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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:
WESA
POP City Media
Pittsburgh Magazine

Educators Dive Into Deeper Learning at TRETC

Over 400 educators met to discuss the Deeper Learning movement at the recent Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference, “Diving In To Deeper Learning,” held in Mars, PA. Over two days they heard from top ed-tech innovators, including Tom Vander Ark, well known author and CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy firm, as well as noted area educators.

Vander Ark is also a partner in an educational venture capital firm that invests in EdTech startups, was president of the X Prize Foundation, and first executive director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Other featured speakers included Daniel Harrold, an English teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist currently teaching junior and senior English at Baldwin High School, located in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District; Jana Baxter, Instructional Media Services Coordinator for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead, PA, and Zee Ann Poerio, K-8 Computer teacher and advisor for the Student Technology Team at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School in Pittsburgh.

Breakout sessions were led by area educators on everything from building 21st Century skills in a one to one teaching environment and “Teaching Science with Minecraft” to Blogging as Reflection/Portfolio. In one classroom teachers were learning to create “Squishy” circuits to teach basic electricity to pre-schoolers; in another, educators played well-known card games and created completely new ones.

TRETC is the premier K-16 educational technology conference in Western Pennsylvania. It is a joint conference run by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, local education leaders and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

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 learning@wqed.org!

Photos



Emmai Alaquiva, noted area educator, emceed the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, hosted by the Digital Badge Lab at The Sprout Fund. The program explored digital badges and included opportunities to explore out-of-school learning experiences.



Liz Whitewolf, a robotics educator and project manager at Propel Braddock Hills High School, explains the nuances of digital badges at the recent Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit.



math iQ is using innovative approaches to teach math to kids in grades preK-3, with a focus on kids in low-income areas. It is a project of iQ: smartmedia, the educational initiative of WQED Multimedia.



A recent edcampPGH featured discussions and hands-on sessions for local educators. Here’s the schedule from a recent edCamp, held at Propel Braddock Hills High School. (Norton Gusky photo.)



In a special program aimed at female students, the Elizabeth Forward Middle School girls are working with the Arts and Bots program from the Create Lab at CMU. All sixth and seventh graders learn robotics at EFMS’s Dream Factory.



Dr. Lisa Palmieri from The Ellis School shares ideas with other educators at an edTech PGH meet-up.



Springdale Senior High School 10th graders Matt Kern, left, and Cameron Pribulsky flank Sue Mellon, gifted support coordinator for the Allegheny Valley School District. Sue developed a unique program that combines robotics and poetry, and Matt and Cameron helped produce the prototype.



Seneca Valley High School students recently participated in an engineering/robotics challenge sponsored by Penn State Electro-Optics Center. SV had two air and sea teams and one land team; this is the sea team creation.



LaKiesha George, principal of Propel Hazelwood, stands next to the mobile sculpture created by The Mobile Sculpture Workshop and students from Propel Hazelwood. This beautiful piece of public art was created by teen apprentices who worked with the 12-week Mobile Sculpture Workshop program.



Educators learn to make Squishy Circuits at the recently held Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference. The circuits teach basic electricity to the youngest students.

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  • Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black
    The poignant story unfolds as we explore Black’s lost art career, seek out elderly veterans who encountered Miss Black on the battlefield, and present to amazed and appreciative families portraits that never arrived.
  • Classical Crossroads
    Where classical music crosses paths with rock and roll, world music, folk music and jazz. Listen to interviews with people who make good music here.

featured specials

  • Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black
    The poignant story unfolds as we explore Black’s lost art career, seek out elderly veterans who encountered Miss Black on the battlefield, and present to amazed and appreciative families portraits that never arrived.
  • Classical Crossroads
    Where classical music crosses paths with rock and roll, world music, folk music and jazz. Listen to interviews with people who make good music here.

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