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This Month’s Learning Innovation: EFMS’s Dream Factory

For the 550 students at Elizabeth Forward Middle School in Elizabeth, PA, going to school is really a “dream.” That’s because all sixth, seventh and eighth graders are taking classes at the newly opened “Dream Factory.”

Entering the “Innovation Hallway” of the classrooms that comprise the Dream Factory, you can’t help but be inspired. Lining the walls are photos and quotes from great innovators and inventors. And though their stories are moving, what happens inside these classrooms is even more amazing. What the administrators and educators at Elizabeth Forward have done is take traditional classes like computer science, art and technology education and brought them into the 21st century in a big way.

In the computer science area, students learn basic programming, but are also now bringing games they designed to life. They study robotics and automation, create high tech videos and sound tracks, and use 3-D printers to produce some of the amazing projects they create in class.

In the Dream Factory’s Visual Arts area, students learn traditional art techniques and skills, but now use high tech programs like 123 Design, Adobe Photoshop, Pic-Collage and Animation Express, and a 3D printer, to take their two-dimensional projects and make them three dimensional.

And in Technology Education, students study the fundamentals of manufacturing, working with materials like wood, sheet metal and plastic, but now add CNC routers, 3D printers and a laser engraver to their repertoire of tools.

Dr. Bart Rocco, superintendent of Elizabeth Forward School District, is excited about all the Dream Factory offers. “Giving children the opportunity to build an create using these technologies is another way we measure student success.

“I’m very concerned,” he adds, “as our country evolves, we’re losing some of these creative and unique people that can build and create and design, to other countries. And I think we have a charge to provide opportunities for children in our world to learn these technologies. That’s why this is important to us.” One of his hopes is that the Dream Factory will also help prepare the students to enter the work force of the future.

According to Dr. Rocco, there’s no middle school in the country that he knows of that has this kind of curriculum in place, “where children are getting an integration of these different areas, with these different technologies.” He wants to share this with other educators, to help them create these types of spaces.

Dr. Rocco’s goals for the students? “We want them to understand that working together, collaboration, is critical for success. We want them to know they can create anything that they want and build it. And there’s also trial and error. We want them to understand that in creative design and creating there’s going to be failure. Failure is part of the learning process. And finally, there’s a product that they can create and then maybe, in some way, help the world in which they live in.”

The Dream Factory was funded in part by the Grable Foundation, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Benedum Foundation and the Sprout Fund and was created with help from CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center.

According to Dr. Rocco, the Dream Factory is “changing the culture of the school.” Students are creative, they’re working together, and they’re happy to come to Elizabeth Forward Middle School.

Elizabeth Forward School District

Media Partners Spotlight New Learning Initiatives

Sharing Success Stories of People and Projects

Four of Pittsburgh’s leading media organizations -- WQED Multimedia, PopCity, 90.5 WESA and Pittsburgh Magazine have joined forces on a 12-month initiative dubbed “Spotlight on Learning Innovation.” Made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation, the precedent-setting multimedia project will focus on Pittsburgh’s leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times.

Learning Innovation focuses on the Pittsburgh region’s need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.

Look for new stories, videos and content every month, on WQED-TV, iQ Kids Radio, and on WQED Interactive, and visit our partners at:
POP City Media
Pittsburgh Magazine

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