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From Makeshop to Assemble: the maker movement in education

Deb Smit
October07/ 2014

Making is more than just about dreaming up new ideas and physically making them materialize before your eyes. Making instills a spirit of independence and nurtures the creative spirit–and it’s become a huge movement here in Pittsburgh and across the country.

Four media partners in Pittsburgh—NEXTpittsburgh, WQED Multimedia, 90.5 WESA and Pittsburgh Magazine—have been reporting on learning innovation initiatives in the region for the past year. They call it Remake Learning.  Together they are shining a spotlight on everything from innovation in early childhood learning to making, STEAM and robotics.

The following stories feature initiatives and outstanding school programs that are giving students the skills to make and create products and technologies on their own.

Community Lawns turns vacant lots into playgrounds

Community Lawns is a big idea that started out small, a way for entrepreneurs in East Liberty to give back to the community where they work. As the seeds were sown, the idea grew into a workforce initiative for teens in underserved neighborhoods in the city, giving them six weeks to explore the world of making. At the same time, vacant lots are cleaned up and turned into places to play. The teens supply the games, made at Tech Shop, and learn to think like an entrepreneurs by spending time at AlphaLab Gear.

Children’s Museum’s MAKESHOP

The making movement in early education is all about learning and embracing both old and new technologies. The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has embarked on a program to accomplish just that. MAKESHOP is a large, colorful space on the Museum’s first floor that is dedicated solely to making things. It has succeeded in becoming an active place of play where children are learning to create everything from electrical circuits to animated cartoons, art from recycled materials and sewed creations. (It’s popular with adults, too!)

Assemble nurtures makers

“Making can be as simple as taking something apart and putting it back together,” says Nina Barbuto, a creator herself. Barbuto founded Assemble in 2011 as a community space where arts and technology come together through an extensive schedule of programs. At Saturday Crafternoons, kids invent their own species of animals using recycled fibers and materials. There are never any instructions, she says, just learning through experimentation.

Elementary students creating technology

The Children’s Innovation Project is a unique program that grew out of a collaboration between Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 kindergarten teacher Melissa Butler and Jeremy Boyle, a resident artist with CMU’s CREATE Lab. Working with Butler’s kindergarten class, the two turned the youngsters’ relationship with technology into an active and engaging event, allowing them to create technology, not simply use it.

Message from Me helps young ones communicate

Message from Me is a program that assists the early childhood community by giving young children a better and more consistent way to communicate to their parents what they do during their day spent at early childhood centers. Young children pick up on technology naturally, the teachers say. They are able to hold an iPad and take pictures of themselves and their environments with little assistance. Message from Me is in nine early childhood environments in Pittsburgh and 100 classrooms in western Pennsylvania today.

This Remake Learning initiative was made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation.

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Deb Smit

Loves ancient places, stones and cool technology. Former daily newspaper reporter, Time-Life Books editor and Pop City innovation editor. Once interviewed Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) who told her he wants children to be able to recite his verses from memory.