Monthly Archives: June 2018

Consortium staffers host breakout discussion at Pittsburgh Personalized Learning Network (PLPgh) conference

Consortium Program Directors Aaron Altemus and Sarah Brooks led a breakout discussion about Project-Based Learning as part of a June conference that the Pittsburgh Personalized Learning Network (PLPgh) organized around aligning classroom learning with real-world expectations.

The Consortium’s breakout session stimulated discussion of Project-Based Learning

More than 180 educators attended the conference held at Montour High School. The event featured two keynote addresses as well as other speakers and the breakouts. All dealt in one way or another with personalizing the learning experience.

Chris Sweeney, who is leading PLPGH said the fledgling network and the conference are both intended to help “bring pockets of innovation” in classrooms across our region “to scale.”

Although Sweeney and other speakers at the Conference all talked about the need to change classroom learning to prepare kids for a fast-changing, technology-driven economy, all also emphasized that personalized learning shouldn’t be confused with technology—that’s not what it is.

Nor is it merely a program, said Bena Kallick, PhD, a nationally known school consultant, author and co-founder of the Institute for Habits of Mind. Although there are “six million different definitions” thought-leaders in education generally agree that personalized learning has certain fundamental characteristics, she said.  Among others, it enables students to “deeply engage in meaningful, authentic and rigorous challenges,” Kallick added, citing work done by Allison Zmuda and others who have written about the subject. Because of that, classrooms become “progressively more student driven” as educators redesign their practices, she said.

Both Kallick and Ann Chavez, PhD, who gave the morning keynote, said that personalized learning also emphasizes different goals than traditional classroom teaching, which many educators lament has been aimed at emphasizing only subject matter that’s covered on standardized tests. Chavez, an author and co-founder and Chief Academic Officer of Modern Teacher, said that schools should be preparing students for a world that’s been turned upside down by technology in less than a decade. She said employers increasingly are prioritizing transferrable, non-academic skills when they recruit. Chief among these is “problem solving,” she said.

Education Consultant Bena Kallick, PhD gives afternoon keynote on personalized learning

Agreed Kallick: “Kids need practice in this world that is so very volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. They need practice to gain comfort and confidence to navigate what’s ahead.” Citing educator and author Jay McTighe, she said the aim of classroom education should be “long-term transfer goals” needed across disciplines. McTighe has said, for example, that math competency isn’t merely finding solutions to equations, but being able to create the equations needed to solve real world problems.

In their breakout session, Altemus and Brooks said real-world learning and problem solving are the kinds of skills the Consortium’s Student Powered Solutions program aims to support through its Project-Based Learning experiences. The program pairs classrooms with businesses and other community partners willing to offer students real-world challenges to solve. As the students tackle them, teachers take on the role of coach.

Educators at the conference all expressed enthusiasm about finding ways to personalize learning. But they also discussed obstacles to innovation. Among others, there can be resistance to change and there also is the reality of needing to meet state standards associated with subject matter, some of which may not be addressed when students drive the learning.

Consultant Wayne A. Jones, who had been a Program Director as well as Director of Organizational Learning and Staff Development for The Heinz Endowments, gave a breakout session emphasizing that culture change can help make way for the innovations needed to personalize learning. He said schools need to “create safe space” for experimentation and the inevitable failures that come with it.




Alliance’s June Retreat showcased projects across network

Poster sessions at the Future Ready Alliance’s June Retreat showed that districts are taking a wide variety of approaches to improving opportunities for students to explore and prepare for post-secondary education and careers.

The Alliance is a network of educators that the Consortium brings together to design and implement improvements aimed at ensuring their graduates are well prepared for their futures, not just academically, but also developmentally. The emphasis is on helping all kids find the answers to three critical questions—Who am I? Who do I want to be? and How do I get there? 

The June Retreat showcased projects completed during the school year and provided resources for continuing work into 2018-2019, including a presentation on the state’s career education standards and an index the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) will begin using next year to assess whether students are receiving the preparation needed for “future readiness.”

Projects that district and school teams undertook in 2017-2018 ranged from designing a professional development opportunity for faculty at South Allegheny High School to organizing a “Career Camp” at Yough High School and creating a new credential for students to demonstrate “future readiness” at Steel Valley High School.

South Allegheny’s professional development opportunity took the form of a Classrooms to Careers Conference that featured presentations by representatives of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and workshops with 21 different business partners. The Conference was designed to give educators information they need to help students learn about anticipated job opportunities and workplace expectations.

At Yough, a Career Camp offered opportunities to learn about careers, practice soft skills and understand the job application process. Yough’s team planned activities around these elements and offered them during downtime students have in the days when standardized testing occurs. Some were modeled on activities that students participating in the Consortium’s career exploration program, The Future Is Mine (TFIM) use to create a breakout session at the annual Student Leadership Conference, the school’s TFIM advisor Gina Hipps noted. Hipps also sits on Yough’s Alliance team.

Steel Valley’s new credential is aimed at certifying competencies beyond those reflected in a high school diploma, said Superintendent Ed Wehrer. “It will have more value,” he said, noting that diplomas alone merely show that students completed their classes with passing grades and give no indication, for example, of whether they’ve developed other essential skills.

PDE’s Career Readiness Advisor Laura Fridirici told Alliance participants that the work they’re doing should contribute to moving students toward state goals.

A stakeholders’ report compiled when the PDE was formulating its response to ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act that Congress passed in 2015) “found kids graduating without a plan,” Fridirici said. Under the Future Ready Index assessment, PDE wants kids to show progress toward career awareness and preparation at every grade level. Among other things, it will look to see what percentage of a district’s 5th graders are engaged in exploration and preparation. By 8th grade, PDE will be looking at what percentage of a district’s “students have created plans” that identify possible career paths that connect to their interests and engage in activities that would help them explore or prepare for those paths.






Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation renews support for TFIM

Penguins Foundation President Dave Soltesz presents check to TFIM Program Director Gina Barrett

The Consortium extends its thanks to The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation for its ongoing commitment to our career exploration program, The Future Is Mine (TFIM). Earlier this month, the Foundation presented a $7,500 grant to help fund the program and its annual Student Leadership Conference.

“We’re truly grateful for the Penguins Foundation’s support,” said Mary Kay Babyak. “We appreciate that the Penguins recognize the ways that TFIM emphasizes key parts of their mission including education, teamwork and life skills.”