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.

Remaking Learning: Hampton School District

Each spring Remake Learning, a regional organization that brings together K-12 education, out-of-school providers, higher education, and community partners, sponsors a series of activities around the Pittsburgh region that showcases kids at play and learning. This year Remake Learning sponsored 175 in-person and virtual events in the Pittsburgh region between May 12-23, 2022. I had a chance to visit the Hampton School District in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh to see Remake Learning in action.

The tour group started at one of Hampton’s elementary buildings, Central Elementary School. We waited in what the school calls the living room. It’s wonderful to see how schools have placed comfortable furniture in the lobby of buildings to reduce any tension for parents or visitors. Once the group was in place, the building principal, Amy Kern, shared the agenda for our visit. 

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

The artwork behind Amy came from a project with the schools’ first artist in residence. The artist-in-residence worked with teachers and kids on the project. It’s a great example of infusing the arts into the curriculum. The art piece really is the welcoming showcase for the building. 

Central Elementary transformed two courtyard areas into incredible learning spaces. Amy Kern and one of her staff members gave a short slide presentation to show how the space became transformed and who were the key players. Hampton has a very strong educational organization that works with local businesses and corporations to raise money. The school also found funding from local foundations and businesses. Today the result is a Nature and Sensory Garden and an Outdoor Learning Lab where just an outdoor garden had been until last year. Hampton tapped into its students, faculty and staff to design the spaces. They also enlisted the assistance of two local businesses who provided the technical support for the construction – Blue Fox Landscape and Lady Fox. The spaces were designed to provide hands-on, project-based, outdoor learning spaces aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

It was wonderful to see the kids engaged in a variety of hands-on activities. The young lady on the left is an “Ambassador.” She not only takes people on tours of the garden, but she has been part of the outreach to younger students. The kids on the right are working on a series of STEM (engineering) challenges. The students have to assemble these large building blocks into operational structures working with a team of fellow students. 

From Central we jumped back into our vehicles and drove down the road to the Middle School. The Middle School principal, a former math teacher, was challenged by the superintendent to rethink a courtyard area that housed a collection of stuffed animals. The space had no real learning purpose. She reached out to her staff and students and they came up with a design for a Learning Pavilion. She enlisted the help of the Children’s Museum and Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. The Learning Pavilion serves the needs of all teachers and students. It’s a modular construction that provides for a variety of group activities. Teachers bring their own manipulatives to the pavilion and then divide their class into working teams. In a future phase a student team will build a hydroponics station where they’ll grow basil that they’ll give to the Pittsburgh Food Bank. The space also incorporates an interactive, augmented reality environment using CMU’s ARCADE system to position the animations, build interactive narratives, or layer content to the real-world environment.

I actually forgot to share our first stop at the middle school. We went into the library where high school students from the AP Research class were available to share their work along with a team of AP Computer Science students who had created Edtech solutions. I had several wonderful conversations with students who did research on topics like Critical Race Theory in Schools and physical training ways to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s. Each student was incredibly articulate and were well prepared. The Computer Science guys (yes there were no girls) tackled software issues, like the tutoring program at the high school, and a virtual reality setup for weight lifting without the weights. 

After lunch we had a chance to visit a variety of classrooms that included a Robotics Studio, Innovation Studio, Print Studio, TV Studio, and the Learning Pavilion. Each space showcased Hampton’s desire for collaborative, interactive, project-based learning. Teachers deploy Human-Centered Design activities to engage students in brainstorming ideas as well as concept building. The furniture allows students to write on the table surfaces so they can creatively share their ideas. Students tap into traditional arts, such as printing, as well as technological tools such as 3-D printers, Hummingbirds, Finch, Sphero, Cosmos and other robotic tools.

My visit to the Hampton School District demonstrated several key points:

  • Technology is not the solution. It’s a tool that enables and accelerates learning opportunities ;
  • Effective learning solutions require partnerships with community, parent, and school groups and organizations;
  • Higher education can play a key role bringing and supporting emerging technologies, such as AR or VR;
  • Ultimately it’s about the kids. They are not just the audience. They are the creators and evaluators.

Driving Innovation: Accelerators

In 2018 the Consortium for Schools Networked (CoSN) transformed the K-12 Horizon Report into The CoSN K-12 Driving Innovation Series with three reports. The reports are based on the work of over 100 educators around the globe who look at emerging technologies through three lenses: Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enablers. As the co-chair of the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee, I was selected to be part of the process. The Advisory Group engaged in several months of discourse about the major themes driving, hindering, and enabling teaching and learning innovation at schools. After each phase, final thoughts from advisory board members were distilled in surveys discerning the top five topics to feature in each publication.

Currently I’m working with the Emerging Technologies Committee to expand the work of the Advisory Group around Accelerators, in particular Data-Driven Practices.  The CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee felt that all five themes (see graphic) were important, but for the CoSN audience, Data-Driven Practices had the greatest relevance. Plus it has been over three years since CoSN had worked on examples in this area.

According to the Driving Innovation report, data-driven activities can be defined according to this statement: With more engagement, performance, and other kinds of data being collected, schools are leveraging that data to make decisions about curriculum, hiring, technology investments, and more.

CoSN’s previous discussions on Data-Driven Practices focused on administrative issues relating to privacy, security and uses of data to inform instruction, with a major focus on compliance issues relating to No Child Left Behind. Now with the move towards student-centered learning, there’s a growing interest in looking at other ways of using data in the educational arena. The Data Fluency project at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab is a great example of how data is now viewed as a tool for empowering both educators and student learners.

According to the Mission/Vision statement from the Fluency Project:

Fluency is a process of deep inquiry, case-making, and advocacy. Guided by shared values, we explore how technology and data can serve as tools to enhance the voices of teachers and students. Co-powering teachers and students to be “Fluent” means they can gather information, reconcile it with their personal experience, and influence public discourse. Within this framework, the focus is on creating an individual path for exploration based on self-knowledge, in the context of the world around you. While students will have access to new tools for understanding data and creating compelling media, we believe it is the Fluency process that will lift up their voices, and mold them into critical thinkers and active citizens.

In order to understand how this looks in a K-12 world I interviewed school leaders and teachers from two school districts in the Pittsburgh, PA region who are taking a lead in using data to enhance student agency – Carlynton and Allegheny Valley. The principal of Carlynton Jr/HS, Michael Loughren, introduced me to two of his English teachers who have taken the lead on the Data Fluency project – Kristen Fischer and Wendy Steiner. We don’t usually think about data projects in English. Kristen and Wendy have discovered a new approach give students a voice in their writing, oral and digital communications.

For the study of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, students now analyze the character in relation to episodes of PTSD. They have to find details (data) in the form of repeated words and phrases that supports an argument that Macbeth suffered from PTSD. For another project students had choices of expression for an an oral history project on a self-selected element of family history. The students used a different tool to express themselves – a podcast format. According to Kristen and Wendy there have been a number of benefits. Student work is now always original with no elements of plagiarism. All students are engaged and see a purpose in their writing. According to Michael Loughren the Data Fluency project has deepened and strengthened relationships between teachers and students. In addition, he has witnessed a decrease in the number of discipline problems.

At Allegheny Valley, Brett Slezak, the technology director, has seen similar benefits using the Data Fluency approach. Student voice has been amplified by allowing each student to make their case, which in turn has led to more student engagement. Brent emphasized the importance of using an inquiry-based processed. Students need to start by asking essential questions. At Allegheny Valley the essential question for one high school project was: What is air quality? Why is it important? Students used a SPEC sensor from the CREATE lab to monitor the air quality in multiple classrooms. The students then had to analyze the data and make their case. The problem required the students to “scrub” the data and visually represent what was happening. The students discovered patterns that led to conversations with teachers. The students had to develop a narrative so the data created a story. The students then had to advocate for changes within the classrooms. The students discovered how data revealed solutions for real world problems.

There were more projects that Carlynton and Allegheny Valley teachers created. In every case students voice became amplified. Data provided a way to gain insights into real-world problems. Students discovered that data can be more than numbers. Students took their ideas to new levels by becoming agents of change advocating for solutions to solve real-world challenges.