This Month’s Learning Innovation: EFMS’s Dream Factory
For the 550 students at Elizabeth Forward Middle School in Elizabeth, PA, going to school is really a “dream.” That’s because all sixth, seventh and eighth graders are taking classes at the newly opened “Dream Factory.”
Entering the “Innovation Hallway” of the classrooms that comprise the Dream Factory, you can’t help but be inspired. Lining the walls are photos and quotes from great innovators and inventors. And though their stories are moving, what happens inside these classrooms is even more amazing. What the administrators and educators at Elizabeth Forward have done is take traditional classes like computer science, art and technology education and brought them into the 21st century in a big way.
In the computer science area, students learn basic programming, but are also now bringing games they designed to life. They study robotics and automation, create high tech videos and sound tracks, and use 3-D printers to produce some of the amazing projects they create in class.
In the Dream Factory’s Visual Arts area, students learn traditional art techniques and skills, but now use high tech programs like 123 Design, Adobe Photoshop, Pic-Collage and Animation Express, and a 3D printer, to take their two-dimensional projects and make them three dimensional.
And in Technology Education, students study the fundamentals of manufacturing, working with materials like wood, sheet metal and plastic, but now add CNC routers, 3D printers and a laser engraver to their repertoire of tools.
Dr. Bart Rocco, superintendent of Elizabeth Forward School District, is excited about all the Dream Factory offers. “Giving children the opportunity to build an create using these technologies is another way we measure student success.
“I’m very concerned,” he adds, “as our country evolves, we’re losing some of these creative and unique people that can build and create and design, to other countries. And I think we have a charge to provide opportunities for children in our world to learn these technologies. That’s why this is important to us.” One of his hopes is that the Dream Factory will also help prepare the students to enter the work force of the future.
According to Dr. Rocco, there’s no middle school in the country that he knows of that has this kind of curriculum in place, “where children are getting an integration of these different areas, with these different technologies.” He wants to share this with other educators, to help them create these types of spaces.
Dr. Rocco’s goals for the students? “We want them to understand that working together, collaboration, is critical for success. We want them to know they can create anything that they want and build it. And there’s also trial and error. We want them to understand that in creative design and creating there’s going to be failure. Failure is part of the learning process. And finally, there’s a product that they can create and then maybe, in some way, help the world in which they live in.”
The Dream Factory was funded in part by the Grable Foundation, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Benedum Foundation and the Sprout Fund and was created with help from CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center.
According to Dr. Rocco, the Dream Factory is “changing the culture of the school.” Students are creative, they’re working together, and they’re happy to come to Elizabeth Forward Middle School.
Media Partners Spotlight New Learning Initiatives
Sharing Success Stories of People and Projects
Four of Pittsburgh’s leading media organizations -- WQED Multimedia, PopCity, 90.5 WESA and Pittsburgh Magazine have joined forces on a 12-month initiative dubbed “Spotlight on Learning Innovation.” Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, the precedent-setting multimedia project will focus on Pittsburgh’s leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.
Learning Innovation focuses on the Pittsburgh region’s need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.
Local Educator Helping Us Compete For Federal Dollars
Early Childhood programs in Pennsylvania – and Pittsburgh -- may be getting a big boost if Michelle Figlar has a say. Michelle, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association on the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), is sitting on a 20-member blue-ribbon panel tasked by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto with submitting a proposal for a Preschool Development Grant from the Federal Government.
In August, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Pittsburgh; while here Duncan announced that $250 million in federal dollars would be up for grabs among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Pennsylvania can qualify for up to $20 million, but has to get an application in by mid-October. Michelle is helping to write the grant that may ultimately bring a chunk of that $20 million here.
This Pre-School Expansion Grant will be used to create a strategy to serve more four-year-olds in Pennsylvania, explains Michelle. “It’s a great idea, and then Pennsylvania can choose two or more communities” to receive the grant money. Pittsburgh could be one of those beneficiaries, using some of that $20 million “to best meet the needs of children.” If we get some monies, it will be used to increase professional development for teachers, help families gain access to programs that are targeted to four-year-olds, help provide transportation to institutions and achieve high quality programs.
The grants are aimed at helping low to moderate income families, those 200% under the poverty line and giving those families and children access to quality pre-school programs. But it would also free up monies to be used to improve existing early childhood programs – and create new ones.
“It would help four-year-olds in the city of Pittsburgh – that’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Michelle says, who will be heading up the Policy Committee on the Mayor’s panel. “And it will help us with the overall strategic plan for children.”
Arne Duncan’s recent visit made an impression on local teachers and educators. It showed that “our city and new mayor are really committed to young children and families who live in the city,” Michelle says.
Media Partnership Focuses on Learning Innovation
WQED Multimedia and our media partners, 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh have been focusing on Learning Innovation for the past months, and have put the media spotlight on everything from innovations in Early Childhood learning to computer science, STEAM and robotics.
The four media outlets, TV, radio, magazine and online magazine, are working together to focus on Pittsburgh leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.
Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, Learning Innovation focuses on the Pittsburgh region's need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.
Celebrating the end of another Summer of Learning were visitors to The Sprout Fund’s Pittsburgh Maker Party, held at the Society of Contemporary Craft. (Photo by Ben Filio, courtesy, The Sprout Fund.)
Educators at the South Fayette Summer Learning Institute joined South Fayette Township School District teachers to learn about computational thinking, game design and more. (Photo by Norton Gusky.)
In July, 32 recent high school graduates created “Green Compass” radio features while serving as Heinz Endowments summer interns. The features focused on community issues. SLB Radio provided training and coaching. (Photo courtesy SLB Radio.)
Learning new digital skills with help from mentors from the Remake Learning Digital Corps was this teen.
Getting creative at the recent Second Annual Maker Party, thrown by The Sprout Fund. (Photo by Ben Filio, courtesy, Sprout Fund.)
Heinz Endowments summer interns created radio features on issues ranging from life in public housing to the plight of the honey bee. Training for the “Green Compass” program was provided by SLB Radio. (Photo courtesy, SLB Radio.)
High school students in Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Youth Media Program summer camps experienced an “immersion” into filmmaking.
Exploring the heavens were these kids at the Outerspace Maker Party at Assemble.
Propel Schools are the first schools in the Pittsburgh area to use Playworks, an organization dedicated to revamping the concept of recess in schools. Here some teachers learn to “play.”
Spread The News
Do you have a story of learning innovation? A program, teacher or parent who is making a difference? Tell us about it and we’ll share it on our Learning Innovation webpage. Submit stories and videos to email@example.com!