A "Reel" Youth Perspective on the Future of Learning

In a "very special episode" of The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh, the teens explore the effort to Remake Learning.

When I was producing television for teens for NBC in the 1990s, we occasionally had a “very special episode” of a show dealing with a profound issue of the day. One show with an anti-smoking theme even featured a message from President Bill Clinton.

While it hasn’t (yet) featured any presidential cameos, every episode of The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh breaks the mold. It is, after all, a television show that is written, produced, shot, starring, and edited by teenagers that airs alongside traditional programming on a major local network. But what makes their third episode, which debuted this weekend, worthy of the “very special episode” designation, is that it explores the effort that makes the show itself possible: Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning network.

“Today’s students are [the] most creative, engaged, inspired students that we have seen in a generation…this generation is a generation of technology natives the way my generation is not,” Roberto Rodriguez, the Special Assistant to the President for Education, tells the Reel Teens at the kick-off event for Remake Learning Days at Google Pittsburgh, “Your ability to connect digitally to one another and the world around you and to use technology in new ways is really exciting…and will determine the future of our economy.”

Over the course of this half hour—which again, I am amazed to say, was made by students, many of whom still don’t have their driver’s licenses—you’ll watch the Reel Teens visit kindergartners making robots out of toothbrushes, middle schoolers using space simulators to learn about math and science, and kids at TechShop using 3D printers and professional-level software to fabricate their own prototypes.

You’ll also hear from Gregg Behr, the Executive Director of The Grable Foundation who was just honored as a Champion of Change by the White House for his work growing the Remake Learning network over the past decade. “Your experiences demand that we create schools, museums, and libraries that are totally different that integrate making and producing and using technology…because your futures are so different than ours.”

The Reel Teens’ futures really do look different. The U.S. Department of Labor has said that 65 percent of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet. In a previous episode of the show, the teens went to Google Pittsburgh and learned that companies like Google are more interested in a job candidate’s creative problem-solving skills and experience collaborating than they are in their GPA and what school they attended. These trends are a big part of why the effort to Remake Learning is so important, and why this work has started to receive national attention.

And The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh is an exemplary illustration of what Remake Learning is all about. “The Reel Teens Pittsburgh is a huge part of Remake Learning because we are actually experiencing things hands-on and making this television show,” said Zainab “Z” Adisa, a junior at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts Magnet school.

As you watch this very special episode, you’ll see many examples of learning being remade in Pittsburgh. But you’ll also see glimpses of the powerful learning these teenagers experience as they create the show itself. Each Wednesday and Friday, they meet at our offices at Steeltown. They all come from different schools and different backgrounds. Some take three busses to get here. Some are dropped off by their parents. But they all come together each week to make a TV show.

The Reel Teens have learned to shoot video, record sound, conceive segments for the show, write and re-write skits, and do stand-ups. But more importantly, they have learned how to learn from failures, when to ask for help, how to take responsibility for their work, and what it feels like to create something entirely their own. They have accomplished what it normally takes an entire staff of adults working full time to do, all while continuing to do homework for school. But someday, as efforts like Remake Learning continue to gain traction, perhaps making a television show will be part of the next generation’s homework.

The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh airs on Fox 53 at 9:00 on Saturday mornings.  You can see previous episodes of the show and learn more about the Reel Teens at thereelteens.com.

Published June 28, 2016