The world today is more complex and interconnected than ever before. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, while still essential, simply aren’t enough to prepare young people to thrive in the digital age. Communities need to come together to build on the basics and connect students with hands-on learning experiences that cultivate creativity, imagination, and grit. Our global, networked world today calls for new kinds of teaching and learning — and new kinds of problem-solvers.
Learners today need to be technologically fluent and imaginatively creative, yet most lack meaningful opportunities to engage with the nuts-and-bolts of technology or flex their creative muscles. According to The Nation’s Report Card, only about 10% of U.S. public high schools offer classes in computer science. Meanwhile, the time and space available for integrating creative inquiry into classroom instruction keeps slipping away.
Many out-of-school programs offer exceptional learning opportunities, but equitable access remains a staggering barrier. Economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane have found that enrichment spending by affluent families was nearly 700% greater than the poorest families. When it comes to the promise of technology to open up new pathways of educational opportunity, the digital divide still persists. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in April 2015, “If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.”
Absent a radical shift in top-down educational policy, the best chance to equitably spread the adoption and speed the scale of innovative learning practices is through distributed, city-based networks. Schools remain critical to a young person’s education, but so too is the learning happening in museums, libraries, afterschool sites, community centers, at home, and online. What’s needed today is a new model for learning that values all learning opportunities and provides children and families with easy access to meaningful and rewarding experiences wherever they are, especially in marginalized communities.
That’s where the Remake Learning Network comes in.
Formerly known as Kids+Creativity, since 2007 the network has connected Pittsburgh to the growing global movement to reimagine learning, while developing our own unique local solutions to pressing regional challenges. We’ve built a model for education innovation that uses technology in creative ways to enhance learning and provides opportunities for the traditionally underserved. By building a supportive network of cross-sector collaborators, the Remake Learning Network is helping educators and innovators provide all children and youth with opportunities to develop their own interests, to work collaboratively to find creative solutions to problems, and to experiment, fail, and start over with new ideas.
In the years since we began this work, we’ve seen our region transformed. Teachers and administrators work with designers and technologists to collaboratively develop new course curricula. Learning scientists are embedded in out-of-school learning programs to not just observe, but to co-design more effective connected learning experiences. Education technology startups are partnering with educators and students to create technologies that enable deeper learning rather than simply adding expensive gadgets and gizmos to already stretched budgets. And more of our region’s young people are enrolled in out-of-school learning programs than ever before, with participation rates more than 10% above the national average.
In many of our region’s school districts, you won’t find children sitting in rows listening to the “sage on the stage.” Instead, through the support of the Remake Learning Network, students are collaborating with their peers in project-based learning where teachers act as a “guide on the side.” These efforts have resulted in three of our region’s school districts — Elizabeth Forward, South Fayette, and Avonworth — being inducted into the League of Innovative Schools. And, beginning in the 2015–2016 school year, Pittsburgh Public Schools established a STEAM learning magnet school, bringing interdisciplinary, project-based learning to the region’s largest urban public school system.
Maker learning has captured the imagination of tinkerers of all ages: from the MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where families learn together through hands-on, DIY creativity to community makerspaces like the Maker’s Place in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood where teens are using real-world maker skills to turn their ideas into entrepreneurial ventures.
Following the lead of The Labs @ CLP, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s digital teen learning spaces, our region’s libraries are reimagining their role. Historic institutions like the Carnegie Library of Homestead are transforming unused spaces into media making studios where teens use professional equipment to make movies and music. Pop-up libraries like the Allentown Learning & Engagement Center in Pittsburgh’s struggling Hilltop community are bringing resources — in both print and digital format — to communities in need. And nearby small town libraries, like the Millvale Community Library, are creating spaces dedicated for tweens and teens eager for more opportunities to make and be creative.
Early childhood centers are being thoughtful in their use of new digital media tools. Committed to using technology to unlock opportunities for the traditionally underserved, technologists in the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University developed Message From Me, a tablet-based app that enables young children at more than 100 Head Start centers around Allegheny County to compose and send photo and audio messages to their parents and families sharing stories from their school days. At the same time, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on play as a mode of learning for young children. The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) maintains a mobile Imagination Playground to deploy in elementary and pre-schools that lack permanent play equipment. PAEYC also partnered with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and other members of the Remake Learning Network to launch the Pittsburgh Play Collaborative, a new initiative that is expanding play-based learning opportunities for students of all ages.
Our network’s educators are receiving national recognition for their work. The Children’s Innovation Project, led by Pittsburgh teacher Melissa Butler and artist Jeremy Boyle, was covered by The Atlantic. Teacher Michelle King spoke alongside MacArthur Foundation Director of Education Connie Yowell about building a connected learning community at the 2014 Digital Media & Learning Conference. Kris Hupp from Cornell High School and Aileen Owens of South Fayette Township School District, two Pittsburgh-area educators deeply involved in the network, received Digital Innovation in Learning Awards, from Digital Promise and EdSurge. In spring 2015, Corey Wittig, Digital Learning Librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, traveled to Spain to speak about the innovation of American libraries.
And these are only a small sampling of what Pittsburgh’s educators and innovators are doing to change and transform teaching and learning in our region. This exciting momentum didn’t materialize overnight, and it didn’t come out of thin air.
We’ve been working together for years to build open and collaborative communities of practice where everyone contributes to a shared vision of learning remade in Pittsburgh. In the following chapters, we’ll take a look under the hood to show you how the Remake Learning Network is structured, how it operates, and how it connects schools, museums, libraries, afterschool programs, and ed-tech companies to enhance learning opportunities for children and youth — and how you can build a network to create similar change in your own community.
About the Remake Learning Playbook
We’re eager for your feedback! We’ve released the Playbook on Medium so readers can share feedback and help inform the field. Please add comments, notes, suggestions, and questions throughout these chapters to help us make the Playbook as useful as possible..
Top photo: Arts & Bots activity at the Hive Pittsburgh Maker Party / Ben Filio for The Sprout Fund