This Month’s Learning Innovation: Assemble Nurtures MAKERS
“Making can be as simple as taking something apart and transforming it into something else,” Nina Barbuto, a whirlwind of energy begins. “It’s everything. It’s from knitting to wood carving to laser cutting, to 3D printing to who knows what’s next, maybe bio printing.”
Making is also the name of a movement that encourages learning through making – the making of things as simple as a meal to complex, multifunctional robots. And at Assemble, a small storefront space in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood, “making” is an everyday event for the hundreds of youngsters who attend or have attended Assemble’s many programs, camps and classes.
Nina created Assemble back in 2011 to serve as a community space for arts and technology to come together. “We are a platform for artists, makers, technologists” – and especially kids – “to come and share their expertise,” she says. “And by serving as a platform we have many events that offer experiential learning, opening up the creative processes and building confidence through making.”
The maker movement, Nina says, “is a very interesting story. I feel that we have been making all our lives as human beings, running around in the Pleistocene plains and everything else, but you could notice, after things in the digital realm have gotten more and more complex, people started to revert back to hands on.” That’s when we began to see the rise of things like handmade markets – but also kits that help you create your own robots. It was a mesh of the old and the new, and another way to meet the needs and interests of the public, but especially the youngest learners.
When MAKE magazine began, they put a name to it – ‘the Maker movement.’ Nina laughs as she recalls, “it began with a lot of white guys with glasses on” promoting this. “But the face of making has been changing dynamically through different spaces like Assemble, and things that are happening at the Children’s Museum, or things in Millvale or other places in Pittsburgh like Hack Pittsburgh and the more professional makers at TechShop,” she adds.
To reach the young Makers, Nina and her fellow Makercorp members and volunteers run programs nearly every day. They vary widely – on one day, kids can learn complex computer languages; on another, they’re making, sending and receiving pictures and artwork from their young peers in Haiti. At the regular Saturday Crafternoons, kids can make a new “species” of animals with recycled fibers and with help from a local crafter, or ‘make’ seed balls for a garden with a community activist. The activities are as varied as making itself – but in the creation of these fun projects, a lot of learning is going on.
Take, for example, the day we visited the kids at summer camp. They were learning to make “Gack,” a combination of glue, Borax and water. It looked like a mess until, suddenly, the ingredients gelled and small hands were creating balls and other bounceable objects. Makercorp member Anna Failla laughed along with the kids, but then began explaining the science behind the making. “Everything is made of molecules and we’re going to be talking about polymers and monomers,” she said. “If you guys were monomers you could form chains with your arms, but you’re full of Gack so I don’t think you want to touch each other right now!”
Anna, a local college student, spent most of her summer teaching the kids art and technology at Assemble. She finds making “inspirational. It gets your creative juices flowing. It’s a way for you to combine what’s going on in your head and what’s going on with your hands. And then you get a product. You get something right away so there’s an immediate reward. The kids go home every day with three or four projects. And that’s really great because it shows them that they can do these things,” Anna says.
“Making is a way for you to learn by doing. And you get to work through the creative process on your own. At Assemble we give the children steps and then they get to experiment. So making isn’t just a set of instructions. That’s the first part of the process. But the second part,” Anna continues, “is going through these iterations and starting to think of things in terms of a continuum. So they’re allowed to keep doing more iterations and experimenting on their own. They get to think on their own and understand things by themselves.”
Making is great. “It’s fun because it allows you to get dirty,” Anna smiles. “Making allows you to do something you wouldn’t normally do in a classroom setting. In a class, someone gives you instructions and you follow them, but through the process of ‘making’ kids get to explore on their own. And you get to become your own teacher.”
And you learn that you sometimes fail – which helps you “make” even more. “There’s many things to learn from making, especially how you’ve broken something,” laughs Nina. “Failure is a great thing to learn from making. The whole idea behind making is changing what is to something that could be. Nothing is ever perfect.”
Making is “extremely important for everyone, but especially young kids because it helps them to realize that the world that they see around them doesn’t have to be that way. And they can change the rules the same way we change bits and bytes in the computer, to particles of the physical things we work with. I hope that by building confidence through making, they will find their own agency, not only in themselves but in their community and abroad.”
Want to get your hands dirty? Visit Assemble and come make your own things!
AIU, Leadership Pittsburgh Honor 7 ‘Unboxed’ Teachers
Seven area classroom teachers have been named as “Unboxed Teachers” by The Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. Nominated by their superintendents, the teachers embody the principles of unboxed learning and consider learning in the broadest sense of the word.
These winners were nominated because they seek new ways to engage their students’ imaginations. Among their teaching methods: gamification, flipped learning, authentic assessing and discovery.
These teachers are changing public education in southwestern Pennsylvania by helping students become the drivers and masters of their own learning, according to Dr. Linda Hippert, executive director of the AIU.
“We know that in the classroom our teachers are making a positive difference in the lives of children. The innovation and creativity is contagious,” she said.
Winners will attend Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.’s Unboxed Edges of Learning Conference at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort Nov. 14-15, an invitation-only event for Pittsburgh’s changemakers from businesses, foundations and academic organizations. Winners will also submit proposals for potential funding and present the results of their learning.
The winners are: Melissa Cwynar of Avonworth School District; Mary Wilson of Elizabeth Forward School District; Tina Raspanti of Mt. Lebanon School District; Karen Kircher of Northgate School District; Alan Welding of Chartiers Valley School District; Veneashea Davis of Woodland Hills School District and Melissa Drake of South Fayette School District.
WQED In Media Consortium to Spotlight Remake Learning
WQED Multimedia and our media partners, 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh Magazine and NEXTpittsburgh have been focusing on learning innovations for the past year. This year, we’re doing it again, under the banner “Remake Learning.” We will continue to focus on everything from innovations in Early Childhood learning to computer science, STEAM and robotics.
This is the first time we can recall that four media outlets are working together to focus on the wonderful innovations happening in our area. We have it covered – TV, radio, magazine and the web – and will spotlight Pittsburgh educators and community leaders who have helped make this area a flagship in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.
Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, Remake Learning focuses on the Pittsburgh region's need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics, finding the motivation and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.
Spread The News
Do you have a story of learning innovation? A program, teacher or parent who is making a difference? Tell us about it and we'll share it on our Remake Learning webpage. Submit stories and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org!
At Propel McKeesport, 8th grade science instructor Lori Mascara uses Pasco resources to bring science to life in a revamped STEM focus. Students collect and analyze real-time data with equipment used in universities.
The Remake Learning Digital Corps is helping young people like this Carrick student learn new digital literacy skills like coding, programming and basic robotics.
This summer, students served as interns at The Heinz Endowments. They worked with Saturday Light Brigade Radio to create radio features focusing on community issues as part of the Green Compass program. (SLB Radio photo.)
The Allegheny Intermediate Unit3 recently held its first STEAM showcase, with 25 grant recipients demonstrating their innovations. These East Allegheny School District students spent a year creating a virtual city.
Another AIU3 grant recipient was McKeesport Area School District. They brought a SMALLab to the elementary school, where these students have fun while learning math concepts.
Preparing a group of educators for the taping of the next iQSmartparent – focusing on digital badges -- is WQED’s Director of Education Jennifer Stancil, WQED's Executive Director of Educational Partnerships.
Environmental Charter Schools at Frick Park brings these artists from Assemble to the school each week to work on STEAM art projects.
Environmental Charter Schools has a special room where even the teachers get to explore – The Thinking Lab. These two educators are trying out new techniques to use in the classroom.