January 18, 2019 | By Nick Schiner
In July 2018, representatives from 10 Pittsburgh-area schools excitedly gathered with the goal of growing maker learning opportunities as the Southwest Pennsylvania Maker Learning Leadership Cohort. Selected from dozens of Pittsburgh-area schools, this network of educators learns from and supports one another as they work to create equitable maker learning opportunities for their students.
Through a combination of formal meetings and informal, asynchronous communication facilitated by Digital Promise staff, these 30 educators and administrators collaboratively tap into the Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership Framework to drive positive change in everything from budgeting to lesson and assessment planning.
“Being a part of this cohort has not only acted as a catalyst for change in the classroom, but it has also helped school leaders to create a vision and prioritize efforts to maximize effectiveness of a maker learning program,” says Emily Sanders, director of assessment, data, and technology for the New Castle Area School District. “We have been able to forge new partnerships with local school districts and community organizations… expos[ing] our students and staff to new learning opportunities and connections that we otherwise wouldn’t have made.”
Each cohort team uses the Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership Maturity Matrix to take stock of and guide their work, identifying areas of strength that can be shared with other cohort members, as well as growth opportunities upon which they focus their collective efforts.
Stan Whiteman, principal of Duquesne Elementary School, believes the cohort experience and Maker Learning Leadership Framework tools help to “[identify] gaps in which we can strengthen opportunities for students.” By setting purposeful goals measured by meaningful metrics, each school-based team roadmaps their journey to drive change in at least one focus area. During November and December 2018, Digital Promise staff made site visits to support each cohort team in their respective maker learning journeys. The structure of the visits, ranging from check-ins to working directly with school-based educators, were dictated by the cohort teams in order to best meet their needs.
“We have felt the impact of the cohort in every classroom in our building,” shared Carrie Morgan-Davis, assistant principal of Butler Intermediate High School. “After some initial staff development about ‘What is Maker Learning?’ our teachers have eagerly sought the resources, ideas, and collaboration to try it out.”
This growth was keenly obvious during Butler’s scheduled site visit. With access to a makerspace in the library (and plans to potentially move it to a larger dedicated space), core content classes infusing making, and electives dedicated to different maker outputs, Butler students have access to a wide range of maker learning experiences. “Parent have voiced that after [students experience] maker-designed lessons, [they] have been more excited about coming to school,” said Morgan-Davis.
This February, cohort members will again come together in-person for their Winter Convening. This Convening will be an opportunity to work, plan, and create solutions that move the maker learning needle in their respective buildings.
“Collaborating with educators from various districts can be difficult to achieve throughout the school year,” expressed Samantha Utley, Duquesne Elementary School’s instructional coach and dean of students. “As part of the cohort, it is both a celebrated and encouraged opportunity to share ideas, facilitate meaningful conversations, and develop best practices that schools can utilize to create equitable and successful environments for staff and students.”
Want to know more about creating impactful maker learning programs for your students?
Find valuable resources, including decision-making tools and powerful case studies, within the Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership Framework.
By Ellen Falk