Interest-Driven Learning from Pittsburgh
For me, one of the greatest joys of teaching is the chance to learn from other educators: the opportunity to peek under the hood at all the moving parts behind a dynamite lesson plan, a thriving classroom, an effective teacher. When I started teaching history, my more-experienced colleagues were my greatest resources. They recommended discussion questions for starting class, activities for getting my students engaged, and multimedia resources that I never would have found on my own.
When I moved to Pittsburgh, I saw some especially effective educators in action through my work on the community building team at The Sprout Fund. From 2011 to 2017, Sprout served as the steward of the Remake Learning Network, a network of thousands of educators and innovators working to make the Pittsburgh region an extraordinary place for learning — both for kids and for their teachers. Networks make it possible for teachers to connect more effectively than ever: learning innovation networks like Hive in New York City and Chicago and Remake Learning in Pittsburgh have been especially effective in helping educators collaborate to design and test remarkable learning practices both in schools and in out-of-school-time environments.
With the generous support of funders like the MacArthur Foundation and the Grable Foundation, dozens of collaborative Remake Learning Network projects imbued with connected learning practices have been developed over the years. A recent report celebrating the Network’s 10th year explores the impact of the people, projects, and organizations that have helped transform education in the region over the last decade. It’s notable that many Network members’ most effective, transformative educational programs are deeply rooted in interest-powered, academically oriented, and peer-supported connected learning practices.
We’re excited to launch a new collection of resources that exemplify some of the best connected learning practices that have been developed in Pittsburgh over the last several years. Late last year, The Sprout Fund invited 10 Remake Learning Network organizations to develop new lesson plans inspired by their previously supported connected learning programs.
These 10 projects come from 10 remarkably varied sources: three were created by public school teachers and the other seven were developed in informal learning settings, including a public library, museums, a YMCA branch, and a community makerspace. Each project is interdisciplinary: major themes include ecology, sustainability, and visual arts, but these lessons delve into intersections between art, technology, science, history, and more. There’s even content that addresses social emotional learning skills, like self-reflection activities that help students effectively transition from high school to college. Some of these lesson plans are for activities lasting an hour or a few class periods; others are intended as major projects that can unfold over several weeks or an entire school year.
What’s most remarkable about this collection is that we’re not just showing you what happened here. Instead, these lesson plans were designed so you can remix and reuse them yourself. These 10 organizations reimagined their existing connected learning programs to create new lesson plans that can be used by any educator, anywhere.
We hope that these materials help share and spread the remarkable learning practices happening here in Pittsburgh with educators everywhere. We hope these lesson plans become starting points for other teachers to adapt, remix, and reframe connected learning practices in their own classrooms. I invite you to explore these resources on the National Writing Project’s Educator Innovator website, where you can find lesson plans and a wealth of similar resources created by other teachers steeped in connected learning practices. You can also view an episode of Connected Learning TV featuring these materials on the Educator Innovator website.
Image courtesy Ben Filio for The Sprout Fund.