Educators Call Pittsburgh an “Innovation City”

Educators of all types gathered in Pittsburgh last week to learn about the region’s unique model for collaborative learning across sectors.

A standing-room only crowd of more than 500 teachers, principals, librarians, museum educators, game designers, and others gathered at Carnegie Mellon University on February 8 to hear about innovative learning opportunities available through the Kids+Creativity Network.

A group of more 100 organizations in the digital learning, Maker, and STEAM communities, the Kids+Creativity Network is fast becoming a model for regional development and innovation focused on remaking education. The Network is gaining national attention for its efforts to expand the boundaries of learning for kids beyond schools to other community institutions like libraries, museums, and afterschool programs.

Recognizing Pittsburgh’s bona fides, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has just designated the city a “Hive Learning Network.” The Foundation has invested heavily in better understanding how digital media are changing how kids learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. They see Pittsburgh as embodying the progressive, collaborative approach to education that they’re supporting.

“You all are already networked,” said the MacArthur Foundation’s Jen Humke, speaking to the audience, many of whom have embarked on connected efforts to bring new learning opportunities to kids.  “And that is exactly why we are investing in Pittsburgh. You are an ideal learning ecosystem. “

The event was hosted by the Grable and Benedum Foundations and included representatives from the three organizations leading the renaissance, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), the Pittsburgh Technology Council, and the Sprout Fund.

AIU’s Rosanne Javorsky offered one example of the innovations on the ground in the opening of TransformED, a new space loaded with digital equipment, designed to provide teachers with a space to experiment and learn how to integrate digital media into the classroom. Javorsky is encouraging educators in the region to set up “play dates” where they can network with fellow teachers and learn from one another. A group of high school math teachers are taking her up on the offer next week.

Cathy Lewis Long, The Sprout Fund’s Executive Director, spoke about how the new Hive Learning Network will integrate with the organization’s existing programing to serve youth from birth to age 18 in developing early skills and 21st century literacy.

The Sprout Fund will provide funding, professional development, and support to practitioners and researchers so they can document their work and connect to others doing similar work in the region.

Sprout also announced, a new web site and blog designed as a source for ongoing discussions about the learning revolution underway in Pittsburgh and across the country.

At the demonstration fair that followed the presentations, high school science teacher Terry Richards showed off the robotic arm models her students at The Ellis School had made in their science class using Arts & Bots Robotics kits developed at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab.

On the other side of the room, the Fred Rogers Center’s Michael Robb was talking to kindergarten teachers about Ele, the Center’s new online learning environment for early childhood educators and families. And in the corner, an educator from the Andy Warhol Museum was helping network members string glow-in-the-dark beads onto pipe cleaners – part of a curriculum unit developed at the museum to teach kids about ultraviolet light.

Neighborhood-based audio oral history projects were on display, along with 3-D printers, multimedia collages made by 4-year-olds, learning games for the iPad, panoramic cameras and performance art.

Among the crowd were librarians from the recently opened digital space for teens at Elizabeth Forward High School, Sprout’s new Outreach Officer Dave English (a puppeteer and sculptor in his off hours), and Common Sense Media’s director of digital learning, Shira Lee Katz, as well as representatives from local foundations, school district administrators, and afterschool program directors.

All of these folks came looking for ideas about how to create a more seamless network of learning opportunities and support for kids in the region.

If there was one thing that was clear from the day it is that the people on the ground are truly excited and energized by the collaborations they’re joining—what Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr called “a renaissance of wonder.”   The movement, said Behr, will ensure that Pittsburgh is at the forefront of the fresh thinking required to prepare children for a future we can’t yet imagine.

Watch the video below for more:

Published February 13, 2013