Essential Pittsburgh
7:43 pm
Fri May 2, 2014

Life of Learning: A Deeper Look In Innovative Education

Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy teacher Matt Ferrante works with sixth grader Hunter Bash during a recent school day. Ferrante, who teaches music technology, said unlike some other schools where he’s taught, he never feels peripheral at SciTech.
Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy teacher Matt Ferrante works with sixth grader Hunter Bash during a recent school day. Ferrante, who teaches music technology, said unlike some other schools where he’s taught, he never feels peripheral at SciTech.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

From flipped classrooms to blending the arts and sciences, what does it take to bring innovative approaches to the classroom?

Technology and innovation are being utilized as teaching methods by several school districts in the greater Pittsburgh area. This innovation has been recognized as the Pittsburgh area recently received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards in New York and was the only city to get the award.

The Flipped Classroom Approach

"I think that first of all, learning is everywhere, all of the time, it's ubiquitous," said Elizabeth Forward superintendent Bart Rocco. "And I think that the flipped classroom concept is just a definition of that."

The "flipped classroom" approach mentioned by Rocco is used at a physics class in the Chartiers Valley School District where students use the classroom time to work on problems and exercises while the students' homework assignments are to listen to class lectures that are recorded on a "smart pen" by the physics teacher, Susan Moreno. The students listen to the lectures with "pen-casts" at home where they see what Moreno wrote on a PDF and listen to the lecture through an audio file.

Is Disruption and Change Ever a Good Thing in the Classroom?

Lynne Schrum, the dean of education at West Virginia University, focuses on teaching future teachers the value of innovation and many different methods of teaching.

Schrum believes that change has been viewed negatively in the past but that reactions to change may be evolving.

"I have to be honest, education moves slowly," she said. "I think in academia maybe even more slowly than anywhere else, and that's for good reasons as well as perhaps a little bit of resistance. But I'm seeing some real power in people recognizing the positive aspects of disruption, of change. I think we're starting to see some changes where people who are trying innovative things are being rewarded rather than punished."

Bille Rondinelli is superintendent of South Fayette School District, which was inducted into the League of Innovative Schools. She believes standardized testing is part of the problem when it comes to change and innovation.

"We miss many days of school just for testing," Rondinelli said. "And so it's a time constraint. That's one definite hamper that we have. But what I would say is that embedding creativity and innovation requires different processes than simply the testing formulas that you have."

Is Technology Helping or Hurting Creativity?

Rocco does not think that technology is hurting creativity. Instead, he views it as another tool to help students be creative.

"One of the things we instituted a couple of years ago, was a gaming curriculum," Rocco said. "Actually teaching children how to create and build apps for games. We've done a little bit of work with a couple of non-profits in the area, once our children have matriculated through all of the coursework. And I think kids are using the technology to be creative and do different things. I think that's really what we need to do, we need to take the technology that they are using and create and build things."

How Innovative Can We Get In Blending the Arts with the Sciences?

Most people know of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and some know of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) which was created to make sure the "arts" would not be ignored when it comes to education.

Rondonelli is very passionate about the topic and said, "Traditionally schools have separated out arts and sciences, theory and practice. And those are really artificial divisions. You really have to think about how the real world works. So for example if you look at those who are architects. They are truly artists, they're designers, craftsman, they deal in aesthetics, perspective, mathematical precision. And so it's a part of all that we do. The arts really are a foundation and provide a foundation for every field that we are in."

Schrum believes that the arts goes beyond importance for the classroom.

"I couldn't agree more that it's essential to life," she said. "It's not just what we have to be able to answer in questions but we have to enjoy our life too."