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Preparing young people for the digital age

Remake Learning

What?

Networking in a place to ‘remake learning’ for today’s learners.

Who?

Gregg Behr, Founder and Co-chair, Remake Learning

Where?

Pittsburgh, USA

The Pioneer

Gregg Behr is the Executive Director of the Grable Foundation and Co-chair of Remake Learning.

In 2016, the White House recognized Mr. Behr as a Champion of Change for his efforts to advance making and learning; in 2015, he was recognized as one of America’s Top 30 Technologists, Transformers, and Trailblazers by the Center for Digital Education; and in 2014, he accepted the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award on behalf of Pittsburgh’s efforts to reimagine and remake learning.

“We weren’t saying we needed to blow up education. People haven’t been wrong, or been doing bad things. We just need to remake it for our times, mindful of what we’re learning. ”

The big change

Remake Learning is a network of more than 500 organisations. It represents a group of interconnected, creative, and innovative people and organisations in the greater Pittsburgh region.

It works to spark and share best practices and new ideas, make it easier for neighbours and colleagues to help each other, reduce duplicative efforts in the region, and leverage resources collectively for greater impact. The focus areas include; Maker Learning, Computer Science, STE(A)M, Next Generation Professional Learning and Student Voice.

The ambition for change

The big vision for Remake Learning is: to ignite engaging, relevant and equitable learning practices in support of young people navigating rapid social and technological change.

No one organisation alone can transform teaching and learning to better serve today’s young people, so Remake Learning helps bring them together.

The shift in direction

Asking a simple question: “how is it that we can be helpful as we look ahead?”

Having just taken up his position as Executive Director of the Grable Foundation in 2006, Gregg took the time to understand the ways in which the foundation was helpful to educators, schools, families and after-school organisations in the Pittsburgh region, asking a simple question: “how is it that we can be helpful as we look ahead?”. He heard people say again and again “I’m just not connecting with the kids in my classroom or the kids in my library, the way I used to”

People had begun to appreciate that because of the societal and technological changes that young people were experiencing, they were consuming and producing information differently, seeking affirmation differently, developing identities differently, all in ways fundamentally different from adult generations. They were all describing something seemingly seismic and yet it wasn’t obvious that anything seismic was happening in response.

Making change happen

1: The start point

Interdisciplinary connections, fuelled by pancakes

Gregg brought together an interdisciplinary group of people to talk informally about these issues that had surfaced, in a way that was completely human – over coffee and pancakes at a great local place. It was a space to share, with a librarian, a technologist, a roboticist, an artist, and a teacher, what he thought he was hearing and if it resonated in any way. It resonated powerfully.

“It speaks to the importance of social relationships in thinking about big issues – that you could bring together a dozen folks to talk about some hard issues, but in a way that seemed totally human and normal, and that everyone could say “I can imagine two or three people I’d like to bring into the fold”. It just started to snowball from there.”

2: Taking off

Providing multiple front doors

Individuals and organisations enter the Remake Learning network through many different doors. Bank of New York Mellon are interested in computational thinking and computer science and coding, so there’s a regional working group around those themes. For Chevron and the Carnegie Science Center, STEM education is the focus and there’s a front door they can walk through too. Giving people the space to use what’s of interest and passionate to them and their organisations allowed a huge number of players to come into the fold.

“You want to make it as easy as possible for as many actors as possible to be part of the movement. I think that’s part of the key for making change – making it easy for people to do something that is otherwise hard.”

Capturing and communicating the work through ‘sticky narratives’

Throughout Remake Learning’s 12 years, significant investment has been made in documenting and communicating its work. This has been critical in:

  • celebrating the work of people in the network
  • giving people cover to take risks and gain experience
  • providing people with ideas from global and local sources
  • being clear about the commitments e.g. equity for learners of colour, learners of poverty, girls in STEM, rural learners, learners with exceptionalities.

“You have to have some sticky narratives if you are to build movements and achieve shifts in culture.”

3. Keeping going

Continuous iteration

Over the course of the past 12 years, Remake Learning has rethought what it is doing seven or eight times either in one or two day retreats, or longer-term strategies involving its members.

“We’ve worked with a local human-centred design studio… to constantly make sure that the work of Remake Learning is fresh, relevant and meaningful. The common threads from 2006 and 2007 remain, but the work is constantly iterating.”

Balancing distributed leadership with a formal support structure

The Remake Learning network is designed to encourage and support multiple points of leadership, from educational service agencies, school districts, museums and libraries. But a level of structure is needed to make sure the network activities run smoothly and have a rhythm to them. More formal support structures have been put in place, including a Remake Learning Council made up of superintendents, museum and library leaders as well as C-suite industry representatives, which plays a key strategic advisory role.

“Multiple leaders is important, but so is community organisation and mobilisation. We often say, someone’s got to pick up the phone when it rings.”

Making lots of little bets

Remake Learning and it’s philanthropic community have made lots of little bets throughout the 12 years – providing relatively small grants to members of the network. This approach was a strategic response to a clear appetite across different types of schools and organisations for experimentation: to tinker, to try things out and to forge new partnerships. This grant-giving practice has continued to this day. It’s a way of energising the membership and supporting people to innovate.

“Just this last year, we made grants available to the Remake Learning network in amounts of $2500 and $7500 – not huge sums of money. There were 200 applicants for what were about 65 grants awarded – $400,000 distributed.”

“I can turn to very discrete examples in local school districts, libraries, museums, of the change they have seen in their own setting. There’s so many layers to these relationships that just weren’t part of the norm 12 years ago that are entirely normal now. ”

Taking change wider

Interdisciplinary from the very beginning

Remake Learning has been interdisciplinary throughout – from the first informal pancake breakfast, right through to their recently created Remake Learning Council.

“I’ve read subsequently about innovation that when you get, not competitive, but complementary people together, it allows people to bring their guard down a bit, talk creatively and to find some creative connections.”

Patience

Remake Learning has embarked on generation-defining work over a prolonged period of time. It has required the constant employment of patience from partners and beneficiaries of the work.

“We’re fortunate enough that trustees here at the Grable Foundation and other private foundations and charitable organisations in our region, but also the school boards and the museum library boards and others, have shown the patient application of generational work.”

Embed equity in innovation and really name it

Gregg reflects on how Remake Learning have had to get better at designing for equity. His advice is if equity is your focus, don’t just say you’re committed to it, name it and own it. Whatever you define, be sure to integrate it with innovation. They shouldn’t be seen as separate, unrelated things.

“it’s not enough to just say that we’re committed to equity, because anyone could say that. You really have to name it. For us, equity means learners of colour, learners of poverty, girls in STEM, rural learners, learners with exceptionalities.”

The impact of change

System Impact

  • The Remake Learning network consists of more than 500 organizations in the region, including 137 school districts.
  • Remake Learning has trained over 5,300 educators (formal and non-formal) in innovative teaching methods, and has granted $70 million (USD) philanthropic support to local learning innovation.
  • More than 900 educators representing 100 districts and providers have participated in summer innovation intensives since 2013.
  • More than 170 makerspaces have been established in the region.
  • Participation by youth in out-of-school programming across Allegheny County – a leading locality in the Pittsburgh region – is ten percentage points higher than the national average.

Learner Impact

  • “The Elizabeth Ford School District – where 50% of the students in that school district qualify for a free or reduced school lunch – over the past 5 or 6 years has seen:
    – their dropout rates shrink from 25-30 kids a year, to now 0 or 1.
    – their achievement in math scores and reading scores increase by about 5-7%.
    – The rate of families opting for Charter Schools rather than their traditional public schools dropping by two thirds.

dropout rates shrink from 25-30 kids a year, to now 0 or 1

Tools and resources

Learning Sciences research at Carnegie Mellon University.

The MacArthur Foundation and their investments in digital media and learning.

Conferences like South-by-South-East [SXSW] EDU in Austin Texas, Sandbox Summit at MIT, Mozilla Festival in London as platforms for being exposed to new ideas.

KnowledgeWorks forecasts.

Ted Dintersmith and Most Likely To Succeed.

Linda Darling-Hammond the Learning Policy Institute at Stanford University.