Remake Learning Remake Learning is a network of people, projects, and organizations in the greater Pittsburgh region that are empowering children and youth by creating relevant learning opportunities through the compelling use of technology, media, and the arts. Sun, 05 Nov 2017 03:59:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is Tech the New Teacher? Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:30:29 +0000 In Class of 1999, a sci-fi thriller from 1990, robot teachers are sent to high school campuses to control troublesome teenagers. The cyborgs’ job is to crack down on gang violence and misbehavior—but they ultimately become violent against the students themselves.

Although not on the level of a ‘90s B movie, there is concern that teaching will be usurped by technology. Nearly half of all U.S. jobs are at risk of computerization, according to a 2013 Oxford University study—and some think educators are among the vulnerable, though not everyone.

Nearly half of all U.S. jobs are at risk of automation.

That idea is purely “hype and fear,” writes Thomas Arnett of the think tank the Christensen Institute in a recent white paper, “Teaching in the Machine Age.” The paper makes the case that “as innovations simplify and automate distinct aspects of teaching, both effective and less effective teachers will see their capabilities enhanced by computers.”

Education software programs can, for example, provide differentiated instruction to students with different learning styles or needs in a way one teacher standing in front of a classroom may have more difficulty doing. Some programs include real-time assessment features or provide feedback to teachers who can then tailor their lessons to individual student needs. Others offer instructional planning platforms, complete with resources and lesson planning tools.

Arnett turns a spotlight on Teach to One, a program used in some New York classrooms (and previously covered on this blog). The online system assesses students’ work, creating daily lesson plans for each. Based on the results, some students continue working alone on computers and others are sent to small group stations. Teachers—the real live sort—are on hand, some checking in occasionally with students and others engaged in more involved guidance.

Some schools go further, however. Education Week reports that some schools and districts have indeed filled vacant teaching positions with software. A Georgia district experiencing a teacher shortage participated in a pilot test of an accredited online education program offering “virtual teachers.” They livestream to laptops, and students can interact with the teachers using a chat box or by clicking a “raised hand” icon. In Maine, another school with a shortage uses Rosetta Stone as a foreign language teacher. Despite the cost savings, administrators in each case said they would prefer conventional teachers.

In other parts of the globe, technology has provided a temporary solution when teachers or education infrastructure is in short supply. When schools were closed in Liberia during the Ebola crisis, an ed-tech start-up sent more than 500 tablets loaded with educational materials.

“That will never change—to have a caring adult who has a sense of who the kid is.”

Arnett tells Education Week that he supports such efforts in times of need, but not as permanent replacements. And no matter how “smart” technology gets, he argues, teaching is immune to full automation.

“As artificial intelligence increasingly takes on human work, the most valued and secure human jobs will be those that require complex social skills—such as teaching,” he writes.

A growing awareness of the importance of cultivating social-emotional and other noncognitive skills has added to teachers’ already long list of responsibilities, Arnett writes. Tech that takes care of the tasks that can be automated can free up time for the uniquely human.

Already many educators and learning scientists have reconsidered the role of teachers in the 21st century as more like mentors. Teachers can provide critical support to empower students to do their own digging into topics and complete hands-on projects—aided, yes, by digital tools. Under this theory, technology allows kids to have more self-direction, but teachers remain as important as ever.

“That’s the one thing that will never change—to have a caring adult who has a sense of who the kid is, what they’re capable of from a learning perspective, and can guide a kid into learning opportunity,” cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito has said.

Arnett notes that teaching enhancement tools are hardly new. Textbooks came before ed tech. But digital tools undeniably have unique functions and power—power that, if complemented with good teaching, can amplify the critical work that educators do.

New Law Supports Computer Science Education in Pennsylvania Tue, 14 Feb 2017 13:00:22 +0000 In Pennsylvania, thanks to a law passed last summer, computer science coursework in all public and charter high schools can count toward either math or science graduation requirements.

The state joins 19 others with similar policies, according to the Education Commission of the States. Several other states also allow computer science (CS) credit to count as math or science but without a law mandating it. notes that the number of states counting CS toward math or science requirements has nearly tripled since 2013. In large part these policies are responding to a rapidly changing workforce—and young people’s lack of preparation for it.

Computer science and information technology jobs are expected to grow , even outpacing similar scientific and technical industries as a whole. Pennsylvania currently has approximately 17,000 unfilled computer science and software development job openings, notes the Pennsylvania Department of Education in its guidelines for implementing the new law. But in 2014, the state had just 2,820 CS graduates. Only one in five were women. Many times, these jobs go unfilled because students lack the requisite skills.

“We need to make sure our [students’] skill sets are aligned with workforce demand,” Linda Topoleski, vice president of Workforce Programs and Operations at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, told Remake Learning last fall.

There are 17,000 unfilled computer science and software jobs in Pennsylvania.

There are many reasons students are not prepared for these positions. The legislators who wrote the new Pennsylvania policy believe that one reason is CS courses are not valued in schools. Many students have historically declined to take advanced placement computer science, for example, because it was counted only as an elective despite the heavy math and science content.

Yet it is important that public schools offer CS courses because they are the most accessible venues for many. Both people of color and women are under-represented in the tech and STEM workforces, and access to CS education early on can create a stronger pipeline for those groups.

Despite growth in the overall black and Latino college-going population (a 240 percent increase for Hispanics and 72 percent for blacks, between 1996 to 2012), their representation in the computing workforce has remained fairly stagnant, at 14 percent, according to Change the Equation. And at top high-paying companies, the portion of black and Latino employees is even lower. In 2016 blacks made up 2 percent of Google’s U.S. workforce, and Latinos 3 percent. Female representation in the overall field has also remained unchanged and disproportionately low at 26 percent.

Representation of black, Latino, and female tech workers remains stagnantly low.

For many students of all demographics, all the access and encouragement in the world would still not make them inclined to pursue a CS job. But many educators and technologists believe all learners can benefit from coursework in the field, which can build problem-solving skills and allow for creative expression.

Take coding—“not just a set of technical skills,” according to MIT computer scientist Mitch Resnick, who developed the programming language Scratch for children. “It’s similar to learning to write—a way for kids to organize, express, and share ideas.”

The Obama administration promoted computer science education for all students, saying the interdisciplinary, applied subject “allows students to engage in hands-on, real-world interaction with key math, science, and engineering principles.”

Laws like Pennsylvania’s help improve students’ exposure to CS. But the policy only addresses schools that already provide that coursework. According to Change the Equation, the disparities in access to these classes start early: only approximately one-half of all black and Latino students attend schools with CS classes. Efforts like Pennsylvania’s are steps forward in the longer road to addressing the root causes of these gaps.

Education Innovation Clusters: Sustaining the Momentum Fri, 10 Feb 2017 15:10:50 +0000 Education Innovation Clusters (or EdClusters) are collaborative regional networks designed to “accelerate the pace of innovation by bringing together education, research, and commercial partners.” The EdClusters concept and the framework behind it was foundational to the establishment of the Remake Learning Network in the greater Pittsburgh region and we’ve written regularly about EdClusters over the past four years, tracking their development from a promising idea borrowed from another field, to the first proof points emerging, to the discussion of guiding principles for cluster development, to the work now underway by Digital Promise to support EdClusters across the country.

Last month, Katrina Stevens, the outgoing Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, shared a blog post on Medium about the past:

Taking a step back before my time at the Department, at the request of then Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton in 2011, Richard Culatta began an exploration of innovation cluster grants given by the Department of Commerce. Finding no education-focused grants, and few education-related proposals in the pipeline, Richard began developing a plan to support the creation of education innovation clusters. In those early days, the Department pulled together two of the first annual education innovation cluster convenings in Philadelphia (2012) and then Arizona (2013) with a handful of participants.

It became clear that the work would be advanced more effectively with an external partner. When the U.S. Department of Education partnered with Digital Promise in 2014 to provide support for these regional education innovation clusters, the annual convenings began to gain grow exponentially.

In August of 2014, I was fortunate to attend the 3rd Annual Convening in Pittsburgh, which was co-hosted by the Department, Digital Promise, the Remake Learning Network, and the Sprout Fund. I was energized by the school visits, which included seeing students using makerspaces, and hearing from other regions how they were building communities across their different stakeholders.

My experience at this convening cemented for me the importance of clusters having opportunities to learn and grow with and from one another. Since joining OET, we co-hosted two additional convenings with Digital Promise and our regional hosts, LEAP Innovations in Chicago in August 2015, and the Highlander Institute and the Rhode Island Office of Innovation in Providence, RI, in September 2016, both events bringing in well over 100 participants.

And the future of EdClusters:

Over the past two and half years, the Office of Educational Technology has been honored to work closely with Digital Promise to provide leadership for education innovation clusters.

As education innovation clusters move into the next phase, our hope is that the incredible momentum begun will continue to build. Thanks to all of the regional ed tech ecosystems, and Digital Promise, education innovation clusters are a real, connected community. While the larger ecosystem system is still in its early stages, it has matured to the point where we have confidence this work will continue.

Read Katrina’s whole post on Medium.

As an idea borne out of work that began in the U.S. Department of Education in 2011, the future of EdClusters is now in the hands of the community of cities and regions that make up this national network of educators and innovators. As a proud member of this community, Remake Learning is more committed than ever to working with our fellow EdCluster pioneers and those communities just starting to organize for education innovation.


Guest Post: Learning Environments Remade, Step-by-Step Thu, 09 Feb 2017 18:10:23 +0000 As Pennsylvania continues to deal with the inherent challenges of its current budget deficit, learning institutions in Pittsburgh and across the state find themselves in the daunting position of needing to do more for their students with less. Balancing the need to save money and reduce costs with the need to upgrade facilities to ensure students acquire skills that will help them succeed in the future is a challenging act.

That said, continuing to educate students in spaces not equipped to help them take the jobs of the future will only exasperate the challenges our cities and state face for generations. It’s important that even amidst challenging economic times, our K-12 schools continue to find creative ways to invest in 21st century spaces that spur innovation and enrich learning. While it may not be possible to completely renovate a school at large, there are smaller steps districts can take to strengthen their learning facilities. Fortunately, there are schools in Pittsburgh and across the country leading the way in revealing how smaller investments and updates can have large, positive impacts for students.

Here’s a look at three examples that may potentially help inform future K-12 investment in our city and state.

Focus on STEM a Few Classrooms at a Time
Limited budgets don’t mean schools shouldn’t invest in future-focused learning environments at all, it just means they need to be strategic. Simply updating a couple classrooms can create dynamic change for students, cultures and curriculum. Those schools looking to take this ’few classrooms at a time’ approach, may be wise to begin by infusing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) environments in their schools. Recent projections from the U.S. Department of Education paint a bright future for jobs in STEM fields and a need to graduate approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than we’re currently on pace for in the decade ahead.

Niagara Falls School District STEM Classrooms / Photo provided by CannonDesignOne model Pittsburgh-area districts may want to follow is Niagara Falls City School District’s Inventing Tomorrow campaign in Niagara Falls, New York. Via Inventing Tomorrow, Niagara Falls became the first known school district in New York State to construct dedicated, shared STEM labs in each of its school buildings. The high school received two STEM specialty labs, one focused on engineering and one focused on biomedical technology.

The engineering lab is equipped with overhead utility grids, mobile furniture, a prep room, 3-D printing and more while the biomedical tech lab provides fully outfitted student lab stations, a fume hood, a prep room and a 3-D interactive whiteboard allowing for virtual dissection. Labs in Niagara Falls K-8 schools consist of three distinct zones: an open area for large, group project work; a workshop zone with mobile group tables and chairs; and a resource bar for computing, note taking and work-in-progress display.

Via this model and focus on renovating a few classrooms specifically, Niagara Falls was able to infuse 21st century STEM learning throughout its district and bring cutting-edge technology to its students. It’s a strategy other schools can consider as they seek to maximize facility investments and enhance learning opportunities.

Leverage Community Resources
Homewood-Brushton YMCA / Photo provided by CannonDesign
When cost challenges limit new building or renovation opportunities, school districts should also consider opportunities to leverage community resources. Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh recently benefitted from such an approach via its partnership with the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. Having long hosted the YMCA’s Lighthouse Project – an afterschool program that teaches leadership and career readiness through the media arts of film, photography, graphic design and music production – at the school, Westinghouse and the YMCA realized a need to upgrade its facilities to best serve students.

Ultimately, this led to a dynamic 6,000 square foot renovation at the YMCA that supports both the Lighthouse Project and the Pittsburgh community as it features a state-of-the-art recording studio, large performance space, photography and videography skills areas, a cafeteria, new atrium and workforce re-development training area.

Homewood-Brushton YMCA Recording Studio / Photo provided by CannonDesignWhile these spaces are hosted outside the school itself, they are directly helping Westinghouse students acquire the skills, experience, and training they need to prepare for brighter futures. Moreover, hosting the program in the YMCA is helping increase access to students from other schools and parts of the city – all helping spur civic collaboration and knock down perceived barriers across communities.

Other schools in and around Pittsburgh should think if there are nearby community spaces and organizations that could benefit their programming and explore opportunities. They may also want to outreach to city-wide communities like Remake Learning—a professional network of educators and innovators working together to shape the future of teaching and learning in the Greater Pittsburgh Region—for ideas and help forging connections.

Invest in a Learning Commons
Academic libraries are foundational to learning, but they have significantly evolved thanks to the rapid acceleration of technology and the new access to information it can provide. While books are still present in these spaces, they are now surrounded by digital technologies and WiFi access that helps students study, collaborate, engage and learn in new interactive ways.  Schools on the leading-edge of introducing learning commons are creating spaces more akin to coffee shops or makerspaces than traditional libraries with stacks and stacks of books.

Seneca Valley School District (SVSD) in Harmony, PA is rethinking its library to recognize this trend. The district has removed some bookshelves from their elementary school libraries to make room for robotics equipment, 3D printers and a maker space. Additionally, the spaces are now equipped with softer seating areas to support research components empowered by the makerspace, along with general literacy. The robotics area also features a tech-based coding center that is housed in an adjacent, connected room where students can learn coding skills. All of these resources are available to their K-6 students.

SVSD is an example of how districts can infuse their libraries with digital tools, flexible space and furniture, whiteboards and more to create learning commons. Such efforts focus investment and enrich one specific area of a school that can drive powerful results.

The budget challenges Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania schools face are real. However, it’s imperative for our students that we continue to find ways to create and advance 21st-century learning environments. Through creative thinking, design, strategy, and focus seen in the examples above, there are numerous ways we can keep moving forward and help students reach their full potential.

Librarians Lead the Way to Digital Literacy Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:00:31 +0000 Unfettered access to information and news is essential for learning—but it can also be a hazard when learners lack the right tools for parsing that information.

Nobody knows this more than librarians.

“We’ve always talked about information literacy,” Nicole Cooke, a professor who teaches future librarians at the University of Illinois’ School of Information Sciences, told The Verge. “Information literacy is just trying to get people to be savvy consumers of information.”

For decades, visitors to a library were confined to a static collection of information. Librarians helped them access and wade through it.

“In today’s digital world, information literacy is a far more complex subject than it was when the phrase was coined,” writes University of California, Merced, librarian Donald Barclay at PBS. In this digital world, librarians play a different, yet even more important, role.

Last month this blog explored the need for digital literacy education in the age of “fake news.” We covered the recent Stanford University study that confirmed many educators’ fears: middle and high school students are likely to take false information they encounter online as fact. More than 80 percent of middle school students studied were unable to distinguish between credible online news and sponsored content.

“Librarians are natural allies for educators in helping students become critical news consumers.”

Sam Wineburg, the director of the Stanford History Education group, which published the study, says librarians may be uniquely poised to help young people navigate a sea of digital information.

“Librarians are natural allies for educators in helping students become critical news consumers,” he told the American Libraries Magazine.

Librarians—whether at schools or in public libraries—provide access and support in welcoming settings. Trained to help people find and decipher information, they can act as coaches. As young learners explore topics of their choice, librarians are there on the sidelines pointing them to sources that may be helpful and training them to recognize those that are not. Libraries also can hold workshops for visitors on topics like online safety and digital literacy.

Many students learn basic practices for determining whether a digital source is trustworthy. Is the ending of a URL a for-profit “.com” or an academic “.edu”? Is there an author or organization’s name attached to the information, and what can you find out about that person or entity?

Beyond encouraging those basic precautions, librarians and other educators and mentors can facilitate conversation that stokes inquiry and critical thinking—necessary skills as digital credibility becomes ever murkier.

“Having respectful and constructive dialogues is a must so that people can feel heard and understood,” Barbara Alvarez writes in the Public Library Association magazine. “Public libraries have an opportunity to lead this effort while promising a space where all are welcome…they may be able to use the connections made in their conversations to form new opinions and critically think about the information they read.”

One path to critical consumption of media is by creating it. Doing so allows young people to share their own truths while honing their critical thinking and evaluation skills. Libraries have increasingly begun offering programs that train students to make their own media.

“Teaching evaluation of information has never been so critical.”

Storytellers Without Borders, a joint program between the Dallas Public Library and the Dallas Morning News, teaches journalism to high-school-aged visitors. As part of the journalism training, librarians show participants how to conduct research using digital resources at the library.

In Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Public Library becomes a “lab” where teenage visitors can work with mentors to make films, record music, or build robots. The Labs @ CLP program, at multiple branches, leverages the library’s accessibility to all in the community.

As the digital information landscape continues to change rapidly, so too must librarians. As the consequences of “fake news” become clearer, some veteran librarians are reevaluating how they approach digital literacy education.

In the School Library Journal, longtime librarian Laura Gardner writes: “Teaching evaluation of information has never been so critical, and I’m thinking fast.”



Maker Video Challenge Does Double Duty Thu, 02 Feb 2017 13:00:26 +0000 Part of the appeal of the maker movement is its expansiveness. Electronics, coding, fashion design, audio engineering, filmmaking, woodworking—it’s all on the maker smorgasbord.

A new opportunity from Digital Promise challenges students to check a couple items off of that list at the same time.

The FilmMAKER Challenge asks middle and high school students to “reinvent an everyday product to make it more sustainable, accessible, or beautiful”—and meanwhile make a short documentary video that narrates that process. Students must work in groups with an adult mentor and submit their entries by March 24. Winners will be invited to present their products and films at the Bay Area or New York Maker Faires later in the year.

Digital Promise, a nonprofit that promotes digital learning innovation, doesn’t expect groups to dive right into the challenging project. The organization is also providing support to educators who want to help students enter the contest. A supplementary guide provides educators with a series of activities and assignments they can use to warm students up for the contest. It starts off with a few short exercises encouraging collaboration (including an improv theater game), and builds up to projects that give students experience prototyping, designing, and filmmaking. Together, the activities orient participants to the concept of design thinking.

In a recent article for The Atlantic, an educator tries to get a director at IDEO, a firm that supports educators in using design thinking in their classrooms, to define the term. The director, Neil Stevenson, balks—the tendency to distill design thinking down to a singular definition disregards the nuance and complexity of the idea, he insists.

The contest challenges students to not only design a better product, but to communicate why it is better and how it can help people.

But, he ultimately tells the educator, at the core of design thinking is empathy—understanding the needs of a real audience and designing a thoughtful product that meets them. That’s where the “film” piece of the FilmMAKER challenge comes in.

“Even the best ideas fail to make an impact if they can’t be shared with the world,” says Digital Promise.

The contest challenges students to not only design a better product, but to communicate why it is better and how it can help people. Throughout the process, students have to consider who their target audience is, and how to expand it. The exercise is meant to help students think about how to effect change in the world outside their classrooms.

Educators inside and outside of school settings have integrated design thinking, or human-centered design, into their practice. At Y-Creator Space, an afterschool program at three sites in Pittsburgh, young people complete projects that address community needs or serve another purpose. Past participants have prototyped and built aquaponics systems and light-up shirts for cyclists.

A couple years ago, the University of Pittsburgh and the Sprout Fund joined forces for the two-day Water Design Challenge, which asked high school students to devise an innovative method for raising awareness of water crises. One winning group created a website depicting how far women in various countries have to walk to retrieve drinkable water. Then they hosted a fundraiser race, where participants ran the average water-retrieving distance. Another winning group took a completely different approach, designing a residential rain barrel system that would give tax credits to homeowners who used it.

The FilmMAKER challenge is even more open-ended, demanding that the young designers pursue an interest of their own and exercise their creativity muscles. Will they reinvent a lunchbox or a license plate? Crutches or a coffeemaker? And then can they make the case for their creation?

Activating Agents of Change Tue, 31 Jan 2017 19:00:15 +0000 In 2014, President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative challenged communities to address the opportunity gap between young men of color and their peers. In Pittsburgh, government officials and community leaders formed the local MBK Committee to respond to the President’s call to action and created a plan to do just that. The result of their efforts was the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County My Brother’s Keeper Playbook, which outlined local steps that could be taken to achieve the six goals for MBK established by the White House.

To put the MBK Playbook into action, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued a call-to-action of their own to improve the quality of out-of-school digital learning programs for young men of color in the region.

With support from The Heinz Endowments, this next phase of My Brother’s Keeper in Pittsburgh began in the fall of 2016 when The Sprout Fund commissioned UrbanKind Institute (UKI), a Pittsburgh consultancy, to host a series of community conversations between young men of color and the adult program providers who serve them.

UKI recently released a report summarizing the input provided by youth participants and program providers. The report also details recommendations for program providers, funders, and policymakers working to close the opportunity gap for young people of color in Pittsburgh. In the coming weeks, The Sprout Fund will issue a Request for Proposals offering grants totaling $100,000 to support ideas for implementing the recommendations of the report.

In the meantime, we caught up with UrbanKind executive director Dr. Jamil Bey to learn more about the process.

Jamil Bey/UrbanKind Institute

Jamil Bey/UrbanKind Institute

Remake Learning: What did the young men have to say during the community conversations?

Jamil Bey: In the first phase we just wanted to hear from the young men and have the service providers listen to what they had to say. We asked them what they find worthwhile in the afterschool programs they participate in. Do programs meet their expectations and needs? What don’t the adults who are designing these programs get? They all had a response to that question!

I bet. What did do they see as missing in programming?

They said adults don’t quite understand that the space is more important than the content. They will participate in a program if they’re safe, nurtured, and respected—that’s what drives their participation.

We were dealing with the tech space, asking how programs are using technology and how they prepare students for careers. Those programs hardly ever have adults whom the young men see as supportive of their emotional needs. The people designing these programs are not always the best people to implement them.

Can you say more about who those “best people” are? What would a supportive adult or program look like?

They want mentorship from adults they can relate to, adults who consider their needs as individuals important. Often these young men are coming in with a lot of stressors, and they need a chance to vent or work through something. A supportive program would give them that space and opportunity.

“They will participate in a program if they’re safe, nurtured, and respected—that’s what drives their participation.”

Is there a tension between meeting program goals and what the young men say they need?

Yes. A kid can get a certain number of digital badges, but maybe he ends up in trouble because he isn’t nurtured or supported elsewhere. These young men would say, “Nobody’s ever showed me how to tie a tie or change a car tire.” They need long-term mentors, not adults there for a six-month engagement because of a grant. We need to think more holistically about putting the child as a whole at the center of our quality metrics.

Why is it important to have conversations about education and community change led by young people of color?

Too often, policies and decisions are made without including insight from the people who are most directly impacted. Our process makes sure those voices are included and lifted up. Service providers appreciate this. It’s too easy to become arrogant in your expertise without critically reflecting on how it’s received.

How did you get youth ready to assume these facilitator roles?

We identified 10 participants willing to facilitate conversations with adults in the next phase. They spent six hours in a Saturday facilitation training with us. Then they led the conversations with service providers, asking how they develop programs and whether they include youth input.

We were also interested in activating the next generation of doers in the neighborhood. They’ve now been empowered to call foul. Young people often think they don’t have much power, and think their issues are isolated. They found out there are young men across the county with the same stories as them. Now they have the facilitation and organizing skills to take on those issues.

My Brother’s Keeper was launched by President Obama. As a new administration assumes office, why is it important to continue to have discussions about community change led by young people of color?

I don’t know if we can frame it in the context of the new president because it’s been quite a while that legislators and public education have had a hostile relationship. We haven’t seen any policies that are really going to transform how we prepare young people. The election didn’t make this more meaningful. What’s meaningful is we now have young people questioning their roles and becoming agents of change rather than recipients of change. Our process is a bottom-up approach to reform—really from the bottom, from the young people.

“This is a bottom-up approach to reform—from the young people.”

What are the main barriers that prevent programs from meeting students’ needs?

Often the people who can reach the kids are not the people who have the skills we want to teach young people. Or the people who have the digital skills are not the people who can connect with young people. We need to find a way to bridge that gap. Grant cycles and funding came up a lot in these conversations. We need to be thinking about how we can connect these kids to opportunities in the long-term, over the next two or three years.

I’m excited and hopeful that similar conversations are going on in all of the foundations. Everyone is recognizing these gaps, and we’re asking good, critical questions. It’s not that funding in the out-of-school tech space doesn’t work—it’s how can it work?

Read UKI’s full report from theMy Brother’s Keeper Community & Stakeholder Planning Process: Recommendations to Improve Access and Quality of Out of School Programs.

In February, The Sprout Fund will issue a special funding opportunity offering a total of $100,000 in grants to support ideas for implementing the recommendations of the report.

Subscribe to the MBK Pittsburgh-Allegheny County mailing list to stay informed of the latest updates.


The Need for Media Literacy in the Age of ‘Fake News’ Tue, 24 Jan 2017 13:00:57 +0000 An article on The Atlantic’s website, “Working Better: Bite-Sized Ideas and Wisdom to Help Businesses Become More Aligned, Productive, and Agile,” looks at first glance like many well-designed digital stories. There are interactive infographics and Q&As with experts embedded in the multipart story.

It might take even a savvy reader a few moments to figure out that “Working Better” is native advertising—a sophisticated ad made to look like other parts of the publication. A small box in the corner notes that the piece is “sponsored” by Xerox, though that box itself looks like an ad unconnected to the story.

For readers, it can be quite a challenge to decipher which online articles are trustworthy and which are not.

In fact, a 2016 Stanford University study found that many middle and high school students are quick to believe false information they encounter online.

More than 80% of middle school students can’t distinguish sponsored content from news.

The study found that more than 80 percent of middle school students couldn’t distinguish sponsored content from a news article. In another part of the study, researchers showed high school students a photo of deformed flowers, labeled as having “birth defects” from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The photos had no attribution or contextual information, yet many of the teenagers found them trustworthy, and nearly 40 percent argued that photographic evidence itself was proof of legitimacy.

Social media can amplify this kind of confusion, where headlines from unknown sources are often posted without context, and where users’ networks can create echo chambers. Google’s algorithms and advertising platforms promote the “fake news” alongside sourced material. Google, along with Twitter and Facebook, have come under close scrutiny lately after allegations that erroneous articles influenced the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Many articles from unverified publications spreading myths about the candidates went viral.

In an article about the Stanford study, the Wall Street Journal talks to parents and educators who have their kids use search engines that censor websites they deem inappropriate, and those who bar their children from using social media to protect them from false information. But are those methods sustainable as kids get older? Some educators and journalists say they don’t get to the root of the issue.

“The fake news problem we’re facing isn’t just about articles gaining traffic from Facebook timelines or Google search results,” writes online journalist Kyle Chayka at the Verge. “It’s also an issue of news literacy—a reader’s ability to discern credible news.”

Digital literacy education can equip young people with the tools they need to better navigate online resources and take advantage of the internet as a tool for learning.

Instead of shunning social media, some students took control of the platform to spread facts.

Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum offers an online curriculum on responsible and empowering internet use. It includes information on privacy, and cyberbullying, copyright, and information literacy. The curriculum is designed for different grades, and has lessons for youth as young as second or third grade. Kids can build skills such as how to recognize advertising, how to conduct strategic online searches, how to judge the legitimacy of online sources, and how to sift out misinformation.

The News Literacy Project’s Checkology program takes students through a series of online exercises on how to evaluate information using actual examples of fake news. In response to the Stanford findings, an educator compiled a list on his blog of resources for teaching kids to recognize fake news.

A University of California, Davis marine biology professor came up with a nifty way to approach the problem. Instead of shunning the social media sites where fake news thrives, her students take command of the platform to spread accuracy. Some of her students hosted an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit, a trove of both misinformation and information, responding to users’ science questions with facts.

Social media sites and online information sources are integral parts of young people’s lives—92 percent of teens went online daily in 2015, according to Pew. Therefore, arming children and teens with investigative skills and the ability to reflect on what they are seeing can help them weed out the garbage and leverage the internet for inspired learning.

Creating Safe Environments for Learning Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:30:45 +0000 The election and the presidential transition have posed some serious challenges for educators around the country. Civics teachers are struggling to explain hostile rhetoric from the campaign trail and pull out lessons about democracy and our electoral process. Teachers of undocumented or Muslim students are working to alleviate fears and ensure that their schools and classrooms stay safe spaces.

Still others are trying to quell discord, and make sure their students can participate in the free exchange of ideas in a way that’s safe for everyone’s political opinions.

In recent months, a variety of resources have cropped up online aiming to help teachers address students’ concerns and shut down bullying and hate speech.

Teachers of undocumented students are working to keep their classrooms safe spaces.

One California high school teacher published a letter first sent to colleagues, as well as a list of “anti-hate lessons.”

“Talk to our students about what has happened and how they feel,” the author writes to other educators. “Please, let them speak and be heard.”

The advice ranges from setting up ground rules for class discussions that promote respect and confidentiality, to teaching about propaganda by having students analyze campaign materials and fact-check statements. The teacher suggests that classes discuss the impact of Donald Trump’s proposed 100-day plan and draft a school action plan in response.

Another teacher made publicly available an annotated letter he wrote to his students. In it, he directly addresses groups of students who were targeted by hateful rhetoric during election season, assuring them that school is still a safe place.

“To my students with disabilities: In this classroom, you will not be mocked or judged for who you are. Your dignity and identity are important and appreciated,” he writes. “To my students who are immigrants: This country was built upon a nation of immigrants, and we will continue to appreciate and be proud of the work we put into it together. No one will move to deport you without first dealing with me and officials at this school.”

Digital media tools can amplify and validate student voices.

Elsewhere, however, educators are taking the exercise a step further by having students speak up themselves, using digital media tools to empower them and amplify their voices.

The National Writing Project and KQED launched Letters to the Next President 2.0 (L2P2.0) just as the party conventions occurred and the election went into full swing. But the project challenges young people to think beyond the candidates to the issues that affect them and their generation. Up until election day, all students could submit letters—written, filmed, recorded, or coded—voicing their concerns or desires regarding a topic of their choice, addressed to the future president. The letters are available for the public to read online.

The range of topics the thousands of letters tackle—from hot-button issues like gun control and abortion to issues relevant to teenagers like education reform, the foster care system, and the smoking age—reveal young people’s capacity for civic engagement and desire to have their voices heard. Other initiatives have created similar platforms for young voices. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, also solicited advice from young people for the next president. The hundreds of responses include letters—often in the form of colorful illustrations—from kids of all ages.

At Teaching Tolerance, teacher Lauryn Mascareñaz writes that the inauguration is a chance to teach students about the long road to the white house, about inaugural traditions, and about how “how protest and resistance have played pivotal roles in our country’s history.”

By leveraging digital media tools, educators can involve young people in a conversation that typically happens around and about them—but not often with them. A public publishing platform like L2P2.0’s tells students their opinions and feelings are valid. It connects youth with peers near and far. They can challenge each other to critically assess their own belief systems, expand their perspectives beyond their own schools and communities, and, importantly, remember they aren’t alone.



Pittsburgh’s Big Bet Fri, 13 Jan 2017 17:31:01 +0000

“As a country, our biggest bet on the future is our public schools.”

—Stacey Childress and Meghan Amrofell, NewSchools Venture Fund

In many ways, starting a new year is like walking into a casino: There’s an air of excitement and uncertainty, of celebration and anxiety. There’s a lot to gain and plenty to lose. We put our chips down in the form of resolutions, placing bets on ourselves in hopes of a payoff. It’s a time for strategy, risk, and audaciousness; we bring our goals, fears, doubts, and dreams to the table and we sit down to play the game.

But imagine, for a moment, that there’s a problem here. Some casino tables are sure-fire winners — those lucky enough to sit at one are nearly guaranteed a jackpot. Those at the others, though, aren’t so lucky. Their gains are smaller. Some fall behind; others barely break even. Some get frustrated and give up the game altogether. Some fight to find a better table, only to be funneled into a lottery and made to wait. And if they do hit it big, we talk about how they “beat the odds” and how the cards were stacked against them.

Sound familiar?

It’s the scenario faced by millions of learners every year.

“Most of our current K-12 schools were designed for a different time and purpose: teaching basic knowledge and skills to the vast majority of students destined for work in the early-to-mid-20th century economy, with an elite few moving on to higher education,” write Stacey Childress and Meghan Amrofell in “Reimagining Learning: A Big Bet on the Future of American Education.” Released in December by NewSchools Venture Fund, the report argues that “These familiar schools worked well enough for many Americans for several generations, but they consistently underserved others, especially Black, Latino, and low-income students.”

What’s needed, the authors say, is a fundamental rethinking of our hypothetical casino — a learning revolution akin to the vision articulated by groups like Education Reimagined and New Profit. “Educators all over the country are reimagining learning to better meet this generation’s needs, rethinking classrooms and schools so they work better for students,” write Childress and Amrofell. To support these innovations, they propose that funders pool their resources and place a $4 billion “big bet” on a common vision: a future in which learning as we know it is remade so that every high school graduate has the freedom, knowledge, and skills they need in order to pursue their dreams. Getting there, they posit, will require innovative classrooms where technology supports learning; where kids build trusting, motivating relationships with peers and adults; where students drive learning in ways that connect to their interests and passions; and where success means not only academic mastery, but also creativity, empathy, and resiliency.

In their words, “It’s an exciting time for innovation in education.”

I couldn’t agree more. And nowhere is that excitement more palpable than right here in Pittsburgh, where the 250 schools, museums, and other organizations that comprise the Remake Learning Network have transformed the region itself into a 21st-century classroom.

Their efforts, some a decade in the making, have paid off. The Labs — creative tech hubs for teens run by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — began as an experiment funded by small grants. Today, three locations help thousands of learners build robots, shoot films, and record music. The region’s many maker spaces, including the MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, are training a new generation of builders and designers, leading some to declare a manufacturing renaissance. Five local school districts have now joined Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, a national network of innovative, forward-thinking education leaders who work to enhance modern learning. And last May, the Remake Learning Days kickoff event saw philanthropies, businesses, and governments commit more than $25 million to innovative learning. Over the course of the week that followed, more than 30,000 people attended hundreds of community-based events to take part in the sea change themselves, leading everyone from Forbes to the World Economic Forum to take notice.

But there’s much more to be done. Of the many compelling data points detailed in NewSchools’ report, perhaps none embody the urgency of our work more than this: “[Of] the 11.6 million jobs created since the recession ended in 2010, only 80,000 went to people with a high school diploma or less.”

Think about that: That’s less than 1 percent of all new jobs. Without a degree or modern credentials, today’s high school graduates are more likely to win big at the poker table than to find work that fuels their passions.

It’s not a bet we’re willing to take. That’s why the Remake Learning Network is broadening its efforts this year, forging new partnerships and programs to engage, inspire, and empower more lifelong learners than ever before. Working groups within the Network are collaborating to share best practices in maker education, computer science, and innovative professional development. With a core focus on equity and inclusion, member organizations such as Sisters e S.T.E.A.M and YMCA’s Lighthouse Project are bringing high-tech programming to girls and under-served communities. Remake Learning Days is expanding, too, with 12 themed days set to explore everything from art to technology to outdoor learning.

It is indeed an exciting time for innovation in education, and we invite you to join us in the joys of remaking learning.

It’s going to be an incredible year.

I’ll bet you that much.

4 Maker Project Ideas for Your 2017 Classroom Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:50 +0000 Did anyone else resolve to make more in 2017? At a loss for new ways to encourage your students to tinker, create, and build?

Whether maker education is old hat or brand new, we could all use inspiration as school starts up again and the weather traps everyone inside. We’ve rounded-up some creative projects—from makers near and far—to try in 2017.

  1. Use Digital Technology to Solve Problems

Educators at the Brookwood School in Manchester, Mass. came up with a unique system to make better use of their school’s 3D printer. It’s one that boosts students’ problem-solving skills, stretches the limits of the technology, and provides practical help to the whole school community. Staff submit requests to a “problem bank.” The young designers come up with solutions to their problems.

Some teachers simply request 3D-printed board game pieces to finish incomplete sets. An art teacher asked students to design clips to mount together mirrors for self-portrait-making. The school’s innovation coordinator challenged the students to create a helicopter-like object that could be used to demonstrate flight. The young designers can see the real-world applications of the skills they are learning—and often benefit from the work themselves. It’s easy to imagine a scaled-up version of the problem-bank project, where students connect with neighbors or city officials to learn about and address problems facing their community. 

  1. Teach the Diverse Cultural History of Making

Maker education can empower young people to explore their own cultural identities and learn about their peers’ backgrounds. On the MakerEd blog, neuroscientist Dorothy Jones-Davis writes that making was a daily experience throughout her working-class childhood, and one that connected her to her predecessors. At home, Jones-Davis didn’t often have new toys, but she learned to fix up old bikes and electronics, and sew new clothes. At Native American summer camp, she enjoyed making traditional cornhusk dolls and woven blankets. “At a young age my dad imparted that as countless generations of our people, black and brown, made—everything from quilts, to buildings, to inventions that changed our world—so we continue this honorable tradition,” she writes.

With glaring gaps in the racial and gender makeup in tech world, it’s important to remember that the history of making is a diverse one. Learners who feel like outsiders in the maker movement might be surprised to learn that many classic projects have roots in their own cultures. Take a cue from our local Assemble’s upcoming day camp “Who Made That: African American Scientist Discovery Camp.” Kids ages 8-10 can spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day learning about black inventors—like Garrett Morgan who, 100 years ago, created the first automated traffic signal (the precursor to the traffic light), gas masks, and the ziz-zag sewing machine stitch.

  1. Design ‘Smart’ Clothing

There are some timeless holiday classroom crafts. Decorated shoeboxes for handmade Valentine’s Day cards. Handprint turkeys with feathers glued on sloppily to mark Thanksgiving. What’s the 21st century maker version of celebratory crafting? Stanford’s FabLearn Fellows include some ideas in their “Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspirations for Fab Labs + Makerspaces,” an extensive guide. There’s a technological take on the “ugly Christmas sweater” trend. One of the fellows worked with high school engineering students to create sweaters that not only looked bad, but also lit up, made music, or were edible. The project was the culmination of a semester spent studying conductivity, programming, LEDs, and laser-cutting, and students proudly wore their successes on their sleeves—literally. For younger kids, another fellow recommends 3D-printing monster-shaped candy molds for Halloween.

  1. Build a Telegraph

Passing notes in class is typically frowned upon. Middle school teacher and FabLearn Fellow Heather Allen Pang actually encourages her history students to send messages from one side of the classroom to the other—but they have to build a good old-fashioned telegraph in order to do so. In the FabLearn guide, Pang writes about her own experience learning to build the machine, and gives advice to other educators trying the activity in their classrooms. For makers who are more attached to their modern-day communication technologies, the guide also suggests designing wooden or edible cell phone cases. Those would pair nicely with the emoji pillows a group of middle school students from Environmental Charter School sewed with Assemble.







A Class Where Students Create the Curriculum Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:30:55 +0000 In even the most innovative classroom settings, there are a couple of standard things students can expect.

A curriculum, for example. Assignments.

A new course in Middlebury, Vermont does away with such pesky conventions. Rather, it grants students the agency to design their own curricula and pick their own study topics.

What’s the Story” is a year-long course created by students and alumni of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Aided by Vermont’s Act 77, which allows for more flexibility in course offerings and settings, the educators worked up an unusual opportunity for middle and high school students to investigate issues that matter to them and their communities.

Students from across the state were selected to participate in the pilot run, beginning in the fall of 2015. Their open-ended task: come up with a project that could effect positive change. Working in mixed-grade groups of their choosing, the students devised research plans on topics ranging from energy-efficient housing to the state’s foster care system. Each group eventually created a multimedia production that communicated their findings.

The class met in person on occasion, including four overnight retreats, but the groups communicated virtually, from different towns and schools, throughout the year. Their teachers acted more like coaches, posing questions to deepen students’ critical thinking, and helping guide the research when necessary, but leaving all the action to the young people. The participants received English class credit for the course.

The final products from “What’s the Story” demonstrate young people’s breadth of interests and backgrounds.

One group, which included a volunteer firefighter, traveled around the state to investigate the fall-out from a consolidation of Vermont’s emergency dispatch centers. The students wrote a letter to a newspaper editor and created a film, which they screened for a local fire department. Another group interviewed their classmates and teachers about gender identity, making an educational and personal documentary film and leading workshops in high school classrooms. All the students shared their musings, successes, and frustrations on a class blog throughout the year.

For the creators of “What’s the Story,” letting students choose their own research topics was a key piece of the plan.

“The big challenge is to make sure the students are really emotionally engaged in the work they’re doing,” Bill Rich, a creator of the course, told Middlebury Magazine. Rich coordinates the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, a collaborative community of educators who graduated from Bread Loaf, some of whom developed “What’s the Story” together.

When students are allowed to pursue their own interests, Rich and many learning scientists believe, they are genuinely motivated to work hard, delve deep into ideas, and build skills that will come in handy later in life. This kind of interest-driven learning stokes curiosity and creativity—important skills for a generation of students who will become future civic leaders and innovators.

Students participants recognized that the coursework mimicked, in some ways, the work they’ll be asked to do as adults. One group initially struggled with direction, disagreeing about the research topic and returning to the drawing board several times. Figuring out how to square those differences and collaborate productively was a helpful lesson.

“Beyond high school, if you’re doing a project with someone it’s not going to be a four-day thing—you’re going to be working with these people for months,” one of the students told Middlebury Magazine. “It was really useful to figure out how that works.”

Collaboration was a theme throughout the course—for its creators as well as its students. The strong Bread Loaf network enabled the teachers to bring in students from diverse and remote areas of the state. Rich and his colleagues dream of scaling up the “What’s the Story” model for larger—possibly statewide or national—implementation.

But just as the students were told to reflect critically on their processes, the designers of the course are asking themselves important questions. For whom does this model work? Only highly self-motivated students like those selected for “What’s the Story,” or for students with varying learning styles and speeds? Would a pared-down version be successful in a traditional school setting?

At the very least, the student projects are testaments to the potential of young people to create powerful work—when they get the chance.


Member Survey Results: How should we Remake Learning in 2017? Fri, 16 Dec 2016 14:02:53 +0000 ...Continue reading »]]> As the Remake Learning Network marks ten years in the Pittsburgh region, it’s critical to reflect on the network’s past and what its future might hold. More than 100 people took this year’s annual Remake Learning Network Survey, which addressed these critical questions. Here are some highlights from their responses.

Major highlights

“Personally it is encouraging to know that I have a great support and resource in Remake Learning and that they are here to help.” – 2016 Remake Learning Network Survey response

More than 60% of the people who took the survey got involved with the Remake Learning Network in the last four years. In other words, though the network has been developing for a decade, the majority of its members have only become active since 2012.

Remake Learning Network members are fundamentally interdisciplinary in the way they think about learning. More than 70% of survey respondents reported that STEAM and integrated approaches are relevant to their work.

In terms of priorities, Respondents wanted the network to focus on innovative professional development for teachers and support programs that boost students’ learning outcomes.

Network members valued the regional focus on sharing Pittsburgh’s story with the world. Several respondents hoped that the Network might continue to do more work to raise awareness and improve programming closer to home, especially in the region’s most underserved areas.

Overall, respondents had positive stories to share about the network’s impact on their work. One respondent noted how productive partnerships have been for their work: “Collaborations and partnerships with Remake Learning Network members can lead to really cool outcomes for youth work with those who know instead of trying to do it all yourself.” Another respondent mentioned how ongoing Remake Learning activities like Meetups “have been great for talking to people and getting new ideas.” The informal conversations that start at meetups have led to grant applications, new programming, and ongoing official partnerships. In general, these conversations have helped people stay current: One person wrote that the Network “helps us keep a finger on the pulse of educational priorities for local schools, funders, and out-of-school learning opportunities.”

Ongoing network-wide initiatives like digital badging have also made a positive impact, especially the Badge-Enabled Playlists and Pathways funding support. One respondent remarked: “We appreciated the nudge to create solid relationships with like-minded partners and develop a plan for hand-offs–something we had been wanting to do for a while.” Using badging has also had a wider impact in the region; another respondent indicated that this alternative form of assessment “helped us think about how we structure ongoing efforts to connect young people to opportunities & explore learning pathways.”

Other respondents highlighted how the network empowers both teachers and students. One respondent described how the network helped an organization “ignite youth voice so that they can take control of their learning.” This organization’s programming transformed a teacher-led afterschool program into a student-led program. Teachers have also made connections in the network to deepen their understanding of innovative educational approaches and improve their practice. Social media is a major component of this work, as Remake Learning Network members constantly share their insights about what they’re reading and their photos from their latest conference or meeting. Teachers across the region are “actively creating professional learning communities” using social media,” one respondent noted. “Just follow Twitter on a Saturday.”

The Way Forward: Improving the Network in the next 10 years

Some respondents indicated that they want the innovative STEM and STEAM programming that’s been implemented to continue to level up in impact. One person wrote, “The application of [STEM and STEAM] skills to improve communities and solve problems using these tools appears to be lacking, and could be a great component for added value to youth and the larger community’s health and growth.” Others mentioned the need for the network’s impact to broaden geographically: Respondents from West Virginia and Fayette County mentioned the need for more programming in their regions or – barring that – more programming that might be attended from afar. Additionally, several respondents called attention to the uneven distribution of Remake Learning Network-related programming within Pittsburgh and Allegheny County: One person remarked, “Many innovative opportunities seem prevalent in well-resourced communities. We need to ensure that all communities have access to these cutting edge resources and opportunities.”

Access & Equity

“A focus on equity is essential for Pittsburgh to be a place for ALL children and ALL communities.” – 2016 Remake Learning Network Survey response

Network members were asked to rank the network’s most important future priorities from a list that included access and equity, creating learning pathways, outreach to parents and caregivers, and impact on local and national policy. More than 43% of survey respondents ranked access and equity as their first choice.

People provided narrative responses to support the priority they choice, and these critical themes of Respondents also called for a continued concentration on programs that improve access and equity.

They remarked on “the pernicious inequality in access to quality resources, mentoring, and life opportunities in Pittsburgh,” and they here is no reason why the zip code a child was born into should be the determining factor in the amount of exposure that child has to outside opportunity. Another respondent echoed these sentiments: “We need to make sure quality in- and out-of-school learning opportunities are available to all learners, not just those lucky enough to be in certain schools or neighborhoods.” Yet another respondent remarked on this need more broadly: “access to high-quality education – both formal and informal – is still very uneven. This needs to be a top priority if we want all children to benefit from the Remake Learning resources.”


Next Steps: Continuing the Conversation on Equity and Access


“As a network, we’ve made a national name for ourselves by demonstrating the power and potential of innovative teaching and learning practices to improve outcomes for our students. Now it’s time to make those practices available to all of our students, not just the those in communities that can afford innovation.” – 2016 Remake Learning Network Survey response

When the Remake Learning Network began as the Kids and Creativity Network, it famously started through a series of breakfast meetings, where we worked to bring together educators, innovators, roboticists, and makers. As the network enters its next ten years, we want to make sure that we welcome more people than ever around our table. In the new year, the Network will start some conversations that revisit our network’s mission, vision and values. We want to respond to the network’s desire to make equity and access a central priority. We hope you’ll join us for those conversations.

If you’re interested in joining these conversations, please contact Sunanna Chand, Remake Learning Innovation Strategist, at

Highlight Reel: The Remake Learning Blog in 2016 Tue, 13 Dec 2016 19:09:35 +0000 Maturity may not be the buzzword for 2016, but in the field of ed-tech and learning innovation, the field seems to have matured. We’ve come a long way since the launch of this network and are entering into a phase of sustaining and advancing progress. We kept up with the developments on the Remake Learning blog throughout the year, and took some deep dives into the ideas propelling the field. From new partnerships to a look back at the first 10 years of Remake Learning, we kept you abreast of the ins and outs of how the Pittsburgh region and the nation are re-imagining teaching and learning for a new age. Here’s a recap.

Embracing the Future

New partnerships and programs reimagined learning in 2016, often capitalizing on the latest technology to create new opportunities for young people. Local schools incorporated virtual reality into the curriculum for the first time. The interactive technology can help encourage empathy among students, advocates say. At Sprout Fund’s Ed-Tech Refinery, entrepreneurs teamed up with educators to ensure that classroom technology is useful and accessible. Innovative professional development programs got teachers keyed in to the latest learning science and tools as well.

We reported on new programs doing the necessary work of getting local students ready for a rapidly changing workforce. Rec2Tech, one program building those 21st century skills, converted recreation centers into labs for green designers, burgeoning med-tech experts, and civil engineers. Digital Promise’s Cricket Fuller told us how cross-sector coalitions dedicated to learning innovation are becoming more common and more structured. And our own network got a shout-out in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which traced the 10-year history of Remake Learning. In the article, Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr describes the motive driving members: “We want to create learning pathways for kids that help them navigate the economy, become great citizens, and thrive as lifelong learners.”

Policy and Politics

Politics dominated in 2016, including the politics of education. We dipped our toe in as well. A blog series dissected the Every Student Succeeds Act—the federal education law going into effect in 2017—and its implications for assessment, innovation, and college and career preparation. Educators used digital learning tools to teach young people about the election process. And as students in unwired areas around the country struggled to get online and benefit from connectivity, some asked: Should the internet be a public good?

Say What?

In a changing learning landscape, it can be a challenge to keep track of all the new pedagogies and practices—and the terminology used to describe them. A set of “explainers” on the blog took a stab at clarifying learning innovation, deeper learning, learning pathways, and networks. Network leaders also discussed how to measure the impact of a network, and why. The Fred Rogers Center’s Junlei Li considered the critical role of simple human interaction in the era of digital learning.

Working Locally, Thinking Globally

Lastly, the blog gave readers a ticket out of town in 2016, if only for a few minutes. Kari Keefe of KC Social Innovation Center introduced us to a network of entrepreneurs and educators working to address equity gaps in Kansas City, Missouri. In California and New York City, mindfulness programs encouraged a different kind of exploration, to help students process the trauma and anxiety that impedes learning. Working in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Amizade took local teens to destinations as far as Ghana and Northern Ireland. The teens are coming home with a new desire to engage in their community and the broader world. Later this week we’ll talk to Jamil Bey, who’s led a series of important community conversations in Pittsburgh with the help of local young men of color and My Brother’s Keeper. It’s all of these voices we’ll be looking to for our inspiration in 2017. Wishing you and yours a happy New Year.


For Good Measure Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:00:19 +0000 A network can be a great example of when more really is more.

A practice becomes more powerful when it is implemented in multiple settings. An individual has a greater impact when she can share advice and resources with others.

So in the education world, networks—cross-sector groups of educators, schools, community programs, and businesses working in tandem toward a shared goal—are catching on, and it’s no surprise.

Networks “allow ideas that are isolated, either in a classroom or community space, to scale, through sharing, collaboration, communication, and iteration,” said Anne Sekula, the director of the Remake Learning Council. The council represents the Remake Learning Network, a group of formal and informal education organizations working to increase opportunities for all young people in the greater Pittsburgh region.

Yet while members of networks sing their praises, the benefits of a network are hard to systematically track. Take “sharing” in all its manifestations—how do you count that, and how can you tell that it improves learning outcomes? As education networks proliferate, many are wrestling with the question of how, exactly, to measure networks’ unique impact. What data should be collected, and through what methods? And perhaps most important, why measure in the first place?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Sekula said.

In its 10 years of existence, Remake Learning has focused on providing information and resources that are more immediately practical, she said. That could be money for community programs, research on the use of classroom tools, or conferences. The network has not yet invested heavily in measurement, a deeply complex and expensive task.

“It’s a tremendous set of resources that we don’t want to lightly direct away from educators and impact on programs,” Sekula said.

But at 250 members and growing, the network is now considering the benefits of self-assessment.

“We at Remake Learning have said, ‘We know we have something that’s strong, but we also want to continually improve and expand that work,’” Sekula said. To do so, the network must take a close look at its strengths and shortfalls.

What would that entail? There are a couple of different, yet interconnected, approaches to measuring what a network is and does.

Photo/Ben Filio

Remake Learning Network members gather annually. Photo/Ben Filio

Networks need to look in the mirror

“If you’re interested in networks,” said Jennifer Russell, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, “you want to have ways of tracking the health of the network itself.”

This type of “process measure” assesses the strength of a network—how connected its members are—rather than measuring the outcomes of its work.

Social network analysis comes in handy here. The process involves mapping a network—determining who is connected to whom, and how. Social network analysis is used in many fields, whether researchers are tracking the spread of a disease, mapping an online social media network, or studying the structure of an education network.

What data should be collected, and through what methods? And perhaps most important, why measure in the first place?

Evaluating the health of an education network is necessary, said Julie Stolzer, director of marketing and consulting at the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM. Mapping a learning network can reveal whether everyone working in the field knows one another and whether available resources are being used to their utmost. Stolzer has seen firsthand how that often isn’t the case until an intentional network is established and assessed.

Stolzer is one of the facilitators of the STEM Ecosystems Initiative, a program developing regional STEM learning networks in over 30 communities. Part of her job is to survey each community to get a sense of existing and potential relationships—as well as where relationships may not yet have been formed. In every single case, she said, at least one educator has insisted that everyone working in STEM education locally already knows one another. And in every single case, there is a different educator who insists there is no local STEM program.

“That was a big ‘aha’ moment,” Stolzer said. Qualitative self-assessment can help identify gaps, forge new partnerships, and include those previously left out of the loop.

Photo/Ben Filio

Photo/Ben Filio

In Pittsburgh, an evaluation of the local maker education movement also demonstrated the importance of mapping the ties in a network. The analysis revealed the critical links—those people and programs that serve as “connective tissue” between others, Sekula said.

“You find these nodes of connectivity you can really mine,” she said. “You might be surprised to find one small organization that’s highly networked and an important player, but maybe they don’t get the resources they need to do that.”

Surveying members or mapping the connections in an existing network can help those critical actors expand their reaches.

“We’re trying really hard not to reinvent the wheel, but to figure out the gems that already exist,” Stolzer said of her work on the STEM Ecosystems Initiative.

But it is one thing to take the temperature of a network. It is a more difficult task to determine whether all its connection and collaborations are helping the students it serves.

Photo/Ben Filio

Photo/Ben Filio

New kinds of measurement for new kinds of learning

“Student-level impacts are a hard thing to get your hands around,” Sekula said.

First of all, most programs in the Remake Learning Network intend to boost student engagement, equity, and innovation—and other outcomes that may be immeasurable through traditional methods like standardized tests or AP enrollment.

“You find these nodes of connectivity you can really mine.”

In Russell’s experience, one of the hardest and most critical steps in measuring student impact—of a network or otherwise—is coming up with a highly specific problem of practice. A project she worked on, for example, explored why many students were not progressing from a community college onto university or a career. But it was impossible to measure something so broad as “success after community college.” The researchers eventually figured out that many students were getting held up by a mandatory developmental math course. The lack of success in that math class became the problem of practice. The task then, said Russell, was to drill down to measurable indicators—ones that tracked long-term goals (passing the class) as well as short-term (attendance or participation in class).

“That’s a process itself—identifying those achievement outcomes that a specific network or community values,” she said.

Measurement may be the key to the sustainability of a network.

Often, the different sectors represented in a network initially have different goals and ideas about how to track them. Stolzer observed that dynamic in one of the new regional STEM networks. At an early meeting, a teacher said she thought test scores were the only way to measure student achievement. One of the business partners countered that a measure of career readiness would most accurately capture achievement. The STEM Ecosystems Initiative eventually developed a set of success indicators for all of the regional networks to use. The metrics—ranging from measures of parent engagement to indicators of professional development opportunities—are designed to apply to multiple groups’ visions of success.

Even with the right metrics, tracing those outcomes back to the network adds another layer of complexity.

The collaboration intrinsic to networks turns out to also be a barrier to measurement. Perhaps students at one of the maker afterschool programs in the Remake Learning Network become demonstrably more engaged in their creative work. Or say attendance at a career training program skyrockets. Can those outcomes be attributed to the network, versus to the autonomous programs?

Take a recent pilot study of Remake Learning summer program providers. The researchers tracked participation by demographics, interest level, and other student outcomes. But “this study wouldn’t reveal network impacts other than anecdotally,” said Carnegie Mellon University’s Marti Louw, the lead researcher. “Those kinds of studies require a much larger investment in research and evaluation.”

At the end of day, measuring networks is a challenge, but one that most involved are increasingly finding necessary—whether for the sake of self-improvement or to communicate successes to funders. Measurement, then, may be the key to the sustainability of a network and its capacity to make a difference where it matters most: for learners.

Celebrating Learning Remade in 2016 Thu, 01 Dec 2016 22:57:37 +0000 2017 marks the tenth year of the Remake Learning Network. As we close the book on our first decade, we’re taking the opportunity to look back on the Network’s work in 2016 and ahead to what comes next.

A winter of new partnerships, collaborations, and networking.

2016 began with the launch of several Ed Tech Refinery projects, which paired edtech startups with local schools and out-of-school learning partners to play-test new ed tech tools, deepening the network’s engagement with the local startup scene.

Our Remake Learning Network Meetups and Lunch and Learn events kicked off at Pittsburgh Public Schools with a talk from James Doyle about key partnerships between PPS and out-of-school-time program providers.

Remake Learning Network members traveled to California to share their insights at the Deeper Learning Conference in San Diego and the Education Foo Conference organized by Google in Mountain View. Network members also traveled to Texas to present their work at SXSWedu.

In March, the new TransformED West space opened at Montour School District.

Ringing in spring with connections and celebrations.

In the spring, the Remake Learning Council’s Working Groups kicked off a series of meetings to address critical needs in key areas of interest for the network. These meetings convened regional thought leaders around strategic initiatives related to the regional STEM or STEAM Ecosystem, the Maker Movement, and Tech-Enhanced Learning.

The STEM Ecosystems project is in its second year, and it’s part of a national network of regional and state STEM Ecosystems, four of which are in Pennsylvania. This work is bringing stakeholders together around STEM to collaboratively plan and organize.

Meanwhile, participants in the Maker working group expressed a need and developed a focus around understanding how maker skills and competencies in secondary education settings translate to future career opportunities, especially in the advanced manufacturing sector. One great example came from Catalyst Connection’s student video contest that encouraged middle school and high school students to “Explore the New Manufacturing.” You can view a gallery of the students’ videos on YouTube.

In April and May, Pittsburgh Public Schools hosted two-day “Beyond Diversity” seminars to help community members understand the impact of race on student achievement and the role that racism plays in institutionalized racial disparities.

In May, KnowledgeWorks released their Future Forecast and published a special report on the future of learning in Pittsburgh. This document reflected on the achievements of the Remake Learning Network over the last ten years and looked ahead at how educators in our region might adapt learning for new contexts over the next ten years.

The other big story from May was Remake Learning Days. This weeklong celebration of activities and events showcased everything that makes the Pittsburgh region a recognized national leader in innovative teaching and learning. More than 200 events provided educators, students, and families in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia opportunities to experience the power of innovative learning. More than 150 commitments representing $25 million of investment were made by philanthropies, businesses, and governments. Remake Learning Days will return in May 2017 with 12 days of activities and events that showcase the activities of educators and innovators across the Pittsburgh region.

A summer of learning.

The summer kicked off with the launch of Summer 16, a collaboration between the City of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Executive’s office, and Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time that created a hub for all parents and youth looking for summer enrichment activities.

Summer 16 partners set an ambitious goal of engaging 16,000 youth in summer enrichment and they far exceeded that with more than 22,000 regular participants in ongoing summer camps and programs and an additional 38,000 participants in one-time drop-in activities and events.

Perhaps most impressive was the success of the Carnegie Library’s summer reading campaign, which recorded more than 150,000 books read from June through August.

On Pittsburgh’s Northside, community members involved with the One Northside initiative organized into Action Teams to lead projects that address key priorities in Northside neighborhoods related to education, employment, and place.

In June, our own Gregg Behr traveled to the White House where he was honored as one of ten Champions of Change for Making.

Later that month, a large delegation of Remake Learning Network members gathered in Denver shared insights from their classrooms and programs at ISTE, the premier international conference on edtech.

In July, two Pittsburgh educators were named Deeper Learning Equity Fellows: Temple Lovelace here at Duquesne University and Lisa Abel-Palmieri from Holy Family Academy.

In August, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County embarked on the next phase of the ongoing My Brother’s Keeper initiative to close the opportunity gap for young people of color in the Pittsburgh region.

Filling up fall with technology and making.

In September, the City of Pittsburgh Department of Innovation & Performance, Citiparks, The Sprout Fund, and Comcast worked together to transform five city rec centers into technology learning centers for Pittsburgh kids. Rec2Tech Pittsburgh was a one-week demonstration project where kids used technology to express their creativity, solve real-world problems, and build job-ready skills. Remake Learning Network partners provided programming at five city rec centers: These providers included Assemble, the YMCA, Digital Corps, TechShop, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Sisters e S.T.E.A.M., and Citizen Science Lab.

Also this fall, two more Pittsburgh-area school districts were named to Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools. Montour School District and Fox Chapel Area School District joined Elizabeth Forward, South Fayette, and Avonworth School Districts are also among the 86 forward-thinking school districts in 33 states to be honored with this distinction.

CMU’s CREATE Lab celebrated the fifth year of its Satellite Network, which has expanded beyond the region to include partners in Utah and Georgia.

CMU and Pitt hosted the White House Frontiers Conference, where Pittsburgh-based organizations like Girls of Steel and the Children’s Museum MAKESHOP got to show off how the future of teaching and learning is alive and well here in Pittsburgh.

In September, Avonworth School District was awarded a Digital Media and Learning grant to support an expansion of their Pittsburgh Galleries Project which has students work alongside museum and gallery professionals to plan, design, and create their own artistic exhibit in their community.

In October, more than 20 Pittsburgh-area teachers participated in a workshop to join the second annual Games 4 Change Student Challenge. These teachers will support their middle-school and high-school students as they develop their own video games related to three key themes: local stories and immigrant voices; climate change; and future communities.

Plus, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh hosted the second-annual Pittsburgh Maker Faire, where makers of all ages had the chance to show off their skills and share their work.

The Creative Youth Center opened at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, providing a state-of-the-art facility for the YMCA Lighthouse Project, Y Creator Space, and other programs.

Maker Ed collaborated with the Remake Learning Network and IDeATe at Carnegie Mellon University to host a two-day Open Portfolio Workshop.

The biggest-ever Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference took place on November 8th, and more than 500 teachers, students, and educators from across the country convened at Montour High School.

Meanwhile, the National STEM Video Game Challenge announced their 20 middle-school and high-school winners at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC. The STEM Challenge hosted 19 workshops in Pittsburgh during 2016, and 4 of the 20 winners had some connection to Pittsburgh.

Earlier this month, we saw the launch of Nation of Makers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping makers by supporting maker organizations through advocacy, sharing resources, and building community within the maker movement and beyond. This new nonprofit received more than 300 Letters of Support from hackerspaces, makerspaces, and other leaders from the maker community, including several members of the Remake Learning Network.

And just two weeks ago, the National League of Cities hosted its annual City Summit here in Pittsburgh, which was covered by media outlets including Pittsburgh’s own youth reporters from Youth Express. As of this winter, there’s a new Youth Express app available where  students’ coverage of this event and other topics of critical interest to youth in our region.

Looking ahead to what comes next.

As 2016 comes to a close, we have lots to look forward to next year.

Six Remake Learning Badge-Enabled Pathways & Playlists teams will complete their programming with students. In May, both Project Zero and Schools That Can will host their national conferences here in Pittsburgh. Remake Learning Days will take us by storm again, and CMU will host its second CONTEXT conference in October 2017. And the National STEM Ecosystems will hold their national meeting in Pittsburgh next fall. And, most importantly, we’ll take more time to reflect and to set goals for the Remake Learning Network’s next ten years.

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of our learning network here in Pittsburgh. When the Remake Learning Network began as the Kids and Creativity Network, it famously started through a series of breakfast meetings, where we worked to bring together educators, innovators, roboticists, and makers. As the network enters its next ten years, we want to make sure that we welcome more people than ever around our table. In the new year, we’ll start some conversations that revisit our network’s mission, vision and values. We want to respond to the network’s desire to make equity and access a central priority.

Game Design Contest Brings Learning a Level Up Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:00:11 +0000 In a winning entry from last year’s Games for Change Student Challenge, a hand-drawn avatar wanders the halls of a high school. The goal is to graduate. Along the way, the player picks up helpful resources and advice.

A guidance counselor, who has to be plied with coffee throughout the game, appears now and then to tell the student to find a tutor or a mentor. Occasionally, the path to graduation gets ominously darker—the screen literally goes black.

Playing the game, which high school students in Brooklyn made using Scratch, induces a bit of a headache. The player has to navigate the virtual school’s perplexing maze of hallways—a representation of the figurative walls many young people bump up against when trying to succeed. The game is meant to call attention to the school-to-prison pipeline, one of the social issues highlighted in last year’s Games for Change (G4C) competition.

Games For Change Student Challenge deadline: April 2017

The contest is now in its second year and is open to Pittsburgh youth for the first time. The rules ask middle- and high-school students to design digital games that boost social awareness. This year’s entries, due April 2017, must explore the themes of climate change, immigrant stories, or smart technology in cities. Winning individuals and groups will receive prizes including paid internships and help from professional mentors.

Game-based learning has earned enough of a following in recent years to have entire schools devoted to the practice—see Quest to Learn in New York and Chicago. The benefits of game-based curricula are twofold. Many students already have an interest in gaming, and can use their existing experience as a launching pad for learning. Meanwhile, the processes of game design and play build critical skills: problem-solving, innovation, and teamwork.

Catherine Swanwick, a neuroscientist turned teacher and game designer, explains that game design achieves fundamental STEM learning outcomes.

“The whole process of game-making is very similar to the scientific process,” she said in a webinar hosted by Zulama, a Pittsburgh-based ed-tech company. “You’re thinking about a problem, and you’re testing and you’re troubleshooting, and you might stumble across something that happens by accident.”

Other educators note that game design can promote interdisciplinary learning. The process of coming up with a meaningful message and experimenting with the technical and aesthetic means of communicating it to players builds “technological, artistic, cognitive, social, and linguistic skills suitable for our current and future world,” according to Gamestar Mechanic, a game design platform.

While some of last year’s G4C entries share similar mechanisms, the storytelling sets them apart from one another. One of the winning games last year, Cat Quest, presented a tried-and-true challenge: dodge obstacles and earn points. But the avatar is a cat, and the obstacles—fast cars, toxic food—are meant to educate players about animal welfare.

“The whole process of game-making is very similar to the scientific process.”

“Shifting the narrative can change the game,” writes games-based learning scholar Jordan Shapiro at Mind/Shift.

And giving young people the opportunity to craft that narrative themselves is powerful. While most young people have played a video game that was created for them, fewer have been given the chance to stretch their own imaginations and create one themselves. Through the G4C challenge, students can explore issues relevant to them and their communities, presenting them from their own perspectives.

Though only students get to try their hands at competitive game-making in the G4C challenge, the program offers opportunities for educators as well. In each of the eligible cities—Pittsburgh, Dallas, and New York City—20-30 teachers receive training on teaching game-design courses.

It isn’t the first games-based professional development program for Pittsburgh teachers. TeacherQuest, a partnership between the Institute of Play and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Pittsburgh, and based on Quest to Learn schools, trains educators to integrate games into their classrooms. During its summer training, the teachers themselves play and design games, coming up with projects their students can replicate.

G4C has a history with our city as well. Members of the Remake Learning Network and local game designers have presented at the Games For Change Festival in New York, a conference promoting games with a social mission.

Now, young people in our city can join the conversation too.

Preparing Students to Roll with Change Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:00:03 +0000 How do we prepare students for a changing world?

Last month on the KnowledgeWorks blog, Remake Learning Council Learning Innovation Specialist Sunanna Chand reflected on the future of learning in Pittsburgh. As we’ve seen this month, change can come quickly.

Pittsburghers know that already—our economy has changed at an astonishing rate in the past few decades. A region once dominated by steel manufacturing has quickly become a tech epicenter.

“We can’t live in that reality and think that education can proceed the way it has been for hundreds of years,” Chand writes.

To prepare students to adapt with the changing world, the education system must teach resourcefulness, creativity, collaboration, and innovation. Young people must be equipped to confront whatever storms or sunny days may lie ahead in their lives and communities.

KnowledgeWorks, a national college and career readiness foundation that provides professional development and technical assistance, specializes in documenting and predicting educational change. Last spring, Remake Learning and KnowledgeWorks teamed up to document the likely changes coming in our region, and to track how well our learning community is preparing for that change.

“We can’t live in that reality and think that education can proceed the way it has been for hundreds of years.”

The resulting guide, which we featured on this blog, presents visions of what the future of learning might look like, with signposts of how well Pittsburgh’s educational ecosystem is adjusting. An adaptation of a national forecast, the guide highlights local smart learning environments like SMALLab and Montour School District’s Z Space Lab, the region’s movement toward personalized learning, and programs like Digital Corps, which assemble unconventional configurations of educators and adult mentors.

In retrospect, Chand says, her most significant takeaway from the forecasting process was the reminder that the rate of change accelerates.

“The rate at which new inventions, ideas, and marketplaces emerge and then become obsolete” is exponential, the forecast says.

The forecast also reminds us that, amid new fields and new opportunities, “equity is not a given.” It is critical that a network like Remake Learning, with more than 250 members across public, private, and academic sectors, combines its collective power to build a future in which it is.

Earlier this month, we covered some of the efforts in the region to make room for all young people in the changing economy. Partnerships between schools, businesses, and community organizations have proliferated.

The Fab Lab at the Carnegie Science Center is teaching young people to use robotics equipment, laser cutters, 3D printers, and sewing machines. Funded by Chevron, the innovation lab offers youth workshops, professional development, field trips, and birthday parties.

TechHire Pittsburgh, a program from the Three Rivers Workforce Development Board, trains disadvantaged teenagers to be computer support specialists. The jobs can be pathways to the middle class for those without college degrees. Another organization, Catalyst Connection, pairs up small manufacturers with students for six-week problem-solving exercises.

These organizations know that the future is uncertain. But no matter what change awaits today’s students, educators and their partners can help prepare them for whatever might lie ahead.

Pittsburgh’s Pipeline Problem and How the City is Solving it Wed, 16 Nov 2016 13:00:58 +0000 Over one week this last summer kids in Pittsburgh’s Carrick neighborhood turned into urban agriculture experts, building a greenhouse from water bottles. In another neighborhood rec center, kids tested a virtual reality tool from Carnegie Mellon University. At still another, they dissected a pig heart and printed 3D models of the organ.

The kids in these Rec2Tech programs aren’t only having fun. They’re building valuable skills, by design. The Pittsburgh region is set to add thousands of new jobs in the next decade, and it has to be ready.

LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill, deputy chief of education at Pittsburgh’s Office of the Mayor, is one of many who saw a great opportunity.

“Why not turn our [rec] centers into these places where people can come and really gain access to 21st century skills?” she told Remake Learning last summer.

Critical thinking, teamwork, basic engineering concepts—they’re all in high demand, says Linda Topoleski, vice president of Workforce Programs and Operations at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which just completed a major survey of local employer needs.

“We need to make sure our skill sets are aligned with workforce demand.”

Yet while Rec2Tech is working hard to create future innovators, storm clouds are gathering. On the eve of hosting the National League of Cities’ annual City Summit Nov. 16-19, which brings leaders from across the country to hear about Pittsburgh’s transformation from steel capital to technology and medical hub—the city and region stand at a crossroads.

While Pittsburgh is receiving well-deserved accolades for its economic rebirth, the city isn’t out of the woods.

The pipeline of children graduating with the right sets of skills isn’t enough to meet future demand, finds “Inflection Point,” a new workforce study by the Allegheny Conference. Even if every child remained in the city after graduation—a big if—the region would still lack enough skilled workers to fill the demand. In short, too few kids are thinking about jobs in fields that the city is building—fields like high-tech manufacturing, radiologic technology, and other middle-tier jobs.

Pittsburgh is looking down the barrel of 340,000 retirements in the next decade, but only 260,000 high school seniors are entering the workforce, says Topoleski. Manufacturers in the region will lose one-fourth of their workforce in the next 10 years. That means that “we need to make sure our skill sets are aligned with workforce demand,” says Topoleski.

The Dream Factory at Elizabeth Forward Middle School. Photo/Ben Filio

The Dream Factory at Elizabeth Forward Middle School. Photo/Ben Filio

Everyone Has a Role to Play

Remake Learning is doing its part to prepare the next generation for the future, with its network of in- and out-of-school programs that help develop the STEM, collaboration, and creative thinking skills needed in the jobs of tomorrow. Further, says Topoleski, Remake Learning has “ignited a level of interest and excitement about looking at education in new ways,” and is helping kids develop the concepts and activities that are important building blocks to later success. “When you’re exposed to 3D printing at summer camp in 8th grade, that’s a key skill later,” she says.

The most forward-thinking schools in the region are rethinking learning, placing hands-on experiences alongside the traditional models. Students at the Elizabeth Forward schools in Elizabeth, Pa. have access to 3D printers in the Dream Factory, a state-of-the-art maker lab, and Chevron-funded FabLabs at the Carnegie Science Center and the Intermediate Unit 1 let kids and their families build creations with high-tech machinery.

Employers are getting directly involved with their pipeline of workers: schools.

The region is also working to expand opportunities for marginalized youth. Programs like TechHire Pittsburgh, a Three Rivers Workforce Development Board effort, create opportunities for disadvantaged young people to receive short-term technical training for jobs like computer user support specialists, for example (also called quality assurance positions) who test software. These programs can function as quick onramps to better paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree. With a typical salary of $44,000 and an 11 percent growth rate, according to Inflection Point, these support specialists jobs offer a ladder to the middle class.

Employers are getting involved more directly with their pipeline of workers: the schools.

Catalyst Connection, an economic development organization focused on small manufacturers, for example, connects employers with students directly. The organization runs ten-week programs that have students solving real-world problems for the business. Students visit the company, learn about an issue or problem that has arisen, and then go back to the classroom to come up with a solution.

Exploring virtual reality at Rec2Tech. Photo/Ben Filio

Intervala, a company that assembles component parts for different precision products, was looking at a $20,000 investment in new machinery to assemble a device for Stork, a home conception device. High school students in the Burrell school district were tasked with improving one aspect of the assembly process. They found a $1,000 solution by adding a simple gadget to the assembly process, saving the company its $20,000 investment, says Scott Dietz, manager of Workforce Education Initiatives at Catalyst Connection. Dietz is the liaison between education and industry for the organization. The program has been running at Burrell for six years, and science teachers have taken the lead in helping students work through the process, applying the scientific process to the company’s problems. “That’s critical thinking 101,” says Dietz.

Manufacturers in the Pittsburgh region will lose 1/4 of their workforce in the next 10 years.

In addition to building skills, “kids get out of the four walls of their classroom and see what industry looks like. And teachers can see how things work, and carry it back to classroom,” Dietz says. Catalyst Connection, with support from ALCOA and Chevron, offers a two-day training session for teachers to learn about the program and about problem-solving principles and methods in industry. Many teachers are applying those principles in their project-based learning in the classroom, says Dietz. They have trained 60 teachers so far this year, with 150 more scheduled between now and June.

“For us, it’s about influencing the influencers,” says Dietz. “Guidance counselors have too much on their plate. But teachers are go-to people to encourage kids on career pathways, or encouraging the skills in math and science that are needed.”

It’s not just middle and high schools that are developing these skill sets. Community colleges and others are also working to better align courses with employer needs or emerging job clusters. “Westmoreland Community College has a whole new facility around advanced manufacturing,” says Petra Mitchell, executive director of Catalyst Connection.

But Jobs, Education—and Expectations—Must Be Better Aligned

Though many are doing their part to ensure that kids have secure futures, one thing is missing. Parents, youth, and educators need to shift their thinking about what constitutes a high-growth, important, worthwhile occupation, says Topoleski.

A first step is to better align education and training with the jobs in high demand. Currently, these systems are far from aligned. “We have a machinist track in high schools with only 350 students, but 700 open jobs,” says Topoleski. Machinist jobs are projected to grow by 11 percent over the next decade.

What constitutes a worthwhile occupation in today’s economy?

Part of the misalignment starts at home, with parents, says Topoleski, who typically want their children to get a four-year college degree. Yet two-thirds of the new jobs in the region will not require a BA, the workforce report finds. National figures back that up. Projects by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce find that while a majority of jobs by 2020 will require education beyond high school, half of those jobs require less than a BA.

“The reality is that the economy of the future will require highly skilled talent but not necessarily skills from a four-year program. Not to denigrate BAs, but we need both,” says Topoleski.

But many parents in Pittsburgh lived through the turmoil of downsizing in the manufacturing sector with mass layoffs. Parents don’t want their child to live with that volatility, says Mitchell of Catalyst Connection. But, she notes, most of today’s layoffs occur in the biggest employers, not the small manufacturers that make up the Pittsburgh region. Small manufacturers, she says, are not as prone to layoffs as the big companies who are beholden to their shareholders, so volatility is less of an issue.

“There’s an emotional piece of this,” says Topoleski. “[Parents] have to let go of where things were and realize the future is going to look different. If they want their kids on a promising, relevant path, they have to take a look at workforce demand and what it will take to get there.”

If Pittsburgh is to continue to innovate, it must prepare its children for the future. That means tapping their potential early, imbuing them with the technological and critical thinking skills they will need, and providing clear pathways into viable jobs that can accelerate Pittsburgh on its goals of inclusive innovation.


Open Portfolios Capture Learning Inside—and Outside—the Classroom Mon, 14 Nov 2016 17:46:33 +0000 In the quest to find more authentic ways of measuring students’ progress than high stakes tests, many progressive educators use portfolios.

Many in education believe portfolios, compilations of student work, are the most appropriate method for documenting and assessing hands-on, project-based learning. The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act includes portfolios on its list of acceptable school assessment methods.

This week, educators are gathering in Pittsburgh to explore the potential of the method at the Open Portfolio Workshop, hosted by Maker Ed, in partnership with Remake Learning and IDeATe at Carnegie Mellon University.

Physical and digital portfolios are important steps in rethinking how we “capture” student learning, according to Maker Ed, a nonprofit maker education organization. But they’re not the end of the road, the group believes.

Learners achieve best when their learning is reinforced in, and connected across, multiple settings.

The scientists and educators at Maker Ed think the current portfolio systems don’t live up to their potential, largely due to a “general lack of openness.” Portfolios and their contents are often isolated at a school, inaccessible when the student produces something in an extra-curricular program, and lost forever when the student graduates.

And that lack of openness is missing the point of creating a portfolio in the first place, they say.

“We know that learners achieve best when their learning is reinforced in, and connected across, multiple settings,” write Indiana University scholars Christian McKay, Anna Keune, and Kylie Pepper, and Maker Ed staff members Stephanie Chang and Lisa Regalla in a research brief.

Embracing the theory of connected learning, Maker Ed has proposed a new way to create and share portfolios. Through The Open Portfolio Project, Maker Ed works to develop a portfolio system that is seamlessly integrated among learning settings, is shareable, and is accessible across all digital devices. Such a system would use a platform that doubles as a social network where learners and educators could share resources and creations. Admissions officers, employers, artists, producers, and the curious could stumble on anyone’s portfolio.

There are parallels between open portfolios and open badges, digital representations of a skill or achievement (think Boy Scout badges). Both approaches attempt to document formal and informal learning, on a platform that students and adults in their communities can access from home, school, or work.

Open portfolios offer novel opportunities for creativity and design

This week’s free Open Portfolio Workshop gives educators the chance to roll up their sleeves and share ideas about the use of open portfolios for learning and assessment. The event focuses on the role of portfolios in college and career pathways. The “open” part is meant to ensure that portfolios will be viewable by college admissions officers or hiring managers down the line. Especially for those students who don’t excel in traditional learning settings—or for those who have simply worked on a cool personal project at home or at the library—an open portfolio can capture more of their informal learning, showing it off to the people who want to know about it.

Portfolios, according to Maker Ed, aren’t just good venues for showcasing student work after the fact. The process of creating a portfolio has value itself—the process of “reflecting on one’s work, curating what’s most appropriate for the intended audience, and designing an artifact to articulate that evolution of learning and making.”

Open portfolios allow students to experiment with presentation, digital media, and narrative, write the Indiana University and Maker Ed authors. These collections are not merely digital versions of file drawers or art galleries, but novel opportunities for creativity and design—to show the personality and intelligence of the creators in new and engaging ways.

Pittsburgh Levels the Playing Field Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:57 +0000 Last month we wrote about opportunities for learning in unusual spaces. One group we covered put up educational conversation prompts in grocery stores; another had kids read books to their barbers during haircuts.

A few weeks ago, a number of organizations were celebrated for similar efforts—but in their case, the focus was play. KaBoom announced the winners of its “Play Everywhere Challenge” in September, awarding funds to 50 projects—including three in Pennsylvania—that integrate play into urban spaces. Among the proposals selected by the play advocacy organization: a crosswalk that doubles as a hopscotch sequence, a set of solar-lit treasure hunt clues, and a bench whose clever design allows users to sit, climb, or walk across it.

“Play is one of the most important ways in which children learn,” Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, recently told The Atlantic.

In some ways, the relationship is intuitive. Imagine a classic game of make-believe; let’s say kids on a schoolyard are pretending to get lost in the wilderness. They’re developing their creativity when they determine the shady spot under the slide is the best place to camp out for the “night.” They’re learning to regulate their emotions when they divvy up their woodchip “dinner” equally, and learning to collaborate when they hash out the story together.

Play “is a natural tool for children to develop resiliency as they learn to collaborate, overcome challenges, and negotiate with others,” according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Play not only propels social-emotional growth, research shows, but can also build cognitive skills and improve behavior. In one study, teachers reported that students who had recess breaks behaved better in the classroom.

“Play is one of the most important ways in which children learn.”

Therein lies the challenge. As The Atlantic reports, over a third of school districts cut or eliminated recess in the wake of No Child Left Behind. (The roll-back, the author notes, coincided with new research endorsing the importance of play.)

The reduction of recess is one of several barriers to play which is faced disproportionately by kids from low-income families. In some cases, overworked parents, the stressors of poverty, or neighborhoods without playgrounds make it hard for those families to find time for free play. For KaBoom, the Play Everywhere Challenge is an attempt to, well, level the playing field. The “everywhere” piece acknowledges that low-income families in particular might have to incorporate playtime into long rides on public transit or hours spent at laundromats and doctors’ offices.

In Pittsburgh, there are many efforts underway to make playing a possibility for all kids in the region. For the past few years, the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative has worked to raise awareness of the importance of play and support public projects that expand opportunities for play. This group of local public and private education organizations takes special interest in “play-on-the-way” projects—those that make play possible without interrupting daily schedules.

Since the spring of 2015, the collaborative has worked on the Hazelwood Play Trail, a sequence of established and new opportunities for play for families walking through the Hazelwood neighborhood. Its most anticipated addition came to fruition in September this year. Volunteers of all ages gathered to erect a new playground in only one day.

Thanks to them, colorful climbing structures of various shapes and sizes now stand in an area that hasn’t had a playground in several years. Local youth have new opportunities for play and thus for creativity, invention, and problem-solving—skills that, some researchers say, are needed more now than ever.


Going Abroad—And Bringing the Lessons Back Home Mon, 07 Nov 2016 13:30:49 +0000 In Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a strong network of community groups is working to make sure the neighborhood’s younger residents have the opportunities their parents might not have had. Once a thriving community of middle-class African American families and black-owned businesses, the fabric of the Hill District was decimated by urban renewal in the 1950’s. Today, 40 percent of residents still live in poverty, compared to 20 percent in the ZIP code just to the north. Only about 15 percent have a college degree.

Community groups here believe that a concerted focus on young people is the key to positive neighborhood change. A newly renovated youth center offers enrichment programs to local kids and teens and a new nonprofit research lab has begun providing vocational job training in the Hill. Groups are working to engage young people in changing their own neighborhood for the better. But for organizers at Amizade, a Pittsburgh-based global exchange and service learning organization, that change begins by giving teenagers the chance to go as far away from the neighborhood as possible.

Who gets to go abroad?

Since its founding in 1994, Amizade has partnered with other community-based organizations in 12 countries and some domestic sites to create volunteer opportunities for individuals of all ages, schools, and community groups. Amizade practices what it calls “Fair Trade Learning,” meaning that its global exchange programs are reciprocal. The organization sends Americans abroad to volunteer, but also hosts foreign young people in the United States. The mission? To produce “global citizens” whose time abroad will foster increased cultural awareness as well as lifelong civic and community participation.

“We’re not trying to create a citizen who can go abroad and simply cross-culturally communicate for a couple weeks,” said Amizade executive director Brandon Blache-Cohen. “We’re trying to create a citizen who becomes a better neighbor and an active, engaged learner in their own community.”

In the summer of 2015, a group of Pittsburgh teens traveled with Amizade and the Hill House Association to Northern Ireland, where they visited cultural sites with Irish youth. Photo: Hill House Association

In 2015, Amizade took Pittsburgh youth to Northern Ireland, where they visited cultural sites with Irish teens. Photo: Hill House Association

Today, experts say that learning global competencies is a key 21st century skill. To be successful in the future, today’s young people need to be able to work and solve problems as part of a diverse team.

Blache-Cohen has watched students come home from these trips with new perspectives on their own neighborhoods and their roles within them.

This, Blache-Cohen believes, is especially important in the region’s low-income neighborhoods, where children are less likely to have the opportunity to participate in enrichment activities and where increased civic participation is needed to improve neighborhoods.

Education researchers Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane have studied the growing “opportunity gap” between American children from high- and low-income families. They find that affluent families spend more on educational enrichment activities like afterschool programs, summer camps, and global exchange trips—the kinds of activities that better prepare students for college or a career. Between 2005-2006, they report, higher-income families spent $8,000 more per child on enrichment activities, compared to $3,000 more in 1972-1973. Racial disparities in study abroad programs exist as well.

How will the Hill District change when its youth go abroad and come back with a new desire to engage in their community and broader world?

The gap in access to global exchange programs is “a serious issue of equity,” Blache-Cohen said.

For the past few years, Amizade has focused in on the Hill District, opening up opportunities for teenagers from the neighborhood to go on trips to Ghana, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, and next year to Puerto Rico. Currently, three partner organizations—the Hill House Association, the Center That Cares, and the Ujamaa Collective—help recruit Hill District youth to go abroad with Amizade. Trips usually last around two weeks. While abroad, students visit cultural sites and stay with local teenagers, who introduce their visitors to local customs and issues of local importance.

In addition to support from Amizade, the students and organizations raise their own funds to cover costs through personal donations as well as sometimes philanthropic and corporate support.

Blache-Cohen says these trips are meaningful and transformative for the individual participants. But the organization is interested in understanding the effects of their trips on the community at large. They are asking: How will the Hill District change when its youth go abroad and come back with a new desire to engage in their community and broader world? Ideally, Amizade would like to eventually bring one out of every four or five Hill District teenagers on a trip abroad, and then measure the impact on neighborhood-level metrics like crime and graduation rates over time.

Photo: Hill House Association

Photo: Hill House Association

Amizade is far from achieving its ambitious goal. That will require a deeper level of foundation support or a public investment, Blache-Cohen said. But the organization is pouring the resources it has into the area. Over the past few years, 50 Hill District teenagers and adult mentors have gone abroad, and dozens more have welcomed young people from Northern Ireland, Bolivia, Peru, and Kenya to Pittsburgh.

“It’s incredible to watch young people look at their place in a larger global ecosystem,” said Terri Baltimore, director of community engagement at the Hill House Association, a social service organization with a long history in the neighborhood. “The world becomes a place where they belong. You see young people thinking about how they can influence the world around them.”

“The world becomes a place where they belong. You see young people thinking about how they can influence the world around them.”

Baltimore brought some of the youth she works with to Northern Ireland with Amizade last summer. None of the students had traveled outside of the country before, and they gained a new understanding of how the Hill District was connected to the world beyond its borders. When some of the teenagers returned, Baltimore said, they got involved with environmental and social organizing locally.

Amizade is exploring how to better help trip returnees turn their experiences into action. One idea on the table is offering community engagement grants, Blache-Cohen said. A participant who has learned about food insecurity on Amizade’s trip to the Navajo Nation in Arizona, for example, could apply for a grant to start a community garden in the Hill District, where some residents also suffer from food insecurity.

“As far as we can tell, there’s never been a community that’s invested this heavily in this type of global experiential education anywhere in the country,” Blache-Cohen said. “No neighborhood has gotten together and said, ‘We believe this is a pathway forward for our young people.’” Leaders in the Hill District may be the first.

Young visitors from Bolivia and Peru tour the Hill District. Photo: Daniel Alexander/Amizade

Young visitors from Bolivia and Peru tour the Hill District. Photo: Daniel Alexander/Amizade

Drawing connections across borders

The Hill District youth who have had the chance to go abroad have learned that their own hometown is simultaneously special and ordinary.

Qui Ante Anderson, an 18-year-old who has lived in the Hill District her whole life, said she felt less alone when she discovered the striking similarities between her hometown and the Irish communities she visited with Amizade in 2015. That summer, she and several peers and adult mentors spent 10 days touring Northern Ireland, staying at hotels, homes, and retreats, learning about local customs, and giggling with Irish teenagers over culture clashes. They were exposed to both beauty and hardship.

Anderson was startled to find that a version of discrimination and segregation existed in the largely white Ireland as well. The clashes between the Catholic and Protestant populations were impossible to miss, she said.

“I felt like I was going back in time in my own history”—to the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, Anderson, who is African-American, said.

She and her peers from the Hill District were also surprised when they were taken on a tour of a public housing complex.

“A lot of students had the stereotype that literally only black people live in housing projects,” she said. “But we saw a housing project full of white people. We heard some of their stories and saw an effort to create change, and that’s what’s going on in the Hill District too.”

The connections she’d drawn on her trip made Anderson more curious about the rest of the world, but also importantly renewed her interest in how these issues played out in her own history and community.

“You should want to travel not just with the intention of leaving home and running off,” Anderson said, “but with a love and appreciation for your home.”

Educators Gather in Pittsburgh to Personalize Learning Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:30:10 +0000 A middle school math program implemented in some New York City classrooms is called Teach to One—originally School of One—and at first glance, that’s a major misnomer. Enter a school where Teach to One is in progress, and you’ll see not one, but nearly 200 students participating in the experience simultaneously.

The “One” refers to the individualized learning plans each student follows. An online system continually assesses the students’ work, drawing up daily lesson plans tailored to each person’s needs and skills. Some students in the massive class are sent to work in small groups, while others go listen to a lecture or work alone on a computer. Teachers are stationed throughout the space, working in different ways with the students.

Studies on the effectiveness of the unusual math class have yielded inconclusive results, reports EdWeek.

Teach to One is an attempt at personalized learning, an approach whose definition can be as hazy as the results of its evaluations. Generally, it refers to teaching and learning that empowers students to learn at their own pace and in styles that make sense for them. Typically, technology is used to customize lessons for individual students, or to allow learners to progress through the work as quickly or as slowly as they need to.

Despite the nebulous definition, personalized learning has garnered plenty of practitioners and fans in recent years. In fact, some educators have long practiced what has been called “differentiated instruction”—teaching that attempts to correspond to students’ diverse learning styles. The advent of educational technology has earned the approach new fans who see more opportunities for implementation. They are working hard to figure out exactly how to make learning a personalized experience—and what resources and pedagogy that requires.

Any classroom teacher can tell you students have different learning styles and speeds.

Next week, when educators and administrators meet in Pittsburgh for the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference, personalized learning will be a hot topic. Whether they explicitly use that term or not, many of the sessions at the Nov. 7-8 gathering explore how to leverage technology to promote learning that is tailored to individual students’ needs.

One event, for example, will serve as the official public launch of the Kandoolu Learning Navigator, a personalized learning tool aligned with Pennsylvania Core Standards. The mobile assessment app, created by OnHand Schools, gives real-time results to teachers and suggests resources tailored to meet each student’s needs.

Another session at the conference (Remake Learning is a sponsor) addresses how teachers can use technology to design lessons that empower individuals. Called Creating Quality Content for Personalized Learning, the event covers the use of Google apps to create interactive presentations or online lessons students can navigate on their own.

Personalized learning is in some ways a fundamental rethinking of traditional pedagogy, where all students in a classroom cover the same material over the same period of time. And discarding decades of standardized lessons and pacing doesn’t come easy.

This year’s 2016 K-12 New Media Consortium/Consortium for School Networking Horizon Report, which tracks trends in education and ed tech, deemed the implementation of personalized learning a “wicked challenge.”

The Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference is Nov. 7-8.
It is “complex to even define, much less address,” the authors, a panel of education and technology experts, quip. The main barriers, they explain, are the lack of infrastructure in schools and the need to prepare teachers and incorporate effective pedagogy. The lack of a concrete definition of “personalized learning” also presents a challenge for researchers attempting to study its efficacy.

Perhaps, then, the key is to take a page out of the approach’s own book, and personalize the implementation of personalized learning.

Consider one researcher’s observations regarding the promise of—and barriers to—personalized learning in rural areas. Many rural schools, writes Carolyn Chuong at EdSurge, don’t have reliable broadband access, let alone iPads equipped with real-time assessment software.

Still, a personalized system where students are working on different projects can free up limited teachers to attend to students who need one-on-one help. In cases where there is internet access, personalized learning software can give interested students access to courses not available in the selection at their small schools. When that isn’t an option, local internships can create a more flexible learning environment where students who thrive in hands-on settings can engage in a “lesson” that makes more sense for them and their personal needs.

Any classroom teacher, after all, can tell you that students have different learning styles and speeds. “Personalized learning” may not have secured its spot in the dictionary, but it is a nod—and an active attempt to respond—to that diversity.

Can a Laundromat Become a Classroom? Tue, 25 Oct 2016 12:00:29 +0000 For many kids, going to the grocery store means trailing listlessly behind harried parents. If they’re lucky, maybe they’ll get to ride in the cart or successfully persuade Mom to buy ice cream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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