Pittsburgh has a rich history of coming together to make things.
Pittsburghers forged the steel that built America’s arsenal of democracy. Our civic leaders created international research universities, erected sanctuaries of human culture and the natural world, and led sweeping philanthropic efforts that reshaped communities around the world. Then, from the ashes of a decimated steel industry, Pittsburghers rebuilt.
Through innovation, collaboration, and unyielding hope, Pittsburghers reinvented their economy and revitalized their region. Today, Pittsburgh stands at the forefront of research, technology, medicine, and learning. It endures as a center for arts and culture. It is one of the most livable cities in America.
Pittsburgh’s recovery didn’t happen overnight, nor did it happen by accident. Our comeback was achieved through an unrelenting commitment to our people, and a deep faith in what happens when citizens come together to change their circumstances and shape their destinies.
There’s no better example of this than the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild (MCG). What started as an audacious vision quickly developed into a reality that reshaped a community and remade the lives of youth in a long-neglected pocket of the city. By reimagining the learning environment as a place that can nourish imagination and inspire creativity, MCG has empowered thousands of students for more than 20 years. Now a national model for arts education, apprenticeship training, and out-of-school learning, MCG is an enduring legacy to the power of people when they get organized and get going. We draw strength when we come together.
And, MCG is not alone. It’s part of the Remake Learning Network, a collaboration of more than 200 organizations coming together to expand opportunities and enhance learning outcomes for young people in the greater Pittsburgh region. Working together, network members are inspiring a generation of lifelong learners through creative and imaginative learning experiences that prepare them to thrive in the 21st century.
Just as Manchester Craftsman’s Guild remade opportunity for youth on Pittsburgh’s North Side, the Remake Learning Network is expanding the sense of what’s possible for all children throughout our region and inspiring educators in cities across the country.
City of Pittsburgh
President & CEO
Manchester Bidwell Corporation
Almost a decade ago (before the inception of the Remake Learning Network) we heard again and again from teachers, librarians, museum educators, youth workers, and others a common refrain that was simultaneously expected and yet astonishing: “I’m not connecting with kids the way that I used to.”
This expressed frustration would, of course, have been natural if these educators had been talking about the usual challenges of the generation gap, or the gradual shift in youth culture. After all, generations of adults have voiced worries about “kids today.” What was astonishing, however, was that these educators were referring to dramatic changes brought about largely by digital media and technology.
So we asked ourselves: “What on Earth had happened in such a short period of time to create this disconnect between educators and students?” Digging in to the learning sciences, we found that youth in the digital age are pursuing knowledge differently, developing their identities and interests differently, and seeking support differently. Faced with this new reality, how could we help educators in- and out-of-school connect with today’s youth and develop learning experiences that engage them deeply and equip them with the knowledge and skills relevant to the world in which they now live?
We reached out to our community and quickly discovered that the Pittsburgh region was home to a broad range of creative people—not only teachers, youth workers, and museum educators but also gamers, technologists, and roboticists—who were beginning to think differently about connecting with kids.
We believed we could harness the resources in our community for the benefit of all children and youth. We were confident that we could remake learning.
In 2007, The Grable Foundation convened an interdisciplinary group of thought leaders and field practitioners to explore how contemporary, active learning pedagogies could improve educational experiences in the region’s schools, museums, libraries, early learning centers, and out-of-school program sites.
First adopting the name Kids+Creativity, this informal working group—fueled by coffee and pancake breakfasts—began meeting regularly, exchanging ideas, and collaborating on new initiatives. Ten doubled to twenty, and twenty doubled and then doubled again. Together, the group engaged academics, artists, librarians, educators, technologists, and parents in thinking anew about 21st century teaching and learning.
Early investments awarded by The Grable Foundation and such other funding partners as the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, McCune Foundation, and the Pittsburgh Foundation included support for such leadership organizations as The Sprout Fund (a community-based grantmaking nonprofit) and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (an educational service agency). Respected for connecting the grassroots community to major regional priorities, in 2009 The Sprout Fund began providing catalytic support for new projects and programmatic partnerships—adding fuel to the fires of innovation. That same year, in order to catalyze innovative teaching in the region’s school districts, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit began awarding STEAM Grants to enable administrators and educators to reimagine learning in public school classrooms, labs, and library spaces.
The emerging network focused on providing high-quality maker, STEAM, and digital learning opportunities that would equip children and youth with competencies they need to thrive now and in futures yet to unfold. These approaches are not just passing fads in education; they are the key to building engaging and relevant learning experiences that prepare today’s youth for school, college, workforce, and life.
In 2011, after several years of successful small-scale projects and flourishing interest in Kids+Creativity, The Sprout Fund stepped in to formalize the network, enhance the individual and collective capacities of all members, and create a sustainable support structure through a coalition of major regional and national funders, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. That’s when the since-renamed Remake Learning Network soared.
What began with just a handful of people and organizations has grown into a diverse network of more than 200 organizations, including more than 2,000 educators and professionals in schools, museums, libraries, afterschool programs, community centers, university research centers, educational technology companies, local philanthropies, and youth civic groups.
Recognizing the need to sustain momentum, leaders across the Pittsburgh region reaffirmed their commitment in 2014 and formed the Remake Learning Council. The Council brings together leading executives and learning scientists in business, higher education, public education, civic and cultural organizations, foundations, and government to strategically support the greater Pittsburgh region’s efforts to remake learning in all the places where children and youth learn.
In the years since the network’s inception, millions of dollars have been invested by regional and national funders. Thousands of educators, students, and families have been engaged in the process of learning innovation. We’ve witnessed remarkable projects emerge as the result of interdisciplinary collaborations that are pulling together diverse individuals, resources, and tools, and bringing them to bear for the benefit of all learners. We’ve seen a dramatic change in our region. Dozens of school districts are transforming their buildings, curricula, and teaching practices. More youth are participating in innovative out-of-school learning programs than ever before. And network members are being recognized as leaders in learning on the national and global stages.
Learning is indeed being remade in Pittsburgh.
We’re working hard to share what we’ve learned so that successful strategies from the rural hills of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania are brought to Pittsburgh’s urban neighborhoods and the innovations pioneered at our world-class research universities shape classroom practices in nearby West Virginia.
We’ve also been privileged to share what we’ve learned so far with colleagues across the country and in cities across the world. Many have come to visit, some have heard us speak at national events, and others follow us online.
Our aims for this Playbook are threefold:
First, we want to tell the stories of the remarkable people, projects, and organizations that are remaking learning in the Pittsburgh region. They are helping children and youth develop their interests and pursue their passions while inspiring a generation of lifelong learners in our community.
Second, we want to document the techniques and strategies that have been integral to the growth and development of the Remake Learning Network so that we might achieve even greater scale and impact in the future.
Third, we want to enable you. By sharing insights, key resources, and critical lessons learned, we hope to provide educators and community leaders with practical and actionable information, enabling anyone to take advantage of new and innovative learning practices. Learning now happens anywhere, at any time, and at any pace. And so, communities of caring adults—teachers, youth workers, mentors as well as gamers, technologists, artists, and others—need to think differently and collaboratively about how we light up every child to the joys and wonders of learning.
We’ve learned a lot since our first breakfast brainstorms. We’ve tried many things, and we’ve made plenty of mistakes. But ultimately, we’ve seen significant progress in our effort to provide all children and youth with the best available opportunities to learn and be creative.
We’re confident that all of us, together, can remake learning all across America.
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The world today is more complex and interconnected than ever before. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, while still essential, simply aren’t enough to prepare young people to thrive in the digital age. Communities need to come together to build on the basics and connect students with hands-on learning experiences that cultivate creativity, imagination, and grit. Our global, networked world today calls for new kinds of teaching and learning—and new kinds of problem-solvers.
Learners today need to be technologically fluent and imaginatively creative, yet most lack meaningful opportunities to engage with the nuts-and-bolts of technology or flex their creative muscles. According to The Nation’s Report Card, only about 10% of U.S. public high schools offer classes in computer science. Meanwhile, the time and space available for integrating creative inquiry into classroom instruction keeps slipping away.
Many out-of-school programs offer exceptional learning opportunities, but equitable access remains a staggering barrier. Economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane have found that enrichment spending by affluent families was nearly 700% greater than the poorest families. When it comes to the promise of technology to open up new pathways of educational opportunity, the digital divide still persists. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in April 2015, “If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.”
Absent a radical shift in top-down educational policy, the best chance to equitably spread the adoption and speed the scale of innovative learning practices is through distributed, city-based networks. Schools remain critical to a young person’s education, but so too is the learning happening in museums, libraries, afterschool sites, community centers, at home, and online. What’s needed today is a new model for learning that values all learning opportunities and provides children and families with easy access to meaningful and rewarding experiences wherever they are, especially in marginalized communities.
That’s where the Remake Learning Network comes in.
Formerly known as Kids+Creativity, since 2007 the network has connected Pittsburgh to the growing global movement to reimagine learning, while developing our own unique local solutions to pressing regional challenges. We’ve built a model for education innovation that uses technology in creative ways to enhance learning and provides opportunities for the traditionally underserved. By building a supportive network of cross-sector collaborators, the Remake Learning Network is helping educators and innovators provide all children and youth with opportunities to develop their own interests, to work collaboratively to find creative solutions to problems, and to experiment, fail, and start over with new ideas.
In the years since we began this work, we’ve seen our region transformed. Teachers and administrators work with designers and technologists to collaboratively develop new course curricula. Learning scientists are embedded in out-of-school learning programs to not just observe, but to co-design more effective connected learning experiences. Education technology startups are partnering with educators and students to create technologies that enable deeper learning rather than simply adding expensive gadgets and gizmos to already stretched budgets. And more of our region’s young people are enrolled in out-of-school learning programs than ever before, with participation rates more than 10% above the national average.
In many of our region’s school districts, you won’t find children sitting in rows listening to the “sage on the stage.” Instead, through the support of the Remake Learning Network, students are collaborating with their peers in project-based learning where teachers act as a “guide on the side.” These efforts have resulted in three of our region’s school districts—Elizabeth Forward, South Fayette, and Avonworth—being inducted into the League of Innovative Schools. And, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, Pittsburgh Public Schools established a STEAM learning magnet school, bringing interdisciplinary, project-based learning to the region’s largest urban public school system.
Maker learning has captured the imagination of tinkerers of all ages: from the MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where families learn together through hands-on, DIY creativity to community makerspaces like the Maker’s Place in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood where teens are using real-world maker skills to turn their ideas into entrepreneurial ventures.
Following the lead of The Labs @ CLP, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s digital teen learning spaces, our region’s libraries are reimagining their role. Historic institutions like the Carnegie Library of Homestead are transforming unused spaces into media making studios where teens use professional equipment to make movies and music. Pop-up libraries like the Allentown Learning & Engagement Center in Pittsburgh’s struggling Hilltop community are bringing resources—in both print and digital format—to communities in need. And nearby small town libraries, like the Millvale Community Library, are creating spaces dedicated for tweens and teens eager for more opportunities to make and be creative.
Early childhood centers are being thoughtful in their use of new digital media tools. Committed to using technology to unlock opportunities for the traditionally underserved, technologists in the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University developed Message From Me, a tablet-based app that enables young children at more than 100 Head Start centers around Allegheny County to compose and send photo and audio messages to their parents and families sharing stories from their school days. At the same time, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on play as a mode of learning for young children. The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children ( PAEYC) maintains a mobile Imagination Playground to deploy in elementary and pre-schools that lack permanent play equipment. PAEYC also partnered with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and other members of the Remake Learning Network to launch the Pittsburgh Play Collaborative, a new initiative that is expanding play-based learning opportunities for students of all ages.
Our network’s educators are receiving national recognition for their work. The Children’s Innovation Project, led by Pittsburgh teacher Melissa Butler and artist Jeremy Boyle, was covered by The Atlantic. Teacher Michelle King spoke alongside MacArthur Foundation Director of Education Connie Yowell about building a connected learning community at the 2014 Digital Media & Learning Conference. Kris Hupp from Cornell High School and Aileen Owens of South Fayette Township School District, two Pittsburgh-area educators deeply involved in the network, received Digital Innovation in Learning Awards, from Digital Promise and EdSurge. In spring 2015, Corey Wittig, Digital Learning Librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, traveled to Spain to speak about the innovation of American libraries.
And these are only a small sampling of what Pittsburgh’s educators and innovators are doing to change and transform teaching and learning in our region. This exciting momentum didn’t materialize overnight, and it didn’t come out of thin air.
We’ve been working together for years to build open and collaborative communities of practice where everyone contributes to a shared vision of learning remade in Pittsburgh. In the following chapters, we’ll take a look under the hood to show you how the Remake Learning Network is structured, how it operates, and how it connects schools, museums, libraries, afterschool programs, and ed-tech companies to enhance learning opportunities for children and youth—and how you can build a network to create similar change in your own community.
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by Mimi Ito, Professor in Residence, University of California—Irvine, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences
Young people today are constantly connected and have information at their fingertips in ways that are transforming how they learn and socialize. So, as educators, parents, policymakers, and learners, we need to take a hard look at our own role in how to make the most of the opportunities for learning, especially those that come with our open, networked, online world. Education is not just about delivering expertise and content, especially in an era when information and knowledge are abundant. And it shouldn’t be primarily about assessment and credentialing, particularly when we are seeing that learning happens anywhere, anytime, and that the demand for learning never stops. Educational institutions need to connect young people’s learning to their social lives, their communities, their interests, and their careers. That’s where connected learning comes in.
Connected learning, an educational approach designed for a rapidly changing world, involves diverse learning institutions committed to providing youth with a range of experiences to develop their knowledge and expertise based on their unique interests and potential. Through connected learning, institutions like schools, museums, and libraries, and networks like Remake Learning in Pittsburgh, can, and already are, taking part in innovative strategies, leveraging digital media to make learning more relevant and engaging to youth, and linking the three crucial spheres in a learner’s life—peers, interests, and academic pursuits.
Networks drive today’s world. The hierarchical, centralized approaches that have worked in the past are poorly suited to a world where dispersion—of ideas, opportunities, and risks—is the reality. Highly coordinated communities of people and organizations allow for synergies, swapping ideas, rubbing shoulders—working together toward a shared vision.
This new reality isn’t limited to the worlds of high technology and global business. In its 2014 report, the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet called for “a shift from the traditional focus on one learning institution, the school, to a focus on the learner and all the places where there are opportunities to learn, like museums, libraries, after-school programs, and the home.” The report’s overarching recommendation is to build learning networks (made up of online and physical places) to connect and spread opportunities for children and youth.
What does that look like? To build a community where anywhere, anytime learning is a reality, cities and regions need to tap into their many talents and resources to create a vibrant ecosystem of opportunities. That’s the approach we’ve taken in Pittsburgh, and we’re not alone. “I have come to see that an ecosystem for learning is essential,” Michele Cahill, program director of urban education at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has said. “Schools themselves have intellectual capital, but a city’s ecosystem has so much more of it. Why are we keeping it so separate?”
The short answer: Probably because these networks don’t just materialize, even when a city has a wealth of resources. They take planning, coordination and time to emerge.
The U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with Digital Promise, has been exploring network-based approaches through its work to develop Education Innovation Clusters, inspired by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter’s “Cluster Development” theories. Dr. Porter demonstrated that clusters of interconnected firms, suppliers, related industries, and specialized institutions raise productivity of each organization as well as the whole region.
The cluster concept for learning envisions three key partners: educators, researchers, and commercial enterprises.
- Education partners pilot new solutions with input from students and teachers. Educational partners might be early learning providers, public or private schools, libraries, community centers, afterschool programs, institutions of higher education, or virtual learning organizations. They provide the flexibility and capability to rapidly develop, test, and collect data on new learning approaches and educational products.
- Research partners conduct basic and applied research. They both inform and help validate the products and approaches developed in the cluster.
- Commercial partners take the new ideas and products to market. They also provide investment capital.
In the Pittsburgh region, we’ve adapted and built on the cluster model to establish the Remake Learning Network. The structure of our network includes five key elements:
Innovation begins where learning happens—in schools, museums, libraries, afterschool sites, and community centers.
Education partners, both in school and out-of-school, are the locus of learning in any network—not just as learning institutions, but also as hubs for information, connection, and access to critical community resources. Enterprising teachers trying new approaches in classrooms or visionary administrators reaching out to external partners are jumpstarting change in districts, both from the bottom-up as well as from the top-down.
But learning doesn’t end when the school day ends. A learning network would be incomplete without the participation of key out-of-school learning environments.
Large cultural institutions like museums and libraries, as well as established national organizations like YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs are already deeply trusted in many communities. As learning environments, these institutions often employ instructors, mentors, and coaches who develop their own educational programing. Neighborhood-based afterschool sites, community centers, enrichment providers, and faith-based programs are free, safe, and accessible places for children and youth to connect with one another, seek the academic help they need, and pursue their own learning interests without traveling too far from home.
Intermediary organizations are important conduits for distributing information, resources, and support to front-line education partners. For example, in the Pittsburgh region, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit provides professional development and other support services to teachers in 42 regional school districts, while Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time provides ongoing support and coordination for hundreds of afterschool learning sites large and small. As members of the Remake Learning Network, these and other intermediaries advance the spread and adoption of innovative approaches to teaching and learning among the organizations they serve.
Contribute to the Network
Space and time to engage students in innovative learning programs, instructional expertise, shared learning content
Receive from the Network
Funding to support innovative practice and professional development, introductions to collaborative partners, greater exposure to target audiences
Higher education institutions are sources of equipment and talent, basic and applied research, and professional connections to local and national leaders.
Universities are hubs of intellectual capital at the forefront of human investigation and discovery. They house precocious students and erudite faculty importing and exporting ideas as part of a global academic community. By bringing the latest knowledge and most advanced expertise to bear, university labs and research centers act as generators of new ideas and pilot programs that can be put into practice through effective partnerships with other members of the network.
Outside of academia, independent tech developers and designers, as well as public-private innovation hubs and tech-transfer offices, help bring innovation from the lab to the market. By building bridges between developers and the audiences for which they are designing, the network turns the community into a collaborative test-bed for innovation.
Working closely with educators both in- and out-of-school, researchers and designers put their latest innovations into practice in a variety of learning environments. That enables instant feedback from students and teachers and informs the design of early-stage products. Coupling this iterative process with ongoing professional development for educators, innovators ensure that their creations are relevant and approachable.
Additionally, outreach is critical to assuring that powerful new tools don’t get stuck in the ivory tower of academia. In Pittsburgh, the CREATE Lab Satellite Network connects researchers and developers with regional schools of education so that tomorrow’s teachers can experiment with new technologies and integrate their use into lessons and curriculum planning.
And through programs like Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, student design teams take on projects for “clients” from the Remake Learning Network, including school districts testing gamification in the classroom and museums seeking to create more immersive learning environments.
Contribute to the Network
Access to world-class talent and technology, international connections inside and outside of academia, technical assistance for local innovations
Receive from the Network
Funding to support pilot projects, more opportunities to meet and collaborate with educators, new pathways from laboratory to marketplace
In addition to being sources of new technological innovation, higher education partners provide critical evaluation resources to help practitioners test the effectiveness of their programs.
Learning scientists and design researchers actively evaluate new approaches to teaching and learning being implemented throughout the network. Their work informs the design and implementation of new products and pedagogies, and evaluates the effectiveness of new practices or policies, and the network itself.
In Pittsburgh, initiatives like the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE) embeds research and design fellows within education organizations to develop deep understandings of existing programs and provides expert consultation on the design of new programs.
Advocacy organizations, particularly those focusing on specific areas of importance like early childhood education or afterschool enrichment, use research findings to advance the spread and adoption of innovative learning practices within their field. These organizations also raise greater awareness among elected officials and other policymakers.
For example, the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) campaigns for greater emphasis on early childhood education on the local and state level, while also offering professional development opportunities to help early childhood educators learn how they might integrate new digital tools and technologies into their classrooms.
By contributing to national academic discussions, research and advocacy organizations also spread research findings to a global community of practice. At the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, research fellows and children’s media experts study programs led by network members and share their learnings with key stakeholders. These efforts have shaped national recommendations for the appropriate use of digital media in early childhood education.
Contribute to the Network
Research and analysis of the learning landscape, thought leadership, a voice in the public discourse about education
Receive from the Network
Funding to support research and evaluation, sites to study innovative approaches to learning, greater exposure to share findings and messages with target audiences
Digital technology products—from touchscreen apps and tutoring software to hands-on kits and online platforms—are the textbooks and chemistry sets of the 21st century. The ed-tech firms and media companies creating these learning experiences are an integral part of the network, whether they locate their businesses in the community, partner with educators to co-design and test new products, or work with network members to adapt existing tools and services to meet local needs.
Ed-tech incubators facilitate connections between entrepreneurs and their end users by inviting educators and students into the design and development process—from the idea generation stage to user testing and beyond.
In the Remake Learning Network, the Pittsburgh Technology Council launched the Creative Industries Network to support companies working in a variety of fields, including education technology. And through informal activities like ed-tech meet-ups, firms connect with one another, learn about investment opportunities, and participate in “design jams” with teachers.
Small ed-tech enterprises are engines of economic growth for communities. They attract talent with a heightened appreciation for high quality in the learning environments for their families. Schell Games, a game design and development company founded by Carnegie Mellon University professor Jesse Schell, has grown to the largest game developer in Pennsylvania with more than 100 employees.
The contributions made by companies to the network aren’t limited to technology development. Major regional employers want today’s students to be prepared with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they’ll need to be effective members of tomorrow’s workforce. They often focus their corporate giving efforts on learning programs that cultivate these competencies and can be a source of funding for innovative training and workforce development programs.
Contribute to the Network
Early access to new education technology products, input on the needs of regional employers, resources to support new programming
Receive from the Network
Product input from educators, students, and learning scientists, increased exposure to potential customers and future employees, more opportunities for public-private partnership
Guiding the network, supporting its members, and sustaining an environment where learning innovation thrives.
The Remake Learning Network first came together as a small group of like-minded people who met to exchange ideas over breakfast. In its earliest days, these personal, informal gatherings helped innovators communicate, seed some of the first collaborative projects, and build momentum. But as networks grow in size and complexity, direct coordination often becomes necessary.
Even in a self-organizing network where partners come together and begin collaborating right away, intentional coordination helps networks go farther, quicker. Philanthropies often lead the way, using funding to focus the network’s attention and set regional priorities.
Rather than selecting a single organization to lead the network, consider a spoke-and-hub or constellation model that empowers teams of organizations to act as “network hubs” for different sectors of the network. The best candidates for these hubs are intermediary organizations that act in the best interests of the network, allowing other network members to focus on their core mission and programmatic activities.
Hub organizations play several roles. As conveners, they bring people together and build the field. As catalysts, they invest money and resources to get new ideas off the ground or help exciting projects to develop. As communicators, hub organizations enhance networks members’ ability to tell their story effectively and efficiently, internally and externally. As champions, hubs lift up the accomplishments of network actors, regionally, nationally, and internationally. And, as coordinators, hub organizations connect the dots, recommend priorities for the network, and connect those priorities to national resources.
In Pittsburgh, The Sprout Fund, a nonprofit organization, serves as a connector of the many spokes of the network and offers a suite of support services to all network members. At the leadership level, the Remake Learning Council brings together major community leaders drawn from government, higher education, school districts, and the private sector. The Council sets a long-term agenda for the network and brings the collective resources of Pittsburgh’s major institutions to bear.
Contribute to the Network
Funding support and other resources, network coordination and leadership, greater exposure to partners and supporters outside the network
Receive from the Network
Community of local educators & innovators ready to put learning innovation into action
With a supportive network structure in place, it’s important to identify key areas of focus that align network activities with regional priorities and build on local strengths.
Focus areas should be based on each region’s unique characteristics. Perhaps your region has a concentration of advanced manufacturing industries. Then, you may consider maker learning opportunities that prepare students for careers in this field. Or your region may have a wealth of arts and culture institutions that can come together to provide learners with opportunities to deeply develop their creative capacities. You can easily see how Los Angeles might focus on the entertainment industry and media making, while in Houston, a dual focus on space exploration and energy might make the most sense.
In Pittsburgh, the Remake Learning Network is leveraging regional strengths in a number of areas:
Robotics: With the leadership of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh is a global hub for lab-to-market robotics technology. So it’s only natural that programs and tools for learning, teaching, and designing robotics are being developed in our network.
Gaming: Regional assets like the Entertainment Technology Center and local companies like Schell Games and Zulama position our network well to dive deeply into educational gaming and playful learning.
Early Learning: The legacy of media pioneer Fred Rogers is alive and well in Pittsburgh through both the Fred Rogers Company, which produces children’s media like “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” and the Fred Rogers Center, a research institute that studies and advocates for quality children’s media made for the digital age.
Youth Voice: Pittsburgh is home to several independent media companies and schools working in radio, podcasting, as well as film and video production. Organizations like SLB Radio, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and Steeltown Entertainment create a rich environment for youth to produce their own creative media. And initiatives like Hear Me and the YMCA Lighthouse program amplify the voices of youth on important social issues.
In addition to these regional strengths, the network has also identified three approaches to learning that are critical to preparing youth to thrive in the 21st century:
- Maker Learning: Students learn how to work together and to reshape the world through hands-on tinkering, hacking, and building with real tools and materials, making combines physical and digital skills from science and engineering, technology and media, crafting, and the arts.
- Digital Learning: New tools are transforming how we learn, socialize, and participate in the world. The pace of change in the digital age will only continue to increase, encouraging everyone to become adept producers and thoughtful consumers of digital media.
- STEAM Learning: Purposefully incorporating elements of multiple disciplines—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—STEAM programs develop learners ready to address the complexity of real-world problems by putting their curiosity and creativity to work.
With these areas of focus for the Remake Learning Network, we define the kinds of learning experiences we seek to create and identify opportunities to partner with national leaders. For example, through STEAM Grants offered by the Center for Creativity at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, regional school districts can seek up to $20,000 in funding to support the meaningful integration of STEAM learning practices in their schools. To expand access to digital learning opportunities, The Sprout Fund worked with Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time to create the Digital Corps, a team of trained digital learning mentors who are embedded in community learning sites throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. These mentors provide hands-on, project-based digital learning workshops free of charge. And through the MAKESHOP at The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, school teachers and informal educators can take part in Maker Educator Bootcamps that provide professional development for those seeking to implement maker learning practices in their classroom or program.
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There is near consensus that we need to transform our education system. The 9 to 3 classroom was designed to help us industrialize: to help farm kids become city kids with the literacy and regimen needed to be factory workers and office clerks. The thing is: we don’t live in an industrial world any more.
We live in a world where all of our lives are to some degree tied into the culture and technology of the web. We also live in a world of service and creative jobs, where critical thinking, collaboration, flexibility, adaptability, and digital skills are just as critical to being able to read and write. Even in today’s industrial and agricultural jobs, the Internet and 21st century work practices are increasingly a part of how work gets done. Unfortunately, our education system, by its very design, is not suited to help young people gain the requisite skills and mindsets they need to succeed in this world.
The good news: educators, parents, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and young people themselves are stepping up to fix this. They’re mashing up John Dewey with making, playing, inventing, and sharing. Learning is becoming more social and collaborative. Infusing digital skills and tools into all that they do. And tapping into the knowledge and humanity that sits inside the global Internet. These people are social innovators, rolling up their sleeves to develop fresh approaches that create new ways to learn—and giving young people new ways to thrive.
The biggest challenge we have right now isn’t an innovation challenge (or, not primarily). As you flip through this playbook, you’ll see that it is full of innovations that have great promise.
The real challenge we face today is one of spread, scale, and equity. We must spread the innovations we see emerging so they’re in everyone’s hands and minds. And this means everyone: children in America born into poverty on average get 6,000 less hours in learning than their middle class peers by grade 6. In particular, they tend to get far less access to the kind of innovative out of school programs that teach 21st century skills. If we want to tackle challenges like spread, scale, and equity, we need to change the system at some level.
The real challenge we face today is one of spread, scale and equity. We need to spread the innovations we see emerging so they reach everyone’s hands and minds.
One way to tackle systems change like this is with open, collaborative networks: humans connected to each other bringing their own ideas and solving their own part of the problem. Networks lend themselves to this kind of change in part because no one institution has the mandate or resources to take on massive, systemic issues like transforming education. This is fairly obvious. The less obvious—and more powerful point—is that networks have the potential to slowly transform systems by sneaking into the cracks. A single passionate educator can bring an innovative practice to a school or a city. Out-of-school spaces like libraries and museums can invent and try out radical new programs. And young people themselves can simply follow their passion on the Internet and find others to discover and create with. Together, network members come up with ideas, vet for the best ones, try things out, make things better, and over time start to transform their approach to teaching and learning. As this happens, open minded people nearby start to say: “Hey, something is different here. And it’s kind of cool. I can try this.” From there, innovations seep more deeply into the cracks.
We’ve seen this over and over again with the Hive Learning Networks that Mozilla runs in a number of cities around the world. Hives are local networks of educators committed to bringing connected learning and digital literacy into how they teach. The main thing these educators do together is share ideas, try out new tools and, in many cases, invent new curriculum and programs together: an educator at a science museum working with a digital literacy organization to get kids collecting data about plants in a local park (skills: research, design, critical thinking, basic digital content creation); or a local library network and a group teaching hip hop developing a program for kids who want to produce their own music (skills: creativity, entrepreneurship, planning, advanced digital literacy). By working on these collaborative projects—and through regular meet ups and teach-ins—educators develop their own connected learning and digital literacy skills. In a sense, a Hive is at once an open source digital literacy lab and a peer-to-peer professional development program.
We’ve seen similar approaches with Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network (which is tied into Hive). The thinking in Pittsburgh was this: a city is an ecosystem with many actors and many interdependencies. To solve complex problems and achieve long-term goals, people need to put their energy together around a common vision. Remake Learning brought together educators, designers, technologists, researchers, artists, entrepreneurs and community members around the idea that they needed to transform education if they wanted Pittsburgh to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family. Each member of the network acted independently to pursue their own mission and was committed to a loose but intentional affiliation to these common goals. By building a network that made connections between all the city’s assets and resources, Remake Learning created the kind of openly networked approach that helps innovation spread.
As networks like Hive and Remake Learning mature, we start to see innovation not only in the cracks of the system, but also at the heart of the system itself. The growth of creative digital literacy programming in New York City provides an example of this. Hive New York was the birthplace of Mozilla’s web literacy work—an effort to help people learn how to read, write, and participate on the web. As an initial spark in this effort, enterprising educators in organizations like MOUSE and the New York Public Library helped Mozilla create a program that quickly gets young people making things together. It then builds more real-world skills like resilience and advanced creativity and technical skills from there. After three years working with educators like these, this approach is now part of the thinking being integrated into the thinking of the New York Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Readiness. Their Digital Ready program connects Hive organizations to schools to provide the kind of digital learning experiences that schools cannot typically offer. Ideas that emerged and grew “in the cracks” have gained the credibility and strength needed to become a part of a more mainstream plan for educational transformation. This is how innovation spreads—and how networks have an impact.
This slow shift into the mainstream isn’t about spreading for spreading’s sake. It is about making the kind of shift to 21st skills that young people need today available to everyone—whether they can get to a specialized after school program or not. Hives are very focused on who learns, why, and when, in great part because network leaders and members share a commitment not only to new skills and new approaches to learning, but also to equity. With the right approach and patience, a network can start to move the ball on the equity agenda.
When people build things together they tend to own them emotionally and want to roll them out after they are created.
One critical element in the effectiveness of these networks is “working in the open.” This includes a number of simple practices commonly associated with open source software: making curriculum and tools easy for others to discover; publishing using an editable format that allows others to freely use and adapt them; using an open license like Creative Commons. It also includes a set of work practices that make it easy for people to collaborate across organizations and locations: collaborative writing in shared online documents; shared public plans on wiki or other editable documents; progress reports and insights shared in real time and posted on blogs. These simple practices are the grease that lubricates the network, allowing ideas to flow and innovations to spread. More importantly, they make it possible for people to genuinely build things together—and learn along the way. This point cannot be emphasized strongly enough: when people build things together they tend to own them emotionally and want to roll them out after they are created. If the people building together are from different institutions, then the innovations spread more quickly to more institutions.
Another key element of open innovation is connecting these city-based networks to each other. In 2014, we created Hive Global: an umbrella network to connect New York, Pittsburgh, and a dozen other cities aiming to transform learning and give young people the skills they need for today’s world. This effort provides ways for local educators to see what is happening in other cities, get copies of program materials and curricula they might try in their own work and, from time to time, to travel to other cities and countries to work with their peers. This global work is essential fuel for the work of local educators who are able to adapt new ideas quickly to their own local context. The result is an approach that is at once global and local.
In the past, social innovators like the members of Hive and Remake Learning could only share information through informal networks or trade publications with limited distribution. In the age of the web and open source, we have the opportunity to build networks where ideas move much more fluidly—and where new innovations seep more quickly into the cracks. As these networks mature, they have the potential to spread innovations beyond the cracks and into the mainstream. They have the potential to make new skills and new ways of learning available to everyone. They have the real potential to change the system.
What does this mean for transforming education? Hopefully it means that we’re moving toward a future where young people have the skills and mindsets they need to thrive in today’s world. If we can build that future where this is the mainstream of education, we can help all young people not just get a job—we can also help them pursue their own path and figure out who they want to become. Whether it’s in Pittsburgh or New York or anywhere, that’s the kind of future I want to see us build.
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We’ve learned a lot since beginning this work nearly a decade ago. We’ve identified the most important takeaways that networks should consider, whether they’re just starting out or looking to take their work to the next level.
Build on Your Strengths
Recognize what makes your region uniquely positioned to remake learning. Choose particular areas of opportunity where your network can make the biggest impact. This may be a specific industry that is relevant in your region, a pressing challenge that community leaders wish to solve, or an area of shared interest that many of your network members are already tackling.
Equip Educators to Innovate
Engage teachers and out-of-school educators and enable them to develop novel approaches to learning by offering support services, funding opportunities, and professional development. Educators know best how to connect with their students. With the support of the network, they can implement innovations that enhance learning and inspire their peers to do the same.
Meet People Where They Are
Spread network events and activities across many different host organizations and locations. Offer a range of opportunities for network members to engage at the level of depth that best suits them. Different organizations will have different capacities to dig deeply into network activities, but all can benefit from even minimum participation.
Encourage Cross-Sector Collaborations
Prioritize support and attention for initiatives designed by diverse partners where the collaboration is essential to the innovation, not just a by-product of teams forced to work together. Highly effective learning experiences challenge students to apply methods and knowledge from multiple disciplines to efficiently solve problems—shouldn’t we insist the same be true of the process used to design those experiences?
Find a Champion
Identify an influential person or persons who can speak passionately about the network and attract others to get involved. Your champion can come from a variety of backgrounds—a school administrator, a community leader, a business leader, a local celebrity, a funder, a government official, or even a student!
Organize a trusted group of entities with leadership capacity to propel learning innovation work in the field. This enables other network members to focus on their mission or business, while ensuring that the operations of the network can be sustained and coordinated for the benefit of all involved.
Create an Identity
Name your network, give it a look, and give it a voice so that network members feel like they belong to something material and significant. As the network steward, strive to speak and act on behalf of all members. Establish a recognizable brand to give your network both a local and national presence.
Understand Network Impact
Set long-term goals for your network and gather evidence of your progress. Measure your impact on both the members of the network and on the children and youth that they serve.
Reach Outside Your Region
Seek partnership opportunities with national and international organizations focusing on learning innovation and connect with other regions, either nearby or around the globe. Follow the work of others you admire and add your voice through social media channels. Your network will benefit and scale more quickly from the influx of new ideas and opportunities, and knowledge in the field will grow by sharing the best of your work with others.
Be Open and Inclusive
Actively invite people in—don’t worry about giving away an extra free piece of pizza; you don’t know who will come together to create the next great idea. In lieu of rigid membership criteria, allow people and organizations to self-identify and lower all the potential barriers to network involvement.
Create a network unique to your community. Leverage resources and toolkits like this Playbook to inform your thinking, but don’t take a cookie-cutter approach to replication. Be inspired by the work others have shared and use it as raw material to remake into your network’s own innovative strategies.
The current model of education is failing too many kids. We need bold action and courageous risk-taking by every constituency with a stake in their future. We must harness the creativity and ingenuity of the entire community to cultivate novel approaches to learning challenges—both old and new. We ourselves must test, try, fail, succeed, and learn. And we must act swiftly and decisively; tomorrow is already here.
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Working together, the Remake Learning Network has squarely established a solid foundation for learning innovation in the greater Pittsburgh region. As a collaborative and connected network, our potential to provide all children and youth with remarkable learning experiences is greater than ever.
We’ve grown the network from a handful of people to more than 200 member organizations and more than 3,000 people who follow our work. But perhaps more important than the steady growth of the network has been its effect on the way network members connect across sectors. According to our most recent survey of network members, 86% reported forming new and productive collaborative partnerships as a direct result of their participation in the network.
The success of our network has helped put Pittsburgh on the map as a community known for learning innovation, attracting visitors from around the world. School district leaders from Huntsville, Alabama, took what they learned from the Elizabeth Forward School District back home to bring their schools into the digital age. Business leaders from Denver, Colorado, visited Pittsburgh and learned how the network has built effective partnerships between educators, cultural institutions, and research universities. Representatives from 13 regions toured Remake Learning Network sites throughout Pittsburgh to get a first-hand look at an education innovation cluster in action.
We have opened doors for Pittsburgh to engage national and international partners like Common Sense Media, PBS Learning, and the global Hive Learning Networks. From these partners, we import new knowledge, tools, and resources for learning and export our most successful innovations far beyond our borders.
In 2014, Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to be awarded a Disruptive Innovation Award at the Tribeca Innovation Festival in New York City. The award recognized the leadership of the Remake Learning Network in fostering more creative and innovative learning opportunities for youth in the region.
As Connie Yowell, the former Director of Education at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, told Education Week: ’Pittsburgh is absolutely a leader when it comes to building a learning ecosystem for the 21st century.’
Still, our work is far from over. Important questions and complex challenges remain as we work to coordinate the efforts of the many actors in the education space, embed the values of creativity and equity in every program, engage students in hands-on learning both in and out of school settings, and empower grassroots stakeholders to participate in setting the agenda for change.
In addition to making constant refinements to the structure and operations of the network, we’re focusing on several key priorities in the months and years ahead.
Innovative Professional Development: Some of the most important work for the network going forward will be the continued investment in our human capital—providing educators with the innovative instructional support they need. School districts and educator support agencies are taking innovative teaching practices to scale by creating new professional development opportunities that harness the best of the network and provide teachers with hands-on opportunities to adapt and remix new approaches to suit their classrooms.
Family Awareness & Engagement: We’re also focusing more than ever on engaging directly with parents and families so that we can ensure the incredible innovations emerging in Pittsburgh remain relevant to the needs and concerns of the caring adults in children’s lives, while also expanding the conversation about what it means to learn today. The ultimate goal goes beyond raising awareness—if innovative learning is to go to scale and become the norm for all children, parents need to be empowered to demand that learning be remade.
Badging & Credentialing Learning: Alternative credentials remain especially important for recognizing learning in out-of-school time, where many young people find the most rewarding and empowering learning experiences. We’re building on the deep work that Remake Learning Network members have already begun in developing shared learning competencies and issuing thousands of digital badges. Developing a workable ecosystem of micro-credentials that is valued by learners and helps them showcase their accomplishments to teachers, college admissions, or potential employers remains a critical priority in Pittsburgh.
Ensuring equitable access: Increasing access and participation among youth and educators in neighborhoods in need—especially communities of color and English-language learners—is an ongoing challenge for the entire field, not just in Pittsburgh. Building on models like The Children’s Museum’s Mobile MAKESHOP, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Labs on Location, and The Sprout Fund’s Digital Corps, more of our network’s most effective learning innovations are being “mobilized” so that they can be adapted and deployed in high-demand communities. Similarly, efforts to overcome transportation barriers and convert public recreation centers into venues for digital learning and technological access are underway.
Evaluating Network Impact: While we have established mechanisms to gauge the impact of the Remake Learning Network on the members themselves, measuring and understanding how the network has affected outcomes for the young people we seek to serve has been more elusive. To that end, a small local research cohort has begun work to analyze the landscape of network research and establish common metrics for evaluating innovative learning programs and a shared strategy for gathering data about the impact on learners. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but, through the strength of the network, we’re moving closer to our long-term goal of providing all children and youth with the best available opportunities to learn and be creative.
Looking forward to the years ahead, we’re excited for new opportunities to build on this momentum—opportunities that arise directly from the strength and maturity of our network.
With maker learning taking hold in our region’s schools, museums, and communities, Pittsburgh has developed into one of the most active maker ecosystems in the country. Responding to a call-to-action from the Obama Administration, the Remake Learning Network continues to engage its members and national leaders in a discussion on ways Pittsburgh can build on this strength to become one of America’s leading Maker Cities. And, in 2016, the Week of ReMaking Learning will be an all-hands-on-deck effort to garner commitments from school districts, nonprofit organizations, elected officials, and corporate partners proclaiming the priority of innovative maker learning in Pittsburgh.
As one of the vanguard “Cities of Learning” in 2014 and 2015, Pittsburgh is now poised to join Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and many others with LRNG, a collective shift in our approach to learning. LRNG is a bold new endeavor to close the opportunity gap by transforming how young people access and experience learning, and the paths they can take to success. LRNG will help Pittsburgh build a seamless network of local and online learning opportunities that are open and inviting to all youth—and connected to real-world opportunity through the use of digital badges.
In support of Pittsburgh’s ed-tech start-up community, Remake Learning nonprofit partners are now providing user testing, curriculum design, and teacher training support services to enhance the applicability and usability of new products in a variety of learning environments. Through this coordinated approach, Pittsburgh is growing an education innovation cluster with enterprises that achieve important learning outcomes for children and deliver economic impact in the community.
As we make strides in the Pittsburgh region, we’re also seeking more opportunities to partner with other cities that recognize the value of network-based learning innovation. Sharing our story through this Playbook is the first step. Now we’re hoping to hear from you.
How will you remake learning in your community?
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