Stories

A Tale of Two Maker Cities: What One Silicon Valley City Learned from a Trip to Pittsburgh

Start Small and Dream Big

To Fremont, a city that is just starting its own maker initiative, the Pittsburgh maker network may seem expansive and overwhelming. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Each stop on our tour originated with a “little bet” — a low-cost and low-resource experiment to see if the idea would hold up and how it could be shaped to best benefit the area’s children.

For example, the South Fayette District uses an after-school incubator where teachers try out “little bets” before moving them into the classroom. The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum’s makerspace started in a small garage, a very different arrangement than the 5,000-square-foot space that houses it today.

The take-home point for our team — and other maker cities — was that you don’t need to have thousands of dollars of fancy equipment or state-of-the art lab facilities with a huge staff; it’s much more important to find people who are passionate about showing students new ways to learn. Success breeds success. As these experiments prove their own worth and are shared with more students, new resources and opportunities will come.

Build Strong Leadership and the Ecosystem Will Follow

We met many of the fearless leaders behind the success of Remake Learning. The common thread that tied them together was their ability to cast powerful visions for where they wanted their organizations to go and recruiting capable and passionate partners to help make that vision happen.

Altering the way things have always been taught can be a difficult process to navigate. But these leaders succeeded in communicating precisely why their proposed changes were important to children. They understand that if the community is on the same page as to why the modifications and program additions will benefit the kids, more than half the battle has already been won.

Over time, the network has proved its worth, and in doing so has created an impressive ecosystem in which children are surrounded by relevant education opportunities and a chance to design their own learning journey.

The Maker Road for Fremont

Fremont already has a high-performing school district with determined teachers driving pockets of innovation and testing their own “little bets.” There are countless businesses, parents, community members, city departments and county departments in Fremont who would love to support schools, and our mission is to show them how.

Our trip to Pittsburgh sparked partnership ideas and avenues to engage the community, while illuminating existing spaces in the community that could be better utilized and an overarching vision of what success would look like.

As we march forward in creating Fremont’s own maker education ecosystem, we now have the ammunition we need to create more of our own “little bets” and the motivation to learn from them in ways that scale and help Fremont’s kids develop a rich curiosity and innovative mindset.

 

This story and photo were originally posted in THE Journal.

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