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.

Real World Learning

Why Real World Learning (RWL)? The key is found in the Glossary of Educational Reform, “Realworld learning refers to education that is focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and challenges.”

When we start with a real world issue we’re providing a context or connection. Educational research indicates that deeper engagements occur when learners see a relationship or connection to what they are researching, studying, or investigating. When you add an “inter” or multidisciplinary approach, then you create another level of connection.

In my work with learning institutions in the Western Pennsylvania area I’ve observed several great examples of where students and staff are engaged in RWL. In this article I’ll highlight two elements:

  • Students as agents of social change and creative producers
  • Regional Opportunities

Students as agent of social change and creative producer

The Avonworth School District has developed over the years a number of projects that challenge not just a select group of students, but all students at a grade level to solve a real world problem that relates to the school community. According to Jason Smith, the 8th grade Civics Teacher, “After a recent class discussion around racism and discrimination in the country, students took an anonymous survey which showed that 76% of 8th grade students believed that our country was more ‘divided’ than ‘united.’ After brainstorming times and places where the country, their community or town felt ‘united,’ students and teachers cited sporting events and fundraisers as examples.” The students then took the idea a step further and decided to develop a 5K run that would raise money for an Avonworth family that had lost their home and daughter to a recent fire.

The students were divided into teams that included: Promotions, Public Relations, Design, Registration, and Sponsorship. What makes this project more real world and more challenging is the fact that it was not just one Civics class, but all six classes that Jason Smith taught. The students shared, for instance, lists of sponsors, and each team had an alphabetical range of names to contact. In order to promote the event each class had to design a website and then a team of experts selected the best website for the project.

When I observed students working on the project everyone was engaged and collaborating with their peers. This project demonstrated how every student can be an agent for social change and contribute creative products to a common effort.

Another Avonworth project that has engaged students for five years now is the high school Galleries Project. In this case students work hand-in-hand with art professionals from four partnering museums – Carnegie Museum of Art, The Warhol, Mattress Factory, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The organizations serve as mentors for students throughout the school year. The students select a project and then product artifacts that reflect the characteristics and mediums of the partnering museums. Last year according to Assistant Superintendent, Ken Lockett, the students wanted to address the question, “Who do we value?” So the students decided to change the way valedictorians were recognized as part of a series of photographs in one of the hallways. The students tapped into an Andy Warhol style of silk screen printing. Instead of traditional photographs, each valedictorian looked like an Andy Warhol poster shimmering with bright colors.

According to Ken Lockette, “The students are working on body images with the Warhol team – trying to get their peers to look up to an ideal.”

Avonworth realizes that the power of these real world learning projects. The school district is now connecting with other schools to expose a larger number of learners to the power of real world learning.

Just down the Interstate from Avonworth, students at the South Fayette School District are working on a variety of real world learning projects. In an interview with Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation, we discussed a middle school program focusing on sustainable systems, “Seeds of Change,” and a high school set of projects revolving around Student Innovation.

Like Avonworth South Fayette has all of its 8th grade students working on a community-focused challenge. Each team of students has come up with a concept to address the question: how do we build a sustainable community? Students have used Human-Centered Design strategies to identify stakeholders, key issues, milestones, and possible solutions. One group is focusing on a living wall that can be incorporated into a classroom. Another team is investigating aquaponics. Another group of learners are examining solar panels and composting.

In each case the students are engaged in a real world challenge that allows them to be creative producers with an engagement with either their class, school, or community.

At the high school level South Fayette students are tackling innovative solutions to real world problems. South Fayette did not have a curriculum in place to teach Python. A student-led team worked with a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student and an engineer from Google to develop an after-school program and then turn this into a curriculum for classroom use. Next year all 8th grade students will take the Python course developed by their high school peers.

Four years ago a team of students at South Fayette worked with Amanda Gunawardena, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton, to create MyEduDecks. Over time new student teams have modified the program creating new iterations. As part of the project students conduct research and then share their findings at professional conferences. The students have presented their findings at conferences at Pepperdine University, Microsoft Research, and Brown University. The student findings are professionally published by Springer, a national publisher. According to Aileen Owens, “The most difficult thing is creating the research project and understanding what the data means.” What could be a more real-world problem?

As part of a middle school program around App Development students had to come up with solutions for community problems. One team of students about four years ago discovered from bus drivers that there was a problem with kids getting on the wrong bus. The original team developed “BusBudE” and today student app developers continue to provide new updates to the software. In the latest iteration the students are working on a version that can be shared with other school districts and a training module so other districts can link the software to their busing schedule. The student app team is also working on materials for parents so the parents understand what the data means.

Bringing the real world doesn’t stop at the end of the school year at South Fayette. Students work on the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute for educators. Students serve as tech coordinators as well as student assistants and teachers. Yes, the students who developed the Python course last summer trained teachers in the use of Python. While the students are the creative producers, the teachers need to understand their role as facilitators and mentors.

Regional Opportunities

Through the efforts of schools like Avonworth, South Fayette, and Elizabeth Forward, educators around the region and across the country can learn more about integrating the arts into Project-based Learning and Human Centered Design, STEAM, or FAB learning. Starting in June and continuing through July there are opportunities at each of the schools I’ve listed. In addition, this year Pittsburgh is hosting the Schools that Can National Forum from May 10-11.

Schools that Can (STC) Forum is an annual, public conference focused on a common theme. Sessions are led and attended by top urban educators from STC schools, innovative educational organizations, thought leaders, industry, and community partners. This year’s theme is: Real World Learning for the 21st Century. On the first day of the conference participants will have a chance to visit examples of projects representing the range of K-12 activities. Sites include Pittsburgh: Allegheny Traditional School, Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, Drew Mathieson Center, and City Charter High School. At each site students will share their “real world” experiences. On the second day the event will move to the University of Pittsburgh where panels of experts will share best practices around Real World Learning.

The Elizabeth Forward School District will host from June 15 to 18 a FAB Institute. Elizabeth Forward is opening its doors to any educator interested in creating or improving their own FAB or Fabrication Lab. Participants will learn real world skills such as: computer-aided design, embedded programming, 3D scanning and printing, and much more for implementation at elementary, middle, and high school levels. Apply online at Pittsburgh FAB Institute.

From June 14-25 the South Fayette School District will host its STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. Sessions for educators working in the K-20 arena (in school and out-of-school) range from one to four days. Topics include: Making for Young Children, Creating Sustainable Mindsets, Computational Thinking, Entrepreneurship, App Development, Robotics, and 3D Modeling for Young Children. This year the program also introduces two new workshops that focus on bringing real world projects into the classroom: Professional Development for Authentic PBL School to Business Partnerships and Teachers in the Workplace.

Last year the Avonworth School District partnered with the LUMA Institute and the Center for the Arts to develop Studio A, a 3 day workshop that integrates the Arts into Project-based Learning (PBL) using Human Centered Design. This summer Avonworth will roll out the second round of Studio A training from July 11 to July 13. Participants will learn new tools in design thinking and the arts to workshop ideas for developing authentic, real world PBL units. Teachers will build skills and knowledge to develop interdisciplinary, project-based lessons/units to engage students in meaningful learning and in applying 21st century skills.

 

Equipping Students to Lead In Our Rapidly Changing World

[Throughout the country students are tackling real world problems in their communities. In this Getting Smart article students from the Anne Arnundel County Public Schools in Virginia address water and space issues. In my work in Western Pennsylvania I’m working with students on sustainability projects around energy and food. I work with colleagues who are getting students involved in a variety of other real world projects, ranging from creating a marathon to raise funds for a family who lost their home to redesigning an auditorium for a historic building. In all of these cases students work as engineers, designers, and scientists to address a real world issue that tackles a social issue in their community.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

By Vipin Thekk, March 4, 2017

“We talk about consumers and producers. In much of education, the student is a consumer. The Changemaker movement has helped us to help teachers help students become producers.”

~ Maureen McMahon, Deputy Superintendent for Academics & Strategic Initiatives, Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Eighty percent of the best jobs of tomorrow do not exist today. And increasingly, social problems are outrunning the solutions. We can see that in all aspects of human life – from climate change to unemployment to racial inequality. We are living in a world where change has become the only constant.

In such a world, the art of changemaking–or working empathetically with a team to solve a community problem–becomes essential. When children and adults master the skills of empathy, teamwork and leadership to solve problems which they care deeply about, they are realizing their own power to catalyze change; learning that the status quo can be challenged, and discovering that our collective success increasingly depends on our individual strength as change agents.

Read more…