STEAM Education Gets a Remaking Leg Up in Pittsburgh

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May 9, 2016; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Remake Learning Network, a Pittsburgh-area coalition of over 250 “schools, libraries, museums, businesses, foundations, preschools, after-school providers, and nonprofits,” is channeling $25 million towards innovation in education in the region.

Remake Learning, which grew out of an interdisciplinary working group convened by the Grable Foundation and was formalized in 2011, has been lifted up as one of the more effective models of cross-sector collaboration. The mandate? To introduce and progress innovative models for digital-based teaching and project-based learning in STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) in the region.

Pittsburgh’s is still an economy in transition, moving from the steel and manufacturing industries that fueled its initial growth toward what public officials and groups such as the Network hope to become a thriving, learning economy with industry diversity. There is currently an 80,000-job shortage forecasted by the year 2025.

The projects Remake Learning undertakes target that gap directly by teaching high-demand skills, from technical skills such as programming to cross-functional and creative approaches, from a very young age—starting as early as first grade in some cases. Anecdotally, teachers and students enjoy the shakeup of more traditional classroom curricula. “You’re not just doing one thing where you’re sitting at your desk the whole time,” said third-grader Jacey Tschannen at a Bloomfield elementary school. “You get to do more, like hands-on things. It’s fun and you can get creative with it sometimes.”

The White House lauded this latest infusion of cash, which was raised by over a hundred of Remake Learning’s members. The deputy director at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Thomas Kalil, noted that what sets the Network apart is the breadth and strength of its membership marked by the amount of funds they’ve been able to raise during the past decade. “They trust each other and they’re willing to work together,” Kalil said, “and it shows in the results.”

When discussing outcomes like the amount of dollars raised, this initiative certainly seems successful. The question that arises, as with many cross-sector and collective impact–style initiatives, is what the effect on the problem itself will be and how those results will be defined and measured. Nonprofit Quarterly has reported and shared some of the challenges inherent in Collective Impact, a cross-sector collaboration model made popular by FSG’s Mark Kramer and John Kania. The primary challenge NPQ has highlighted is the tendency for these initiatives to be defined, managed, and evaluated by the funders and consulting firms that have the resources to do so without the deep integration of communities and the individuals who are most impacted by—and knowledgeable of—the issues that these initiatives are designed to alleviate.

While Remake Learning does seem to be approaching the work with a combination of inclusivity and accountability that we haven’t seen in all cross-sector collaborations, time will tell the real results on the STEAM skills gap in Pittsburgh will only be known after time has passed and impact evaluations are made. More immediately, it will be worth taking note on the ways in which this primarily foundation-funded initiative will continue to integrate the perspectives of its 250 partners and the broader Pittsburgh community.—Danielle Holly