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.
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.
Avonworth Middle School is a “School to Watch”
Avonworth Middle School has been redesignated for a second time as a "Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools: School to Watch." The Middle School was first designated as a School to Watch in 2009 and received its first re-designation in 2012. The Schools to Watch program recognizes schools achieving academic excellence, based on criteria established by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.
Middle School principal Mike Hall acknowledged, “We are thrilled to receive our second redesignation as a Schools to Watch school. The entire STW process pushes us to continually look for ways to improve while keeping the developmental needs of middle school students a top priority.”
Middle school administrators and staff members were recognized at the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education State Conference in February. A recognition celebration will also be held at the school this spring, and in June the middle school will be recognized at the National Schools to Watch Conference. Avonworth Middle School is one of only seven schools in Pennsylvania to be re-designated twice.
A robotics project at Ellis School combined art and technology.
Participating in a design challenge are these Avonworth High School students. Photo by Norton Gusky.
Demond Briston and A'mon Rice participate in SLB Radio's 2014 Crossing Fences program at The Kingsley Association in East Liberty. Photograph courtesy SLB Radio Productions, Inc.
Participating in the recent Future Cities Competition were these Propel students.
WQED Cameraman Walt Francis photographs these YMCA Lighthouse students as they make beautiful music – digitally.
Ellis students respond to a recent “Design Challenge.” Norton Gusky photo.
McKeesport Propel students love science!
Sekou Brown, Damani Brown and Ross Tedder hold their published books at the celebration party for Crossing Fences: East Liberty Voices at The Kingsley Association. Photograph courtesy SLB Radio Productions, Inc.