Transformations

Over the holiday season a new Transformer movie appeared. There’s something engaging about the concept of transforming from one concept or shape to another. In education transformations are also quite engaging and worth investigating. This past semester I coordinated two Design Challenges for the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh with schools from the Parkway West Consortium of Schools. Each Design Challenge required the student consultants to think out of the box and come up with a transformative set of ideas.

Student teams from Parkway West, Quaker Valley, and Keystone Oaks tackled the transformative challenge of “Rebranding Careers.” How do we rethink the language and images to describe technical workers? How do we change the perceptions of students and parents regarding the value of alternative choices to a college program? The student consultants developed a website with a marketing campaign, an app, and a video to address the transformative questions.

It was fascinating to watch the student consulting teams go through their own transformations. The student teams had to learn to work with not only their own team members, but with fellow consultants from other schools. The design process of moving from a set of questions to a solution requires an ability to listen to a client’s needs. For most students this is a transformative challenge. Our traditional school approach is based on a teacher-focused orientation. Students respond to the need of the teacher who, in turn is trying to look at a standard or final outcome that is built into a curriculum. What happens when you transform this process? How do teachers and students handle their roles as facilitators and consultants?

For the student teams and teachers it takes time to adjust to this challenge. However, the final product for the Rebranding Careers Design Challenge demonstrated the success for the process. What could have been three individual projects,  turned into one website that linked to each of the student consulting teams ideas. The client team from the Energy Innovation Center responded positively to the student products and intends to seek further funding to work on the prototypes shared by the consulting team.

The Bedford Facade Design Challenge had similar positive effects based on the student consulting teams’ efforts. In this case teams from South Fayette, Chartiers Valley, and Parkway West collaborated to generate a three-tiered lighting plan for the original entrance of the Energy Innovation Center erected in 1930 as the Connelley Trade School. The Design Challenge process I use enlists the aid of a series of professional experts who work with the student consultants from the kick-off through the final presentation. For this Design Challenge the Energy Innovation Center brought to the table two experts from the Duquesne Light Company of Pittsburgh. The experts explained at the kickoff that consultants often outline different financial packages in their response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). The student consulting teams took this to heart and delivered silver, gold, and platinum options for the Design Challenge.

For the student consultants the ability to think about multiple solutions was a transformative moment. In our traditional classes we tend to look for one solution that is already known, but for this Design Challenge the notion that there could be multiple approaches for a problem was quite challenging for the student teams. The client team from the Energy Innovation Center, praised this approach. It met the real needs for the project. Now the Energy Innovation Center has a much better idea on the actual costs and what would be associated with each option.

I also wanted the student teams to use a model for the building as part of their presentation. The students don’t usually think about three-dimensional elements to explain an idea. The team of students from Parkway West welded a metal model that became the key for each consultant as they visually explained how each part of the solution would work. For instance, when the student consultants talked about the use of a Lumatrix lighting solution, they were able to point to the model to indicate exactly where the projection system would go.

The key to the final success for the Design Challenge will be the actual transformation for the Bedford Avenue facade at the Energy Innovation Center. The student consulting teams outlined a thorough proposal that included CAD drawings, a cost analysis, and a 3-dimensional model for the site. The Energy Innovation Center will now look at opportunities to use the student ideas to transform the building to highlight the rich history of the building and its bright future as a center for sustainability.

museumlab: Raise the Beam on Learning

About seven years ago I had a conversation with Jane Werner, the Executive Director for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where she mentioned that the Children’s Museum hoped to extend its educational programming to the former Carnegie Library, next door to its current building. I kept that tidbit of information in the back of my mind until I was challenged as a Board Member for the Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) to think about where we could move our middle school students. We had outgrown our home on Liverpool Avenue and needed to find a permanent location. We had engaged an architect to look at building onto the existing site, but I was not pleased with the cost for what we would get. So, I brought up the idea of moving to the Carnegie Library to Larry Berger, the MACS Board member who was in touch with Jane Werner through his work with SLB Radio, housed in the basement of the current Children’s Museum. Larry suggested we ask Jane about the opportunity to move MACS to the Carnegie Library site. We brought up the idea to Vas Scoumis, the CEO for MACS, and that started the conversation for MACS’s involvement with “musemlab”™.

By April 2019 museumlab will become a reality – a learning laboratory where play and education will intersect, where tinkering, building and  making will be part of the educational world. According to the Children’s Museum website: The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is growing with the creation of museumlab™, a place where youth eight and older can work with makers to create everything from furniture to apps, experiment with cutting edge technology in the creation of art, climb 3 stories on a unique sculpture, collaborate on one-of-a-kind art installations and more!

MACS will find its home on the second floor and mezzanine. On the first floor there will be public spaces for organizations and exploration by children. In the basement SLB Radio will have a new digital media studio. The museumlab partners include:

It’s an exciting opportunity for other schools, non-profits, and out-of-school programs to collaborate. The Children’s Museum has two Learning Scientists on staff who will work with the partners to use the museumlab as a place for research. How can a school take the best practices from a museum and incorporate them into a more traditional approach to learning? How can students and teachers become researchers and investigate ways for greater civic engagement and social responsibility? These are some of the possible questions that museumlab may address.

 

Catalytic Innovation

Digital Technology is seldom a stand-alone solution. It’s often a resource and if done well, a catalyst for learning. Most of my work revolves around projects and products from the Pittsburgh area, including K-12 outreach activities from Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU). For twelve years I served an an adjunct professor in the Heinz College at CMU. I tried to find ways to connect K-12 educators to learning innovations from CMU. That was the before the CREATE Lab happened. Today at CMU the CREATE Lab, the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), and the LearnLab all provide opportunities for K-12 educators to discover new and innovative strategies, processes, and products to use in the learning environment.

On July 23-25, 2018 Birdbrain Technologies, a spin-off from the CREATE Lab, will host a new conference – Catalyze Learning Summer Institute: Integrating Robotics With Your Curriculum. Registration will open in mid-February.  Birdbrain Technologies is now impacting learners in over 40 countries. The conference intends to bring to Pittsburgh some of the best practitioners and practices found at global sites such as Hong Kong, Korea, Cyprus, or Dubai, as well as the United States.

Key to the Birdbrain/CREATE Lab model is the focus on computational thinking and an engineering design process. The CREATE Lab calls this approach, Digital Fluency. At the conference users will have a chance not only to hear about success stories, but more importantly to experience them first-hand. Participants will have the opportunity to choose from beginner to advanced tracks in making and programming. There will be workshops on using Hummingbird Robotics Kits and Finch robots with tablets and computers for both block-based and text-based languages. Birdbrain will also provide some sneak peaks at what is in currently in development.

The conference aims to create a network of users who will share their ideas at the conference and then implement their discoveries back their own sites. The conference will provide users an opportunity to immerse themselves in robotics across the curriculum and give them time to plan for their 2018-2019 school year. Catalyze Learning will be a practical, hands-on, and immersive experience that impacts not just academic learning, but changes the social landscape for learning.