Rand seeks elementary schools for coding study

March 1 is the deadline for applying to participate in the Rand Corp.’s codeSpark pilot. Using codeSpark’s “Learn to Code” platform kids will learn coding and computational thinking using puzzles and games. RAND Corporation is seeking southwestern Pennsylvania elementary schools to participate in a pilot test of codeSPARK’s “Learn to Code” platform. codeSPARK is an award-winning platform for young children that uses puzzles and games to teach coding and computational thinking. The study is for 1st and 2nd grade classes and there is a preference for schools that don’t already offer a computer science/computational thinking curriculum in those grades.Learn more here and to express interest, just complete this form.

UPMC renews support

UPMC has again become a sponsor both for the Consortium’s annual Student Leadership Conference for The Future Is Mine (TFIM), our career exploration program for high school students and for our Champions of Learning Awards celebration. 

“We’re very grateful to UPMC,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “The health system has been a longstanding supporter for our work.”

” In addition to helping underwrite these to important events, UPMC also often collaborates with us to provide career exploration opportunities for students,” Babyak  added. “Our partnership always has been a wonderful example of the mutually beneficial way that employers can play a role in education.”


Expanding Innovation 2.0  helps districts emphasize the human element in designing change

It’s incredible what schools can do with a little “affinity clustering” or a smattering of “roses, buds and thorns.”

When educators in Shaler School District set out to reimagine middle school using Human Centered Design (HCD) methods such as these “it was literally transformational—it’s been a real game-changer for us,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Shannon Howard. The methods not only put Shaler closer to its goal, they also dramatically improved morale, she said. 

The HCD methods the team chose, beginning with “affinity clustering,” helped educators realize that, although they come from different disciplines and departments, their needs and wants are much the same, Dr. Howard added.

HCD is an activities-based approach to problem-solving that focuses on people above other factors, whether the challenge is making a better product, as is often the case in industry, or finding the best ways to launch initiatives or make changes n schools.

As part of Expanding Innovation 2.0, the Consortium is partnering with LUMA Institute to help educators use LUMA’s HCD methods to plan and implement various projects. A first cohort of seven schools and districts learned HCD in the fall and presented 90-day progress reports on their projects in early February, just as a second cohort began training.

Educators in our first cohort put together their own combinations of LUMA’s 36 different HCD methods—among them, affinity clustering and identifying roses, buds and thorns—to plan and implement projects ranging from reimagining Shaler’s middle school to redesigning a library into a “Future Readiness Center” in Brownsville Area School District and enlisting first graders in Northgate School District to improve an elementary school cafeteria. (We’ll tell you more about all of the individual projects in an upcoming series of stories, so keep an eye on our social media and website as we roll them out!)

At the project presentations, where Hunter made her remarks, New Castle School District’s Director of Techology Emily Sanders said one big benefit of HCD is that the methods put all participants on equal footing. “Everybody’s voice is heard,” she said.

Using the affinity clustering method, for example, participants in the HCD process gather ideas about different aspects of a question on post-it notes so that they can be sorted out visually around common themes. Doing so means that no individual’s or group’s ideas take precedence.

Sanders said the process also brings organization to a project, keeping participants on track and focused.

Educators participating in the first cohort were from Allegheny Valley, Bethlehem Center, Brownsville Area, New Castle, Northgate, Shaler and South Allegheny school districts.

The second cohort includes teams from Duquesne City, Greater Latrobe, Greensburg Salem Riverview and Yough school districts as well as Manchester Academic Charter School and Pittsburgh Brashear High School.






Schell supports TFIM Conference

Schell Games has again become a sponsor for the Consortium’s annual Student Leadership Conference for The Future Is Mine (TFIM), our career exploration program for high school students. 

“We’re very thankful for this year’s sponsorship,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “But we are equally appreciative of our partnership with Schell Games. It has contributed to TFIM and the Conference in multiple ways. The company not only has sponsored the Conference numerous times, it also has often hosted career explorations of the gaming industry and helped give interested students an understanding of the many pathways it can open to them.”


Career learning opportunities coming up for students, parents and educators

Duquesne Light Co. plans to offer opportunities for both students and teachers to learn about careers in the electric utility industry.

Students who are in their senior year will be offered a spring “Boot Camp” from March 11 through April 19. The six week, half-day program is designed to prepare students for the Electrical Distribution Technology (EDT) program that Duquesne Light offers in partnership with Community College of Allegheny County. The program helps students become candidates for skilled crafts within the electric utility industry. Learn more.

The utility also will offer educators 2-week paid internships from July 22 through August 2. The internships are designed to give educators hands-on experiences to acquaint them with a wide range of careers in the electric utility industry with an emphasis on skilled crafts. Educators also will learn about job and training requirements  and develop lesson plans that they can use in their classrooms. Learn more

South Allegheny School District is offering an open-house for students and parents from any school district to explore options for the future with representatives from three dozen employers, the military, post-secondary schools and apprenticeship programs. The event takes place Thursday, Feb. 14 from 6 pm to 8 pm. Learn more.

Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, along with trade union apprenticeship programs and construction companies, is hosting an opportunity for students to learn about careers in construction on Friday, March 29 from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm at the David Lawrence Convention Center. Learn more. Allegheny County schools in need of transportation can contact Markese Long, Community Engagement Specialist at Partner4Work at mlong@partner4work.com. Schools seeking transportation assistance in Beaver, Washington and Greene counties to Ami Gatts at agatts@washingtongreene.org.

Woodland Hills students to look at chemicals from different angles as part of Student Powered Solutions project

Students from three entrepreneurship classes in Woodland Hills School District kicked off a project with Covestro in January as part of our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program. The kickoff came just a month following conclusion of three SPS projects at Hampton Middle School.

Before beginning a tour of Covestro’s North American headquarters and laboratories, several of the company’s staffers briefed the Woodland Hills students on a challenge the company and others in its industry face: persuading people—possibly more so the younger they are—that not all chemicals are harmful. 

The opening presentation and the tour were designed to dispel that notion and demonstrate that the polymers Covestro produces have environmental benefits.

For one thing, none go into the single-use plastics that have been so much in the news for polluting waterways.  Instead, Covestro’s polymers are used in durable goods like automobiles, mattresses and refrigerators. More importantly, a number of the uses have resulted in environmental benefits, like better mileage in cars where plastics have been used to replace many metal components like bumpers.

Presentations before the tour and in the labs were an eye-opener for many students.

“It’s all a lot more complicated than I thought,” said Chloe, young woman responding to a question from a chemist who quizzed students about their perceptions after they’d toured his lab.

Creating projects to assess and change student perceptions could be equally complicated, students seemed to agree.  Over lunch following the tour, Zachary, a ninth grader, for example, said he needed to learn more about instances where environmental tradeoffs favor plastics. “We need to gather evidence,” he added.

Like others, he was enthused about the project because it involves him in a real-world issue. Doing research for answers and evidence and applying learning to the real world is key to the kind of Project Based Learning Experiences that SPS supports. By working in teams, partnering with companies and taking charge of their projects, students also develop soft skills, like collaboration, communications and critical thinking.

Earlier in the month, three middle school classes at Hampton School District, middle schoolers wound up SPS projects as part of their science classes. One class partnered with 412-Food Rescue, a nonprofit that tries to curtail food waste, on ways to reduce food waste in the school cafeteria. The other two took on a National Geographics challenge to find ways of reducing water pollution.




Consortium and United Way name finalists for the 2019 Champions of Learning Awards

Selection Committees for the 2019 Champions of Learning Awards have announced 18 finalists in six categories for 2019. (See complete list.)

“It’s just an outstanding group of candidates” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “We want to congratulate all of our finalists and let them know that they emerged from an extremely competitive pool of nominees. We’re really looking forward to celebrating them in May.”

The awards are intended to bring recognition to adults who go above and beyond to give youth in our region outstanding learning opportunities, mentoring or support.

The Consortium and United Way began this year to field nominations and select candidates in partnership. In the past two years, the organizations partnered in the award celebration where winners are announced, but held separate nominating processes and had different categories.

Categories include: Leadership; K-6 Educators; 7-12 Educators; School Staff; Providers/Community Partners; and Volunteers.

Winners in each of the categories will be announced at the Champions of Learning Awards celebration on Thursday, May 2. Make your reservations to attend the event through Eventbrite.



Researcher discusses strongest indicators of college readiness

Solid academic performance doesn’t alone ensure college readiness, even as measured by SAT tests, the benchmark most admissions offices use. Research shows academic achievement carries only about 25% of the weight among six factors that are key to student preparation, educators learned at a November workshop that the Consortium co-hosted with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory (REL).

The workshop was the first of two that are designed to help educators identify and assess the soft skills that are most critical to post-secondary success. Along with academic achievement, the factors that influence students’ college readiness are behavior; motivation; social engagement; characteristics of the schools they attend; and their families’ socio-economic circumstance.

No single one of those factors comes close to academics, said Matthew Gaertner, PhD, Director of Research for WestEd’s Standards, Assessment and Accountability Services program. But in studies of college readiness among 8th graders, behavior and motivation each are significant indicators and together are “a very powerful indicator” of readiness, he added.

Using a scale that ranges from well-prepared to inadequately prepared, only 9 percent of 8th graders nationwide are well-prepared while some 40 percent are inadequately prepared, Gaertner noted.

Educators have become more focused on soft skills because they factor into new state standards for college and career readiness. Measuring career readiness, however, is more complicated than measuring college readiness, Gaertner said, noting that there’s no single definition of success once students enter the working world.

Despite that, employers generally agree that soft skills play a key role in readiness for the workplace. That’s why educators attending the workshop all said their schools are trying to find ways to incorporate opportunities for students to develop them during their classes. At an upcoming workshop, they’ll hear about ways to assess soft skills.







Consortium receives grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation

The Consortium is grateful to The Pittsburgh Foundation for a $125,000 grant in support of programming aimed at helping increase college and career readiness among students across the region. 

“We are very appreciative,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “To us, the grant is a vote of confidence that our multi-faceted Future Ready initiative is important not only to students, their schools and educators, but to the community as a whole.”

“With this grant and support from our other funders, we’re expanding opportunities for students to prepare for post-secondary education and careers and we’re supporting educators with resources to help them.”