Sonoma County Office of Education

21st Century Learning

Learning From Pittsburgh's Maker Community

Author: Matt O'Donnell , Ann Van Dordrecht, Casey Shea
Published: 06.26.17

We visited Pittsburgh last week to deliver a keynote at the Pittsburgh Fab Institute and to connect with maker educators in the area.  We had heard of the amazing things happening there over and over again and wanted to see it first hand.  Pittsburgh has a vast network of connected makers including libraries, universities, museums and schools.  Behind all of this is remake learning, a network focused on digital learning, maker learning, youth learning, STEAM learning and youth voice.

Before our visit we spoke with Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation, at the New York Maker Faire and at edfoo to get a better understanding of the maker ecosystem in Pittsburgh.  He helped us find the right people to meet with to ensure we could get great ideas to bring back to Sonoma County.

When we went about designing the first reMAKE Education Summit we wanted to bring some of the premier maker educator in the United States to Sonoma County.  We relied heavily on contacts we had made at the SXSWedu Conference and edfoo.  One of the first people we connected with was Dr. Jeff Evancho.  Jeff works at Quaker Valley School District  where he leads their efforts in researching maker education in conjunction with Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero.  He presented on assessment at the reMAKE Education Summit in 2016 and we connected with him again at the Maker Ed Covening last May in San Francisco. 

We met with Jeff soon after arriving in Pittsburgh where he got us up to speed on the current state of research and assessment in maker education and he connected us with other doing great work around the city.

CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University

The stated goals of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab are to empower a technologically fluent generation and to empower everyday citizens and scientists.  We met with Ryan Hoffman and Jordan Mroziak and discussed some of their past and current projects including their air quality monitor and their truly remarkable data visualization platform Explorables.  We hope to have them present at the reMAKE Education summit this August. 




Manchester Craftsman’s Guild

With the mission to educate and empower urban youth through the arts, MCG has created a model learning environment for engaging students in world class endeavours.  From the moment you walked through the doors you saw how students were treated as valued partners in the learning as they were given access to state of the art equipment to create music, ceramics, paintings and digital designs along with digital manufacturing tools. MCG’s Vice President Dave Delly showed us around and pointed out the collaborative works the students had completed in conjunction with world renowned artists.



Assemble is a community space that integrates art, technology, and science. After school, evening, and summer programs are offered at their site in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, an area with changing demographics and traditionally underserved students. We met with Nina Barbuto, founder of Assemble, during one of their summer camps based on the theme “Youtopia” about developing the world you want to live in. Students at Assemble engage in a variety of activities including hands-on engineering challenges (they were building water filters when we came) to writing and recording songs that are showcased in a digital display.




Millvale Community Library

The Millvale Community Library is the first library ever to be established in Millvale and serves as a hub for the community with a strong emphasis on educational and community support and providing maker opportunities. The library is hosting multiple summer maker camps as well as numerous community events. We met with Nora Peters, Maker Program Director and Brian Wolovich, Founder and Board Secretary and saw firsthand one summer camp in progress. Nora is also in the process of launching a program to integrate literacy and making by developing maker activity cards that appear in certain children’s books at the library. These cards contain maker challenges related to the book that can be completed in the library makerspace or at home.



Homewood Children’s Village 

Homewood Children’s Village is a program designed to support and improve the lives of children in Homewood, a town with high poverty rates that is undergoing rapid change and gentrification. They offer a variety of academic and community supports for students. We met with Walter Lewis, Director and Vanessa Garcia, Program Manager of the program’s Office of Promise Fulfillment which is specifically focused on helping teens develop college readiness skills. We were able to view student work and talk to students who had just completed a project for their Scholar Program which utilizes various tools like making and digital media to engage students in project based learning around personal and community challenges.


TransformED was developed by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (similar to a county office of education) in response to a call for meaningful, innovative professional development for teachers. TransformEd offers training sessions that incorporate making and ed-tech tools so that teachers can explore and collaborate. We visited Tyler Samstag at their office and learned about the variety of courses they offer and also the STEAM grants they’ve been able to give teachers to implement what they’ve learned and showcase what occurs with these tools in the classroom.

The Center for Arts Education - West Liberty University

Located in Wheeling, West Virginia, the West Liberty Center for Arts and Education provides innovative professional development programs, resources and services to educators, students, teaching artists and others interested in the role of the arts and creativity in Pre-K to 12th grade education. The Center serves as a satellite of the CMU CREATE Lab, providing training and workshops using their microcontrollers and robotics kits like the Hummingbird as well as the integration of more traditional fine arts such as dance and playwriting into core curriculum.We talked to Director Lou Karas about the history of the center and ways that we could work together to share ideas.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has been a national leader in maker education for a decade, developing activities, facilitation strategies and research methodologies used around the world. Their MAKESHOP, which opened in 2010,  is an amazing facility where makers of all ages can drop in to make and tinker for a few minutes or stay for longer facilitated workshops. Their innovative work helping local schools start and sustain maker education efforts has served as a model for the national Making Spaces program. We talked to Chip Lindsey, Director of Education, about their professional development philosophies and programs and came away with some exciting new strategies and tools to use.  


Elizabeth Forward School District

The Elizabeth Forward School District, located in an old river town hit hard by the recession, responded to an increasing dropout rate and declining enrollment by embarking on a program of innovation designed to increase student engagement and creativity. Starting with the high school in 2011, they remodelled the library and computer labs, turning them into media and game design centers. They also added digital manufacturing equipment to their traditional shop classes. Currently they have expanded their efforts to include all K-12 schools, with students in early elementary school using sophisticated equipment. We were invited by Dr. Todd Keruskin, who spoke at reMAKE Education in 2016, to speak to the 140 participants at the Pittsburgh Fab Institute about integrating maker education into core content. We brought some of our favorite activities and enjoyed sharing stories and ideas with teachers from twelve different states.  

The visit provided us with a wealth of ideas to share with educators in Sonoma County.  The maker culture they have established in Pittsburgh is remarkable and we have a long way to go to create something similar in Sonoma County.  We do however have many of the key ingredients already in place and with our new connections the road forward is much clearer.

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