Monday, November 24, 2014

Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit

Do you believe that learning can happen anywhere? I hope your answer is, yes! Do you know what your students are learning out-of-school? If so, do you change what you are doing in your classroom or at your school because of this?

How might we capture, share and validate the knowledge, skills and dispositions that students learn before, during and after school? 

A traditional high school transcript doesn't show the workshops a student takes every weekend at the art museum or that she runs an after-school robotics club for younger girls. It doesn't show the classes she takes at TechShop Pittsburgh or the new start-up company she founded. Are teachers cultivating and expanding the skills students are gaining outside of school? My guess is oftentimes no... not because teachers don't want to, but because they don't know or don't have a structure in place at school to support this type of approach. Students are learning a wealth of knowledge, gaining competency and mastery beyond school walls. How do we connect these experiences and leverage these skills and dispositions in-school? Imagine letting students craft their own electives through out-of-school experiences and leveraging the power of digital badges to recognize learning. Can you imagine attaching digital badges a student has earned to a transcript that may be sent off to college or used for a student to get a job?

I am a huge fan of connected learning - the approach to learning that connects students to the community, leverages new technologies and potentially improves academic performance in-school. According to the Connected Learning AllianceConnected Learning is an educational approach designed for our ever-changing world. It makes learning relevant to all populations, to real life and real work, and to the realities of the digital age, where the demand for learning never stops.
  • Learners are the focus: Specifically, developing lifelong learners with higher-order skills.
  • We build on the basics: The basics are important, but not enough for youth to thrive in our rapidly-changing world.
  • We connect three critical spheres of learning: academics, a learner’s interests, inspiring mentors and peers.
  • We harness the advances and innovations of our connected age to serve learning: Just as earlier generations tapped the tools of their time to improve learning, we must do the same in the digital age.
  • Making, creating and producing are powerful paths to deeper learning and understanding: Connected learning asks learners to experiment, to be hands-on, and to be active and entrepreneurial in their learning, recognizing that this is what is now needed to be successful in work and in life.
I am lucky to be in Pittsburgh where last week the Sprout Fund sponsored the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit. The Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit was an impressive gathering attempting to further connected learning and using digital badges to recognize learning. At my school, we earned a grant and participated in the Pittsburgh Summer of Learning, where girls could earn knowledge, skill and disposition badges in our STEM Summer Institute, an all-girl camp for high school students. Students from The Ellis School and six other local schools earned the "water treatment tinkerer," "3D printing pro," and "passionate perseverance" badges. When the girls went back to their home schools this fall, it would have been great for their teachers to know about their new found knowledge, skills and dispositions. As a teacher, knowing more about our students open the doors to personalizing learning and engaging students. 

At the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit, close to 500 formal and informal educators and learning partners came together to discuss the design of a learning ecosystem, learning pathways and give feedback on the work that has been done so far. I was a part of the STEAM working group, designing competencies and badges a student would have to earn to be a "STEAM maven." Our working group landed upon the design of 10+ badges in this domain a student would have to earn to reach mastery. The idea is that those badges could be earned all over the city. The attendees of the Pittsburgh Learning Pathways Summit gave feedback on the first round of badge standards. 

This work holds so much potential. Every student should have the opportunity to find their pathway, or multiple pathways, excel and feel the success of accomplishing new knowledge, skills and dispositions. While the work has only just begun, it's an impressive start!

I plan to stay very close to this work because it offers so much potential to engage students, promote curiosity and create a picture of the "whole-child." The skills of the future like collaboration, computational thinking, digital editing and collaboration can't be easily showcased with the current high-stakes testing and grading systems at play in formal schools today. Schools that understand connected learning and how digital badges can play a role in student engagement, personalization of learning and promoting new learning pathways are innovative schools willing to be bold, put students first and create new systems that recognize learning that happens anywhere, anytime. 

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