MakeSHOP at Remake Learning Days. Photo by Anthony Musmanno.

By Gregg Behr, co-chair of the Remake Learning Council, and Ryan Rydzewski of the Grable Foundation

As a species and a society, we’re hurtling toward an era for which we have no reference point — toward a time remarkably unlike our own.

From the way our cities work to the way our brains develop, everything about the world as we know it stands to be revised, redefined and remade. What seems impossible today can be prototyped in a year, common in five and ubiquitous in ten.

Consider, for example, the iPhone.

Introduced in 2007, the device jumpstarted the era of constant connectivity, allowing users to work from anywhere. It changed the way we communicate through photos and social media. It changed the way we play, putting movies and music in our pockets. And it changed the way we interact — or don’t interact — with the world: Sales of chewing gum, for instance, dropped by double-digits as supermarket shoppers got lost in their phones instead of the aisles around them.

Today, technology continues to advance at an unprecedented rate, changing society in rapid, unpredictable ways. It’s even changing us, writes neuroscientist Gary Small: Research shows that “Modern kids’ brains — brains that have been steeped in digital media since infancy — are actually evolving differently than other brains.”

Clearly, this calls for a new approach to learning.

Since the 1900s, we’ve asked learners to master discrete chunks of knowledge and skills — the “standards” in standardized testing. In a time when efficiency and repetition were valued above all and even the most basic knowledge and skills could land someone a lifelong job on the assembly line, this worked well enough for millions of people.

But the system’s glaring inequities were built in from the very beginning — inequities that have only widened as the world leaves our approach to learning, and our learners, behind. Here in Pittsburgh, only 19 percent of eighth graders demonstrate math proficiency, with more than half scoring in the lowest possible category. In our highly segregated school system, only two out of three Black students graduate from high school. Worldwide, students in the United States now perform at or below the world’s average for developed countries.

These statistics have prompted urgent and admirable calls to raise standardized test scores. But they miss a larger point: If we double down on student achievement as it’s currently defined, we risk pressuring schools — especially underperforming schools — to catch up instead of innovate. Tomorrow’s graduates won’t assemble cars; they’ll design the computers that drive them. They’ll be tasked with tackling climate change and global hunger. They’ll be required to think critically, solve complex problems, and collaborate and communicate across cultures. How do we prepare learners to meet these modern demands?

Here in Pittsburgh, that effort is well underway. For 10 years, Remake Learning has worked to ignite engaging, relevant and equitable learning opportunities for every student — opportunities that leverage technology, art and the learning sciences to upend the factory model paradigm. We believe that to truly prepare learners for the future, we need to equip them not only with deep content knowledge and high-tech tools, but also the skills and creativity to adapt to and thrive amid dramatic advances in technology.

Our members include more than 250 schools, universities, libraries, startups, nonprofits, museums, and others. Together, we’re turning the region itself into a kind of campus — a place where learners can pursue their passions by leveraging our network’s people and program. On any given day, kids can access several learning pathways based on his or her interests. A learner interested in making and technology, for example, can get help from the MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, or drop in on The Labs at the Carnegie Library to experiment with robotics. That, in turn, may lead her to Tech Warriors, an after-school program at the Neighborhood Learning Alliance; or Girls of Steel, a competitive robotics team for teenage girls based at Carnegie Mellon University.

Whether learners pursue science, technology, the arts or something else entirely, Remake Learning works to help them chart a path through tomorrow’s uncertainties. That’s why it’s common, now, to see kids flying drones in local classrooms, or recording music at a YMCA. That’s why it’s typical to see educators teaching alongside gamers and designers, and to see learning scientists planning summer camps with artists and museum curators. There’s no other place in America yet doing collectively what our partners do: remake learning together, in all the places a child might learn.

The world is taking notice. From Forbes Magazine to the World Economic Forum, “As the reputation of Remake Learning spreads, communities around the globe are looking to western Pennsylvania for ideas and inspiration,” writes author Suzie Boss.

And why not? In many ways, our region’s rise, fall and resurgence reflects — and maybe even anticipates — the world’s changes and challenges. We’ve had to design new futures and put ourselves back to work. As the world changed, Pittsburgh changed with it: from a manufacturing hotbed, to a hub for research and technology, to the frontier of robotics and artificial intelligence. We’ve gone from boomtown to Rust Belt and we’re fighting our way back, remaking our region and reinventing ourselves along the way.

A scene from Remake Learning Days, courtesy Remake Learning.

Now, as Remake Learning celebrates its 10th anniversary, we’re looking to the decade ahead. We’re striving to grow our movement by lifting up the voice of every learner, especially those who’ve been forgotten or pushed aside. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but also mindful of the challenges to come: Systemic inequities still plague greater Pittsburgh, with legions of learners left out of the opportunities created by robotics, health care and the other fields for which our region is now known.

We’re working toward a Pittsburgh that treats everyone as a neighbor, where every child feels loved and ready to learn, and where no one is “useless” or “unemployable” or “adrift.” To us, remaking learning is about more than building a workforce — it’s about raising creative, curious, caring citizens. It’s about building stronger, more inclusive communities; a more robust, equitable region; and a more loving, compassionate world. We believe that by working together, we can help all learners reach their potential, whether that means curing cancer, cleaning an ocean or finding better ways to care for the sick, sidelined, lonely and poor.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is,” wrote Fred Rogers, creator of the iconic children’s program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Each of us has something that no one else has, or ever will have — something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

This is, after all, the true purpose of learning — and why we work to remake it.

Remake Learning celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a free pancake breakfast at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on Thursday, September 14. Click here for event details and registration.

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