Remake Learning http://remakelearning.org Thu, 02 Oct 2014 06:17:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 October is Connected Educator Month http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/02/october-is-connected-educator-month/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=18159 Thu, 02 Oct 2014 05:14:43 +0000

October is Connected Educator Month

The digital era has opened a world of opportunities to help educators network with peers—to compare practices, share resources, and drive innovation.

Photo/ Ben Filio
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.

]]>
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/?p=17964 Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:03:47 +0000

How Classroom Design Can Engage Learners—a Lesson from Finland

How a local school principal is finding inspiration from some of the highest-performing schools around the globe.

Pittsburgh Principal Yarra Howze found inspiration for the design of her school on a visit to Helsinki. Photo/ Ben Filio

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.

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for September 26th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/26/18008/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=18008 Fri, 26 Sep 2014 13:47:01 +0000

The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement

How maker learning might work for Common Core; Educating parents about education; How having a "hacker mindset" can lead to innovation; 8 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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.

]]>
Creating “Innovation Ecosystems” to Improve US Schools http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/25/creating-innovation-ecosystems-to-improve-us-schools/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17962 Thu, 25 Sep 2014 17:20:16 +0000

Creating “Innovation Ecosystems” to Improve US Schools

Cities are forging partnerships among ed-tech developers, teachers, and researchers to raise the bar on education innovation.

Photo/ Ben Filio

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.

 

 

 

]]>
The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/22/the-common-core-meets-the-maker-movement/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17923 Mon, 22 Sep 2014 19:11:57 +0000

The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement

How do maker projects jibe with the requirements of the new Common Core?

World Maker Faire. Photo/ Bill Benzon

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.

 

Photo/ Bill Benzon

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for September 21st http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/21/17813/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17813 Sun, 21 Sep 2014 17:09:12 +0000

How Arts Education Can Help Today’s Students Become Critical, Creative Thinkers

Using arts education alongside STEM to create critical, creative thinkers; Reflections from the White House Education Game Jam; Q&A with Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan; 15 new upcoming events & opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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.

]]>
Your STEM Back to School Reading List http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/18/your-stem-back-to-school-reading-list/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17810 Thu, 18 Sep 2014 17:15:12 +0000

Your STEM Back to School Reading List

As the school year gets underway, there is growing attention on the importance of STEM learning for our students and our economy. Here are (at least) seven readings to get you up to speed.

Photo/ Enokson

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

]]>
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/?p=17796 Tue, 16 Sep 2014 21:14:45 +0000

How Arts Education Can Help Today’s Students Become Critical, Creative Thinkers

Arts leaders gather in Pittsburgh for the Arts Education Partnership National Forum.

Photo/ Alec Couros

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.

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for September 12th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/12/17723/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17723 Fri, 12 Sep 2014 13:28:26 +0000

Teaching Kids to Think Like Computer Scientists, Without Using Computers

Computer science education is good for more than just computer scientists; Why where learning takes places matters; Pittsburgh schools to cut K-5 standardized testing by almost half; 15 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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.

]]>
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/?p=17716 Thu, 11 Sep 2014 04:53:26 +0000

Mozilla’s Maker Parties Teach Web to the World

Pittsburgh’s Mozilla Maker Party was one of thousands of parties held around the globe this summer teaching web literacy to average citizens through hands-on maker projects.

Pittsburgh's Hive Maker Party/ Photo: Ben Filio
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.”

]]>
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/?p=17661 Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:40:40 +0000

Teaching Kids to Think Like Computer Scientists, Without Using Computers

Technology is changing faster than many of us can blink. But the need for a grounding in computational thinking is here to stay.

Learning to think logically, one game at a time / Photo: Jeremy Zerbe

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.

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for September 5th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/09/05/17611/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17611 Fri, 05 Sep 2014 15:48:45 +0000

Can “Innovation Ecosystems” Improve American Schools?

Translating digital learning tools from the lab to the classroom; Why technology alone can't change teaching; Taking a look inside the gamification trend; 8 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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.”

]]>
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/?p=17620 Thu, 04 Sep 2014 16:35:06 +0000

Why Technology Alone Can’t Change Teaching and Learning

Schools are wise to think before adopting 1:1 computing models; rather, they should consider digital citizenship training and instructional readiness.

Photo/ Massachusetts Secretary of Education

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

]]>
Can “Innovation Ecosystems” Improve American Schools? http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/09/03/can-innovation-ecosystems-improve-american-schools/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17601 Wed, 03 Sep 2014 04:02:32 +0000

Can “Innovation Ecosystems” Improve American Schools?

The US Department of Education is pushing to accelerate the pace of innovation inside public schools. Coordination and collaboration, they say, are the keys to doing that.

Photo/ Massachusetts Secretary of Education
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.”

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for August 29th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/29/17563/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17563 Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:33:25 +0000

There’s an App for That

South Fayette students win Congressional award for app building; Why grit and perseverance matter just as much as STEM skills; New community center in Homewood revitalizes block and gives kids a place to invent; 7 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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.

]]>
There’s an App for That http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/28/theres-an-app-for-that/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17550 Thu, 28 Aug 2014 04:43:05 +0000

There’s an App for That

This fall, teachers and students are taking app making into their own hands.

Photo/ Ben Filio

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.

]]>
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/?p=17506 Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:27:36 +0000

Why Grit and Perseverance May Be Just As Important As #STEM Skills

As we head back to school, helping kids develop character traits like persistence and confidence may be just as critical as the “hard” STEM skills when it comes to success down the line.

Mobile Makeshop session at Millvale Community Library / Photo: Ben Filio
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.

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for August 22nd http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/22/17365/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17365 Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:30:19 +0000

Beyond Counting

Preschoolers learn math; Kids+Creativity making a difference at home and internationally; South Fayette High School wins Congressional award; 7 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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.

]]>
Badging the “Soft” Skills http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/20/badging-the-soft-skills/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17399 Wed, 20 Aug 2014 18:22:09 +0000

Badging the “Soft” Skills

For 21st century learners, skills like patience and problem solving are proving just as critical as technical know-how.

The Pittsburgh Park Conservancy awarded "Young Naturalist” badges for keen scientific observation. Photo/ Ben Filio
All summer, kids in the four cities that make up the Cities of Learning movement have been collecting digital badges for skills they’ve picked up at makerspaces, libraries, and other amazing informal learning spaces in their communities. Or as writer Nancy Scola at NextCity recently explained, badges are “giving kids an evidence-based way to complete their obligatory ‘What I Did This Summer’ assignments.”

Although organizations’ badges are often awarded based on technical skills, such as laser engraving or microphone fundamentals, organizations also offer “dispositional” badges for demonstrating certain “habits of mind” or “soft” skills picked up along the way. For example, when building a mountain dulcimer, patience and problem solving are just as critical as the technical skills involved.

But what, exactly, does a dispositional badge look like?

TechShop is offering a “Maker Mindset” badge that rewards kids for learning to think like a maker. Earning the badge means the learner has started approaching problems with an engineer mentality while engaging in the entire making process. That emphasis is different than, say, TechShop’s “High Voltage Power” badge, which shows that the learner knows how a Tesla coil works.

The Labs at Carnegie Library is holding a mix of photo, electronics, and installation art workshops. But teens and tweens earn “The Labs Regular” badge when they consistently engage with The Labs and become part of the community. Youth obtain the badge only after they’ve made a habit of seeking learning opportunities in the space.

The same goes for the “Young Naturalist” badge offered by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Kids earn the badge by recording thoughts and observations in nature journals and studying plants, animals, and nature’s processes through keen scientific observation.

Ideally, these badges are more than only summer trophies, such as scraped knees and sunburns. Because of the way the digital infrastructure was carefully designed, badges can follow kids for life.

TechShop is offering a “Maker Mindset” badge that rewards kids for learning to think like a maker.

“It’s an online symbol that you have acquired a particular competency,” said Khalif Ali, the program manager of the Badges for Learning project at the Sprout Fund. “And the metadata in the badges is verifiable because there might a be a link to a YouTube video of a you building a desk or facilitating a meeting. It’s a permanent record of what you’ve achieved.”

In other words, even if a kid doesn’t have a shining GPA or has never touched a pair of soccer cleats, badges could one day illustrate the spot-on video production chops or passion for robotics he or she has honed for years.

Of course, several questions remain about how and when colleges and employers will use badges as certification. So although using badges on a large-scale may be down the road, a few universities, such as Purdue, DePaul, and Carnegie Mellon, have already integrated badges with their admissions processes and curriculum. Plus, the number of badge-issuing organizations has ballooned at super speed. In March 2013, Mozilla estimated there were 98 badge issuers and approximately 1,000 badges. In 2014, those numbers have grown to 2,200 issuers and 250,000 badges.

Some educators behind the scenes of the Cities of Learning project are already thinking about how this summer will set the stage for using badges in the future.

“We’re focusing on badging these particular programs this summer and I think it’s going to be a good way to figure out how best to do this going forward and speak to the skills teens are picking up in our space—everything from filmmaking to graphic design,” said Corey Wittig, the digital learning librarian for Carnegie Library, in a ConnectedLearning.tv webinar earlier this summer.

Of the growing number of badges here in Pittsburgh and nationally, dispositional ones are particularly unique because “soft” skills are enormously valuable to employers but trickier to assess than are technical skills. (If technical skills were all employers needed, an interview wouldn’t hold the weight it does.) The ACT offers a test designed for employers to measure soft skills. But a test can’t paint a picture vivid enough to match a “backpack” filled with badges demonstrating all the activities that have required teamwork, problem solving, adaptability, and initiative to complete.

Not long ago, the only documentation of a learning-filled summer was a pizza coupon from the library if you successfully checked out one book per week. (Or was that just me?) This fall, though, when Pittsburgh’s kids file back into classrooms, they’ll have a 21st-century method to prove the modern skills they spent the summer learning.

]]>
The next big ideas for Pittsburgh [NEXTpittsburgh] http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/18/big-ideas-nextpgh/ http://www.sproutfund.org/?p=17417 Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:01:44 +0000

The next big ideas for Pittsburgh [NEXTpittsburgh]

NEXTPittsburgh recently featured profiles of four local people helping bring big ideas to life in the city, and Sprout's Cathy Lewis Long is one of them.

Cathy Lewis Long, Sprout Fund / Photo: Peter Leeman

NEXTPittsburgh recently featured profiles of four local people helping bring big ideas to life in the city, and Sprout’s own Cathy Lewis Long is one of them.

Youth engagement, The Sprout Fund’s Cathy Lewis Long agrees, is what it’s all about.

“Pittsburgh builds off a spirit of innovation,” she says. “We think about pathways. We have a willingness to work together, to test new things, to work outside the box, to deliver dividends.”

On her plate now — the game changer — is the Pittsburgh Kids+Creativity Network.

Calling on regional leaders, youth workers, engineers, artists, et. al., they’re asking what sets of tools will people need for the future? “What will drive the body of knowledge,” Long asks, “what innovative spaces and knowledge sharing?”

The goal, she says, is learning not education. The latter, Long says, is school, and institutional. The former, is personal and holistic. “Learning doesn’t end at 3:00,” she says. “Learning does not end with a degree. Learning is lifelong.”

And it’s all-encompassing, academic, peer, and social. “We’re working to support connective learning,” she says, “to harness resources in the community, to create relationships without school-connected activities.

“The next step,” Long continues, “is credentialing this informal learning.”

One way is with digital badges, indications that capture competency, skills, and knowledge. “If employers need a particular set of skills, we can create that pathway. That will mean more access and equity than traditional education. Which is especially good for kids who spend a lot of time out of school. Especially for such 21st-century skills as digital literacy.

“The great part of this,” Long adds, “is that it meets kids where they are. It sparks their imagination and provides learning experiences they need to succeed.

“Pittsburgh can become a national — an international — leader in this,” she adds. “Re-Imagining classrooms — the intersection of tech, science, and art. It’s a game changer.”

Check out the rest of the article, including interviews with Julie Pezzino of Grow Pittsburgh, Audrey Russo of the Pittsburgh Tech Council, and Ilana Diamond of Alpha Lab Gear on NEXTPittsburgh’s website, here.

]]>
Beyond Counting: Encouraging Preschool Teachers to Help Young Children Think Math http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/18/beyond-counting-encouraging-preschool-teachers-to-help-young-children-think-math/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17402 Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:45:39 +0000

Beyond Counting: Encouraging Preschool Teachers to Help Young Children Think Math

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.

Screenshot/ PBS Kids

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.

The Early Learning of Math through Media project is designed to increase early childhood educators’ confidence and efficacy in teaching math.

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.

The project uses Peg + Cat episodes as a platform to illustrate both age-appropriate math content (e.g., sorting, counting, patterns, and data) and to teach that anyone can love to learn math. Like the show, which is about a young girl—Peg—and her sidekick—Cat—who solve problems, the professional development sessions have important overarching messages: “math is everywhere;” “all people can learn mathematics;” and “math learning begins early in life and should be both supported and encouraged.”

“It’s a great platform to build deeper understanding and confidence among these early educators,” Nancy Bunt, the program director for the AIU’s Math and Science Collaborative, wrote in an email. The teachers engaged in math activities and observed videos of children learning. They discussed how to recognize developing stages in learning trajectories of key math concepts, as well as what questions and activities can help to support growth and understanding.

It’s also important to improve math instruction in the United States. Michael Teitelbaum, author of “Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent,” recently told an audience at the Brookings Institution that one reason for the shortage of STEM workers today (and why we’re importing talent from abroad) is because of the “mediocre K−12 system and declining student interest.” Only the elite public and private schools, he said, excel in math and science instruction, adding to the rising inequality among schools, and in life. Florida Governor Rick Scott is so worried about falling behind that he wants to offer teachers summer internships at high-tech companies like Modernizing Medicine in Boca Raton, paid for by the state.

“They’ll come here and work for the summer and they’ll go back and inspire their students,” he said.

In July, the first group of Head Start educators in Allegheny County began the training, which will take place for two years—with some educators attending in the summer and some during the school year. The program will eventually be training all of the Head Start teachers in Allegheny County, which includes 42 school districts in addition to the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Themes include the different ways people learn, the nature of high-level tasks, and formative assessment of students.

Teachers were introduced to several pieces of the Common Core State Standards, including the importance of the nature of student and teacher discourse, the value of multiple representations, and the key role of collaboration.

The new instructional approach in Common Core math is getting nationwide attention from comedians and policymakers for its more conceptual aims.

As Motoko Rich wrote in the New York Times last month, the new math “seeks to help children understand and use it as a problem-solving tool instead of teaching them merely to repeat formulas over and over. They are also being asked to apply concepts to real-life situations and explain their reasoning.

This is partly because employers are increasingly asking for workers who can think critically and partly because traditional ways of teaching math have yielded lackluster results.”

Innovative projects like Early Learning of Math through Media hope that getting early educators helping kids think mathematically from an early age can help.

A family engagement component trains teachers on how to encourage families to teach math at home and will offer take-home math activities. The program is being evaluated by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. They will be measuring whether participating educators learned new math or extended their existing knowledge of math, whether they increased their confidence in math, how well the project worked with families, and whether using media along with professional development enabled teachers to enhance kids’ interests in math.

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for August 8th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/08/17299/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17299 Fri, 08 Aug 2014 14:18:19 +0000

Digital Corps Empowers Youth to Master the Digital Landscape

Digital Corps works to empower youth with out-of-classroom tech learning; LeVar Burton talks about opening books and opening minds; Pittsburgh Maker Party a hit with hundreds of parents and kids; 7 new upcoming events & opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

The Hilltop YMCA appears, from the outside, a regular office building, small and brown and clinging to the hills of Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood. Inside, however, the space booms with energy as children move between various programs held in the orange and green rooms atop the South Side Slopes. Since this YMCA site is a free meal distribution location, kids come in for lunch and snack, are intrigued by the flat screen televisions and gaming systems, and stick around for classes on cell-phone repair or robotics.

Tuesday afternoons, the older kids are learning programming and coding via the Remake Learning Digital Corps, a group of mobile digital learning mentors visiting out-of-school time (OST) learning sites throughout the city to bring digital literacy skills to tweens and teens.

The Corps, a program of The Sprout Fund, is one response to the reality that today’s youth spend up to 8 hours per day engaging in digital media, and a recognition of the important role programming, coding, and basic robotics play in education, the workforce, and life.

In order to remake the learning process, the Corps discusses the ways lessons are being delivered in Digital Corps workshops. [Professor Tom] Akiva has noticed a tension between offering structured, how-to lessons about the digital tools versus presenting open-ended projects as a way for students to learn. The Digital Corps is designed to engage students in ways traditional school environments cannot, but at the same time wants to effectively deliver the information so the students can build their digital literacy.

]]>
Digital Corps Empowers Youth to Master the Digital Landscape http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/07/digital-corps-feature/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17200 Thu, 07 Aug 2014 13:20:50 +0000

Digital Corps Empowers Youth to Master the Digital Landscape

The Digital Corps is building a network of talented teachers of technology that are helping Pittsburgh youth take digital literacy to the next level.

A Digital Corps session at The Maker's Place / Photo: Ben Filio

The Hilltop YMCA appears, from the outside, a regular office building, small and brown and clinging to the hills of Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood. Inside, however, the space booms with energy as children move between various programs held in the orange and green rooms atop the South Side Slopes. Since this YMCA site is a free meal distribution location, kids come in for lunch and snack, are intrigued by the flat screen televisions and gaming systems, and stick around for classes on cell-phone repair or robotics.

Tuesday afternoons, the older kids are learning programming and coding via the Remake Learning Digital Corps, a group of mobile digital learning mentors visiting out-of-school time (OST) learning sites throughout the city to bring digital literacy skills to tweens and teens.

The Corps, a program of The Sprout Fund, is one response to the reality that today’s youth spend up to 8 hours per day engaging in digital media, and a recognition of the important role programming, coding, and basic robotics play in education, the workforce, and life.

 

What is Digital Literacy?

 

Ani Martinez, Program Associate at The Sprout Fund / Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf

Ani Martinez / Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf

“Digital literacy” can encompass everything from word processing skills to online privacy to advanced lessons in coding. These skills are becoming increasingly essential for success in higher education and the workforce, and yet Remake Learning Digital Corps program manager Ani Martinez observes “there is a deficit of mentors or educators with digital literacy training, across the board from formal education to informal learning environments.”

The Internet abounds with pre-made curricula to teach and learn digital literacy skills. But, some of these teaching tools overload kids with options or else are very finicky–if someone misses a semicolon along the way, the entire program doesn’t work and users wind up frustrated. Martinez wanted the curriculum for the Digital Corps to provide a foundation in digital literacies so youth can then take their skills in whichever direction they chose. She says, “We want our classes to be studio classes, where students get an introduction to a skill and then immediately, in the same session, learn by doing,” so it became important to select course material that could quickly translate to hands-on project work.

In its first year, the Digital Corps offered a sampling of four digital tools:

Scratch is free, open-source programming software developed by the MIT Media Lab for 8-16 year olds to create and share interactive stories, animation, games, and more. This will help young people learn the basics of programming.

App Inventor is a free open-source software kit created by MIT Media Lab that enables learners to build apps for Android devices. App Inventor uses a framework of “building blocks” that can be assembled into apps and games that can be tested instantly on Android mobile devices or with a built in Android emulator.

Building from this, Thimble is a free Mozilla Webmaker application that allows learners to easily design their own web pages. So, youth will develop skills in html and CSS languages.

Hummingbird Robotics Kit

Hummingbird Robotics Kit

Finally, the Corps teaches Hummingbird, which is a no-experience-necessary robotics kit designed locally by folks with BirdBrain Technologies at CMU. Hummingbird provides the physical technology to let a computer interact in some way with the physical world. Users learn about circuits, light, and motion to create projects like kinetic sculpture or animatronics from craft supplies, and it’s compatible with many programs. Scratch is one of them! Which brings the workshops full circle.

In addition, the Digital Corps workshops emphasize troubleshooting and collaborative learning. Martinez says, “learning by doing is a great method to get students asking questions, learning to troubleshoot, and figuring things out together.” The workshops not only teach technical skills, but also foster 21st Century Skill-development, teaching kids how critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity are interconnected. Digital Corps students learn to ask questions (of each other and of instructors), use Google to find an answer, or delve into the network of Scratch projects created by others to find bugs in their own program. The Corps members also model collaboration by working in pairs or small teams to introduce the material.

Once mentors are accepted into the Digital Corps program, they enter a training program to help familiarize them with the digital tools, but more importantly allow the group at large to collaborate on best teaching practices so they can deliver more effective learning experiences and support positive youth development. The training sessions are hands-on, a model of the “learn by doing” style the Corps aims to present to the youth participants. Corps members are team-taught by people familiar with the tools–these leaders range from a teenaged Scratch expert to roboticist Tom Lauwers, who created the Hummingbird tool.

Meet the Digital Corps Members

Martinez recruited members from throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region. The members are paid for their time spent teaching with the Corps, and although their training is unpaid the program offers attractive professional development opportunities for folks interested in facilitating out-of-school learning opportunities. After receiving 85 applications from artists, librarians, technologies, formal educators, roboticists, and even teenagers, the program selected 50 people to receive training as Digital Corps members.

One member, Mike Elliot, works as a media engineer for an audiovisual company. With a master’s degree in audio education, he’s had a lot of experience writing tutorials and teaching these skills to learners of all ages. While he was familiar with programming and coding, he’d never taught these skills. When he saw the Digital Corps call for member applications, he felt drawn to the opportunity to hone his skills and work with young people.

Scratch training at Hilltop Computer Center / Photo: Norton Gusky

Classes at the Hilltop YMCA / Photo: Norton Gusky

Elliot now teaches Digital Corps workshops at the Hilltop Y, along with Greg Cala, an engineer with a software company focusing on industrial automation, and Marilyn Narey, who teaches at Duquesne University’s masters in education program.

The trio represents a blend of experience typical of the Digital Corps members placed in the various host sites. Cala and Elliot are experienced coders and programmers, while Narey has long been interested in educating educators, studying effective ways of learning in and outside of school.

Cala explains that the Digital Corps training sessions were so informative and the digital tools so useful that he has integrated Hummingbird into his work developing curriculum for industrial clients who come to him for instruction.

He says, “They’re going to be getting a better experience in class than they do currently with the standard curriculum. They’re not going to be building cardboard robots–these tools let our clients build automated control systems, measure pressures, analyze temperatures…they’ll be using this tool to affect overall manufacturing processes. This training has been amazing for me in my own work.”

Regular round-table sessions allow the Corps members to come together to discuss curriculum challenges, like how to plan workshops for the Hilltop Y, where one week might bring 30 students and the following has just a few teens show up.

Narey says, “We’re learning that the pre-built curriculum we studied is just a guide for us, that we have to figure out what the specific kids need at our host site.”

Corps members learn to work with both the young learners and the adults who facilitate the host site programming. Some hosts, like Hilltop Y director Nic Jaramillo, are well-versed in the tools the Digital Corps is presenting and can already help the teens throughout the week if they continue working on skills. Others are learning to use the digital tools for the first time.

Martinez says, “We want our Corps members to feel comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know, let’s figure it out together,’ both when they are learning and teaching.” Since problem-solving skills are a vital component of the program, Martinez encourages asking questions and collaborating with others (regardless of age or role) to find solutions.

Visiting Digital Corps Host Sites

The Digital Corps partnered with a group called Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time (APOST) to find potential sites to pilot the digital literacy workshops. Martinez sought sites that have forged lasting relationships with their community, had a certain level of infrastructure and equipment on site, and served an audience of tweens and teens.

Patrice Gerard / Photo: Ani Martinez

The Hilltop Y is one of 25 host sites throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Program Coordinator Patrice Gerard points out that the Knoxville community has limited parental involvement and neighborhood children have few options most summer days. Apart from some structured day camps or short-term programs, the kids had tended to loiter at Rite Aid.

As a technology center (no gym or basketball courts at this YMCA), the Hilltop site offers everything from Minecraft clubs to a program called RoboKids, focusing on Hummingbird. The Digital Corps workshops seemed a perfect complement to the site’s existing programming, where Jaramillo says their space also offers a lot of unstructured time for youth to use the equipment under supervision from a team of AmeriCorps volunteers.

At Jaramillo’s site, the Digital Corps workshops represent one sliver of a vast pie of tech-based course offerings. Gerard remarks that the local youth is already familiar with technology and “our core group of ‘students’ is beginning to expect technology programming to happen within our center, programs presented through a digital medium.”

Other host sites, like the Maker’s Place in Homewood, aim to teach youth to create tangible items. At these locations, the Digital Corps workshops offer makers the tools to develop, say, online stores to sell completed products, like the music the youth produce in the in-house recording studio, string art, or fashion products.

The host sites vary widely in their mission (they encompass community resources ranging from libraries to faith-based youth groups), the types of learners they attract, and even the regularity of their participants’ attendance. Thus, the Digital Corps members aim to tailor their workshop content to best meet the realities and needs of each site.

Damian, a 10-year-old who frequents the Hilltop Y, loves animation. “You can check out a bunch of my creations on YouTube,” he says. He’s spent the summer learning more about Hummingbird and jumps to enroll in classes to enhance those skills.

Working with Plants vs Zombies for Hour of Code

Damian starts his summer session with the Digital Corps working on an activity called “Hour of Code“–a game using Angry Birds characters to teach the basics of drag and drop programming. The activity is self-directed, so the Corps members can both gauge each student’s base knowledge and supervise multiple youth working at their own pace.

By having each student complete the Hour of Code, Corps members make sure even drop-in students are familiar with terminology and basic skills before moving on to more complex lessons. Damian is among the younger students the Corps has taught this spring–the initial vision for the program was to work with youth aged 12 to 18.

Like many kids visiting the Hilltop Y, Damian is responsible for his younger sibling, who is upstairs engaged in a card game with AmeriCorps volunteers. In between levels of coding, he pauses to go check on his sister. He comes back to the workshop just as the students are working as a group to write a code loop that will direct Elliot to walk from the sofa to the doorway. “If path ahead, move forward. Else, turn right,” shout the students as Damian enters the room. “Turn right!” Damian and his much-younger sibling could potentially become a bump in the path for the program.

Jaramillo says, “We’ve overlapped our staff with Corps members in an effort to carry on their programming throughout the week. Our staff are trained innovative facilitators, so we try to model adaptability for our youth.” He says he’s seen Elliot, Narey, and Cala adapt their teaching style to connect with the Hilltop youth as the program has progressed.

Understanding the Impact

As the name implies, the Remake Learning Digital Corps program would like to remake the process of learning digital literacy. Helping to do this is Tom Akiva, a professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s been conducting an empirical study of the Digital Corps for publication in the journal After School Matters.

Tom Akiva

Tom Akiva

Akiva is interested in what factors enable the corps members to deliver the information in the OST environments, as well as how the teens and tweens are experiencing the workshops.

For the pilot year, Akiva found some interesting, if a bit surprising, results. For one, members like Elliot and Cala are the minority among the corps. The majority of the Corps members identify as youth workers or educators instead of technologists. Martinez says the eagerness of these educators “to expand their expertise into digital learning points to the great need for this sort of programming in OST.”

Rather than struggle with how to deliver content to youth, the Corps members have instead wrestled with curriculum challenges, like how to handle drop-in students or the wide age range of participants at the Hilltop Y.

Akiva observes the round-table discussions attended by the Corps at large, where they debate and collaborate to find solutions to these challenges. He notes that the atmosphere during the sessions is friendly, saying “I’ve seen Ani [Martinez] create a comfortable and productive experience that carries over into the classroom and workshops the Corps members go on to teach,” he says.

In order to remake the learning process, the Corps discusses the ways lessons are being delivered in Digital Corps workshops. Akiva has noticed a tension between offering structured, how-to lessons about the digital tools versus presenting open-ended projects as a way for students to learn. The Digital Corps is designed to engage students in ways traditional school environments cannot, but at the same time wants to effectively deliver the information so the students can build their digital literacy.

A Digital Corps training session with Ani Martinez

Digital Corps training session / Photo: Ben Filio

“They are debating ideas education science has looked at for years,” says Akiva. “Will ‘discovery-based learning’ work in this context? The idea of the project is to remake learning, to shake up teaching. It’s interesting to watch them debating methods to provide small amounts of structure that support kids in their learning.”

As a new experience for all involved, these sessions help everyone strike a balance between program needs and member backgrounds as they get to know each other as a community of digital learners and educators.

As the program wraps up its first year of programming, Digital Corps members are eager to apply what’s come up in the roundtable discussions and surveys. “Our data can help to tell the story of what works well for the Digital Corps here in Pittsburgh,” says Akiva, “and hopefully we will learn things we can apply to both future sessions of this program and eventual implementations in other cities.”

Akiva has observed the youth participants very quickly engage in the material, eager to delve deeper. One day at the Carrick library, he saw a 13-year-old boy come late, catch up very quickly programming an LED traffic light, and progress to creating an automated robot of his own design: a giraffe whose eyes lit up and neck moved side to side. Far from loitering at Rite Aid, this student was enhancing his digital literacy while building his problem-solving skills as he worked out how to bring his imagined giraffe to fruition.

“It was so neat,” Akiva says, “to watch this middle-schooler get an opportunity to be creative, to be a kid in the context of this technology.”

Given a solid foundation in these digital tools, Digital Corps learners seem well equipped to impact the future of our city. Automated cardboard animals today can provide the foundation for untold innovation tomorrow.

]]>
Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for August 1st http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/08/01/17042/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=17042 Fri, 01 Aug 2014 15:36:43 +0000

Summer Camps for Maker Kids

A summer of making; Cathy Davidson on the Un-Common Core; Hear Me and Allies for Children take youth voice to the Mayor's office; what the US can learn from Finland that Finland learned from the US; 7 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

What’s better than sitting on the couch playing Minecraft all summer? How about going behind the scenes at Mojang, the game’s developer, in Sweden and getting an inside look at how Minecraft is put together?

That’s just one of the cool activities on tap for kids participating in this year’s Maker Camp, a free, six-week summer camp hosted by Google and MAKE Magazine. It’s offered online and at participating sites around the world.

Held July 7 to August 15, Maker Camp joins kids ages 13 to 18 with scientists, makers, artists, and techies via virtual field trips and hands-on projects. Kids can explore film sound effects with a designer from Skywalker Sound, a division of Lucasfilm, Ltd. They can also visit a robotic zoo of the future with robotics engineers and learn claymation from folks at Aardman Animations (famous for producing the “Wallace & Gromit” series).

With a similar aim of getting kids to explore and engage in projects out of the classroom, Pittsburgh City of Learning invites local students to take advantage of citywide learning opportunities and earn digital badges along the way.

Incoming freshman to Holy Family Academy in Emsworth built their own desks this summer. As part of a three-week summer orientation camp, students spent a day at the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters Training Center where they learned the basics of carpentry.

]]>
Who Facilitates Out of School Learning: Pitt Researchers Study the Digital Corps http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/01/digital-corps-research/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16997 Fri, 01 Aug 2014 14:17:39 +0000

Who Facilitates Out of School Learning: Pitt Researchers Study the Digital Corps

For the past year, Pitt researcher Tom Akiva has been studying the Remake Learning Digital Corps and finding interesting, if unexpected, results.

A Digital Corps training session with Ani Martinez

Tom Akiva became interested in out-of-school-time learning (OST) over his 8 years working at and later directing a summer camp in rural Michigan. The camp targeted youth with high potential but low performance in their schools. Kids left the woods intrinsically motivated to create poetry or design science experiments. Tom saw them making connections, opening their ways of thinking about learning. He says, “It’s increasingly clear to those of us who study OST that kids learn everywhere. We need to pay more attention to the learning happening outside of school, how the programs work, and how we can provide high quality offerings.”

At the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Tom began researching the correlation between program quality and youth engagement, evaluating over 1000 youth in 65 programs, where he found that active skill-building practices for staff predicted cognitive engagement from the students. Here in Pittsburgh, he studied a Sprout-funded youth leadership program and found that involving youth in the programs was an effective method of improving quality.

As a new faculty member in Psychology in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, Tom continues his research in OST with an empirical study of the Digital Corps that he’s preparing for publication in the journal After School Matters. For the early stages of his project, Tom is interested in the Corps members themselves. His current study asks three questions:

  1. Are there people with the technology expertise who also have the ability and motivation to deliver content to kids effectively?
  2. What factors enable these folks to deliver this information in afterschool workshops?
  3. How are the teens and tweens experiencing these workshops?
Tom Akiva

Tom Akiva

As the Digital Corps wraps up its pilot year, Tom and his research team are finding interesting, if unexpected results. For starters, they’ve learned that the majority of the Corps members are youth workers or educators, taking on the Digital Corps as a source of extra income. Program manager Ani Martinez says this fact speaks to the great need for support and training for educators working in out-of-school learning programs. Over half of the Corps members described themselves as already comfortable teaching and communicating with kids. So a base knowledge of how to deliver content to youth is not their main hurdle–instead the Corps members are wrestling with challenges familiar in OST, like how to handle drop-in students and how to adapt lessons to work for different age groups and in different timeframes.

Due to the nature of many of the sites, particularly libraries, teens come in and out without a set schedule. It’s hard for the Corps members to teach multi-week lessons not knowing who will be there to learn each week. But then, it’s hard to develop robotic programming skills in Hummingbird in just one 90-minute session. Through a series of round-table discussions, Tom has observed the Corps members debate and collaborate to figure out solutions.

These round-table discussions are facilitated by the researchers, but they also double to build community for the Digital Corps members. Tom has seen that the atmosphere during the sessions is friendly, which is important for those working in an industry without much opportunity for such professional development. “I’ve seen Ani Martinez create a comfortable and productive experience that carries over into the classroom and workshops the Corps members go on to teach,” he says.

The Corps members are also wrestling with the ways lessons are being delivered in Digital Corps workshops. Tom has noticed a tension between offering structured, how-to lessons about the digital tools versus presenting open-ended projects as a way for students to learn. The Corps wants the workshops to engage students in ways traditional school environments cannot, but at the same time wants to effectively deliver the information so the students can build their digital literacy. Tom says, “They are debating ideas education science has looked at for years. Will ‘discovery-based learning’ work in this context? The idea of the project is to remake learning, to shake up teaching. It’s interesting to watch them debating methods to provide small amounts of structure that supports kids in their learning.” Ani notes that the program is still nascent–these sessions help everyone strike a balance between program needs and member backgrounds as they get to know each other as a community of digital learners and educators.

As the program shifts from summer programming to afterschool sessions during the coming school year, Digital Corps members are eager to apply what’s come up in the roundtable discussions and surveys. “Our data can help to tell the story of what works well for the Digital Corps here in Pittsburgh,” says Tom Akiva, “and hopefully we will learn things we can apply to both future sessions of this program and eventual implementations elsewhere.”

]]>