Follow-up: Propel Braddock Hills 4Cs Tour

Ani Martinez
May 30, 2018 · 15 min read


Propel Braddock Hills 4Cs Space

Hello and thank you for attending the May 9th School-toSchool Tour at Propel Braddock Hills.

My sincere thanks to the 6th grade students that allowed us to visit and speak with them during such an important conversation. Our gratitude extends to their teachers and administrators for helping us out. Special thanks to Kristin Golomb for coordinating with me.

Please forgive such delayed correspondence. We appreciate you and thank you for coming! Be sure to check out upcoming opportunities below.

Ani Martinez
Community Manager
Remake Learning Network
Twitter: @theAniMartinez

In Case You Missed It

This is a brief summary of what happened. You’ll find the full and unedited notes below my signature.

  • You can also review all the slides from the presentation. Click here.
  • You can check out a collection of beautiful photos (thanks to Norton Gusky!) which include images from our first school tour at Duquesne School District. Click here.

The 4Cs space at Propel Braddock Hills middle school is beautiful — the walls are bright, the ceilings are high, and there’s a flood of natural light that pours in from the ceiling and the side wall. You can tell that this space is beloved, full of use and purpose, and there’s a sense of care around it you don’t often feel in an art room. Things are meticulously placed, and yet there’s a comfort here, something (as an art student) I always felt in my art room. But there’s something else about the 4Cs space that strikes me — it’s not fussy or flashy. One doesn’t walk into it and think, “WOW, this is some seriously high tech stuff!”

Sure there’s a smartboard, and tucked away you can see cords and gadgets, but it doesn’t take long to realize that what is happening in this space is a little more complicated.

When Propel decided that it wanted a place where students could develop “the 4Cs,” (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, and Communication) they decided to start slowly. They partnered an art teacher with a history teacher and equipped them with some technology tools. This merger of the arts, history, social science, and technology has been over a 2 year process that has been developed through trial and error, student input, and shared agreements among co-teaching and co-learning.

“We know it’s important to stop and self-reflect,” the teachers tell us, “one of the major ways is to pursue project-based learning in a meaningful way. Everyone’s after it, but it’s difficult to do well and to do in the context of your classroom and school building.” They tell us that it’s been helpful to have support to better understand what an integrated space can be, and that the 4Cs framework is fantastic for this.

Something that is essential is the idea of lifelong learning. “I don’t have words how impactful this has been for me as an educator.”

Visitors that attended on May 9th were also given an intimate look at one of these classes in action. 6th grade students, fully accustomed to the norms, agreements, and culture of the room, grouped up to discuss historical images. They had vocabulary to think critically about the media they were looking at, and were provided clear instructions how they could contextualize those images into their personal lived experiences.

Later, we were cautioned that this is one example of how one school in their district is taking this approach. The classroom is designed to fit the children that attend this particular school. The integration methods have similar structural elements, but every building feels just a little bit different. One of their main instructional partners (although they have a great many others!), EduCurious has worked with them to provide the curricular units, but they have also given them autonomy through constant coaching to reflect and assess student and teacher need.

For more detailed notes on, please review the unedited documentation below.

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Full and Unedited Meeting Notes

Background on Propel Schools -

  • Started in 2003 in the basement of a hospital in homestead with 180 students
  • Now they have 4000
  • Most from underestimated communities
  • 80% FRL
  • 17% special education
  • Predominantly black and brown students
  • They’ve always had a k-8 model with a high school
  • This campus is now a k-5 and 6–8 and a high school
  • Kristen has had a huge role in building out this new model for authentic hands-on learning and to allow students and teachers to be really creative
  • They’ve replicated this model in Propel Montour and now have a high school there as well
  • They’ll have about 1000 kids there soon
  • They have about 30 districts feeding into Propel and it’s an example of how neighborhoods and districts can work together


  • Kids will arrive at 8:50

Mr. Hanish

  • Studio 4C
  • This is one of the most exciting educational projects I’ve been part of
  • Art, History, Social Science, and Technology into one space
  • Students have built out agreements to help operate this space and help everyone understand why they are learning in this way
  • They’ve also been integrating gaming into critical thinking and then build out physical pieces to support this
  • Each grade has a theme that supports the content they are learning and who they are in terms of their identities as students (eg “freedom”)
  • This has been a two-year process with students
  • 6h grade is focused on identity- origin stories from unique cultures from all over the world and then students build their own origin story
  • Then they think about the identity of their own country and the states
  • They built out a good flag/bad flag protocol to build regional flags
  • “As a social studies teacher, a sewing unit gave me anxiety, but it was incredibly rewarding.”
  • Now we are working on the hexagon project as it is linked to identity
  • We’ll see this in action today
  • 7th grade we want to know more about integrating gaming into this work
  • Clashes in culture over time, even thinking about today through a historical context
  • 8th grade we focus on freedom and expressing what a country and a citizen should be entitled to
  • We think about Norman Rockwell and FDR and contextualize that based on student experience
  • We’re talking about what happens when society starts to come apart — and talk about the implications of technology here
  • We know it’s important to stop and self-reflect
  • One of the major ways is to pursue project based learning in a meaningful way
  • Everyone is after it, but it’s difficult to do well
  • So it’s been really, really good to have support to help us understand what an integrated space can be
  • The 4Cs framework is fantastic for this
  • And to be able to work with another teacher is fantastic
  • Something that is essential is the idea of lifelong learning
  • It’s been challenging and a great opportunity
  • How do we bring 21st century skills?
  • I intentionally sought out this opportunity
  • “I don’t have words how impactful this has been for me as an educator.”


  • How do you bring in issues of the community?
  • Well, today we’ll be looking at protests over time and connect it to our walkout for gun safety and violence that we held
  • We also like to give constructive ideas for this classroom and outside of it
  • Challenges of co-teaching?
  • Initially, TIME
  • Bringing two important perspectives in can look like two horses in a race
  • We each have passions (for social studies and art) and that took time to figure out how to do this efficiently and well
  • Now we’ll observe, but feel free to interject and ask questions

Classroom Observation

  • Students enter the space calmly and happily and are given a “do-now” exercise to work together as a group (although they are given the autonomy to decide if they’d rather work on their own)
  • Students are given a set of photos of different protests to make observations
  • Mr. Hanish’s voice sounds out over the murmuring room, “Don’t worry about writing me a book, just jot-down thoughts and notes to capture your ideas.”
  • Then, students become experts, “But remember, you are not bound to the photo that you have”
  • Many of the students split up the work and worked as individuals to get more observations done
  • Observations range from critique and things they notice about the image to what it makes students feel — curious, confused, uncomfortable? Yes there are heads nodding
  • But does it make anyone feel proud?
  • Students feel unsure, so Susie asks, “Does anyone know who Mike Brown was?”
  • “Was he shot?” “Yes, by who?” “By a cop.” “Yes, how does that make you feel?” “Like you can’t trust them.”
  • This exchange catalyzes an entry point to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement
  • The next photo: “Most of them are wearing pink; a lot of them have signs; I see different ethnicities and races; fists up; it looks like a riot”
  • “I feel supported” “Happy” “Love”
  • What more can you tell me?
  • “They’re probably protesting” “They need to say something”
  • This was one of many women’s marches that have taken place around our country
  • They contextualize this explaining that the new administration has caused an uptick in this kind of political action
  • Last one: “I see celebrities” “People holding up signs” “Us acting for change because we walked out”
  • “I feel sad” “I want to stop the gun violence” “Worried” “Why?”
  • “You never know who could be next”
  • “It was soooo cold that day!”
  • Mr Hanish: I couldn’t be more proud of you
  • Here’s one that didn’t end-up in our photos. Here’s one we didn’t prepare for, but we’re going to go through the exact same process.
  • “A peace sign” “a girl and a boy” “black and white photo”
  • How does this one make you feel? This might be tough because we don’t know as much about it
  • “Kinda depressing” “Peaceful” “boring” “Haha, not quite as stimulating, but not all things that are old, I promise you!” “They might be hippies” “You are very, very much in the right social context” “Curious” “Good!”
  • Now, we’ll build on this curiosity. We’re going to work on how citizens can resolve conflicts and how artists can create works that can reflect their beliefs and values.
  • Then we’ll do a volunteer popcorn read of the text provided to you.
  • They transition to a conversation to the way different countries view communism
  • This is sparked by historical text about President Johnson. What the threats impending through VIetnam, the world’s first televised war.
  • “How does social media act this way today? How are we as a society more informed because of social media?” “What does it allow you to do?”
  • “Talk to your friends” “Start drama”
  • “It also allows us to check-in on the news, hear directly from people involved in the issues
  • “This was something we saw for the first time with television in the 60s.”
  • A growing anti-war movement began to take hold
  • They are talking about the black and white photograph of the two students. The “boring” old one…
  • This allows them to see a historical example of students expressing their beliefs and values. “Do you believe you should be able to express your thoughts and opinions?”
  • Thumbs up all around
  • The text takes a turn, threats of violence against the students. They students don’t think they are going to win. They are 13, 14, 15 years old and taking it all the way to the top level. She lost at the district level, the appeals level, but in the supreme court (7–9) ruled in her favor. “Students and teachers do not negate their right to freedom of expression.” “I never thought adults would agree with me.”
  • This teaches a lesson in the difference between symbols and expressions that are free compared to symbols and expressions that are hateful, and thus not allowed by the state.
  • “One thing our country right now needs more than ever are the voices of young people. We talked about this tremendously during our walk-out. Remember?” Now, we’ll create our own protest piece. You’re going to create an armband to wear for the rest of the day, and perhaps even tomorrow if you decide to bring it back.” Ms Sarabok will lead you through this, but first one student question about the photo, “Is she still alive?” “I think so.” It feels loaded and that feels right.
  • Building their own armbands
  • Hashtags spring up, adults float through and talk about “productive symbolism”
  • “We can’t hide things that bring us distress and difficulty in our lives”
  • Students popcorn their armbands
  • “I picked breast cancer and ADHD because it’s part of my identity, my story”
  • “I picked breast cancer, and support because I have a personal connection” (The two students here are sitting together)

The Middle School Principal Transitions the Conversation as Students Exit

  • You just saw a lesson that emphasizes an exercise to get students to use their voice.
  • We see ourselves as progressive and pushing the limits of education. That’s our vision, we’re not there yet in all of our classes, but we’re getting there.
  • The PD that we’re moving through here is some of the best PD I’ve ever experienced.


  • Before we start the QA we want to give you more context
  • One way we approach this work is through Community Partnerships
  • Why are you learning what you’re learning and how you can act on that in the community
  • We have John Choi here with us today
  • We are a Digital Promise School and a Verizon Innovation school so all our students have 1:1 capability that they can take home
  • It’s not only our 4C room — we are also partnering with SLB and Grow PGH and the Door Campaign for aquaponics, Invention Land, PLTW
  • One of our main partners for 4C is EduCurious. This integrates civic engagement, social justice, etc. Not only do they provide the units, but they give us autonomy and constant coaching to reflect and assess student and teacher need. Our coach sees us once per month. This is a new partnership and they are also adding other content areas
  • For tech we’re partnering with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Science Center


  • At Propel we have arts throughout all our schools and have artists in residencies.
  • We have Civic Light Opera, Karate, the YMCA and more to teach those courses full time within the buildings during the day.
  • Students have 6–12 week courses with these artists and culminate in Celebrations of Learning to showcase
  • We are also partnering with the Arts Education Collaborative
  • The past two years we’ve been working with them to build a k12 framework for arts
  • It’s not a specific step by step curriculum, but more a framework to support arts educators. All our arts teachers have been involved in the process of developing this
  • We’re also thinking about what integration means, so we built out a logic model with our stakeholders from our Integration Schools and it’s something we refer back to to ensure we’re staying on track


  • “It was great to see a class, you could tell that students were very relaxed and used to talking with adults. You didn’t know who was Propel staff and who were visitors, it was seamless.”
  • There are historical examples of armbands being used to illustrate dominance and hate. Can you talk about that? What happens if a student brings that up outside of this space?
  • A lot of the power of learning with social justice is dealing with the baggage that is destructive in its history. We’re helping to have students become informed learners and channel their own footprint to adopt their understanding in a constructive way. We don’t shy away from ugly histories. We set the table with it and help students productively approach what they want to get out of it.
  • We have this discomfort even in our own schools, but we have a commitment to our mission. We are committed to getting access to technology to our students and this is a necessity to get this to kids in this way.
  • I hope teachers can understand that the context of the students we are working with
  • Can you talk more about scheduling?
  • We’re trying to integrate three classes for every student in this space.
  • This is a hub of our building, so we want to make sure students are getting the most value out of it
  • (Also see below)
  • It was good that there was a smaller number of adults, maybe that’s something to consider in planning these in the future. Maybe it’s a limited number of people to encourage authentic interactions with students.
  • Our teachers have been super reflective over the past two years, and I’ve seen them blossom
  • We don’t have the luxury of space at all the schools, so we’re thinking creatively about to this at all of our middle schools
  • Right now we can’t go in-depth on all of these goals all the time, so we are learning how to do this better and to do as many as possible at the same time. True project based learning to help teachers dig deep into this
  • Community partnerships and opportunities for social engagement and computer science
  • My deepest learning has been that Project Based Learning isn’t a result at the end, but the entire process weaving throughout everything we do. It is the learning. That’s what I’ve loved to see and this team does a great job.
  • Our work with lots of schools, and encourage them about co-teaching. What I hear is that it’s too expensive. What could you do to address this?
  • In this model, it’s not an add-on, it’s the social studies class AND the art class. So it’s not an extra cost.
  • So how does that carry through to high school and their transcript?
  • For the middle school model I believe it appears in two different places. One of the things that have been important to us in the beginning.
  • Integration looks different in all levels. So some think specifically about teaching the 4Cs specifically (eg communication) and then they work with every teacher to integrate arts and technology into a lesson twice a year.
  • When they get to high school, we’re looking at programming focused on ninth grade and google skills. So it’s a little different on each grade level.
  • Our K4 integration teachers have been creative with scheduling. The way their work is they rotate through our arts block to make room for our arts teachers and integration teachers so they can push planning, content, and work with students in various ways as needed.
  • AND it looks different in every school
  • With a focus on social justice, have you also been working with restorative justice?
  • Yes, this is a core part of who we are. We’re trying to make it clear to students that we all make mistakes and we have opportunities to work in this way quickly and holistically throughout our building
  • We have leads for this, too, and work to welcoming students and integration if discipline happens. And we’re growing and evolving with that.
  • How do we connect this to the rest of the region? So many teachers are white and only work with white students? This work will make lots of teachers squirm
  • We worked with other schools, partners, and LUMA to get feedback from teachers outside of our school and to support teachers that want to do this work
  • The level of misunderstanding of other teachers to share who they thought our students were to help shift perspectives in that way, too.
  • And we’re very grateful to be able to respond to the students that are with us in a very specific way.
  • It’s clear you have a successful integration for arts and social studies, but what else?
  • We have other community partners that are just like staff members that are helping us do this in lots of our other buildings. This is the basis of our co teaching model, it’s the relationships that make these building blocks.
  • One of our math teachers is working deeply with one of our special education teachers to develop work that meets the needs of their students just as deeply, but it looks different.
  • In our high school we are at 29% special needs, and we’re seeing that because most of these students have felt like they aren’t having their needs met. So we’ll be able to support these students in a relevant way.

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Remake Learning · Greater Pittsburgh Region · Pittsburgh, PA 15222 · USA

Ani Martinez

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Field Director, Remake Learning Network

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