Looking Back at Learning Remade in 2015

Sprout's Cathy Lewis Long looks back on a year of learning innovation in Pittsburgh led by the members of the Remake Learning Network.

As the year comes to a close, we’ve collected a sampling of some of the Network’s accomplishments in 2015 as a way to celebrate our work together to remake learning in the Pittsburgh region, and as a reminder that there is still much work to do in the coming years to reach our ultimate goal of providing all children and youth with the engaging, meaningful, and relevant learning opportunities they need to thrive in school, college, the workforce, and as citizens.

This year began with a feature story about our network in Education Week, focusing on the network’s efforts to expand equitable access to digital learning opportunities for our region’s youngest children.

In February, Startup Weekend Edu brought together entrepreneurs and educators to spin up new ideas for education technology startups. One idea that emerged was Project Playground, led by Melissa Unger from South Fayette, that facilitates collaboration among students engaged in project-based learning.

At SXSWedu, Avonworth High School and its partners from the Pittsburgh Galleries Project—Mattress Factory, Andy Warhol Museum, and the Pittsburgh Glass Center— showed how project-based learning and community partnerships can open up new opportunities for students.

And Hedda Sharapan was named the PNC Grow Up Great Senior Fellow at the Fred Rogers Center, where she is exploring how complex early childhood theory evolved into deep and thoughtful programming for young children.


In the spring, The Sprout Fund wrapped up a community input process that saw experts, educators, and employers co-designing shared learning competencies in areas like STEAM, Making, and Coding that could be used as the basis for designing meaningful digital badges for learning.

In April, CREATE Lab Satellite Network hosted CONTEXT, a first-of-its-kind conference on technology fluency in education.

In May, the Institute of Politics at Pitt hosted a legislative briefing for local and state officials and other community members about Remake Learning.

And later that month, Jane Werner, Gregg Behr, Anne Sekula, Daragh Byrne, and Cathy Lewis Long joined representatives from other cities at a White House convening on “Maker Cities.”

In a bittersweet moment, one of our network’s earliest and most committed members, Michelle Figlar, transitioned from her leadership of PAEYC to join the administration of Governor Tom Wolf as deputy secretary for the Office of Child Development and Early Learning at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Near the end of the school year, we saw another 28 school districts awarded STEAM Grants through the Center for Creativity at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, totaling $530,000 of investment by the Benedum Foundation, Grable Foundation, and Chevron.


Summer started with a blast on both coasts. In Washington, D.C., nearly 40 makers and educators from Pittsburgh attended the National Maker FaireCREATE Lab’s Illah Nourbakhsh provided one of the keynotes, Sprout released the first draft of the Remake Learning Playbook, and network members attended an invite-only event at the White House.

At the Digital Media & Learning Conference in Los Angeles, network members from Assemble, Carnegie Mellon, the Parks Conservancy, University of Pittsburgh, and Sprout led a session on strategies to bridge multiple experiences for learners navigating a local ecosystem.

Here at home, the Pittsburgh Technology Council teamed up with the Three Rivers Arts Festival to host CREATE 2015—three-days of events and opportunities to explore the newest trends in art and innovation.

In partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Pittsburgh was the Regional Spotlight for this year’s National STEM Video Game Challenge as well as the host city for its national celebration, bringing winning students from across the country to WQED Multimedia.

Pittsburgh again led a summertime City of Learning campaign to recognize important summer learning gains through the use of digital badges. 30 program partners received training and support from Sprout to design and issue digital badges, including major partners like the Carnegie Library, Learn & Earn, and Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy. A joint effort of Mayor Peduto, County Executive Fitzgerald, and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, Learn & Earn placed students in summer jobs where they earned a wage, gained workforce experience, developed skills, and earned digital badges to show what they learned.

And to help connect badging to real world employment opportunities, Sprout hosted a forum for regional employers to learn more about how digital badges are being used today, explore opportunities for their future as a workforce development tool, and work with others to co-design methods for infusing digital badges into the workforce.

PAEYC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh brought The Wonder of Learning to Pittsburgh, showcasing the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning based on collaboration and relationships.


In September, Pittsburgh was named one of 27 communities selected to pilot the national STEM Ecosystems Initiative. Through the leadership of the Carnegie Science Center and the Remake Learning Council, Pittsburgh’s participation in this important initiative will allow us to develop a regional strategy to ensure all youth have access to effective STEM learning opportunities that lead to successful careers.

And more than 500 people turned out to see the STEAM Showcase, hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Center for Creativity—shining a spotlight on how our region’s school districts are giving students time to explore, space to fail, and opportunities to discover what deeper learning is all about.

Also in September, Mayor Peduto’s office released its Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation, putting political weight behind efforts to close the digital divide so that all Pittsburghers can take part in the city’s innovation economy.

We welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to Pittsburgh as part of his back-to-school tour, where he got to see first-hand how we’re remaking learning.

The Department of Education was back again in late September to share their recently released Ed Tech Developers Guide with our local startup community at the Thrival Festival hosted by Thrill Mill.

At the southern reaches of our network, the June Harless Center at Marshall University partnered with Mingo County Schools to open A.C.O.R.N.S., an outdoor learning environment providing children with opportunities to observe and interact with nature and learn social skills through exploration.

One of our network’s leading luminaries, Bill Isler of the Fred Rogers Company, was recognized as Urban Educator of the Year for his many years of service on the Pittsburgh Board of Education.

October was really a month of making. The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh hosted the first-ever full-scale Pittsburgh Maker Faire, sharing the inspiring and empowering act of making with thousands of Pittsburgh kids and families— and to the hundreds of educators who took part in the Maker Education Institute.

To help more schools adopt maker education practices, the Children’s Museum partnered with Kickstarter to offer Pittsburgh-area schools a special professional development and fundraising opportunity called Kickstarting Making in Schools. With an outpouring of support from the community, seven of the ten Kickstarter campaigns succeeded in reaching their goal.

In partnership with Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette school districts, Digital Promise hosted its fall meeting of the League of Innovative Schools in Pittsburgh, bringing leaders from more than 70 school districts to town to see how our region’s schools are remaking learning in partnership with the community.

In November, we saw the launch of Smithsonian Learning Lab at the Heinz History Center which expands access to the Smithsonian’s digital resources.

Pittsburgh Technology Council partnered with EdSurge to co-host an EdSurge Summit alongside the annual Three Rivers Education Technology Conference (TRETC), bringing national ed-tech attention to our region, resulting in biggest ever TRETC with more than 700 attendees.

And in December, Avonworth School District was named an Exemplar district by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

Looking Ahead

2015 has been a busy year with lots of exciting developments for our network, but it’s also important to recognize that there is a lot more to do. The network’s greatest priority should be ensuring equitable access to learning opportunities for all students, especially students of color and those living in marginalized communities. This is essential to the meaningful achievement of all of the network’s goals.

We need to make access and equity a design principle of our work—both individually and in our collective work. Each of us needs to take concrete steps to meeting this challenge head-on, whether that means supporting more mobile programs to bring innovative learning experiences to kids wherever they are, investing directly in the staff and facilities of organizations serving communities in need, enhancing transportation options for youth, or ensuring that programs are free, open, and visible to all families.

We’re also prioritizing professional development and learning pathways. For educators, deeper and more engaging professional development is the critical component to spreading innovative instruction. For students, learning pathways can guide step-by-step learning and development in ways that meet their personal interests and prepare them with job-ready skills.

In the four years since Sprout began to formalize the network, we’ve seen the impact of Remake Learning spread from a few early adopters to hundreds of schools, libraries, museums, makerspaces, community centers, and childcare centers throughout Pittsburgh, Southwestern Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. From thinking carefully about how our youngest students learn to providing teens with opportunities to blaze their own path, your work is yielding tangible results affecting the lives of thousands of kids in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

Published December 11, 2015