From May 12-13, more than 400 educators from a dozen countries and five continents will converge in Pittsburgh for Project Zero’s Perspectives conference: a two-day gathering centered around making, innovating, and learning. With a special focus on creativity, the arts, and the maker movement, the conference will explore three central questions:

1. What can educators in the arts and the Maker Movement teach us about how to encourage creativity, play, and do-it-yourself “maker thinking” in learners?

2. How might visible representations of thinking be used as a force for student learning?

3. What do students need to learn — and deeply understand — in order to truly prepare for an unknown future?

Educational Epicenter

Recognized as an epicenter of the maker education movement, Pittsburgh is the perfect backdrop for these questions and others like them. From steel beams to self-driving cars, Pittsburgh has long been known for making things. Makers — with all their resourcefulness and do-it-yourself enthusiasm — epitomize and amplify the region’s resilience, turning a once-struggling steel town into a hub for research and technology.

Their emphasis on creation over consumption has led to innovations in nearly every field, from manufacturing to health care. Given the Maker Movement’s power to revolutionize entire industries, what might it do for classrooms?

Project Zero

Six years ago, Dr. Jeff Evancho — then an art teacher at Quaker Valley Middle School — decided to find out. He joined his superintendent and two others on a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend a weeklong summer institute hosted by Project Zero, a research group based at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Project Zero is a 50-year-old research consortium that attempts to understand how learning develops, what thinking and learning look like, what is and is not worth learning, and where thinking and learning thrive. Increasingly, this means looking to the Maker Movement for answers by establishing projects such as Agency by Design — a multiyear initiative at Project Zero that leverages support from the Abundance Foundation to investigate the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning.

Though the four had been interested in Project Zero’s mission to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity for some time, they were not really sure what to expect from the institute. “We were all at different stages in our careers,” said Evancho, “Some of us had been in education for five years, some for thirty-five.”

Regardless, by the end of the week, Evancho said, “That was the most profound professional development experience I’ve ever had. Period.” His companions agreed.

A Regional Hub for Research

Hoping to replicate his experience in Cambridge back home, Evancho worked to establish a partnership between Project Zero and his district — an effort that led to Quaker Valley becoming one of the first public school systems to serve as a regional hub for the research consortium.

Since 2015, the district has hosted Project Zero-themed professional development for makers and educators across the Pittsburgh region. “We talk about ideal ways to learn and how to create the best environments for students — environments that allow all learners to grow at paces that are right for them,” says Evancho, who is now the district’s Project Zero Programming Specialist. “We start without an answer, but we go on a journey together in an attempt to figure it out as peers.”

For over a decade, the city of Pittsburgh and its Remake Learning Network — a coalition of more than 250 universities, libraries, nonprofits, museums, and school districts (including Quaker Valley) have worked to connect learners with makers, technologists, artists, and others to create exciting, relevant learning opportunities across the region.

By leveraging the area’s rich resources, including nineteen maker PD programs for teachers and more than 125 makerspaces, the Network has catalyzed several initiatives designed to harness the power and deepen our understanding of maker-centered learning.

Established Learning Communities

The Pittsburgh Maker Educator Learning Community is a prime example. Established by Evancho and educator Megan Cicconi to develop an understanding of Agency by Design’s research findings, the group of maker-educators represents eleven Pittsburgh-area organizations. They recently earned a Making the Future grant from Cognizant Technology Solutions to expand their work and explore assessment in maker-centered learning.

Evancho and Peter Wardrip now manage the group, which has grown to thirty educators representing eighteen organizations.

Project Zero Perspectives Conference

Several of the Pittsburgh Maker Educator Learning Community members, along with staffers from Agency by Design and the Abundance Foundation, will be on hand to present their work at the Perspectives conference. The conference will take place in Pittsburgh, from May 12-13. Registration is still open.

Prior to the Conference

Prior to the main event, there is an optional pre-conference on May 11 at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The museum is ranked among the country’s top museums for families and home to the nationally renowned MAKESHOP.

During the Conference

The conference begins Friday, May 12, at the Quaker Valley School District. Participants will see firsthand how the district implements Project Zero practices and the principles of maker-centered learning in classrooms for all grade levels.

On Saturday, May 13, the conference moves to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and the University of Pittsburgh’s iconic Cathedral of Learning. Participants will “explore ways to use museums as powerful sites for learning and meaningfully engage with art and artifacts in courses led by museum educators and classroom teachers, as well as continue exploration of Project Zero ideas begun the previous day,” organizers say. Edward Clapp, David Perkins, Ron RitchhartShari Tishman, and other speakers will give lectures and keynote talks throughout the weekend.

After the Conference

The Perspectives conference promises to help both makers and educators continue to revolutionize learning. So although the weekend wraps up Saturday night in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Lecture Hall, the work will not stop there. Remake Learning Days, the world’s largest open house for innovative teaching and learning, will kick off just two days later across town.

Expected to draw at least 30,000 learners and families, the 12-day festival includes two maker-themed days and nearly 100 maker-centric events. It is all part of a broader effort to remake education by sparking wonder, joy, and a lifelong love of learning. We invite you to be a part of it.

As Wendy Donner, a Perspectives conference presenter and education program director for the Abundance Foundation, writes in Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds, “it is our intention that . . . this work will live on to affect meaningful and sustainable change for students, educators, and schools.”