Tag Archives: Technology

Digital Learning Where It’s Least Expected

At most hospitals, patients’ leisure time is limited to sleeping, watching TV, and visiting with relatives during prescribed hours. This can be hard on chronically ill children who may be cooped up in small rooms for weeks at a time. But at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, those patients have an enriching new option. A graduate student in education, Gokul Krishnan, brings around a metal cart packed with engineering and craft materials, a 3D printer, and a tablet, and encourages young patients to tinker.

The mobile makerspace is not just an artistic diversion. It’s a real-life lesson in design thinking, reports MindShift. The patients are encouraged to identify something that is missing or frustrating in their environment, and tinker with the tools until they solve the problem. A 17-year-old patient named Emily, for example, was getting annoyed by the nurses who would show up in her room unannounced. So, using wire, switches, and tissue paper from the maker cart, she fashioned a functional doorbell.

Hospitals are not the only unlikely locations to become makerspaces. Here in Pittsburgh, the Millvale Community Library hosts a weekly maker meetup for both toddlers and kids, providing circuits, electronics, musical instruments, drawing tools, and sewing supplies. A former electronic repairs shop, the building has a long digital legacy.

The mobility of technology makes for ideal learning tools. A restless patient like Emily may not be able to go to the library, but she can summon its digital equivalent on an e-reader from her hospital bed. Maker materials can be wheeled into libraries, cafes, churches, parks, and any number of accessible community spaces. And we recently wrote about the new app from Storycorps, which enables kids to learn about history and culture from family members and new friends on the go. Thanks to this portability, learning is not confined to the classroom or a specific six-hour chunk of the day.

By capitalizing on the flexibility and adaptability of digital tools, educators and communities are not discounting the value of learning in traditional and formal settings. In fact, some of the most interesting initiatives in the Pittsburgh area are products of collaboration between established educational programs and less conventional spaces featuring different sets of tools.

In the South Fayette School District, campus gardens function as outdoor classrooms and living STEM labs. Part of a program called Grow It to Go, the gardens are settings for hands-on lessons in biodiversity and sustainability. Another Pittsburgh project turns an agricultural bounty into maker tools, bringing the farm to science classes, and students to the farm. Digital Salad participants might spend an afternoon slicing fresh vegetables, then scanning images of them to use in Photoshop collages before they cook the “materials” in a stew.

A hospital, a farm … so where will the next contemporary “classroom” show up? With portable devices and a mobile maker scene, it could be anywhere.



What Would Technology Look Like if Our STEM Workforce Were as Diverse as Our World?

If you’re African American and want to text an emoji that looks like you to a friend, until now you’ve been out of luck. But that’s about to change, thanks to the Unicode Consortium (the group responsible for standardizing and developing emojis). It announced last February that users would be able to select from five skin tones for any emoji that looks human. Considering emojis have entered into people’s daily lexicon, and given that several emojis exist for something as simple as a car, it’s about time users have faces and hands that look more like actual technology users throughout the world—faces that are black and brown, as well as white.

The tech industry’s lack of social diversity isn’t breaking news. Major tech companies have announced their numbers and the largest tech giants are nearly 90 percent white and Asian, with a predominantly male leadership. But the lack of diversity shows up in more than company stats—it shows up in the products millions of people use and depend on in their daily lives.

Another example: Apple didn’t include a way to track menstrual cycles in its HealthKit app. Sure, HealthKit will help track your sodium and copper intake, but what if you’re in the half of the population that needs to pay attention to when they are menstruating, the single-most trackable measure that affects multiple aspects of women’s health? You’ll have to download a separate app (which, apparently, may also have been made by a man.)

The quest for emojis (and apps) that are as diverse as technology users.

But technology’s whiteness and maleness isn’t a problem only because the products like emojis or apps often don’t reflect the needs or interests of all their users. It’s also a problem because of what we’re missing. What kind of devices, products, or amazing wondertools of tomorrow don’t we have because only a sliver of society controls the tech world?

“We don’t even know what the world would look like if we gave girls the leverage and the power of technology,” said Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder, in a MAKERS video. Girls Who Code is a program aiming to teach computer science education to 1 million girls by 2020. “Their ideas are so different than if I was teaching a group of 20 boys. And all their ideas are centered around changing the world.”

If we want to find out what the world would look like, we need to open up more opportunities for STEM learning and build skills in technology among the rest of the population early on. As several writers have noted, it’s not simply a “pipeline” issue—there are still problems in hiring practices and company cultures that impede a diverse workforce. For example, Hastings College of the Law Professor Joan Williams’ research has delved into some of the ongoing biases that push women out of the STEM workforce. But STEM in schools is certainly a place to start.

As Catherine Rampell explained in the Washington Post, “Few [schools] teach any tech skills beyond how to consume, rather than create, technology. Which is understandable, to an extent; if you’re a struggling public school, you’re not going to invest resources in computer science when your funding depends on not leaving children behind in math and reading.”

But changing public school curricula is a slow process, which is why out-of-school programs and informal learning spaces may be a critical way to help kids get these kinds of experiences.

Here in Pittsburgh, middle school girls at Assemble’s Girls’ Maker Nights use the easy coding programming language Scratch, work together on monthly maker projects, and meet local STEAM experts.

And last fall, teen mentors in a program called Tech Warriors from the Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA) taught elementary schoolers in underserved neighborhoods how to build robots, code, and create animations.

“We’re giving inner city youth exposure to the technology education field and leadership skills in the classroom by having them be role models to younger students,” Cole Hoyer Winfield, program coordinator for the NLA, told NEXT Pittsburgh. “It provides them with opportunities and exposures they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Providing underrepresented groups the same kinds of opportunities to pursue STEM learning isn’t only fair and just, but the untapped potential and talent will inevitably improve the potential of technology for everyone.

End of Cell Phone Bans in Class Opens New Possibilities for Learning

Traditionally, cell phones have been the bane of teachers’ existences. Even with bans and threats of consequences for using cell phones, students have developed an arsenal of tactics for maintaining access to their devices during class: They peek at them under desks, text without looking at the screens, and pretend to rummage around in their backpacks while checking their messages.

In New York, such covert cell phone use will soon be unnecessary. The city’s disposal of its stringent cell phone ban in its 1,800 public schools (the School District of Philadelphia has a more nuanced policy) is partially a simple acknowledgment that cell phones are here to stay.

It’s also a whole new educational horizon.

Many teachers nationwide have already been experimenting with innovative and productive—and fun—ways of integrating mobile phones into the classroom. Several educational apps and programs are designed for this purpose. Some, like Socrative and Poll Everywhere, are tools for in-class polls and quizzes with nifty features for displaying and analyzing results. Others, like Remind and Celly, help teachers communicate with students through classroom-specific social networks or scheduled text messages prompting students to complete assignments.

And cell phones are naturally creative implements. They can inexpensively film, photograph, and record.

Craig Watkins, professor of media studies at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that using new technology in schools is especially important for black and Latino youth, who—research shows—are more likely than any other group to go online via a mobile phone or use new social networking tools like Twitter. But, Watkins said that although these teens use mobile phones as social, recreational, and entertainment devices, they need help viewing their mobile phones, cameras, and iPods as learning devices and as “tools for critical citizenship and engagement in their communities.”

Jose L. Vilson, an eighth-grade math teacher in Washington Heights, told the New York Times he often asked students to use their phones for projects in class.

“Why would you limit kids from having access to technology that could perhaps enhance their learning?” Banning phones “just keeps pushing the disparity forward,” he said.

This philosophy has given rise to BYOT (bring your own technology) programs in some schools, which we’ve written about in the past. BYOT means students can bring a phone, a tablet, or a computer—whatever they’re comfortable with—to use in class on a given assignment.

And, as Watkins notes, afterschool programs and community groups are in many ways leading this charge, helping kids use their mobile devices in ways they can learn from.

So how can educators devise new mobile-positive curricula and policies while keeping in mind the circumstances that gave rise to phone bans in the first place?

There are, undoubtedly, risks, including cyberbullying and opportunities for theft. And there is certainly potential for distraction—but some research shows that cell phones can actually increase classroom participation, particularly among shy students.

This summer, we wrote about how educators were using KQED’s “Do Now” program to discuss social issues in real time on Twitter, helping young people build critical civic engagement and digital literacy skills.

As more schools experiment with mobile use, we’ll figure out the kinds of rules and limitations needed to ensure safety and privacy, and more teachers will continue to discover how the technology does or doesn’t work in their classrooms.

But in an educational environment where one-half of the nation’s high school students already carry smartphones, it’s time to pursue creative and positive ways to incorporate the inevitable into the classroom.



Why Technology Alone Can’t Change Teaching and Learning

In the past several years, school districts have leapt into 1:1 computing models. Yet some districts have experienced embarrassing problems.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s billion-dollar rollout—the nation’s most expansive and highest-profile attempt to achieve 1:1—hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Dozens of iPads have disappeared, and students have figured out how to hack the devices to access websites intended to be off limits.

Further, the efficacy of the tools and apps on these devices has proved uncertain at best. The same article reported that “in 2009, the Education Department studied how math and reading software influenced student achievement. The study found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was ‘not statistically different from zero.’”

According to a recent Education Week post on the LA rollout, “The major ‘lessons learned’ from the problems, the LAUSD officials said, included recognition of the need to better involve parents in the effort from the outset; focus more heavily on ‘digital citizenship’ training for students, parents, and teachers; and better gauge schools’ readiness before deploying devices.”

To offset these blunders, the LA school district is making some critical changes to the program. The next set of schools to receive digital devices must demonstrate “instructional readiness” and show they’re prepared to “deploy the devices safely.” They’ve partnered with Common Sense Media to develop “digital citizenship lessons” for LA students and parents, with guidelines on media and technology use.

In addition, the LA school system has started thinking beyond Apple and is adding laptops and Google Chromebooks to their collection of iPads, beginning in September. On the other side of the country, a school district has abandoned the laptop idea altogether after a five-year attempt. The Hoboken Public Schools, citing problems similar to LA’s —including theft, breakage, and hacking—recently shelved its 1:1 program.

“Superintendent [Mark] Toback inherited the laptop program when he arrived in 2011. At first, he tried to keep it going,” wrote Jill Barshay in the Hechinger Report.

“But he faced skyrocketing costs, which hadn’t been budgeted for. The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. Toback said new laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each. Licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.”

None of this would likely surprise James Bosco, the principal investigator of a 2013 Consortium for School Networking project titled “Participatory Learning in Schools: Policy and Leadership.”

In an interview with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Bosco explained that computers weren’t the “game changers” in K−12 schools many hoped or assumed they would be.

“The idea was that if we put the devices in schools, they would be a catalyst and good things would happen because the computers were there,” Bosco said. “With some notable exceptions, what happened was that we put the technology in schools and schools continued doing fundamentally the same things, but using computers to do it.”

But it isn’t all gloom and doom. Bosco said he’s identified some districts that “are making serious efforts to keep the promise of what smart use of digital media can do to help us provide productive and engaging learning environments for our kids.”

As Alan November, cofounder of the Stanford Institute for Educational Leadership Through Technology, wrote in “Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing,” “Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement. Unless clear goals across the curriculum—such as the use of math to solve real problems—are articulated at the outset, one-to-one computing becomes ‘spray and pray,’” meaning “‘spray’ on the technology, and then ‘pray’ that you get an increase in learning.”

In November’s view, the question administrators ought to be asking isn’t what to buy, but how to redesign the culture of teaching and learning to effectively support and integrate new technology. A successful 1:1 program would incorporate a digital literacy curriculum and rely on cross-disciplinary cohorts of teachers collaborating on innovative concepts.

That kind of across-the-board effort characterized Leyden High School District 212’s successful 1:1 implementation. The Franklin Park, Illinois, district owes its accomplishment to “full infrastructure and administrative support,” including teachers who overhauled their instructional delivery methods.

That district, by the way, had been working on implementation since 1999, noted Mary Jo Madda in EdSurge.

In the meantime, more than enough cautionary tales will keep cash-strapped school districts from putting the cart—or iPad—before the horse.

Photo/ Massachusetts Secretary of Education

Beyond Screen Time

Experts gathered at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. this week for a moderated discussion that explores “a world beyond ‘screen time.’” How to use technology as more than an electronic babysitter and how to push for higher standards in technology use are on the agenda.

We spoke with Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation and author of “Screen Time: How Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software — Affects Your Young Child” about what brought this group together and where work around early learning innovation is heading.

Remake Learning: Tell me about this new group, the Alliance for Early Learning in a Digital Age.

Lisa Guernsey: It’s a coalition that came together at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2012. It’s the Ounce of Prevention Fund, Sesame Workshop, PBS, Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, Erikson Institute and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. I came into things in 2013 to help think through some of the challenges that a group like this might face.

What was the spark? What made something like this seem necessary?

The early childhood community has been a little averse to talking about technology in any deep way. And for good reasons, honestly. There is fear that technology in a preschool classroom might lead to kids sitting around staring at the TV. There is also fear that kids might get pushed into things before they are developmentally ready. Everyone wants kids to have a well rounded, hands-on, exploratory learning environment, but those types of fears have hung over the question of what role technology should play in that.

Have recent technological changes altered this conversation at all?

Lisa Guernsey

Lisa Guernsey

There have been some very interesting advances in technology — most obviously the touch screen. There’s also been some recognition through research and through the work of some pioneering educators, that, gosh, there are chances to use technology in ways that help children explore, that help open up windows into new worlds, or enable them to see themselves as creators.

That’s interesting, that idea of the difference between kids staring blankly at a TV and being “creators” as you say. Why is that so important?

We now have tools that let kids talk more freely and really capture what they’re exploring and creating. There are math concepts we used to think kids under a certain age couldn’t grasp, but it turns out, yes, they can — they just might not communicate it the same way older kids do. What if we can give them tools — like video cameras or tape recorders — to enable them to communicate in ways they couldn’t before?

For 4- and 5-year-olds, it can still be a struggle to put ideas on pen and paper, but maybe there are all kinds of things they want to say. For teachers this means being able to see more clearly how the kids are learning. And for the kids, it’s a chance to look back at something they’ve just done and say, “Hey, I did that. And here’s my story.”

There’s so much going on in the world of digital media. Is there a central set of concerns, or a central question around which the Alliance is organized?

At the New America Foundation, where I work, we have questions about how to break through the tired, polarizing conversations about technology, and how to bring educators up to a new level professionally with the right resources at their finger tips. The Alliance has several categories it coalesced around, and one is to build an agenda for new research. Our two organizations wanted to find a place to bring together all the research that’s happening in so many disparate places — some in science labs, some in research groups, some in the media literacy world.

So we had a research conference at the New America Foundation offices in October, and researchers talked about the similarities in their findings and their thinking. The desire to enable children to explore and be creators was an exciting idea to many people in the room, though it hasn’t been tested very much in research.

I’d imagine, considering the group, there was also talk about the role of the teacher or caregiver in facilitating children’s relationship with technology.

Children will really learn more and gain more from the experience if they are asking questions of a peer or adult while engaged. Sometimes the media itself triggers conversation or new questions — or takes them down paths of new learning. That joint engagement piece came through pretty loud and clear in October.

What else?

There’s a big focus on using media intentionally with young children and being very mindful about what it means for them.

I feel like so many people are so excited about these new digital tools and possibilities. Do you still find yourself telling people screen time is not inherently bad? Or has the conversation moved on from there?

What do we know about how children are interacting with digital technology? What are they learning? 

I don’t think everyone is on the same page because of the varied experiences out there. I see all sides of this because I talk to teachers in the elementary realm as well as in the realm of childcare and preschool. I also meet with childcare providers who work with, say, six children, in their home, and also public school teachers working with 3- and 4-year-olds. In some places there’s still a lot of concern that it’s just inappropriate for children to be using screen media.

On the other hand, I see teachers wishing they had more iPads, for example. There’s a wide range of view points out there, and we can learn from them all. It goes back to the mindfulness question. What do we know about how children are interacting with digital technology? What are they learning? What are they understanding when they’re using these materials? Those are the big questions.

I’m struck by how the first thing you said was, “We need to do more research.” What do we know? Is there anything specific to which you can point?

There is a lot that we do know. My book, “Screen Time,” was based on scores of studies on television and some new studies on interactive media with children under the age of 6. But questions from educators and parents are still hard to answer, often because they’re asked in such broad ways, such as, “Should my child use an iPad?”

To answer that kind of question, we need to go deep and get specific. There’s some research, for example, that showed 30-month-olds could learn something specific from a short, interactive video experience. So we have research like that. Little slices that give us some hints.

And people surely have been researching TV for ages.

There’s all sort of research about background television, or just television without any consideration of content. That’s the very opposite of mindful and intentional. It’s just noise and visuals off to the side of the room. There are studies that show background television is disruptive to children’s play patterns.

That of course raises all sorts of interesting questions about why it’s disruptive. Is it the noise? Is it the visuals? There have been a couple of studies that show problematic connections between background TV and kids not getting enough verbal interaction from adults. In other words, different media used in different ways make a big difference.

In your book you talk about the three C’s.

It’s a shorthand way of understanding how complex it all is. It’s not just all or nothing when it comes to media and kids. You have to look at the content,  the context of how the media is being used , and of course there’s the child herself. How old is she? Where is she developmentally? What are her interests? Etc.

A lot of people are starting to really look at the equity component of all this. What’s your thinking? Is this part of the Alliance’s focus?

From what I understand, one  reason the group is named the Alliance for Early Learning in a Digital Age is that it’s about ensuring all children, even children from low-income families, have access to the same kind of learning environments that kids from the richest families have. At New America, that focus on equity is a core piece of our work throughout our education policy program.

How do you go about addressing this issue?

We’re focusing right now on equity in broadband access. We’re looking at the lack of discounts for internet services in childcare settings, as well as many Head Start classrooms and some publically funded pre-K classrooms. The public schools have the E-Rate program. President Obama is pushing for the

It’s about ensuring all children, even children from low-income families, have access to the same kind of learning environments that kids from the richest families have.
new ConnectED initiative, and the FCC is in the process of revamping the E-Rate to try and infuse a little bit of money into the system.

We’ve been writing and making recommendations to the FCC. One of our recommendations focuses on the early learning setting and trying to ensure more parity, at least for Head Start and publically funded pre-K. In an ideal world, we’d get it for childcare centers, too. This ability to gain access to the internet is important for teachers and caregivers so that they can communicate and share information professionally.

New America is holding an event in Washington, D.C. on March 26 titled Beyond Screen Time.  What’s the connection here to Pittsburgh? 

I’m glad you asked that. Pittsburgh is at the forefront of seeing past this old debate about passive media being detrimental to children’s learning. They’re past, “Oh gosh, technology just means putting kids in front of a screen.” They’re helping move us into a new realm, which imagines children as creators themselves and agents of their own learning, and having access to all sorts of resources to help them learn, create and make. We can learn a lot from what’s happening in Pittsburgh.

Teens and Social Media? “It’s Complicated”

A Nielsen study released last month found 40 percent of young adults use social media in the bathroom. A little odd, perhaps. But when you look at how truly tuned in teens are to social media, is it really that surprising?

It’s not just teens’ attachment to technology that can make adults scratch their heads. There’s a deeper fear—that kids will lose their ability to socialize face-to-face, that they’ll be bullied, or lured by strangers into dangerous situations, or that they’re sexting or… the list of dangers goes on.

danah boyd, for one, thinks those fears are misplaced. And more deeply, the author of the new book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” argues that we’re scapegoating digital media for bigger problems—like an overtly sexual society and overly scheduled childhoods.

boyd, who’s a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, spent eight years interviewing hundreds of teens and studying the nuanced ways they use social media. Her findings challenge the gloom-and-doom narratives we’ve all heard before. While still acknowledging the internet’s boundaries and shortcomings, she brings to light the potential of new media to empower teens.

In the book’s opening chapter, boyd makes an important clarification. Teens aren’t actually obsessed with Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Rather, as she told fellow tech expert Clive Thompson at Wired, “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other.”

“Most teens are not compelled by gadgetry as such—they are compelled by friendship,” boyd writes. “The gadgets are interesting to them primarily as a means to a social end. Furthermore, social interactions may be a distraction from school, but they are often not a distraction from learning. Keeping this basic social dynamic firmly in view makes networked teens suddenly much less worrisome and strange.”

“Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environments that the internet supports.”

-danah boyd

Teens today want what teens since the stone age have wanted—a place to be themselves and hang out without adults hovering over them. But boyd describes how the last few decades have seen a mix of anti-loitering laws, enforced curfews, a decreasing number of public places, and growing safety worries from parents. Pair all that with the ever-increasing pressure to get into college, and teens have less time than ever to hang out face-to-face, which, boyd claims, is one reason their online lives mean so much to them.

But what teens see and what adults see are often two different things. Parents and teachers, she says, are too quick to blame social media and online worlds as the root cause of the problem. As she sees it, the real problem is bigger. To wit: sexting. We blame digital media for the flood of sexually explicit photos pinging back and forth via texts and Snapchat, but we should really be blaming the conflicting messages society sends about sex—from the Kardashians and twerking to abstinence and virginity pledges.

boyd also thinks that teachers should be more open to interacting with students on social media. She told Emily Bazelon on Slate:

“The moves educators have made away from using social media to talk to kids have been really destructive. Educators should have open-door policies for kids to reach out to them online. A teacher should create a profile that is herself or himself as a teacher, on Facebook or wherever your cohort of kids are. Never go and friend a student on your own, but if a student friends you, accept. And if a student reaches out to you online, respond. If you see something concerning about a student on a social media account, approach him or her in school. Give your password to the principal, so it’s all transparent, and then be present. Unfortunately, I hear a lot of teachers say they shouldn’t talk to kids outside the classroom. You can’t be 24/7, but when that connection is possible, it should be encouraged. And social media is an opportunity for more informal interactions.”

(That one lit up the comments, for a lot of reasons.)

Educators, and adults in general, play another role, boyd says—as online sherpas for teens:

“Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environments that the internet supports,” boyd writes. “Although youth are always learning as they navigate these systems, adults—including parents, educators, and librarians—can support them further by helping turn their experience into knowledge.”

In the end, the advice boyd sends to parents, educators, and others concerned with technology is “keep calm and carry on”: nix the anxiety and embrace the possibility. “With technology, there is such a tendency for it to be a source of anxiety,” she told Bazelon. “I’d really like us to be in a place where we think of it instead as an opportunity for teenagers.”


Photo/ Personal Democracy

Helping STEM Learning Take Root Outside the Classroom

Back in the dark ages—as in, the ’70s and ’80s—a typical afterschool routine might have involved heading home for a snack and an episode of “Scooby Doo.” Today a Pittsburgh teen is more likely to fire up her laptop and engage in a multiplayer game with other online gamers as far away as Tokyo or Dubai, or to construct intricate cities on his iPad using Minecraft.

Boosted by this vital extracurricular learning, those gamers could grow up to be the next Marissa Mayer or Steve Jobs.

But the disparity in access to digital technology leaves many kids in the dust, lagging behind watching reruns of old cartoons. A February 2013 report by the Pew Research Center found that “More than half (54%) [of the 2,462 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers surveyed for the report] say all or almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools at school, but only a fifth of these teachers (18%) say all or almost all of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home.”

Enter afterschool programs. They can help bridge that gap, according to a recent issue brief from the Afterschool Alliance, with support from the Noyce Foundation. The brief details how afterschool programs can help contribute to nationwide STEM education goals, especially in high-demand skill areas such as computer programming and engineering.

If you’re imagining a community center where teens play ping-pong and shoot hoops, think again. 

According to the report, “Afterschool STEM programs are proving to be highly effective and they deliver important outcomes. Youth in high-quality afterschool STEM programs show (1) improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers; (2) increased STEM capacities and skills; and (3) a higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career.”

Why is STEM important? Because that’s where the jobs are. According to a 2012 update from the US Department of Commerce, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that STEM jobs will continue growing at a fast clip relative to other occupations: 17.0 percent between 2008–2018 (BLS’ most recent projection), compared to just 9.8 percent for non-STEM jobs.”

The most effective afterschool programs offer rigorous STEM learning opportunities and reach marginalized populations. If you’re imagining a community center where teens play ping-pong and shoot hoops, think again. Students in these innovative programs are more likely to be found designing basketball simulators using the latest computer modeling equipment.

The winner of the 2013 Afterschool STEM Impact Awards, for example, enlists middle school students in applied science research projects. Participants in Santa Fe­, New Mexico-based Project GUTS—Growing Up Thinking Scientifically—engage in computational thinking to design and test computer models of real-world issues.

Another program mentioned in the report, Techbridge, reaches girls in underserved communities in Oakland, California, with hands-on programming in technology, engineering, and science. Afterschool program participants might solder a solar nightlight, design a computer animation project, or build a remotely operated vehicle. In August 2013 the program won a $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its afterschool programs to more cities across the country. Programs such as Techbridge do double duty—helping to close the gender gap in STEM fields while addressing income disparity in STEM learning opportunities.

Closer to home, at Crafton Elementary near Pittsburgh—part of the Carlynton School District—afterschool learning takes place in a dedicated STEAM Studio. There, students use high-tech tools such as K’NEX, snap circuits, and iPads to extend classroom projects or explore their own interests.

BotsIQ, another member of the Kids+Creativity Network, engages around 600 students from more than 40 schools in southwestern Pennsylvania in an annual robotics competition. After grappling with a rigorous robotics curriculum, BotsIQ-ers guide 15-pound robots to face off in a gladiator-style competition.

Zoinks. It’s hard to imagine Scooby and his crew tackling anything like that.


Photo / Scott Beale – Laughing Squid

Why High Speed Internet Matters for Cities (and for Schools)

Oh Chattanoogans, how I envy you. It takes 33 seconds to download a two-hour, high-definition movie in Chattanooga. In my house, it’s more like 33 minutes. And streaming? We still suffer through the dreaded “buffering” halfway through the movie.

Chattanooga, or Gig City, as Chattanoogans sometimes call it, has the fastest internet connection in the nation. Its download speed rivals that of Hong Kong. In Chattanooga, citywide ultra high-speed, fiber-optic connections transfer data at one gigabit per second, or 50 times faster than the average home in the US.

The city’s fiber-optic network—known as “the Gig”—has been in the planning stages for several years and was boosted along with help from the feds in the form of an $111 million federal stimulus grant. Signs suggest that the municipal-owned service has paid off, attracting the coveted “creative class” and new business, capital, and talent. And none too soon. According to the New York Times, “Telecommunications specialists say that if the United States does not keep its networks advancing with those in the rest of the world, innovation, business, education and a host of other pursuits could suffer.”

The same could be said for education, a little farther down the pipeline of talent-production. As the members of the Kids+Creativity Network well know, technology helps kids develop the critical skills they’ll need in the future. And Pittsburgh is at the forefront. From the classroom flight simulator at Shaler Area Elementary School to Allegheny County’s new digital playground for teachers, technology lets educators engage kids in new ways.

But technology in the classroom needs bandwidth, something in short supply in many schools. While schools might offer the same internet speeds that parents have at home, in-home connections don’t have to contend with 100 kids online at once.

That’s one reason President Obama recently announced $750 million in commitments from US companies to begin wiring more classrooms with high-speed internet.

According to an Associated Press article,

“Apple is pledging $100 million in iPads, computers and other tools. AT&T and Sprint are contributing free Internet service through their wireless networks. Verizon is pitching in up to $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions. And Microsoft is making its Windows software available at discounted prices and offering 12 million free copies of Microsoft Office software.”

The Federal Communications Commission is also setting aside $2 billion from service fees to connect 20 million students to high-speed internet over two years.

While it might not be Chattanooga, it’s a start. Education, after all, is at the core of a competitive, global marketplace.

Come to think of it, maybe Pittsburgh should throw down the gauntlet and challenge Chattanooga to a face-off. Pittsburgh already has the edge in attracting the creative class. Google’s been here since 2006 and is expanding. And as Eric Shiner, director of Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum told Next City, Pittsburgh “is an incredible place right now filled with artists and young tech people—just a really eclectic group of people trying to envision a better city.” (Indeed, some 70 percent of the people who are moving to the Pittsburgh region are between age 22 and 34.) The new mayor, Bill Peduto, is pushing to expand transparency through big data, with the goal of empowering people to dig in and help develop solutions to pressing problems. And now, to cement Pittsburgh’s status, the painfully hip Ace Hotel is moving to town. Can artisanal pickles be far behind?

Seriously, though, we here at RemakeLearning.org would place our bets on Pittsburgh, without or without the gigabytes. But that’s just us.


Photo/ C. Simmons