The National Maker Faire, held June 12 and 13 in Washington D.C., was a buzzing weekend complete with a giant Rube Goldberg machine, a cardboard T-Rex, and signs that cautioned folks to look out for falling rockets.
The nearly 40 makers and educators hailing from Pittsburgh probably felt right at home.
“People kept saying: ‘Oh, of course you’re from Pittsburgh! There are so many people from Pittsburgh here,’ ” said Megan Cicconi, director of instructional innovation at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.
A slew of the city’s leading organizations traveled to D.C. for the event, which kicked off the National Week of Making. Among them were representatives from The Sprout Fund, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, district school superintendents, and folks from local community arts organizations like BOOM Concepts, which made mini-murals to display in the Garfield neighborhood.
Cicconi, whose new role at the AIU has her promoting exploratory learning throughout Allegheny County, brought her own mobile maker cart. She said she visited nearly every booth, helping people “bling out their clothes” with LED lights. She said she often ended up talking with folks about Pittsburgh and the southwestern Pennsylvania region, which has become a national hub of making with more than 100 makerspaces in schools and dozens more informal spaces. Those conversations often led to people asking her questions on everything from how kids learn the specifics of circuitry to how the making scene Pittsburgh grew into what it is today.
“It was important to not just to be sharing those stories,” Cicconi said. “It was important that we were also helping people make new stories.”
Cicconi wasn’t alone in wanting to help spread some of Pittsburgh’s knowledge. After all, the whole Pittsburgh crew did not just come to check out a 3D printed Benjamin Franklin. They also came with a mission: to help others learn from the successes, strategies, and challenges the Remake Learning Network has faced. The Remake Learning Network brings together more than 200 organizations, among them libraries, museums, and afterschool programs, to collectively rethink education and build a vibrant “ecosystem” of learning opportunities.
At the faire, the Network released the new Remake Learning Playbook, which documents the processes, outcomes, resources, and lessons from the region’s early work building networks to support learning in the Pittsburgh area. It includes case studies that explore how the Network has made an impact, a look at the Network’s structure, and strategies leaders have used to sustain the Network.
“These are starting points–to be useful, they have to be really authentic to the local practice,” Cathy Lewis Long, co-founder, executive director and president of the Sprout Fund, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the playbook. “It’s like a recipe. It’s a guide. You might choose to add a little bit more salt or a little bit more vinegar.”
Several attendees presented at the Faire, including Bart Rocco and Todd Keruskin, superintendent and assistant superintendent of Elizabeth Forward School District, which is nationally known for its technology integration and learning spaces.
Cicconi also presented on the many aspects of AIU’s work, including the $2.3 million it has awarded in STEAM grants to public schools since 2009. The 28 recent STEAM grantees will be documenting their work with videos in order to share what they learn with educators around the country. Cicconi said the Network’s goal is to expand the pockets of learning innovation throughout the region to create broader, systematic change.
On Monday, leaders from Remake Learning Network were invited back to the White House to take part in a Maker Education Roundtable. There, Tom Kalil, deputy director for Technology and Innovation at White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave a shout-out to Pittsburgh for the city’s commitment to making.
“It represents our dedication in a wonderful light,” Cicconi said.
Though the National Week of Making is over, the Pittsburgh attendees are back home keeping making alive year-round for kids and their families.