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.
Tinker Squads Encourage Girls to ‘Build’ Their Skills
The Ellis School, with a HIVE Grant from The Sprout Fund, has partnered with regional connected learning organizations to develop Tinker Squads for girls ages 10 to 13. Based at community centers and at schools, Tinker Squads encourage girls in grades 5 to 8 to develop design thinking, tinkering, and making skills. Connected learning is an educational approach that uses out-of-school learning environments (such as afterschool programs and museums), partnerships, and digital learning tools to increase engagement and ignite curiosity in young learners.
The Tinker Squad Program project team, led by The Ellis School, includes ASSEMBLE, the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, the FIRST Robotics Program at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, and Invent-abling. There will be a Tinker Meet on January 14 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Ellis School.
A cross between technology, art and community engagement, Tinker Squads introduce girls in 5th to 8th grade to human-centered design methods, circuitry, the intersection of arts and technology, and engineering design. Tinker Squad girls define and make solutions through hands-on prototypes that address issues students see in their communities. By helping girls build these skills as early as possible The Ellis School hopes to help more girls become interested in STEM majors and careers.
The Ellis School developed the first squad and recruited four other all-girl squads from the Environmental Charter School, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Brookline and ASSEMBLE. Tinker Squad teammates help each other through projects, offer critiques, and show their work at Tinker Meets (Faires) where they will earn digital badges and meet other makers in the community. Each of the four founding Squads will host a "Tinker Teach" session at the Tinker Meet to help team members build skills.
>Each Tinker Squad team member is provided with a toolbox she can keep that includes the switches, origami, textiles, and materials kits from Invent-abling as well a poster that explains the Human Centered Design process and method cards from the LUMA Institute. Teams also went on an all-expenses paid shopping spree at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse where they acquired materials they could use to build prototypes for the Tinker Meet. The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse also led a workshop with each Tinker Squad to coach them through the process of sourcing and selecting materials.
“Our goal is to help young people develop the capacity to engage with the world as problem solvers and makers. Our challenge as educators is to create environments in which skills can emerge naturally in the process of making—a process which often occurs in the company of others,” said Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri. “By ensuring girls have the opportunity to make and tinker we can ensure they build/practice their creative confidence today so that they have a shot at becoming the successful leaders of tomorrow.”
Two Local Educators Win National DILA Awards
Two area educators have received national awards for digital innovation. Aileen Owens, the South Fayette Township School District Director of Technology and Innovation, and Kris Hupp, 21st Century Teaching and Learning Coach at Cornell High School in Coraopolis, have been recognized with Digital Innovation in Learning Awards (DILA). These awards are given by EdSurge and Digital Promise and celebrate teachers, administrators and ed-tech organizations that demonstrate exemplary practices in using technology to support learning.
After receiving more than 1,500 first round applications and nominations from the U.S. and 31 other countries, and more than 550 video submissions, the panel of 10 DILA judges selected five finalists and then winners in each of the 15 categories.
Aileen received two national DILAs in the Administrator Trailblazer and Winner’s Choice categories. She won in the Trailblazer category for implementing an innovative school model. Over the last four years, Aileen has led the implementation of a computational thinking program that starts in kindergarten and builds at each grade level through high school. Students use Scratch to move from block-based code to text-based code, programming Legos and Arduino boards. Students even develop their own apps. The comprehensive program empowers students to be designers and creators from their first day in school and throughout their educational experience.
Kris Hupp was nominated by the Sprout Fund and won the DILA for “Busting Boundaries.” The Busting Boundaries award "recognizes teachers who inspire students to work in-person or virtually with peers in different geographic or cultural communities."
“Although the award was given to me it really recognizes the hard work of our students and staff and the opportunities provided to our students and teachers by Amiena Masoob and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and Tim Devlin at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit,” Kris says. “Through our continued collaboration our students have had the opportunities to collaborate through videoconferencing with their peers around the globe and to interview policy experts.”
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Local teen Mirhir Garimella won top prize at the international Google science fair with a robotics project, a flying robot. Recently a video crew from Google’s London office videotaped Mihir at the Carnegie Science Center.
Kindergarteners from Propel East participated in the nationwide Day of Coding in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. Here they use iPads to learn the basics of coding.
4th Graders at The Ellis School are using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit to craft dioramas that deepen their understanding of setting in literature. These projects are based on the book, “Poppy.”
Propel Northside Third Grade students learn some special coding in honor of Computer Science Education Week. They worked with a tutorial program.
Educators gather to discuss Digital Badging at the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, organized by The Sprout Fund.
Propel East kindergarten students learn a little basic computer coding during the nationwide “Day of Coding.”
Educators from the A.W. Beattie Career Center travelled to the Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in Gibsonia to introduce students to STEAM-centered careers.