technology, rather than only consumers, is part of the inspiration for MAD-learn, which provides templates and software to introduce kids to app development. The apps kids have already made range from how to care for a Goldendoodle to rainbow loom instructions. Sure, a student’s first app may be only a schedule for a local movie theater, but developing simple apps begins honing skills that could develop in a million different ways.

“Young people today have lots of experienceand lots of familiarity with interacting with new technologies,but a lot less so of creating with new technologiesand expressing themselves with new technologies,” said Mitch Resnick, one of the developers of Scratch at the MIT Media Lab, in his TedxBeaconStreet talk. “It’s almost as if they can readbut not write with new technologies.”

Resnick explained the coding is like a language, and being “fluent” opens opportunities to express yourself just as you would with a spoken language. So much of what kids will face in life has to do with problem solving, and it appears learning app-building skills has given them one more way to carve out their own solutions.

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Why Grit and Perseverance May Be Just As Important As #STEM Skills http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/26/why-grit-and-perseverance-may-be-just-as-important-as-stem-skills/ http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/26/why-grit-and-perseverance-may-be-just-as-important-as-stem-skills/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:27:36 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?p=17506 Earlier this month, we mentioned 10-year-old Damian, who’s spent chunks of his summer at the Hilltop YMCA honing his animation skills and learning about Hummingbird. By the time the new school year rolls around, Damian will have a solid grasp of basic programming and coding skills, whereas other kids around the city have been experimenting with roller coasters and tinkering with electronics.

But spending time in afterschool and summer programs has value in addition to those specific STEM skills kids are picking up. This unstructured time can instill perseverance, curiosity, collaboration, and many other positive habits of mind. Heading into a school year filled with Scantrons and math homework, it’s important to remember how critical character traits like these are for shaping kids’ futures as well—and how robust learning networks can help kids strengthen these skills.

As David Brooks recently wrote in the New York Times, research has consistently shown that these habits of mind formed in childhood have a big effect on success into adulthood. “Character development,” he wrote, is “an idiosyncratic, mysterious process.” However, Brooks claimed ignoring character development altogether in programs and policies doesn’t consider people as complex humans affected by more than only economic structures.

Brooks pointed to Walter Mischel’s well-known marshmallow experiment that demonstrated “delayed gratification skills learned by age 4 produce important benefits into adulthood.” He also mentioned Carol Dweck’s seminal research that examined how people who think intelligence is a fixed, innate trait are more prone to giving up because of setbacks. Meanwhile, people with a “growth mindset,” or those who believe ability is something they can gain through effort and education, are more likely to persevere.

And we’ve talkedtechshop-pittsburgh-maker-mindset about Angela Duckworth’s research before, which explored how grit and self-control can predict success much more than talent or ability can. Duckworth defined grit as the “tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” and her work has found self-discipline predicts academic performance more accurately than IQ does.

Journalist Paul Tough dove into the subject of character in his 2012 book, “How Children Succeed.” He argued that our society tends to believe that cognitive abilities—the kinds measured in IQ tests—largely determine success. But an evolving body of education research continues to find that’s not really the whole story.

“What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help [students] develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence,” he wrote. “Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.”

Tough explained that although affluent kids are often overprotected from adversity, kids from low-income families face the opposite: more pressing problems, innumerable obstacles, and no safety net. For these kids, the stakes for developing these traits early are particularly high. In his book, Tough spoke to Jeff Nelson, cofounder of OneGoal, a three-year college persistence program in Chicago and Houston that focuses on noncognitive skills in the context of a rigorous college prep curriculum.

“Noncognitive skills like resilience and resourcefulness and grit are highly predictive of success in college,” Nelson told Tough. “And they can help our students compensate for some of the inequality they have faced in the education system.”

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the “grit narrative” or the discussion of character development in general. Too often, the discussion suggests that disadvantaged kids need only more determination to overcome the enormously unequal obstacles in our education system. However, focusing on character shouldn’t be a distraction from efforts to fix an unequal system that requires low-income kids to have more grit to unlock the same opportunities their affluent peers have. But it seems persistence is a key ingredient to any success story, and teaching kids from all backgrounds that their abilities can change with hard work is still a valuable goal for both schools and learning networks.

Pittsburgh’s Cities of Learning network includes character as an important aspect of its badge system rolled out this year. This summer, each participating organization offered a disposition badge along with a skill and knowledge badge. For example, TechShop Pittsburgh offered a “Maker Mindset” badge that youth earn, in part, by describing an instance when they learned from a mistake. Meanwhile, youth earned “Passionate Perseverance” badges from The Ellis School by demonstrating a willingness iterate and solve setbacks in design challenges.

Remake Learning will keep working to promote badges that recognize dispositions. Of course, specific skills like robotics or digital filmmaking open up opportunities for kids down the line. But matched with strong, determined character traits, kids are more likely to be fully equipped to use the “hard” skills to their full potential.

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Beyond Counting http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/22/17365/ http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/22/17365/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:30:19 +0000 http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17365 Many may think preschool is too young to learn any “real math.” Not so, according to the National Science Foundation, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), and the Fred Rogers Company.

The three are teaming up to provide hands-on professional development to Head Start teachers using the new PBS Fred Rogers Company show Peg + CAT.

Early childhood experts say high-quality and challenging math education for 3- to 6-year-olds can build on kids’ natural inclination to explore, tinker, and ask questions. And, research shows math knowledge in prekindergarten is actually the highest predictor of later academic success.

Exposing children to STEM concepts in early childhood teaches them to have confidence in STEM fields and helps them fight harmful notions that often prevent children from pursuing their science- and math-based interests. “Girls aren’t’ good at math,” for example.

“The earlier you catch them, the better off they are,” Claire Caine, an elementary school technology instructor told Lisa Guernsey in the New York Times. In her classroom, Caine has been testing out ScratchJr, a new programming language designed for kindergarten students. “The idea that they might not be good at something hasn’t entered their mind yet,” she said.

Yet preschool teachers, like many of us, may not feel confident in their ability to teach conceptual math and may not feel comfortable integrating math concepts into their classrooms in ways that go beyond simple counting.

That’s where the Early Learning of Math through Media project comes in, which is partially designed to increase early childhood educators’ confidence and efficacy in teaching mathematics.

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