In a 2009 speech at the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama called for an all-hands-on-deck effort to “encourage young people to create and build and invent – to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.” Since then, communities, organizations, companies, and grassroots leaders across the country have stepped up to encourage and empower people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved in making.
One of the organizations that has responded to the President’s call to action is the Remake Learning Network, a collaboration of more than 200 organizations in the Pittsburgh region working together to inspire a generation of lifelong learners. Since 2011, The Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh nonprofit organization, has been stewarding the Remake Learning Network by mobilizing local educators and innovators to respond to pressing challenges in their communities, and providing catalytic funding to support innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Thanks to the work of the Network and its members, young people in the region have the opportunity to make their own films, learn to code, build robots, and become “citizen scientists.”
During the National Week of Making, I had a chance to catch up with Cathy Lewis Long, the founding Executive Director of The Sprout Fund, which stewards the Network.
What inspired you to get involved with the Remake Learning Network?
Almost a decade ago, before the inception of the Network, our region’s educators told us that technology was disrupting communication between teachers and students.
The need to facilitate effective communication in classrooms presented an opportunity for innovative people in the Pittsburgh region—from teachers and youth workers to gamers and roboticists—to work together to use technology in a creative way to foster productive, transparent, and effective dialogues between teachers and students.
What is the relationship between the President’s call to action and the work you’re doing in Pittsburgh?
More than anything, creating and implementing projects can have a profound effect on children’s mindsets, empowering them to shape the world around them. Giving more students the opportunity to engage in hands-on projects linked to real-world problems and solutions can have a number of benefits. It can:
How has the Network changed the landscape in Pittsburgh? How do parents and children benefit?
We’ve seen a number of benefits from our efforts to build a regional learning innovation network. The Remake Learning Network has:
Eventually, many disruptive innovations at the edges of our region’s learning landscape began to infuse and transform traditional in- and out-of-school learning environments. Parents have benefited from more high-quality learning opportunities because these opportunities enhance their children’s communication skills. Effective communication enables parents to take leadership in supporting their children’s studies and innovative pursuits. Students have benefited from having a richer set of educational environments that increase their interest in learning and provide them real-world skills.
What advice would you give to someone interested in building a learning innovation ecosystem in their community?
Check out the Remake Learning Playbook! In the spirit of open innovation and upholding America’s legacy of ingenuity, The Remake Learning Playbook functions as a field guide full of ideas and resources for supporting learning innovation networks.
The goal of our Playbook is to document the processes and outcomes of the Remake Learning Network’s innovation work to inspire people around the country to remake learning in their towns.
We will release new content, features and functionality throughout the summer and fall.
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.