What does it take to make an innovative school?

[The Hechinger Report examines two recent developments to highlight the role of innovation in schools. The report outlines some of the key findings from a new report looking at Competency-based Learning in New England as well as the nineteen new members of the League of Innovative Schools. The Pittsburgh region is quite rich with innovative schools. Two are included in the latest group – the Fox Chapel Area School District (FCASD) and the Montour School District. I formerly worked as the Coordinator of Educational Technology at FCASD  and I’ve recently consulted with the Montour School District. Both districts offer great examples of innovative programming in order to meet the needs of all students. Both districts are developing their own versions of competency-based learning with great examples of active learning opportunities for students in K-12.]

transformED learning space at Montour HS - Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

transformED learning space at Montour HS – Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

One of the challenges in trying out new learning strategies, including those that embrace technology, is that schools have a tough time finding out which new methods work best – which ones actually help kids learn.

This week brought two useful resources for addressing that problem. One is an expansion of a coalition of schools that share best practices, called the League of Innovative Schools; the other is a comprehensive report on the ways that competency-based learning initiatives have grown in the six New England states

In competency-based learning systems (also sometimes called proficiency-based or mastery-based), the goal is to have students demonstrate their mastery of a subject before being moved on to the next level, rather than move ahead simply by accumulating enough time in class and passing the year-end test.

Even as high school graduation rates have risen, the number of students who need remedial classes once they enter college has also risen. The advocates at CompetencyWorks, a coalition set up to promote this method and assess best practices, argue that this is because students are not mastering what they need to know to prepare them for college or for the workforce.

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We flipped professional development and our teachers loved it

[I’ve been quite fortunate to work and present with Aaron Sams, one of the gurus of Flipped Learning. In this eSchoolNews article Aaron and Justin Aglio, the Director of Innovation for the Montour School District, explain how the Montour Learning Network (MLN) has flipped traditional professional development and increased participation by educators by 600%.]

BY AARON SAMS AND JUSTIN AGLIO, September 12th, 2016
Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Learning cultures have no doubt shifted for students in most K-12 public schools. With new one-to-one initiatives, blended learning, online courses, project-based learning, one could argue that students are now more prepared than ever before for the 21st century. But what about teachers?

How are teachers learning to operate as professionals in the 21st century? Most teachers rely on traditional professional development methods like guidebooks on curriculum implementation or face-to-face. lecture-style settings, the gist of which is “Tell me something and maybe I will do it.” Other teachers, though, strive for more dynamic personalized learning opportunities (like the ones our students receive). So, how is it that we are preparing our students for the 21st century with a sense of urgency, but when it comes to quality learning for teachers, many school districts do not practice what they preach?

There are many theories of why we use words like collaboration, creativity, and communication with students, but we judge and evaluate our teachers with words like individual assessments, standards, and individual accountability. Maybe it is the fault of a “system” that places high expectations for teachers to teach 21st-century skills, but only be evaluated on 20th-century learning outcomes.

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Pittsburgh: Providing the Blueprint for Citywide Maker Education

[Here’s an Edsurge posting by my colleague, Justin Aglio, that shares the incredible energy and success behind the recent Remake Learning Days in Pittsburgh. Justin’s school district, Montour, hosted a Design Workshop with the LUMA Institute, a Human Centered Design firm in Pittsburgh, that I attended. If you’re looking for an example of a school district that has begun to rethink learning, take a look at Montour.]

Brainstorming from Remake Learning's Maker Ed Affinity Group Meet-up

Brainstorming from Remake Learning’s Maker Ed Affinity Group Meet-up

About a year ago, on Monday, June 15, 2015, the White House hosted a Maker Education Roundtable discussion with over sixty educators, innovators, White House officials, non-profit organizations, foundations and more. And although all areas of the country were represented, the city of Pittsburgh had the largest presence—and the White House noticed.

Fast-forward to now, and on May 9, 2016 at Google Pittsburgh,Thomas Kalil, deputy director of policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told an audience of local Pittsburgh dignitaries, philanthropists and educators, “You really are a model for the country.”

So, what sets Pittsburgh apart? It’s a event called Remake Learning Days, a week-long celebration showcasing maker projects throughout the region.

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