The Ellis School gets calls from all over the country (and just last month from Canada) from K-12 educators seeking help in teaching girls most effectively, says spokesperson Kitty Julian. Now this K-12 girls’ school in Shadyside will be the spot for local teachers looking for training and fresh ideas.

Ellis has launched the Learning Innovation Institute (LII) with the aim of “redefining” girls’ education, Julian says. It will offer educators professional development in such classroom innovations as the flipped classroom (where what’s normally a homework assignment becomes an in-class exercise and lectures become the homework) and other new teaching methods, particularly involving active, hands-on learning.

One of LII’s first programs this fall will be the selection of Innovation Fellows—teachers who will work with Ellis faculty to generate and test new ideas for class assignments, projects and activities and present their ideas at regional and national conferences. They will be “our ambassadors throughout the region,” says LII head Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Ellis’ director of technology and innovation, since these teachers will help to spread the word about classroom innovations throughout local schools.

The LII will also:

  • Conduct research, particularly on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, because STEM subjects lead to careers in which women are currently underrepresented;
  • Hold public programs and bring in speakers;
  • Host learning innovation conferences similar to Ellis’ previous EdcampPGH; and
  • Organize more collaborative educational partnerships in the region.

Ellis is the best place for the LII, says Abel-Palmieri. Recently, Stanford University’s K-12 Lab named Ellis one of its first 50 schools with exemplary K-12 design-thinking programs. Abel-Palmieri was also invited to Stanford to help their lab develop new educational materials. An Edward E. Ford Foundation grant for The Active Classroom For Girls recently helped Ellis create a new classroom space and science curricula, and a Hive grant from The Sprout Fund will launch “tinker squads” this fall, bringing design thinking and the maker movement to middle-school girls at several sites in the city.

Abel-Palmieri’s own blog, Excellence and Innovation, has 20,000 monthly readers, and she holds a weekly design-thinking Twitter chat under the hashtag #dtk12chat.

LII will also form a Council on Innovation, she says, “to create a vibrant national network of leaders focused on learning innovation inside and outside of the classroom.” Citing the work of Remake Learning, the Kids+Creativity Network’s effort to bring together all local groups and individuals involved with learning innovation, she says LII “really is an institute supporting the awesome things happening in Pittsburgh.”

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.