Local learning networks and blended learning are proving to be a powerful pair.
Founded in 2009, Mozilla's Hive NYC Learning Network functions as a laboratory for New York City's informal educators who work with youth in out-of-school spaces—libraries, museums, coding and maker clubs. Working as an intermediaries and connectors, at Hive NYC we engage young people with hands-on learning while providing their mentors with support and skills and empowering them to collaborate and learn together as peers.
And increasingly, we’re seeing traditional classroom teachers embrace our local learning network, allowing them to gather broad perspectives, solve problems—and pursue innovative applications for blended learning.
What does a local learning network look like, and how does it function? Here are three Hive NYC projects that demonstrate the value of connecting informal educators with classroom teachers so that each inspires and challenges the other to invent creative learning opportunities.
When Teachers Become Designers
Beam Center is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that works with teens and teachers in New York City public high and middle schools across Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. Beam builds in-school communities with a focus on project-based learning and creation. For example, Beam recently brought together an artist with a penchant for electrical engineering, an English teacher, and a Physics teacher. The group conceptualized and created an interactive “poetry machine”—a life-sized, magnetic word board where students arranged words to make poems, which were then tweeted out to the world. In the process, students learned about everything from electromagnetism to verse to Twitter API.
Recently, Beam has become much more.
Through collaboration with schools supported by Digital Ready, a partnership between Hive NYC and the NYC Department of Education, Beam has emerged as a blended learning powerhouse helping teachers, students and school staff integrate creativity and curriculum. This fall, Beam will launch the Connected Teaching Fellows pilot project, a new way to equip classroom teachers with a range of design-thinking skills and activities. The pilot project will provide educators with materials directly from the Beam studio—think robotics and microcontrollers—to inspire teachers and students alike.
Beam’s students were being recognized for their superior work, says executive director Brian Cohen. As a result, he explains, “we felt we needed to develop a tangible collaboration with the teachers by being part of the school day. The work we do in the classroom becomes the core of a new kind of school community. Instead of the regular stratifications—teachers, students, administrators, high-achieving students, low-achieving students—now you have a blending of roles, an accessible forum for achievement, an incentive for all to be learning and a common aspiration."
The Connected Teaching Fellows project kicks off with an inaugural cohort of 24 teacher-designers from NYC public middle and high schools. Teachers take intensive professional development, creating a curriculum-based project. They learn the technology, practice the maker skills, and implement the activity in their classrooms with support from Beam Center’s domain specialist.
Teaching the Web with Mouse
Mouse is a New York City-based education and technology nonprofit and a long-time member of Hive NYC. Its mission: help youth learn, lead and make a positive difference in the world by being creative with technology. Mouse is best known for its in-school youth tech support service, MOUSE Squad, and its youth-centered innovation program, Mouse Design League.
In 2014, Mouse partnered with Mozilla to create the Summer Web Literacy Institute. The Institute taught ten Mouse Squad coordinators (school faculty) from five states and 14 different school sites how to better integrate their knowledge of the Web with teaching practices. This workshop drew on the Web Literacy Map, Thimble and other Mozilla tools. Teacher feedback stressed that the program helped better their understanding of how students engage online and share information.
The two-day Institute was designed to complement two other projects. The first was another Mouse-Mozilla collaboration, developing a web literacy roadmap. The map outlined what sort of skills make up web literacy (search, design, and online composition), and made a strong case for web literacy as an essential component of 21st-century curricula.
The second project was the soft launch of a series of learning activities inspired by the web literacy map. Informed by colleagues at the YMCA, Brooklyn Public Libraries, Girls Write Now, and Queens Library, the initiative included introductory and intermediate-level content for learning organizations eager to teach web literacy.
Online Portfolios for Students
Since 2013, DreamYard Art Center in the Bronx has brought together collaborators from both Parsons School of Design and the DreamYard Preparatory School—a small arts-focused public school in the Bronx—to reinvent how students and educators conceptualize learning. DreamYard's Learning Portfolio project in particular brings together in-school and out-of-school educators, along with design school professors, to better understand how students learn. They work together on design teams, sharing classroom knowledge, experience, and offering workshops on topics like web design.
Learning Portfolios are online, interactive collections of students’ work that include finished pieces, research, reflections, and more. These portfolios serve as a valuable tool to educators—they’re a window into the influences, skills and competencies that comprise an individual student’s learning pathway.
Developing a Learning Portfolio usually starts with simply creating digital content and adding it to a blog. Eventually—sometimes over the course of a month, sometimes a year—this blog takes shape as a more polished portfolio that documents the learning process and showcases finished products. Both students and teachers create their own blogs, learning and reflecting through the frame of the portfolio.
It’s a process students appreciate. “A class that doesn't blog usually keeps the art within the room,” notes George, a student at DreamYard Art Center. “Through blogging, we learn how to network, if just slightly at first. When I’m going through my dashboard, I usually find so many interesting artists and artworks, I end up becoming inspired and keep my creative process flowing for much longer!”
These three projects—along with seventy-three others — are made possible with support from the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in the New York Community Trust. While each is unique, they are all centered around a single principle: when you bring diverse and committed people and ideas together, impactful learning can take place both inside and outside the classroom.