A Look Back at Learning Remade in 2014
A Year of Learning Remade / Photos by Brian Cohen, Ben Filio, and Renee Rosensteel
Sprout’s Cathy Lewis Long looks back on a year of learning innovation in Pittsburgh led by the members of the Kids+Creativity Network.
2014 was a year of increased depth and reach for the Kids+Creativity Network—in schools, in communities, and among our region’s leadership. As a collaborative, connected network, our potential to provide all children and youth with remarkable learning is greater than ever.
We’ve collected a sampling of some of the Network’s accomplishments this year as a way to celebrate our work together to remake learning in the Pittsburgh region, and as a reminder that there is still much work to do in the coming years to reach our ultimate goal of providing all children and youth with the engaging, meaningful, and relevant learning opportunities they need to thrive in school, college, the workforce, and as citizens.
The year began with a string of hands-on learning spaces opening up where students can flex their creative muscles while also developing important technical skills:
- In the DREAM Factory at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, students can move seamlessly between the art studio, the computer science lab, and the technology workshop as they work on interdisciplinary projects.
- In the Locomotion Lab at Chartiers Valley, students combine art and science as they explore robotics, design, and fabrication with repurposed materials.
- Outside of school, the Mattress Factory brought the Mini Factory to life, creating a mobile space where children can try their hand at creating immersive art experiences.
We welcomed a new network member in January as Rick Fernandes became the new executive director of the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College, bringing his years of experience producing children’s media to bear in leading the center into its second decade.
The event brought together nearly 300 participants from around the world—including more than 20 Pittsburghers—to work together on setting the course for the next evolution of Open Badges as digital credentials for learning.
The summit laid a foundation for the ongoing development of an infrastructure for digital badges in Pittsburgh, something we will continue to work on in 2015.
Also in February, the Pittsburgh Technology Council, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, released a report on Pittsburgh’s creative industries and the people who are contributing their creativity and innovation to Pittsburgh’s ongoing transformation.
Among the report’s findings was the exciting fact that Pittsburgh’s creative industry clusters are growing at a faster annual pace than the national economy.
This fact should challenge us to make sure that as those creative sector jobs continue to grow, we do all that we can to prepare the region’s youth with the skills and competencies they’ll need to thrive in the creative economy.
Conference season kicked into high gear in the spring, and Pittsburgh was well represented coast-to-coast.
Several Kids+Creativity Network members attended SXSWedu in early March, including representatives Sprout, The Grable Foundation, The Children’s Museum, The Saxifrage School, Carnegie Mellon University, and Elizabeth Forward School District.
More than 20 Kids+Creativity Network members attended the Digital Media & Learning Conference in Boston. Several network members had presenting roles, including:
Michelle King from the Environmental Charter School joined a panel organized by Working Examples about building a connected learning community with MacArthur Foundation Director of Education Connie Yowell.
And most exciting of all— four students from South Fayette High School presented their STEAM Studio Model for Innovation, one of only a few panels that included students.
Pittsburgh was also heavily featured at Beyond Screen Time, an event hosted by the New America Foundation exploring new understandings about the role of digital media in the lives and learning of young children.
Illah Nourbakhsh from the CREATE Lab and Michelle Figlar from PAEYC both participated in panel discussions, while Melissa Butler, Jeremy Boyle, and Junlei Li led a demonstration of the Children & Teachers’ Innovation Project.
Also in March, the Remake Learning Digital Corps launched its first deployment, matching trained digital literacy mentors with host sites throughout Allegheny County. Over the course of the year, the program reached more than 500 youth at 25 afterschool sites in neighborhoods and communities throughout the region, providing free and fun digital literacy learning opportunities and filling a much needed gap in out-of-school time learning.
In April, Pittsburgh became the first US city to be awarded a Disruptive Innovation Award at the Tribeca Innovation Festival in New York City. The award recognized the leadership of Kids+Creativity in creating more creative and innovative learning opportunities for youth in the region.
While in New York, Kids+Creativity members Gregg Behr, Drew Davidson, Michelle King and I presented a special panel at the Games 4 Change Festival presenting our approach to building a regional learning network to a national audience.
Also this spring, local school students collaborated with some of the region’s leading institutions on some amazing project-based learning programs.
Students at Avonworth High School worked with art professionals from the Andy Warhol Museum, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the Toonseum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Mattress Factory to curate and produce their own exhibition of contemporary student art on their school campus.
Students at Winchester Thurston contributed their insights to urban design projects underway in Hazelwood and Oakland.
In celebration of the month of the young child, and to get people excited to play in the sunshine again, the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hosted the Ultimate Play Day. The outdoor event attracte more than 400 people to experience the joys and benefits of play in Schenley Plaza.
And in celebration of Pittsburgh’s homegrown creativity and innovation, the Pittsburgh Technology Council hosted the 2014 Creative Technologies Summit and DATA Awards.
Pittsburgh’s innovative potential was on display at the White House Science Fair as well where local high school student Ananya Cleetus showcased a robotic prosthetic hand she designed and built to aid leprosy patients. That’s truly a remarkable accomplishment for one of our region’s students.
In June, the Fred Rogers Center hosted the biennial Fred Forward Conference on early childhood education and children’s media.
A notable addition to this year’s event were Fred Chats, which gave young people a chance to give fifteen-minute talks inspired by the innovative spirit, passion and values of Fred Rogers.
The young Fred Chatters offered a great insight into where learning is now headed as they themselves become the educators and parents of the next generation of early learners
Also in June, regional leaders came together as the Remake Learning Council, bringing a new level of leadership and vision to this work.
The Institute of Play returned to Pittsburgh again this summer, partnering with the Center for Creativity at the AIU to host Teacher Quest, a week-long program where teachers become designers and imagine how teaching and learning can be more like games.
This summer, Pittsburgh joined Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas as a City of Learning, pairing summer learning opportunities with digital badges in ways that allow learners to think about, pursue, and develop their interests.
Almost 3,000 youth participated in programs offered by 20 local organizations like the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Carnegie Science Center, and Goodwill Industries, with 1,800 badges earned by students demonstrating new knowledge, skills, and dispositions.
Pittsburgh City of Learning culminated in August at the Pittsburgh Maker Party, a day of free hands-on building, tinkering, and webmaking for more than 200 children and youth.
Pittsburgh’s Maker Party was part of the global Maker Party campaign led by Mozilla. Network members also hosted several mini-maker parties in neighborhoods throughout the region.
At the end of August, Sprout partnered with Digital Promise and the U.S. Department of Education to host the Education Innovation Cluster Convening in Pittsburgh, welcoming people from a dozen different regions across the country to discuss strategies to create and nurture education innovation clusters.
In September, Sprout convened Badges Working Groups to identify competencies, assessments and model pathways in 7 areas: Coding & Gaming, Design & Making, Media Making, Robotics, STEAM, Early Learning, and Career Readiness.
Representing more than 100 local subject matter experts, teachers, program managers, and other professionals, the working groups are laying the foundation for the meaningful use of digital badges to recognize and credential learning wherever and whenever it happens.
This fall also saw some impressive examples of local youth talent:
- At the STEAM Grant Showcase, students from 25 school districts, accompanied by their teachers, demonstrated how they’re using new technologies and media tools to produce creative, cross-curricular projects during the school day.
- And at the Teen Media Awards, affectionately known as the Labsies, teens were recognized for their creativity and hard work in the Labs at CLP with awards for music, design, video, making, and photography.
At the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science, network members joined the Hive Learning Networks tent where they taught kids how to build robots using the Hummingbird kits.
Back in Pittsburgh, Connected Learning researcher Mimi Ito delivered a lecture at Pitt on the ways digital media and technology are changing the ways children learn and connect with their peers, and the potential to make the most of this new paradigm to enhance learning and engagement.
Fall also saw the return of two important regional conferences:
- The biennial PAEYC and Allegheny County Family Support Conference convened about 2,000 early childhood educators and family support specialists to explore the conference theme of Inviting Ideas and Inspiring Innovation.
- And at the Three Rivers Education Technology Conference, the Pittsburgh Technology Council brought together hundreds of local educators and dozens of education technology to share ideas and explore possible partnerships, as well as hear featured remarks from Tom Vander Ark.
Educators in our network received some prestigious recognition this fall:
- Superintendents Bart Rocco from Elizabeth Forward, Bille Rondinelli from South Fayette, and Thomas Ralston from Avonworth joined school leaders from around the country at the White House for the Connected to the Future Summit where they were recognized for their efforts to integrate new technology into their schools.
- And on the other side of the country at a gala in Mountain View, California, Kris Hupp from Cornell High School and Aileen Owens of South Fayette were each winners of the Digital Innovation in Learning Awards hosted by Digital Promise and EdSurge.
And just two weeks ago, more than 400 people, including more than 100 students and 36 school districts, participated in the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit.
At the event, participants explored opportunities to connect in-school and out-of-school learning and digital badges to create new learning pathways connecting more students to real-world opportunity.
Of course, these are just a few of the highlights to give you a sense of what we’ve accomplished together. If I had to sum up Kids+Creativity’s work in 2014, I’d say it was the year of more.
We saw more school transformations:
- Avonworth and South Fayette school districts joined Elizabeth Forward as members of the national League of Innovative Schools.
- McKeesport Area, Elizabeth Forward, West Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Pittsburgh Public Schools came together to form the SMALLab Consortium.
- STEAM Grants to regional public schools surpassed the $2 million mark.
We also saw more innovative learning during out-of-school time.
- The Digital Corps brought new digital literacy opportunities to youth throughout Allegheny County and empowered afterschool providers with enhanced professional in digital teaching and learning.
- The Labs at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh took its show on the road with Labs On Location, helping to expand digital programming for teens at each of its neighborhood branches.
- The MAKESHOP also went mobile and expanded its hands-on, creative and constructive activities to schools, libraries, and museums throughout the region.
And at the network level, we saw more commitment to this work by our region’s leaders with the formation of the Remake Learning Council, a cadre of distinguished leaders from the education, government, business and civic sectors.
After nearly three years of formalizing the Kids+Creativity Network, together we have built a solid foundation and are poised to leverage the strength and connectedness of the network to make the most of these opportunities in 2015 and beyond.