Bringing the World of Work to Pittsburgh

The World of Work (WoW) is surging in the Pittsburgh K-12 area in 2023. World of Work is a career initiative that started in the Cajon Valley Union School District, San Diego CA. There are now districts across the United States who are using this model to prepare students in K-12 for their future directions. In the Pittsburgh region four districts have received a grant from the Grable Foundation to collaboratively work on this initiative: Duquesne City School, Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette. In addition, the River Valley School District about 30 miles east of the city of Pittsburgh is pursuing its own model based on the Cajon Valley framework.

Philip Martell, the Superintendent of River Valley looks at the WoW movement from a Workforce Development perspective. According to Mr. Martell, Superintendent of River Valley:

The WoW framework makes a difference for learners because it cultivates career development and paths to gainful employment K-12.  WoW gives our River Valley students exposure to career options at an early age. Students have the opportunity to learn about careers, receive hands-on experiences, meet professionals, and practice skills needed for that career. The goal is for our River Valley students to have a personalized career experience. We currently use the WoW/Beable framework along with the RIASEC model which allows students to explore different careers to see what their interests are so that we can build career opportunities within their learning path K-12.” 

The Pittsburgh Consortium has similar goals to River Valley with a focus on the child at the center. According to Ashli Detweiler, the Coordinator of the Pittsburgh WoW network:

At the forefront of the World of Work – Pittsburgh initiative is always the kids.  Regardless of the zip code or the district, our mission is to provide all children with the opportunity to be able to explore their own strengths, interests, and workplace values.  Our long-term goals include students being able to self identify at the earliest ages, and to continue to grow and reflect as they continue through life.  We want all children to leave traditional school settings, and know what will fulfill their life based on who they are as individuals.” 

Key to the World of Work framework are a series of activities aligned with the model called RIASEC that was developed by Dr. John Holland based on his research into vocational interests. The WoW framework helps every child develop their own self-awareness and make connections to careers based on their unique strengths, interests, and workplace values. According to the website for the Pittsburgh consortium: 

World of Work provides early exposure and self awareness to career paths starting in our youngest grade levels.  This exposure is done by supporting the individualized needs of each student learner and matching their interests with career learning.  The four steps of World of Work include; Exploration, Simulation, Meet a Pro, and Practice….  Real-life experiences are shared and students see the work they are interested in first-hand.  The final stage of practice provides students with enough knowledge and exposure to take what they learned to practice through play, school projects, homework, socialization, and volunteer work!

At this year’s Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on January 16, 2023, David Miyashiro, the Superintendent for Cajon Valley, was the keynote speaker. He shared with the Pittsburgh audience his perspective. According to Dr. David Miyashiro we need to change the goalposts for learners. We no longer should be looking at test scores, but skills that students accrue that relate to future career opportunities and bring a sense of fulfillment to the learner. According to Dr. Miyashiro, 

“Kids cannot aspire to careers they don’t even know exist — life sciences, civil engineering and public service. The traditional K-12 system stigmatizes skilled labor, military service, public service — anything that doesn’t align with a college degree. We’re trying to show K-12 we have to think differently about success and preparation.”

David Mayashiro at TRETC with student from Seneca Valley School District | Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

At TRETC, the WoW team shared some of their accomplishments. Here’s a summary of the past year’s accomplishments from Ashli Detweiler: 

“This year we have been able to build a World of Work framework that any teacher in any district can implement into their calendar year.  The four pilot districts for this initiative include Avonworth, Duquesne City, Elizabeth Forward and South Fayette.  Each district is focusing on one grade level, and there are lead teachers in each of those four grade levels.  The lead teachers have been able to accomplish incorporating RIASEC into their daily lessons, and build a common language and understanding amongst their students.  There is a career grid that focuses on six different careers in each grade.  Lessons and activities that the teachers have created are embedded into their curriculum to continue to build the capacity of having consistent strengths, interests, and a career focus for kids.  Also regarding accomplishments include allowing students to understand who they are in this great big world, but also the other kids around them.  Once students understand that everyone is gifted and talented in something, other children then have the opportunity to showcase their own talents.  This has been an accomplishment that wasn’t anticipated when we started doing this work.  However, students understanding one another and accepting that everyone is different has become a beautiful outcome of the World of Work.” 

Ed Hidalgo with Philip Martell and Beth Carr at TRETC | Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

Educators across the Pittsburgh region will have a great opportunity to explore the World of Work K-12 Workforce Development on Friday, March 3, 2023 at the River Valley STEAM Center campus.  Ed Hidalgo, the Innovation and Engagement Advisor for the Cajon Valley School District, will outline the Cajon Valley model that personalizes pathways for every student. Joining Ed for this look at the importance of focusing on the World of Work will be Beth Carr from Beable, a software platform that provides personalized learning experiences using the RIASEC model, and Philip Martell, the Superintendent of River Valley. 

The Beable software is a great resource, but not required for all students to use. According to Ashli Detweiler, “Only Duquesne City is using the Beable software for the literacy component.  Because our goal is to build a free framework for any district to implement, we have been utilizing Google to ensure we are being equitable with sharing.  Should districts want our resources they could be embedded into a Canvas Course.” 

(Updated information 3/6/2023)

All the roads for a better understanding of the World of Work led to the River Valley STEAM center campus, on Friday, March 3. Here’s a video overview of what happened at the WOW Summit.

Both the River Valley and Pittsburgh teams will be heading to the World of Work Conference in San Diego, CA March 23-25. Philip Martell, Jeff Geesey, the Workforce Development Coordinator for RV, Ashli Detweiler, and Michelle Miller, the Superintendent of the South Fayette School District, will be speakers at the event.

Artificial Intelligence in K-12

Why is it important for all learners (students, parents, teachers, community members) to become more aware of Artificial Intelligence (AI)? To answer this question I reached out to a series of educators in the Pittsburgh region who are working with K-12 students and educators. I’ll take a look at the work being done at the Readiness Institute (RI) of Penn State, resources and insights from the Birdbrain Technologies company, a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, and teachers at the Winchester Thurston (WT) School who have developed a course in Machine Learning for High School.

Why is AI important for K-12 students to learn?

According to Bambi Brewer who worked on curricular materials for Birdbrain Technologies:

I think it is important for everyone to learn something about AI because AI systems are making decisions in our world right now, and I think everyone should have the information they need to help us as a society make responsible decisions about what kinds of systems we use and what decisions we do or don’t want them to make.

In my conversation with Lance Lindauer, the Executive Director for PART (Partnership to Advance Responsible Technology), we discussed the importance of AI as a part of digital technology education. Lance believes it’s important for learners to understand how to exert control over their personal agency when using various forms of technology. Also, as technology today is infused into all fields – health, education, manufacturing, transportation – and it’s vital for people to see that technology as something that is not scary, rather it has tremendous benefits when developed and deployed responsibly and ethically.  Lance stressed the importance for each person to become an “ambassador” for themselves in a technology economy, and to interact with technology in positive ways to also help benefit one’s community. 

Moreover, it’s critical that people understand how to responsibly use that technology. Bambi Brewer extended that idea to algorithms, the mathematical approach to finding patterns that underlies AI:

My goal is to get people talking in an informed way about how we deal with things like the bias that can occur with AI algorithms. Sometimes people see that just because it is technology, it is inherently unbiased, and that just isn’t true. All technology, for better or worse, is the product of the people who create it and embeds their assumptions and biases.

The Birdbrain Technologies website makes the point about looking at AI in the context of addressing questions of curiosity, creative problem solving and real world learning. According to the website:

Deep and joyful learning means digging into questions and issues that make students feel curious and passionate – and artificial intelligence certainly fits the bill!

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

In a course co-taught by Computer Science Chair David Nassar and Social Studies Chair Michael Naragon, Winchester Thurston students examine the dynamic ways in which social relationships and political policies shape and are shaped by technological changes. This interdisciplinary approach, according to Naragon, allows students “to become citizen-coders who understand the inner workings of A.I., which is often a black box to many.” This understanding helps students exercise greater amounts of agency, which in turn encourages them to become true “ambassadors.” According to David Nassar: 

This will enable them to better predict the possible social and political consequences of technological change. Data science is becoming such an essential aspect to digital literacy today; it is critical that students are exposed to the way in which AI and Machine Learning work and are used so that they can employ it themselves when needed, and also vet when it may be misused.

How is AI incorporated into K-12 programs and projects?

For the past two summers Lance Lindauer has spent time with high school students that are part of the Readiness Institute at Penn State. The Readiness Institute runs a five week summer program for upcoming seniors in high school. According to Lance the program tries to provide students with real world needs rooted in emerging-technology trends and data. Lance works with the students to understand the link between AI and digital technology and how it can interact with informing public policy, guide regional strategic decision making and investment, or boost education curriculum. In another school program, PART works with local middle schools and high schools on how to comprehend innovation and various technology topics by facilitating student-centered learning through podcasting.  PART is working with local entities like Future Grind and the team at the Saturday Light Brigade (, a Pittsburgh-based multimedia non-profit, to express their point of view. Students not only gain insights into AI and the related technologies, but develop agency.

The Readiness Institute also runs a 4 week Saturday program during the school year as part of the Mark Cuban’s Foundation for AI Bootcamp. According to the RI website: Over the course of four half-days, students learn what AI is and isn’t, where they already interact with AI in their own lives, the ethical implications of AI systems, and much more. The Bootcamp brings local AI experts from universities and local companies to work with the students. The program has four components:

  • identify AI in the real world
  • build their own application
  • discuss AI ethics and bias in data
  • meet and learn from AI experts

Bambi Brewer created for Birdbrain Technologies a series of free resources that teachers, parents, or learners can tap into. The resources require the use of one of the physical robots – the Finch or Hummingbird – that Birdbrain developed with CMU:

Bambi shared one fun example of how students can gain insights into “image recognition,” one of the byproducts of AI:

“…the funniest example to create was using image recognition to detect different Star Wars characters and control what the robot does based on the character that appears. For example, it plays Darth Vader’s music when it detects the Darth Vader mask.”

David Nassar (left) and Michael Naragon (right) engage in conversation with their students about binary classifiers in their co-taught course, Machine Learning and the Social Implications of A.I., at Winchester Thurston School.

At the Winchester Thurston School, a K-12 independent school in Pittsburgh, high school students are immersed in a course in Machine Learning. The course is a cross-discipline look at the impact of Machine Learning, one of the essential elements of Artificial Intelligence, on society and students’ lives. The topics that the course investigates are not limited, however, to the high school. Students throughout the K-12 program investigate the impact of AI/Machine Learning on their lives. This investigation culminates in a course with an original research project which is overseen by Naragon and Nassar. According to David Nassar who has been working on the course for four years with Michael Naragon: 

“We have had students create full-scale research projects exploring how A.I. is used for facial recognition, classification of words used in presidential speeches, classification of hate speech in tweets, making medical diagnoses, and even predicting lifespans. We have had larger discussions on the use of A.I. and machine learning in the criminal justice system, the self-driving car industry, and in advertising. There are so many uses to A.I. and Machine Learning, and each year we seek to find novel ways to let our students explore them.”


Artificial Intelligence has gained quite a bit of media coverage, but what we really want is for students, parents, and teachers to understand the role and responsible use for all digital technologies. As Bambi Brewer explains, “ The goal isn’t for advanced CS students to learn how to create the algorithms (even though that is interesting too), it is for anyone to be able to understand what AI is, and what programs that use it can and can’t do well.”

Emma Hance, the program manager and strategic planning specialist for the Readiness Institute states: AI and algorithms are shaped by the individuals who create them, so if we truly want to move toward a more equitable future, we need to have a diverse group of individuals involved at every step in the development process.

Driving K-12 Innovation 2022: Accelerators

For the past five years I’ve participated in CoSN’s Driving K-12 Innovation project. The process includes a global advisory board of K-12 leaders, practitioners, and change makers. As one of the advisory members I engage in discourse about the major themes driving, hindering, and enabling teaching and learning innovation at schools. This fall we’ve looked at the first two dimensions for educational innovation – Hurdles and Accelerators.

Hurdles are obstacles that make participants slow down, evaluate, practice, and then make the leap to better support teaching and learning. 

Accelerators are mega-trends that drive change – sometimes suddenly and sometimes so gradually the implications aren’t readily apparent. 

I recently had a chance to join a virtual discussion about the Accelerators. It was fascinating to hear from educational leaders from around the world. We joined into Zoom Rooms where we had small group discussions. Here’s a graphic representation of the conversation:

Each group had a particular focus, but there were many common themes. Here are some of the keys to the group discussions.

  • Gaby Richard-Harrington and group members talked about leadership capacity and “that great leadership with capacity and vision is either the greatest accelerator or — the lack of it — the greatest hurdle. Period.”
  • Frankie Jackson and her colleagues (including me) discussed how putting students and agency at the center should be our focus. “All these Accelerators are intertwined with one another, and the focus being students at the center and then everything else being linked to that with a centralized vision.”
  • Stacy Hawthorne explained that “Acceleration takes many parts moving together in sequence to reach maximum speed,” likening Accelerators to the gears of an engine — everything needs to mesh to drive innovation in education.

The process will continue this fall with the final phase looking at Tech Enablers that address the Hurdles and tap into the Accelerators.