Minds Under Construction

It’s wonderful to see a school turn itself around. For years the city of Duquesne, a formerly robust mill town outside of Pittsburgh, had a declining population with a dwindling student enrollment. This year the school experienced a 10% gain in student population. It may not be directly related, but the focus on Active Learning and two STEAM grants through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to create Maker Spaces have brought a new mindset and energy to the school.

Ani Martinez, the Outreach Coordinator for Remake Learning, organized a field trip for interested educators to Duquesne. Ms. Samantha Utley, an Instructional Coach working in the Creation Station, and Mr. Stan Whiteman, the Assistant Principal, shared elements of the recent success story. The focus was on the Creation Station, two former industrial arts rooms that housed a CADD classroom and a Wood Shop. Today they are vibrant, active learning spaces for grades K-3 and 4-6. The former CADD room now houses light tables for students to conduct scientific investigations, a series of water pods, reading areas, a 3D printer, and work areas. The former wood shop taps into the old work tables as STEAM investigation stations and provides a host of other technological opportunities.

While the two grants provided the funding to get the project off the ground, today the Dollar Store is the major supplier of materials. Every student during the week has an opportunity to spend time in the Creation Station. However, the focus on active learning doesn’t just happen the Creation Station. According to Stan Whiteman every student now has a device, providing a 1:1 opportunity. That means active learning happens in every classroom. The Creation Station becomes the place to expand and enhance ideas.

Samantha Utley shared a fifth grade project around the African nation of Sierra Leone. While students did their research on mud slides in the classroom, they had a chance to experience Sierra Leone virtually through a Google Expedition in the Creation Station. The students gained a real opportunity in critical thinking while expanding their global awareness.

A New Direction for Maker Spaces

For the past five years I’ve seen the growth of Maker spaces throughout Western Pennsylvania. Each space has a different focus and configuration. The Montour School District has taken the concept in a new direction – a LEGO Maker space for K-4 students. According to Justin Aglio, Director of Academic Achievement and Innovation for the Montour School District, “The Brick Maker space at Montour Elementary School is a learner-centered pace giving students opportunities to design, make, and think creatively.”

“Supporting Montour Elementary School’s new Brick Maker space with our LEGO Education solutions is a natural collaboration as we share the same priorities of student-centered learning and the dedication to sparking and engaging the innate curiosity of every student with hands-on playful learning tools,” said Silver McDonald, Head of LEGO Education North America. “We look forward to seeing what the students using the new space will imagine, build and create for years to come, and how the 21st Century Skills they are acquiring will inspire and equip them for their future careers.”

Justin Aglio added, “The new Maker space will focus on enhancing children’s spatial, fine motor, social, language and creative skills through activities using a variety of LEGO Education solutions including LEGO Education WeDo 2.0, LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3, LEGO Education Simple and Powered Machines, and more.  These solutions will also help students learn important lessons in science, technology, art, math, language arts, architecture and engineering.” In addition, the new LEGO Education Maker activities will be utilized throughout the experience. The school hopes to inspire students to design and make amazing creations at each of the following stations:
Animation Studio, Library, Test Track, Architecture, Engineering and Collaborative Building Center.

“At Montour, we like to use the learning terms “hands-on, minds-on” for tactile educational activities that spark motivation and excitement. The new Brick Maker space powered by LEGO Education solutions is certainly an inspiring environment where our kids can imagine, design, create, and share ideas with one another.  The interplay of imagination and education is really what makes this space so special,” said Dr. Christopher Stone, Superintendent of the Montour School District.

The room concept was the creation of Jason Burik, Co-Principal at Montour Elementary School and Justin Aglio.  The construction of the Maker space was a collaborative effort between Montour students, parents, teachers, administrators, LEGO Education, Carnegie Mellon University, Barnes and Noble, and Parkway West Career and Technology Center.

Jason Burik and Jason Shoaf, Co-Principals at Montour Elementary School are excited about the
support of LEGO Education.  Burik is a world-renowned LEGO artist who has created LEGO
masterpieces for Google, Stanford University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Cisco,
Nationwide Insurance, NCAA, NFL, MLB, and NHL professional sports teams. Shoaf is a Maker
at heart and has always enjoyed learning through the connection of kinesthetic movement.
“LEGO and making has always been a passion of ours, and now with the assistance of LEGO
Education, we are able to combine the two and provide students a unique and engaging learning
experience,” said Burik and Shoaf.

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.