Remake Learning http://remakelearning.org Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:02:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Badging the “Soft” Skills http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/08/20/badging-the-soft-skills/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17399 Wed, 20 Aug 2014 18:22:09 +0000

Badging the “Soft” Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next big ideas for Pittsburgh [NEXTpittsburgh]

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

Cathy Lewis Long, Sprout Fund / Photo: Peter Leeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many may think preschool is too young to learn any “real math.” Not so, according to the National Science Foundation, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), and the Fred Rogers Company.

Screenshot/ PBS Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Corps Empowers Youth to Master the Digital Landscape

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

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Corps Empowers Youth to Master the Digital Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ani Martinez / Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hummingbird Robotics Kit

Hummingbird Robotics Kit

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

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

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

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

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

Scratch training at Hilltop Computer Center / Photo: Norton Gusky

Classes at the Hilltop YMCA / Photo: Norton Gusky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrice Gerard / Photo: Ani Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

The Learners

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

Working with Plants vs Zombies for Hour of Code

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Akiva

Tom Akiva

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

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

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

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

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

A Digital Corps training session with Ani Martinez

Digital Corps training session / Photo: Ben Filio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Camps for Maker Kids

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

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Digital Corps training session with Ani Martinez

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

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

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

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

Tom Akiva

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

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

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

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

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

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Summer Camps for Maker Kids http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/31/summer-camps-for-maker-kids/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=17036 Thu, 31 Jul 2014 18:07:29 +0000

Summer Camps for Maker Kids

Google and MAKE Magazine’s Maker Camp invite students to explore the world via virtual field trips and hands-on projects.

At Pittsburgh's STEM Institute, girls learned about community service, engineering, and design. Photo/ Ben Filio
What’s better than sitting on the couch playing Minecraft all summer? How about going behind the scenes at Mojang, the game’s developer, in Sweden and getting an inside look at how Minecraft is put together?

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

Held July 7 to August 15, Maker Camp joins kids ages 13 to 18 with scientists, makers, artists, and techies via virtual field trips and hands-on projects. Daily Google+ hangouts, held at 11 a.m. (PST), offer participants incredible learning opportunities. Kids can explore film sound effects with a designer from Skywalker Sound, a division of Lucasfilm, Ltd. They can also visit a robotic zoo of the future with robotics engineers and learn claymation from folks at Aardman Animations (famous for producing the “Wallace & Gromit” series).

Field trips take students behind the scenes at places such as the LEGO headquarters and IDEA House in Denmark, Disneyland’s Fantasmic! pyrotechnics show, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Imagine the cost of sending your kid to only one of those places this summer.

Each hangout is paired with two daily activities: one basic and one more advanced. For example, after learning about space from Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin and watching the James Webb Space Telescope assembled live, students may make their own milk jug rocket launcher or soda bottle rocket LED fireworks—hands-on projects requiring mostly basic household tools. The full 2014 schedule is available online.

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

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Photo/ Ben Filio

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

Marques Duncan, age 13, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that before he took part in the program, he was planning to go into the military after graduation. Now he may look for a carpentry apprenticeship instead. “I’m so glad I did it,” he told the Post-Gazette. “I’m really proud of myself. Every time I see it, I can think of what I learned here and keep using it.”

The project was funded in part by the Hive Fund for Connected Learning at the Sprout Fund, with additional expenses covered by private donors. Connected Learning is a theory of learning that links teens’ interests, peers, and academics to spur deeper learning in and out of class, because in today’s online world, learning never stops.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is in on the action with Camp MAKESHOP. Held August 18 to 22, the camp gives students ages 10 to 12 a place to tinker and get their hands dirty using electronics, playing with circuitry, woodworking, and sewing.

Kids ages 4 to 14 can geek out about science at the Carnegie Science Center. Campers experiment with roller coasters, design robots, build bridges, learn about science careers, and tackle other enriching activities at these week-long camps.

Or kids can head over to TechShop, a community workshop and studio for the Pittsburgh maker community. The space, larger than 16,000 square feet, includes everything aspiring makers need, from design software to high-tech tools and equipment.

We’ll be celebrating making and web literacy at a Maker Party this Saturday Aug. 1 with activities and learning stations from the Digital Corps, Pittsburgh City of Learning, and Hive Pittsburgh. When it comes to preparing kids for 21st-century challenges, these activities may even rival spending the summer at the pool.

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Pittsburgh Youth Speak Out to Improve Relations with Police http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/28/pittsburgh-youth-speak-out-to-improve-relations-with-police/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16999 Mon, 28 Jul 2014 16:44:37 +0000

Pittsburgh Youth Speak Out to Improve Relations with Police

With help from the Hear Me project and Allies for Children, Pittsburgh youth led public input on hiring the city’s next police chief.

Pittsburgh teens met with Mayor Peduto on May 30 to discuss youth-police relations. Photo: Hear Me Project
Like many Pittsburgh youth, 19-year-old Curby Anderson has faith in the ideals of policing. When asked on camera to describe his vision of a police officer, he said he wants to see “a person that is dedicated to the work, that works hard, and believes that he can protect other people.”

But Anderson, a resident of Troy Hill, worries that police officers in his neighborhood sometimes may not live up to that vision. He fears police may be quick to make judgments, such as “this person’s gonna be bad, so we’re going to send them off to prison.” He’d like police officers to know the neighbors, particularly local youth, before making that call. “You never know, he could turn his life around.”

Anderson was one of more than 100 young people throughout the city who voiced their opinions of and experiences with Pittsburgh police as part of a campaign organized by the Hear Me project and Allies for Children.

Hear Me is an initiative of the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. It aims to ensure young people’s voices are included in public dialogue about how to make community change. The project records kids’ stories, which are then collected on the project’s website and installed in innovative “tin can” kiosks embedded with audio files. These kiosks are placed in coffee shops, libraries, and recreational spaces around the city for the public to listen to the stories.

Hear Me’s latest campaign is about public safety. It’s collecting stories from young people about their interactions with, and perceptions of, law enforcement officers.

As part of this work, seven participants, including Anderson, met with Mayor Bill Peduto in May as he kicked off the search for the city’s next police chief. And Anderson joined the city’s screening committee to help review applications for the job. After the meeting with Peduto, Hear Me continued to encourage youth to make their voices heard at community forums, the last of which was held July 24.

The most satisfying part is seeing how many young people wanted to take part in the conversation.

“For me, the most satisfying part is seeing how many young people wanted to take part in the conversation,” said Jessica Kaminsky, the Hear Me project manager who coordinated the campaign.

By partnering with approximately 20 other local youth-serving organizations, Hear Me reached young people from 33 neighborhoods. Children as young as age 6 took part, as well as young adults up to age 20. The majority—53 percent—described their perceptions of police as positive, whereas 35 percent labeled police as neutral, and only 12 percent termed them as negative.

But when young people told their stories of experiences with the police, the picture became more complex. Of the 35 youth who described their perception of police officers as neutral, 23 shared stories of negative experiences with police officers. The report concluded, “In our interpretation, these 23 students recognized the role of police officers as positive public officials, but a negative personal experience changed their perception to neutral.”

“Students want to know police officers. They want more positive interactions,” said Kaminsky. “They want to establish a positive relationship instead of react to a negative situation.”

In Hear Me’s recordings, youth also offer some very specific recommendations for the next police chief. “I would tell the chief of police to be responsible and increase officers’ activities with youth, maybe through the schools,” said Kevin, age 15, from Beltzhoover. (As a matter of policy, Hear Me does not publish last names of youth on its website or in other materials.) “If you’re young and they talk to you a lot, you’ll grow up and understand that they’re there to help you. . . . You can trust them. If they don’t talk to you or anything you’ll think they’re kind of mean.”

“Make sure he isn’t a person who prejudges quickly and thinks things through before he acts,” advised Andre, age 15, of Spring Hill.

“Look for someone who cares about the community,” suggested Brittany, age 18, of Brighton Heights. “Someone who can target teenagers to help them become better people.”

Stories collected through this campaign are compiled in a portfolio on Hear Me’s website and can also be hear at a kiosk near you.

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Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for July 25th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/07/25/16986/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=16986 Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:30:08 +0000

For Urban Kids, the City is a Campus for Learning

Learning in an urban setting makes the whole city your campus; how to improve Massive Open Online Classes; a school in Philadelphia changes how subjects are taught; 4 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

On a recent Saturday in July, kids and their parents visited Dallas’ Love Field Airport to learn about aviation. The kids took tours of the airport, learned how security and baggage claim worked, met the fire crews and bomb squads, and played around with ticketing.

“These were kids who’d never been to an airport in their lives,” said Ed Meier, chief operating officer of the education nonprofit Big Thought. “We were introducing them to aviation.”

The month before, kids and their parents took over the new Continental Avenue Pedestrian Bridge—spanning West Dallas to downtown—to learn about art and science and hop on a bus converted into a multimedia studio on wheels.

These “turn-up” events were Big Thought’s way of introducing Dallas kids and their parents to Dallas City of Learning, a new initiative that’s part of the Cities of Learning movement from the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Youth Network, and Badge Alliance. The initiative helps kids connect with the learning opportunities happening in their cities and earn digital badges for their efforts.

Fast forward to summer 2014, and Cities of Learning is happening in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Pittsburgh, with Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio, joining in the fall.

Khalif Ali is the program manager of the Badges for Learning project at the Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh. “What struck me about Cities of Learning,” Ali said, “is that all of these places are interested in creating cities as campuses, where learning can take place anytime anywhere.”

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How Can We Improve MOOCs? http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/23/how-can-we-improve-moocs/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16967 Wed, 23 Jul 2014 19:13:40 +0000

How Can We Improve MOOCs?

With help from Google, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon have launched a new initiative to make massive open online courses (MOOCs) more effective. They're starting by paying attention to learning styles.

Photo/ Ilonka Hebels

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are one of the most-hyped recent developments in education.

As Eric Westervelt reported for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “In theory, students saddled by rising debt and unable to tap into the best schools would be able to take free classes from rock-star professors at elite schools via Udacity, edX, Coursera, and other MOOC platforms.” These online courses seemed capable of fulfilling the internet’s early promise of making knowledge accessible to all.

But whether MOOCs can make good on that promise remains to be seen.

Despite the high enrollment numbers, according to many estimates approximately 90 percent of people who sign up for most MOOCs fail to complete the course. In addition, a few high-profile flops have made headlines in the past two years. For example, San Jose State University’s highly publicized experiment in offering for-credit MOOCs, in partnership with online course developer Udacity, fell far short of its goals.

“Completion rates and grades were worse than for those who took traditional campus-style classes. And the students who did best weren’t the underserved students San Jose most wanted to reach,” Westervelt said in the NPR segment.

The University of Pennsylvania released a 2013 study of MOOCs that said only approximately one-half of those who registered viewed a lecture and that completion rates for the courses averaged only 4 percent.

Even Sebastian Thrun, cofounder of Udacity, has acknowledged the failure of MOOCs to live up to their early promise: “Online education that leaves almost everybody behind except for highly motivated students, to me, can’t be a viable path to education.”

The major reason for these failures, posits Geoffrey A. Fowler in the Wall Street Journal, is that “for all but the most self-reliant, online learning can be isolating.” Disengaged students are more likely to perform poorly or drop out altogether.

Some instructors mitigate this problem by recording more audio or video segments instead of only providing written lessons. They also update content frequently, send motivational messages to students, or congratulate them for work completed. Online mentors, active discussion boards, quizzes, and other activities to break up lessons also have been proven to increase student retention and engagement.

Another tactic some online course providers have used is charging a nominal fee, from $30 to $90, to confirm a student’s participation in and completion of a course. Coursera found that students who had shelled out cash for a course were more likely to complete it.

Regardless of the delivery method, social interaction is key to effective learning, studies have found. “The most important thing that helps students succeed in an online course is interpersonal interaction and support,” Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, said in the Wall Street Journal article.

A recent study has suggested that blended learning, which combines interactive online components with face-to-face instruction, can be effective as traditional classroom instruction.

Now comes the recent announcement that Carnegie Mellon University has received a Google Focused Research Award to tap the potential of MOOCs. A multidisciplinary team of researchers will use data-driven approaches to develop techniques for “automatically analyzing and providing feedback on student work, for creating social ties between learners, and for designing MOOCs that are effective for students with a variety of cultural backgrounds.”

As part of the research, Emma Brunskill, assistant professor of computer science at CMU, and Kenneth Koedinger, professor at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and director of the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, will leverage machine learning techniques to personalize MOOCs for each user, identifying which subject areas the student has already mastered and which might offer additional learning opportunities.

The second component—led by Carolyn Rose, associate professor in CMU’s Language Technologies Institute, and HCII professor Robert Kraut—will consist of determining ways to improve retention through increased socialization opportunities, such as mentoring and team tasks. The two will also explore how to better identify students at risk of dropping out of the course and more effectively engage these at-risk students in coursework.

Finally, the team will research ways to make courses more fun and engaging through game play and culturally relevant content for users outside the United States. That component will be led by Amy Ogan, assistant professor in HCII, and Jessica Hammer, assistant professor in HCII and the Entertainment Technology Center.

Google will provide $300,000 in annual funding for two years, with the potential to extend the research to a third year.

CMU hopes that the research will help MOOCs live up to that early hype.

“Unless the MOOCs pay attention to how people actually learn, they will not be able to improve effectiveness, and will end up as just a passing fad,” said Justine Cassell, associate vice provost of technology strategy and impact at CMU and codirector of the Simon Initiative, a university-wide program to use science and technology to improve student learning.

Photo/ Ilonka Hebels

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For Urban Kids, the City is a Campus for Learning http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/21/for-urban-kids-the-city-is-a-campus-for-learning/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16894 Mon, 21 Jul 2014 21:15:37 +0000

For Urban Kids, the City is a Campus for Learning

How four cities are using their home turf to connect more kids with learning opportunities and to document what they learn with digital badges.

Steeltown Entertainment Project's Teen Production Crew / Photo: Ben Filio
On a recent Saturday in July, kids and their parents visited Dallas’ Love Field Airport to learn about aviation. The kids took tours of the airport, learned how security and baggage claim worked, met the fire crews and bomb squads, and played around with ticketing.

“These were kids who’d never been to an airport in their lives,” said Ed Meier, chief operating officer of the education nonprofit Big Thought. “We were introducing them to aviation.”

The month before, kids and their parents took over the new Continental Avenue Pedestrian Bridge—spanning West Dallas to downtown—to learn about art and science and hop on a bus converted into a multimedia studio on wheels.

These “turn-up” events were Big Thought’s way of introducing Dallas kids and their parents to Dallas City of Learning, a new initiative that’s part of the Cities of Learning movement from the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Youth Network, and Badge Alliance. The initiative helps kids connect with the learning opportunities happening in their cities and earn digital badges for their efforts.

Cities of Learning started in Chicago last summer, when the mayor’s office contacted the MacArthur Foundation about ways to connect digital badging to existing summer programming. The MacArthur foundation went to the Mozilla Foundation, which had built the technical infrastructure for digital badging. Then Chicago’s Digital Youth Network created the blueprint to make the idea actually work.

Multimedia Bus, Dallas/ Photo: Graham White

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

When Chicago debuted Summers of Learning last year, 20,000 kids participated and 100,000 badges were awarded. (Summer of Learning has since changed its name to Cities of Learning). Then, Pinkard said, “it took on a life of its own.” Cities around the country started calling the Chicago mayor’s office to ask how they could do it. Fast forward to summer 2014, and Cities of Learning is happening in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Pittsburgh, with Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio, joining in the fall.

Khalif Ali is the program manager of the Badges for Learning project at the Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh. “What struck me about Cities of Learning,” Ali said, “is that all of these places are interested in creating cities as campuses, where learning can take place anytime anywhere.”

How do we make visible all the learning opportunities happening in a city 24-7?
The idea of connected learning—which seeks to marry kids’ own interests with real-world learning opportunities both in and out of school—has been around for a while, but people like Ali are excited that Cities of Learning takes connected learning to the next level. The Digital Youth Network created a customizable website where cities can list all of its learning opportunities, whether through community centers, museums, or city park departments. Kids and parents can search by ZIP code or by interest, and the site makes recommendations. Google Maps pop up to show where programs are located, and boxes announce related programs. And all of it is tied to digital badges.

“It’s not so much about creating something new as recognizing the opportunities that already exist and making visible what kids are doing with badging,” Pinkard said.

Take Pittsburgh, for example. Plug “robotics” and “making” into the search box, and you’re led to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s “Magic of Electronics” workshop, TechShop’s “21st Century Printmaking,” and Holy Family Academy’s “Build Your Own Desk Project.” On the Dallas site, “robotics” leads you to the Dallas Public Library’s junior robotics camps and “Basic Robotics: LEGO Mindstorms.”

And it’s not just that kids participate in the summer programs; it’s that they’re given badges to acknowledge what they’ve done. The idea is that the badge, thanks to the digital infrastructure, follows kids for life.

“It’s an online symbol that you have acquired a particular competency,” Ali explained. “And the metadata in the badges is verifiable because there might a be a link to a YouTube video of a you building a desk or facilitating a meeting. It’s a permanent record of what you’ve achieved.”

Young Naturalists

Young naturalist in Pittsburgh’s parks. Photo: Ben Filio

In other words, Ali said, the badges become “currency.”

This summer, Ali expects approximately 3,000 kids will participate in Pittsburgh.

Luis Mora is an administrative coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Beyond the Bell, which runs after-school and summer programming. He was struck by the way Cities of Learning provides the back-end infrastructure but allows each city to make its own priorities. In Los Angeles, workforce development is important so the program offers badges that reward financial literacy, learning how to fill out job applications, creating résumés, and developing interviewing skills.

Mora was also intrigued by the online challenges Digital Youth Network created, which all cities can access. There’s “Lil’ Musician,” where kids use everyday objects to make musical instruments, an “App Inventor,” “Introduction to Animation,” and “Digital Video Apprentice.” College students back in Chicago from the Digital Youth Network assess the challenges.

For those piloting Cities of Learning, the big questions are how to reach low-income families that may not have easy access to the internet and whether high school teachers, universities, and employers will take badges seriously.

The question for Mora is one of traction.

“What actually happens with the badges?” he asked. “How portable will they really be? Will employers or universities really want this type of certification?”

As for the equity piece, Mora is creating drop-in centers at eight schools in low-income areas.

Students visiting Love Field in Dallas.

Students visiting Love Field in Dallas. Photo: Graham White

For Ed Meier of Big Thought in Dallas, the creation of “turn-up” events such as the one at Love Field are an attempt to introduce people to Dallas City of Learning and drive them to the website. “That’s what we’re struggling with now,” Meier said.

“How do we keep the kids engaged? How do we find more access points for them to get on computers, which they might not have at home?”

Next up for Meier is finding a way to bring Dallas City of Learning to kids’ mobile devices, because, according to the Pew Research Internet Project, 78 percent of teens have cell phones.

For Pinkard, the success of the program will depend on its ability to reach underprivileged kids.

“The fear I have is we provide this great system that ends up empowering parents who are already active to snap up the best opportunities for their kids,” Pinkard said. “We don’t want to create more barriers for the kids who need this the most. That’s how we’ll hold ourselves accountable—how do we nimbly move the program so it’s not just accessible but desirable to a wide range of kids?”

In the meantime, Pinkard said 25 cities from all over the world have been in touch and want to get involved.

For Ali in Pittsburgh, the goal is to have badging opportunities year-round. He’s looking to a day when school counselors scroll through a student’s badges and help students pursue their interests in a more personalized way.

“That’s the kind of connected learning we’re talking about,” he said.

 

 Heather Chaplin contributed to this story.

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Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for July 18th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/07/18/16883/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=16883 Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:32:47 +0000

STEM-ing the Tide of Long-Term Unemployment

How to combat unemployment with a focus on STEM education; Family game night can help make better students; Pittsburgh wins $200k youth healthcare grant; 4 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

Although there’s been some good news about the unemployment rate, long-term unemployment continues to make headlines. According to a recent USA Today article, approximately 3 million people, or 30.4 percent of the unemployed, were out of work for 27 weeks or longer as of last month—down from an all-time high of 48 percent in 2010 but still the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track.

Amid this (mostly discouraging) news comes a new report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program highlighting the ongoing shortage of workers in STEM fields.

Using data from labor market analysis firm Burning Glass, the report analyzed the skill requirements and ad duration for millions of job postings. It concluded that positions in STEM fields take longer to fill than positions in other fields. In fact, the average STEM vacancy was advertised for twice as long as a non-STEM vacancy.

In addition, more jobs were posted in STEM fields relative to available workers. For every unemployed computer worker, the study discovered, there were five job openings; for every unemployed health care worker, 3.3 job openings; and for architectural/engineering and science professionals, 1.7 and 1.1 job openings, respectively.

“Even though the job market for STEM positions is white hot,” the article said, “there is still a dearth of new graduates in these fields relative to other fields like business and humanities. This strong demand combined with the limited supply work together to drive up the pay for these positions.”

So, as many workers struggle to find work, employers in STEM-related industries struggle to find workers and will pay generously for them.

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STEM-ing the Tide of Long-Term Unemployment http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/17/stem-ing-the-tide-of-long-term-unemployment/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16891 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:28:27 +0000

STEM-ing the Tide of Long-Term Unemployment

Strengthening STEM knowledge prepares students for the lucrative, high-demand jobs of the future.

Photo/ Steve Jurvetson

Although there’s been some good news about the unemployment rate, long-term unemployment continues to make headlines. According to a recent USA Today article, approximately 3 million people, or 30.4 percent of the unemployed, were out of work for 27 weeks or longer as of last month—down from an all-time high of 48 percent in 2010 but still the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track.

Amid this (mostly discouraging) news comes a new report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program highlighting the ongoing shortage of workers in STEM fields.

Using data from labor market analysis firm Burning Glass, the report analyzed the skill requirements and ad duration for millions of job postings. It concluded that positions in STEM fields take longer to fill than positions in other fields. In fact, the average STEM vacancy was advertised for twice as long as a non-STEM vacancy.

In addition, more jobs were posted in STEM fields relative to available workers. For every unemployed computer worker, the study discovered, there were five job openings; for every unemployed health care worker, 3.3 job openings; and for architectural/engineering and science professionals, 1.7 and 1.1 job openings, respectively.

To put those figures in perspective, there were only 0.7 openings for every legal professional in need of work and only 0.2 and 0.1 for out-of-work production and construction workers, respectively—meaning fewer jobs to go around than the number of unemployed professionals in those fields.

Among all major job types, computer skills were associated with the highest salaries and longest ad durations.

In the Pittsburgh metro area specifically, more than one-third—37.3 percent—of the 14,252 ads for job openings in the first quarter of 2013 required STEM skills, according to the Brookings report.

“These indicators,” the report explained, “signal that STEM skills are in short supply in the labor market, relative to demand.”

According to Forbes, recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree and less than three years of experience in their industry earn an average of $39,700 a year. In-demand STEM professionals can earn more than double that. The top-paying STEM job for a four-year college grad with three years or fewer experience, petroleum engineer, has a median annual salary of $88,700. Average pay for nuclear engineers, the second-highest paying STEM job for recent college grads, is $62,900. And the third-highest-paying job for new grads, marine engineer, clocks in at an average annual salary of $62,200.

Even without a four-year degree, STEM jobs pay well. Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, according to “The Hidden STEM Economy,” a 2013 report by Brookings, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average—a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements. These jobs could include those in the green economy, for example, such as doing electrical retrofits of buildings or residential energy efficiency jobs, or the many technician jobs in health care.

“Even though the job market for STEM positions is white hot,” the article said, “there is still a dearth of new graduates in these fields relative to other fields like business and humanities. This strong demand combined with the limited supply work together to drive up the pay for these positions.”

So, as many workers struggle to find work, employers in STEM-related industries struggle to find workers and will pay generously for them.

Remake Learning’s work in fostering learning innovation in the region is helping to prepare students for this evolving career landscape.

Providing students with opportunities to gain STEM skills not only prepares them for future careers in those fields, it also helps them develop critical thinking skills—and that will put them in good stead for whatever the future job market holds.

Photo/ Steve Jurvetson

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Making It http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/15/making-it/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16860 Tue, 15 Jul 2014 16:15:37 +0000

Making It

Eleven-year-old Caine Monroy has finally closed down his homemade cardboard box arcade. But at Assemble, a makeshop in Pittsburgh, there’s plenty of tinkering still going on.

Learning by making at Assemble

It’s been more than three years since Caine Monroy’s elaborate cardboard arcade in front of his dad’s used auto parts shop was catapulted to fame by Nirvan Mullick’s short film. But last summer, after two years and tens-of-thousands of customers, Cain “retired” on his eleventh birthday and closed Caine’s Arcade to the public. 

The last day was probably a first step for Caine, though. The film has been seen 8 million times and counting, and it has spun into a movement that’s spawned numerous think pieces, a scholarship fund, and a TEDx talk. Most notably, it spurred the creation of the Imagination Foundation, which aims to find, foster, and fund creativity in kids through programs such as the Global Cardboard Challenge and pop-up learning spaces called Imagination Chapters.

Last week, the foundation featured a piece on Assemble, aptly titled “Making it in Pittsburgh.” Assemble is a one-of-a-kind gem, and the folks at the Imagination Foundation have noted how Assemble has become a home for invention and creativity in the Garfield neighborhood.

From kids soldering solar panels, to extracting DNA from a strawberry, to building windmills, the article details the day-to-day tinkering, making, and collaborative learning that happens in the space.

The article also touches on Saturday Crafternoons, free weekend workshops where local makers and crafters lend their skills to help make community-focused projects that merge science, art, and craft. A few months ago, kids created a mosaic timeline of Nelson Mandela’s life in the Nelson Mandela Peace Park around the corner from Assemble. And yes, on one Saturday afternoon last year, kids went all out with the Global Cardboard Challenge.

“When kids make something, they glow with not just enthusiasm, but knowing that they can. Knowing that you can is the biggest part of the battle.” 

“I hope that when they leave, they understand that someone made up everything in the world around us, from the food that we eat to the clothes that we wear and the buildings that we live in,” Assemble director Nina Marie Barbuto told the foundation.

As the article explains, Assemble and Pittsburgh’s other spaces, such as MAKESHOP or TechShop, are a small part of the much broader maker movement that’s been picking up even more national attention recently. The White House just hosted its first Maker Faire, and national media descended on the 17-foot-tall robotic giraffe that strolled along the White House lawn. People around the country saw creations, such as 3D-printed models of viruses and a shoe insert that charges an iPhone by walking (invented by Pittsburgh’s SolePower startup!).

With all the attention surrounding making, journalist Katrina Schwartz at Mind/Shift recently asked if hands-on learning and tinkering had entered the mainstream discussion enough to make its way into more classrooms. It’s probably too soon to tell, but the massive response to Caine and other maker kids, such as Sylvia of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show and Joey “Marshmallow” Hudy, may suggest that a growing number of parents and educators are picking up on the value of making.

It’s bizarre, beautiful, and sometimes terrifying how the internet propels people and things into the cultural mainstream in a matter of days. Sometimes, viral sensations are just cat-related and ridiculous. But other times, there’s one element that connects with society on a deeper level. At a time when shop classes have been cut and kids are more plugged in than ever, seeing Caine create a world of tape and cardboard struck a chord with parents, educators, and even kids who took to their own cardboard boxes.

Although when we talk about making we often gravitate toward 3D printers and robotics kits, making—in essence—is about exploring and hands-on learning, not the materials. Tech wizardry is one route to enhancing that process, but Caine’s Arcade was simply the idea of kids learning all sorts of STEM and “soft” skills through making, whether with cardboard or code.

That’s what Assemble and so many Pittsburgh organizations give kids the chance to do: to find the power in being creators, not just consumers.

Barbuto summed it up well in the Imagination Foundation piece: “When kids make something, they glow with not just enthusiasm, but knowing that they can. Knowing that you can is the biggest part of the battle.”

For kids in Pittsburgh and throughout the country, the maker movement entering the mainstream is, hopefully, only the beginning of a larger role of self-directed learning in and out of the classroom. And as far as Caine’s next move? He’s opening a bike shop.

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Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for July 11th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/07/11/16836/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=16836 Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:45:37 +0000

The Impact of After-School Arts Programs

Studying the positive effects of after school programs; Teachers using social media to teach civics; nominate your colleagues for this year's EdSurge awards; 5 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

We know places that let kids explore arts are vital parts of a learning network. We also know that art is every bit as important as STEM for instilling skills such as problem solving and imagination. But can after-school arts programming do even more? A recent report from the College & University Research Collaborative finds that enrolling more kids in after-school arts classes is associated with a decline in juvenile crime rates.

The researchers analyzed education, crime, and census data from 39 Rhode Island cities for five years. Two of the three statistical models showed that participation in educational after-school activities was associated with lower juvenile crime rates in the same year. In one of the statistical models, a 10 percent increase in participation was associated with a 4 percent decrease in juvenile crime rates.

Higher participation rates in lower-income towns—towns with median incomes less than the area’s median income—was slightly more effective: a 10 percent increase in participation meant a 5.4 percent decrease in juvenile crime.

As one student who is part of Rhode Island’s Everett: Company, Stage & School explains in the report, “By middle school I slipped into the pattern of behavior typical to the youth surrounding me; I joined a gang and began engaging in risky behaviors. [Then] my best friend and I discovered break dancing, and somehow also found Everett. . . . From preparing for shows . . . across the state to being exposed to places and people I otherwise would never know, these experiences changed the course of my life.”

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The Impact of After-School Arts Programs http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/09/the-impact-of-after-school-arts-programs/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16825 Wed, 09 Jul 2014 17:28:37 +0000

The Impact of After-School Arts Programs

For kids in low-income neighborhoods after-school arts programming helps keep them off the streets and provides access to needed enrichment. Can it lower crime rates too?

YOUmedia Chicago / photo: Alexander Garcia

We know places that let kids explore arts are vital parts of a learning network. We also know that art is every bit as important as STEM for instilling skills such as problem solving and imagination. But can after-school arts programming do even more? A recent report from the College & University Research Collaborative finds that enrolling more kids in after-school arts classes is associated with a decline in juvenile crime rates.

The researchers analyzed education, crime, and census data from 39 Rhode Island cities for five years. Two of the three statistical models showed that participation in educational after-school activities was associated with lower juvenile crime rates in the same year. In one of the statistical models, a 10 percent increase in participation was associated with a 4 percent decrease in juvenile crime rates.

Higher participation rates in lower-income towns—towns with median incomes less than the area’s median income—was slightly more effective: a 10 percent increase in participation meant a 5.4 percent decrease in juvenile crime.

The report points out that much more research is needed to address remaining questions. For example, do the effects of the programming last? Furthermore, there’s no data on participation rates in after-school programs that are specifically arts-based; therefore, the analysis focuses on broader after-school activities with more in-depth interviews, untangling the effects of arts programming specifically.

Researchers found arts-based programming in many cases had turned around participants’ lives. 
What we do know already, though, is that kids from low-income families have less access to quality after-school programming, even though they’re the ones who need it most. For one thing, heading to a dance program or theater rehearsal is an alternative to spending those after-school hours at home in front of the television or in neighborhoods that may be affected by crime or drug use. Nobel Prize−winning economist James Heckman found in a 2006 study that following early education with after-school programs can cut young people’s chances of starting drugs by one-half. 

As one student who is part of Rhode Island’s Everett: Company, Stage & School explains in the report, “By middle school I slipped into the pattern of behavior typical to the youth surrounding me; I joined a gang and began engaging in risky behaviors. [Then] my best friend and I discovered break dancing, and somehow also found Everett. . . . From preparing for shows . . . across the state to being exposed to places and people I otherwise would never know, these experiences changed the course of my life.”

Beyond keeping kids in safe environments, after-school arts programs give low-income kids similar chances to learn and explore their own interests that their higher-income peers have been receiving at origami camp or during saxophone lessons for years. By the time kids born into poverty reach sixth grade, they will have spent approximately 6,000 fewer hours learning than their wealthier counterparts. (If you do the math that’s approximately five school years.)

Approximately one-half of those missed learning hours come from after-school and extracurricular activities that their higher-income peers have been partaking in since day one. Those hours have a snowball effect, and that achievement gap too often carries on throughout high school and beyond.

Of course, it’s about more than only hours put into learning. The more difficult challenge is filling those hours with quality programming that will make a difference. Through interviews and observations, the Rhode Island researchers found arts-based programming in many cases had turned around participants’ lives. In addition, an emphasis on retention, an evolution of youths’ roles, and family engagement were keys to a program’s success. The researchers also found that programs integrating skill-based training or providing resources to help students graduate, apply to college, or earn scholarships are critical to a program that works.

The Wallace Foundation also investigated what factors draw low-income tweens to after-school art programs. Through hundreds of interviews with students, the report found instructors who are professional artists and programs taking place in dedicated, welcoming spaces are among the most important elements for attracting students. Learning Labs in libraries and museums, such as those in Pittsburgh and 23 other cities, are taking those elements to heart.

The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild also embraces those elements. Bill Strickland, who founded the guild in 1968 in Pittsburgh, talked with us last winter about the success of his growing urban art centers. He touched on how the arts engage kids in learning in an intrinsic way. In fact, we learn exclusively through creative activities for our first five years of life.

“I think it’s how we’re built as humans. Creative activity releases a part of your consciousness that is essential to mental and physical health,” he said.

Sure, art instills 21st-century skills employers will be looking for down the line, such as imagination or divergent thinking. But kids don’t love paper mache because it teaches them the basics of structural engineering; rather, they’re drawn to it because there’s something fundamentally human about ideas flowing into your hands and creating art.

All kids deserve a chance to tap into that human experience, whether it be through programs in Pittsburgh that teach audio recording,or photography, or ones that encourage art inspired by social change. Strickland explained—and the Rhode Island report noted—that providing kids with a creative outlet in the right space can create enormous potential for learning and for their lives.

“Many of these kids are coming from environments where there are no parents or only one parent. They’re dealing with welfare, drugs, poverty and violence,” Strickland explained. “We create an environment for them that says, ‘We care about you. We’re not going away. We’re here for the long term. You’re part of us, now, so let’s go.’”

 

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Teachers Use Twitter to Promote Civics Discourse In Class http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/07/teachers-use-twitter-to-promote-civics-discourse-in-class/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16778 Mon, 07 Jul 2014 17:19:44 +0000

Teachers Use Twitter to Promote Civics Discourse In Class

KQED’s “Do Now” helps youth build civic engagement and digital literacy skills by discussing social issues in real time on Twitter. This summer, with the help of the National Writing Project, they’re training teachers, too.

Screenshot/ KQED

What if—instead of banning cell phones from the classroom—schools made phones part of the learning process? That’s exactly what teachers taking part in KQED’s “Do Now” program are doing.

Most teachers are familiar with the concept of a “do now” activity—short exercises students complete in the classroom, often at the beginning of class while teachers take attendance. But as an Education Week blog post points out, students often end up socializing or staring into space instead of completing the activity.

Encouraging students to take out their cell phones and log into Twitter might be just what teachers need to make this time count. KQED’s “Do Now” prompts have students grappling with current issues and engaging in a dialog with peers throughout the country and world using social media tools such as Twitter. Along the way, students build critical 21st-century skills in digital media tools and literacy.

Each week, the Bay Area public radio station posts a new activity at kqed.org/donow. Students read a brief introduction to a topic and then respond to the question, either in the comments section of the website or via Twitter. A media resource with audio and video content informs students’ responses. The entire activity takes approximately six to eight minutes.

Tuesday’s topics rotate between science and arts/popular culture, and Friday subjects deal with civics, government, and politics.

For example, the June 6, 2014, prompt asked, “What’s Your Favorite Dance Move?” and invited students to tweet the name of their signature move or capture it in a Vine, YouTube, or Instagram video and share it online. The accompanying KQED video featured a three-minute montage of dance moves, from the Charleston to the Harlem Shake. Students wanting to dig deeper could view additional resources, including videos on choreographers Alonzo King and Margaret Jenkins.

Through “Do Now,” students at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco have weighed in on topics from affordable housing to access to health care. In a YouTube video, students said the activity was “really interactive” and “more fun than writing on paper.”

“The first time we did it, it was on the topic of 9/11. And when they saw it actually gong up on the feed, they would get all excited and tweet, tweet, tweet themselves because they saw their response live and other kids would respond to it,” said Wendy Berkelman, a teacher at Burton High.

“And then we started getting feedback from around the world. And that just really hit home for them that they were part of a global community. They felt connected. It gave them a really big thrill and a sense of empowerment, I think.”

This summer, from July 7 to August 17, KQED will host a collaborative learning experience for teachers called #TeachDoNow, in partnership with the National Writing Project. With weekly activities centered on the “Do Now” prompts, the MOOC will guide teachers in using Twitter and other social media tools to promote civic engagement with students.

Moderator-led discussions will address questions such as “How can we use connected learning principles to promote 21st-century learning and address Common Core State Standards?” and “What media making and social learning tools are best at engaging learners?” It kicks off today with a webinar on “Strategies for Assessing Professional Learning Online” at 4 p.m. Pacific.

Interested educators can sign up on the blog or join the #TeachDoNow Google+ community.

Here’s what students are tweeting about at #DoNow this summer:

  • @agreen71220: @KQEDEdspace yes I believe that e-cigarettes should be regulated because we don’t know the long term effects. #DoNowECigs
  • @kkimberlyphungg: @KQEDEdspace I think that #BringBackOurGirls brings awareness to the world and it is trending which helps even more. #DoNowNigeria
  • @tori_ramiirez: @KQEDEdspace I think graffiti can be used for both art and vandalism, it all depends on intentions #DoNowGraffiti
  • @katelynnkwok: @KQEDEdspace When using the internet you have to be safe. Don’t talk to strangers or post your information online. #DoNowInternet

To receive the “Do Now” prompts, follow @KQEDedspace on Twitter.

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Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for July 3rd http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/07/03/16723/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=16723 Thu, 03 Jul 2014 14:37:41 +0000

Why Networks are Crucial to Innovation

Why networks are crucial to innovation; Digital Promise kicks off micro-credentials with summer pilot program; kids better at creative problem solving than college students; 2 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

The geography of innovation is changing. Say goodbye to cubicles and “research parks” with secrets to guard in faraway suburbs, and say hello to city waterfront lofts with shared office space, where startups and businesses of different stripes rub elbows and spark ideas.

“A new complementary urban model is now emerging,” writes the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner, “giving rise to what we and others are calling ‘innovation districts.’”

On the surface, innovation districts aren’t new. Silicon Valley, for one, springs to mind. Although now a sprawling corridor and no longer a fit for Katz’s definition, it started as walkable, wired (human) hub for geeky engineers in 1957.

In Katz and Wagner’s rendering, the innovation districts of today have returned to these roots, with a few additions.

“Innovation districts constitute the ultimate mash up of entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools, mixed-use development and medical innovations, bike-sharing and bankable investments—all connected by transit, powered by clean energy, wired for digital technology, and fueled by caffeine,” they write. Indeed, every shared office space I recently visited in Chicago has an espresso maker front and center.

In Pittsburgh, the innovation district—according to Katz and Wagner—is in the Greater Oakland neighborhood near Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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With New Learning Labs, Teen Programming at Local Libraries Goes Digital http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/07/02/with-new-learning-labs-teen-programming-at-local-libraries-goes-digital/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16718 Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:50:56 +0000

With New Learning Labs, Teen Programming at Local Libraries Goes Digital

In Pittsburgh this summer teens can mix music, tinker with robots, and take courses in digital design. All at their local library.

The Labs @ CLP. Photo/ Ben Filio
There’s some good news for libraries—and library patrons. The bleeding appears to have stopped. Library budgets—although not growing—are at least not shrinking any more, after years of tough going.

The recession slashed the budgets of most public libraries in the nation, leaving them struggling to maintain services, including the higher-cost digital services that community residents have come to rely on. E-books, internet connections, and 3D printers are the “World Book” set of years ago—the expensive, scarce resource that libraries provide when families cannot.

For many libraries, those kinds of services have become harder to fund. States cut funding to libraries by more than 37 percent from 2000 to 2010, as a recent Stateline article reports, “forcing libraries to rely more heavily on local funds.” Throughout the nation, local governments shoulder approximately 85 percent of the costs of public libraries. The federal government picks up a small tab, amounting to less than 1 percent of the total budget. But even those funds decreased. In Pennsylvania, federal funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services—which provides leadership through research, policy development, and grant making—declined from $6.31 million in 2010 to $5.49 million in 2014.

However, as Stateline reports, funding cuts appear to have ceased. Budgets are leveling off, if not growing, which is welcome news.

Photo/ Ben Filio

Pittsburgh’s libraries are at the forefront of innovations for kids and families, and teens in particular. The Labs at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Labs @ CLP) joins 23 other Learning Labs nationwide to advance hands-on, interest-driven learning for teens, focused on digital media and tools. This fall, with funding from the Cindy and Murry Gerber Foundation, the East Liberty branch will create a space for teens to cultivate their digital and creative skills.

The Learning Labs’ core philosophy is that youth are best engaged when they’re following their passions, collaborating with others, and being makers and doers as well as consumers of technology and information.

The 24 Labs have spent the last few years planning for their launches, building partnerships with other organizations in their respective cities and involving teens in the planning and design processes. In Nashville, Tennessee, for example, teens worked directly with architects planning the Lab space. Other Labs have been piloting programs that build teens’ creativity and problem-solving skills.

Teens in the Learning Lab in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for example, used geocoding and mapping tools to tell the story of their city’s rebirth following the devastating tornado in 2011. The Learning Lab there is a partnership between the Alabama Museum of Natural History and the Tuscaloosa Public Library. Libraries excel in storytelling, and the museum is a federal and state repository of maps on the campus of the University of Alabama. Combine the two, and you have story mapping. In this case, the teens combined urbex-ing—urban exploration of buildings, often abandoned or decaying—with geospatial tools, coupled with mentors from the university’s geography department, to tell the story of the role of destruction in a city’s renewal.

The result was “another way to look at the history and story of our city,” said Lance Simpson, a teen services librarian at Tuscaloosa Public Library.

In the San Francisco Bay area, the Learning Labs focus on media making and teen voice for social justice. KQED Public Radio, the San Francisco Public Library, California Academy of Sciences, and the Bay Area Video Coalition are all collaborating to help teens tell their stories.

In Kansas City, Missouri, Learning Lab is preparing teens for future jobs in the area as a leading employer, Hallmark, expands into digital storytelling. The partners in the Lab—the Kansas City Public Library and Science City at Union Station—focus on coding, digital storytelling, videography, and other digital tools. The skills will prepare teens to enroll in new digital storytelling degrees at Johnson County Community College and the University of Missouri.

In Pittsburgh, the Learning Lab at East Liberty branch will feature a freestanding music studio and a variety of digital tools and software. It will also offer workshops with practicing artists, technologists, and other experts, said Corey Wittig, the Learning Labs director. During the summer, they’ll be offering a two-week photography course with Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program.

During the school year, the Lab at East Liberty offers diverse programming, focusing on a different subject each week, from audio production, to graphic design and printmaking, to photography and videography. Teens’ ideas and interests are what guide much of the programming, explained Wittig. Staff mentors help students build their confidence in skills, such as using a vinyl cutter or a video camera, and more expert teens work on their own projects as well. Other Learning Lab sites in the city focus on gaming or host open jam sessions, among other options.

WESA, Pittsburgh’s local NPR affiliate, visited the East Liberty library branch last month, just a few days after school let out. They found teens engaged in an ancient Egyptian design workshop. Carnegie Library Teen Specialist Andre Costello said workshops like these are helping change our vision for how we think about libraries.

“Before we thought of them as a pantry, whereas now we’re thinking of them more as a kitchen,” he said. “So rather than taking the information home and just using it there, you can actually use the library as a place to create.”

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Why Networks are Crucial to Innovation http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/06/30/why-networks-are-crucial-to-innovation/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16704 Mon, 30 Jun 2014 17:54:31 +0000

Why Networks are Crucial to Innovation

The Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz says “innovation districts” are the way of the future—places where groups cluster together to share ideas and collaborate. In Pittsburgh, our network of learning innovation uses the same principals.

Photo/ Barbara Ray

The geography of innovation is changing. Say goodbye to cubicles and “research parks” with secrets to guard in faraway suburbs, and say hello to city waterfront lofts with shared office space, where startups and businesses of different stripes rub elbows and spark ideas.

“A new complementary urban model is now emerging,” writes the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner, “giving rise to what we and others are calling ‘innovation districts.’”

On the surface, innovation districts aren’t new. Silicon Valley, for one, springs to mind. Although now a sprawling corridor and no longer a fit for Katz’s definition, it started as walkable, wired (human) hub for geeky engineers in 1957.

As Tom Wolfe wrote in “Two Young Men Who Went West,” an essay in the “Hooking Up” collection, Silicon Valley in the 1950s was still a bunch of warehouses among the apricot trees where workers hunched over microscopes cutting little pieces of silicon. But GE and IBM were there, as was the fledgling Hewlett-Packard, and Stanford University was nearby. It was the perfect place for two newcomers from Grinnell, Iowa, to start Fairchild Computers, setting up shop on Charleston Avenue in Mountain View, a stone’s throw from a winner of the Nobel Prize for creating the semiconductor. Freed from the conventions of old-school business and surrounded by people with revolutionary ideas, the team at Fairchild would go on to invent the integrated circuit (and found Intel). The iPhone was a mere 50 years away.

In Katz and Wagner’s rendering, the innovation districts of today have returned to these roots, with a few additions.

“Innovation districts constitute the ultimate mash up of entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools, mixed-use development and medical innovations, bike-sharing and bankable investments—all connected by transit, powered by clean energy, wired for digital technology, and fueled by caffeine,” they write. Indeed, every shared office space I recently visited in Chicago has an espresso maker front and center.

In Pittsburgh, the innovation district—according to Katz and Wagner—is in the Greater Oakland neighborhood near Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But what struck me while reading Katz and Wagner’s ideas (first raised in Katz and Jennifer Bradley’s book, “The Metropolitan Revolution”) is just how much the innovation district resembles Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning initiative.

Although Katz and Wagner are talking mostly about innovation as it relates to creating goods and services, I see the learning network in Pittsburgh as a different kind of innovation district. It’s more dispersed physically, but it is still connected in critical ways, embodying a fundamental element in Katz and Wagner’s definition of innovation districts: networks.

At the heart of an ecosystem for learning is an ability to draw upon the assets of an entire city or community to support students.

Recently, Michele Cahill, vice president for national program and program director of urban education at Carnegie Corporation of New York, wrote about the importance of an ecosystem in education, asking: What will take the smart innovations in education to scale?

Her answer: networks.

“I have come to see that an ecosystem for learning is essential. . . . At the heart of an ecosystem for learning is an ability to draw upon the assets of an entire city or community to support students as they grapple with the two primary tasks of adolescence: building competencies and forming their identities,” said Cahill. 

That sounds a lot like what the Remake Learning community is doing, along with the Hive Learning Network, in Pittsburgh.

The collaboration between groups, with different and complementary areas of expertise, creates opportunities, Cahill writes, for kids to have:

“relationships with adults and experiences that literally expand the world that is well-known to them through connections with cultural organizations, professional and business settings, science and technical organizations, or community services. Students have opportunities to take on new roles and try out identities that can motivate them and build confidence and effort.”

Katz and Wagner stress the centrality of this kind of ecosystem of networks as well, including them as one of the three features of any innovation district. Networks, they write, “fuel innovation because they strengthen trust and collaboration within and across companies and industry clusters” and “provide information for new discoveries.”

The networks of museums, educators, scientists, and artists that make up the ecosystem in Pittsburgh have always existed, but the Remake Learning initiative has taken them a step further. The Sprout Fund ensures that the individual networks are stitched together in new and specific ways. It also introduces groups that haven’t thought about working together and helps support new relationships while strengthening old ones.

In essence, the Sprout Fund and Remake Learning nurture and develop both the loose and strong ties that every network needs to be healthy.

If you’re looking for a job, you need close friends and associates who can vouch for you, but you also need a wide and diffuse network to hear about a bigger pool of job openings. The same is true for innovation. Too familiar, and the group gets stuck in a rut. Not familiar enough, and it’s hard to get traction for an idea.

In their book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives,” Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler stress this point:

“Teams made up of individuals who had never before worked together fared poorly, greatly increasing the chance of a flop. These networks were not well connected and contained mostly weak ties. At the other extreme, groups made up of individuals who had all worked together previously also tended to create musicals that were unsuccessful. Because these groups lacked creative input from the outside, they tended to rehash the same ideas that they used the first time they worked together.”

That’s why the Remake Learning network mixes groups that share different cultures and missions and that have seldom, if ever, worked together. It strives for that in-between sweet spot “that combines the diversity of new team members with the stability of previously formed relationships,” as Christakis and Fowler put it.

The Remake Learning ecosystem plays another role for an innovation district. Call it the farm team. The network of museums, science centers, maker spaces, schools, and other like-minded entrepreneurs is creating the future talent that will be renting the shared office space in the innovation districts in years to come.

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Reporting from the NAEYC Early Childhood Professional Development Conference http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/06/27/naeyc-prof-dev-con/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16646 Fri, 27 Jun 2014 18:29:36 +0000 ,

Reporting from the NAEYC Early Childhood Professional Development Conference

NAEYC recently held their National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development conference, and PAEYC directors Sue Polojac and Cara Ciminillo were in attendance.

Sue Polojac and Tanya Smith presenting at the conference

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development has long been one of NAEYC’s premier conferences. This conference brings together early childhood professionals who are passionate about assuring that educators are knowledgeable and on the cutting-edge of the latest research. The 2014 conference “Excellence for Every Child: Standards without Standardization” highlighted some of the country’s leading early childhood education professionals in Minneapolis, Minnesota this June.

We, as an early childhood education community, are bearing witness to increased exposure on the local, state, and national levels for the work that we have been advocating for to be seen as a profession for many years. Never in history has early childhood education been mentioned in the political landscape as much as in this presidential administration. Now more than ever, we need to be sure that we are continuing to support the lives of children, families and communities as advocates for best practice when educating today’s young children.

Thanks in part to the support of The Sprout Fund, The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) joined several other partners from the Kids+Creativity Network as presenters at the conference.

Sue Polojac, Director of Programming at PAEYC co-presented “Engaging Families in dialogue about today’s media and technology landscape” with Tanya Smith, Ele Coordinator at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. This session explored appropriate and secure ways to engage families using Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and Pinterest with families. Sue and Tanya also co-presented “Integrating digital media literacy and technology into early childhood standards and practice” with Chip Donohue, PhD and Amanda Armstrong from the TEC Center at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

Chip Donohue set the stage by using the NAEYC & Fred Rogers Center joint Position Statement on Technology as a guide to select and implement technology in effective, developmentally appropriate, and intentional ways.

The presenters shared another useful tool for educators, the Pennsylvania Digital Media Literacy Project’s Checklist for identifying exemplary uses of technology and interactive media for early learning. The checklist helps educators use media tools in a manner that support the technology position statement. Pittsburgh and the surrounding region continue to lead the national discussion on digital media literacy and early childhood.

PAEYC Director of Operations Cara Ciminillo and Executive Director Michelle Figlar also presented on behalf of the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, a group of local entities including the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Carnegie Museum of Art, Let’s Move Pittsburgh, The Sprout Fund, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and others who are working to raise awareness about the importance of play in the development and health of children, family and our communities.

The conference reminded us that the reciprocal developmental relationship between individual educators and learners is, in the words of Junlei Li of the Fred Rogers Center, ‘the active ingredient’ in any learning setting.

Presenting alongside Junlei, Cara, and Roberta Schomburg of Carlow University, Hedda Sharapan of the Fred Rogers Company presented this simple and yet powerful message with a  reminder of the wise words of Fred Rogers:

“If you look carefully, listen carefully…there is a lot that you can learn carefully. Look and listen.”

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Kids+Creativity Weekly Update for June 27th http://remakelearning.org/newsletter/2014/06/27/16682/ http://remakelearning.org/?post_type=newsletter&p=16682 Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:12:58 +0000

Aspen Report Says Learning Networks Key to Kids’ Success

Study says learning networks are key to student success; new Verizon ad encourages parents to support girls' interests in STEM; teens get hip-hop mentoring at CMU's Arts Greenhouse; 3 new upcoming events and opportunities.

Remake Learning Weekly Network Update

Last year, the Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet was charged with a big task. The team of 20 leading minds in education, technology, business, public policy, and online privacy was asked to understand how young people are learning and to come up with ways to optimize new learning in safe, trusted online environments.

They found that an entirely new vision of learning is emerging. The Industrial Age education model, which revolves around the school as a central storehouse for information, is out of date. This approach to education fails to acknowledge that kids grow up accessing hoards of information online. And it doesn’t harness all the valuable learning that happens outside of a schools’ walls in places such as libraries, museums, afterschool programs, and online. (After all, students spend only 14 percent of their time inside the school.)

The report encourages a shift from the outdated system toward learner-centered environments, including traditional places for education, while making safe, trusted online environments a priority. The report’s five major recommendations and 26 steps for action lay pathways for making that shift a reality for all students, no matter where they live.

The report also emphasizes that learning networks, particularly online networks, must be interoperable, that is, they have to share information and data to be effective. Tools too often exist in separate “silos,” or closed systems. They don’t talk to each other. But it’s “impossible to have a seamless connected learning experience,” the report notes, if the data and information on what is learned or where kids get stuck can’t be transferred without sacrificing a student’s privacy and identity.

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Program Brings Tech Professionals Into Communities to Teach Digital Literacy http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/06/26/program-brings-tech-professionals-into-communities-to-teach-digital-literacy/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16687 Thu, 26 Jun 2014 18:09:30 +0000

Program Brings Tech Professionals Into Communities to Teach Digital Literacy

We sent a corps of local technologists into libraries and after-school spaces throughout the Pittsburgh region to teach digital literacy. Turns out the students aren’t the only ones who learned something.

Mentor working with kids at a Digital Corps event in Homestead / Photo: Ben Filio
Sylvan Hemingway came up with a novel way of introducing kids at Assemble to coding with Scratch. First, he wrote code that reflected a hacked system. Then, he had the students look at the code and figure out what was incorrect. The activity both familiarized them with the kids programming language and gave them confidence to work with it themselves.

With a background in robotics and a firm belief in the importance of STEM education, Hemingway was part of the first cohort of 40 teacher-mentors who took their considerable skills and experience into communities throughout Pittsburgh this spring as part of the first Remake Learning Digital Corps.

“Students are in front of computers all the time, and so many have smartphones,” Hemingway said. “The challenge is in educating and empowerment. We need to help them find confidence in their ability to make things happen with technology. It’s there, it’s accessible for everybody, but who’s going to use it except those who are empowered to do so?”

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes particularly tech-savvy villagers to train kids in digital technology.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes particularly tech-savvy villagers to train kids in digital technology. Run by The Sprout Fund, in partnership with Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time (APOST), Digital Corps connects kids with mentors who can guide them through hands-on, technology-focused learning and exploration. The mentors attend training sessions on tech tools such as Scratch, App Inventor, Thimble, and Hummingbird—so they are well prepared to teach.

With the teachers’ guidance, the 400 teens and tweens who were enrolled in the six-week pilot program created animations, designed web pages, and built robots in 11 libraries and after-school spaces throughout the region.

The long-term goals of the program include strengthening kids’ STEM skills and boosting digital literacy in the Pittsburgh region.

But the program has other benefits. “It’s not just about jobs or school, though those are predominant and really important factors,” said Digital Corps Manager Ani Martinez, “but also just about knowing how the world around them functions, how people communicate. Making projects like this with hardware and electronics helps you organize your thinking. It helps you work collaboratively.”

With the ubiquity of smartphones, we might assume everyone is familiar with digital technology. But familiarity doesn’t equal fluency. Eszter Hargittai, sociology professor at Northwestern University, has studied the digital skills of millennials. This young generation may be plugged in—but digitally savvy? Not so much. Her findings “paint a picture not of an army of app-building, HTML-typing twenty-somethings, but of a stratified landscape in which some, mostly privileged, young people use their skills constructively, while others lack even basic Internet knowledge,” writes Megan O’Neil in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Among Digital Corps students, fluency in digital technology also varies greatly. “I’ve worked with sites where students have already mastered Scratch and want to go right into creating games and HTML, and it’s really exciting that we can provide that kind of programming,” Martinez said. “But there are other sites where students don’t know what right-clicking means, and that’s also greatly rewarding, that we can facilitate a program that can basically help with what should be new literacy skills. It’s just as essential as learning to write.”

Digital Corps’ emphasis on STEM learning through digital media and mentorship fit naturally with The Labs @ CLP, the teen learning labs at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. But by locating in library branches without established Labs programs, Digital Corps will enable the library to reach more underserved students.

The type of community connection Digital Corps fosters is often lacking in some lower-income neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that are isolated because of a lack of comprehensive public transportation, explained Corey Wittig, program manager at The Labs @ CLP. “If we keep putting programs in vibrant areas,” Wittig said, “we’re missing the opportunity to reach kids who come every day to the library and are not getting this opportunity.”

“We need to help kids find confidence in their ability to make things happen with technology.”

So far the program has set up bases at the Carrick and Woods Run branches, with plans to expand.

The Carrick branch hosted successful digital media programs before Digital Corps launched, according to Jon Antoszewski, manager of teen services. Last summer, 30 teens pitched in to direct, film, and edit a 20-minute horror movie called “Chairpocalypse!”. Still, there was some hesitation when he pitched the Digital Corps idea to them.

“When you’re tossing around words like ‘web design’ and ‘building robots,’ there’s an intimidation factor,” he said. “But the students ended up having a blast each week and surprising themselves about how much they could get accomplished.”

And the students weren’t the only ones who learned something. Despite the deep background in technology the teacher-mentors brought to Digital Corps, they also faced a learning curve.

A mechanical engineer working in software design, Greg Cala joined Digital Corps as an instructor at the Hilltop Computer Center. He’s accustomed to teaching software skills to adults but says teaching young people required an adjustment, particularly with the broad age range of his group. Among the 20 kids who showed up for his first session were students as young as first grade who had tagged along with older siblings.

The continual shifting caused by kids dropping in and out of the program also made it challenging to continue projects from one week to the next.

One thing was easier with kids, though: It was clear when they were bored. “Adults don’t yell across the room,” Cala said.

This summer the Digital Corps team plans to reflect on what they learned from the launch while expanding the program to 23 sites.

One insight they’ll be sure to carry over, according to Martinez: “We confirmed that snacks are mandatory after a long day of school.”

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Aspen Report Says Learning Networks Key to Kids’ Success http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/06/24/aspen-report-says-learning-networks-key-to-kids-success/ http://remakelearning.org/?p=16664 Tue, 24 Jun 2014 20:47:25 +0000

Aspen Report Says Learning Networks Key to Kids’ Success

A new Aspen Institute report focuses on building strong learning networks that facilitate learning anytime, anyplace, while keeping kids safe online.

MAKESHOP at The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh / photo: Ben Filio

Last year, the Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet was charged with a big task. The team of 20 leading minds in education, technology, business, public policy, and online privacy was asked to understand how young people are learning and to come up with ways to optimize new learning in safe, trusted online environments.

They found that an entirely new vision of learning is emerging. The Industrial Age education model, which revolves around the school as a central storehouse for information, is out of date. This approach to education fails to acknowledge that kids grow up accessing hoards of information online. And it doesn’t harness all the valuable learning that happens outside of a schools’ walls in places such as libraries, museums, afterschool programs, and online. (After all, students spend only 14 percent of their time inside the school.)

The report encourages a shift from the outdated system toward learner-centered environments, including traditional places for education, while making safe, trusted online environments a priority. The report’s five major recommendations and 26 steps for action lay pathways for making that shift a reality for all students, no matter where they live.

Its overarching recommendation is to build learning networks filled with online and physical places that empower students to learn anytime, anywhere. As the report explains, “New learning networks connect it all.”

The report’s ideal networks look a lot like what we’re creating here in Pittsburgh. The report even gives a shout-out to Hive Learning Networks as an example of “new learning” in action. Schools here in Pittsburgh still play a critical role in education, and many of them are on the cutting edge with high-tech learning labs, robotics, and game-making classes. But when the school bell rings, for the end of the day or for summer vacation, the Hive Network’s consortium of programs and organizations turns the city into a giant, messy, engaging classroom.

What does this network look like? This summer, kids in Pittsburgh are making science videos in the ti5 High Def Summer Smash Jam. They’re tinkering in maker spaces and creating art for social change. Meanwhile, New York City’s learning network takes shape in programs such as Digital Ready, which has matched 10 public high schools with Hive New York organizations to teach students everything from coding, to game making, to sculpting with welded steel. If they want to document that experience, they can earn online badges, a new form of credential that employers and educators, among others, can see.

The report also emphasizes that learning networks, particularly online networks, must be interoperable, that is, they have to share information and data to be effective. Tools too often exist in separate “silos,” or closed systems. They don’t talk to each other. But it’s “impossible to have a seamless connected learning experience,” the report notes, if the data and information on what is learned or where kids get stuck can’t be transferred without sacrificing a student’s privacy and identity.

The report’s last recommendation deals with safety. An increase in learning networks must come with a commitment to safe and trusted online environments. For example, data sets are an important tool for individualized instruction. Teachers can see in real time where a student is stuck or where the entire class is hung up. But there’s growing concern about how students’ individual data is used by third parties, and the report recommends re-examining and possibly modernizing federal and state regulations on student data use.

But when it comes to broader online safety, the task force claims tight restrictions and fear-based strategies, such as banning mobile devices from classrooms, don’t work. These strategies ultimately limit the internet’s potential for education. Rather, arming kids with digital literacy skills to protect themselves fosters critical thinking and gives them a lifelong skill. (Researcher danah boyd writes about this very topic in her new book.)

Responding to the Aspen Task Force’s recommendations, HĀSTAC and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $1.2 million challenge dubbed the Trust Challenge. The challenge will offer year-long grants of up to $150,000 to teams with promising innovations for creating the types of trusted online learning environments recommended by the task force.

Successful teams will develop tools that build privacy and safety into its online offerings and “build awareness around data and trust.” This could take the form of online applications, digital badging systems, data management platforms, or learning content. Plus, the challenge is open to any part of a learning network: museums, libraries, higher education institutions, community organizations, developers, researchers, and others.

All working parts of modern learning ecosystems, outlined in the report, bring the famous John Dewey quote to mind: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” We want kids to be prepared for the changing world out there. Learning networks let them take advantage of deep, interest-driven learning that enhances their lives not only today, but also when they graduate. That’s a future worth working for.

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