The Atlantic writer Deborah Fallows learned a little something herself after sitting in on Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5’s classes, an elementary school on the city’s North Side.

The students there (and those who observe them) are being introduced to a whole new type of classroom thanks to Jeremy Boyle, Melissa Butler, and the Children’s Innovation Project.

Fallows writes that the project was born out of Boyle (resident artist at CMU’s CREATE Lab) and Butler’s (a veteran Pittsburgh preschool teacher) desire to see young students exposed to an environment that challenged them both mentally and socially– an environment they specifically call an “innovation circle.”

“The mission is to set elementary-school age children in a public school “on a pathway” toward a fluency and ease with technology,” Fallows writes. “They focused on the vehicle of electricity and circuits, which would start very simply and grow in complexity with the children.”

Boyle, more experienced with electronics, designed the tools the students would use: mostly wires, blocks, and “accessories.” Butler used her experience in the public school system to design a graduated curriculum that took students from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade.

Within these classes, Fallows says, the students are expected to uphold a standard of precision and maturity. Each tool or accessory has a name that the children must remember and use fluently within their process. Fallows calls this a necessity “to build habits of exploring, questioning, disciplined thinking, and persistence.”

Once this protocol is understood, it’s up to the students what they create. There are few, if any, limitations to their creativity and curiosity.

Fallows also attended a convention on the day she visited Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5. While the convention was full of educators from across the country, the real stars were the Innovation Project’s fourth graders, who were there to do a little teaching.


Fallows watched the young students interact with the educators in attendance, explaining how their innovation program worked by recreating smaller versions of their classes, only with the students doing the instructing.

“The kids were masters. They let the teachers know it was OK to struggle. The student-teachers never said “no” to a wrong answer the teachers asked, but instead casually disengaged from the scene so that the teachers would collaborate with each other. Watching the maturity and presence of the fourth graders, and seeing how far they had moved along since being kindergartners was impressive—actually, nearly uncanny,” says Fallows.

While Fallows reflects on the real-world implications of such an education, she focuses on the sense of empowerment the students seem to receive from knowing of their own novelty.

“They have been taught to call themselves explorers and innovators. It seems to me that this is a very powerful and wonderful way to think of yourself when you’re in elementary school, and something that might even boost your sense of self and of possibility.We call ourselves many things; why not choose something very positive to describe being a student in school, and maybe later, a grown up in a complex life.”

Read the full article here.

Rebekah Zook is a Duquesne grad and all-around story-telling enthusiast. A former fellow at WESA, she worked as a production assistant for their daily talk show. Most recently, she taught in the Propel Charter School system as a visiting artist. When she isn’t writing, Rebekah is a trip leader for the local non-profit organization Venture Outdoors. You can usually find her in a bright yellow kayak.