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Education Innovator Sings Praises of Duquesne Elementary

By Cami DiBattista
The Tube City Almanac
May 04, 2018
Posted in: Duquesne News

Ted Dintersmith greets students at Duquesne Elementary School on Wednesday. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Duquesne Elementary School students enjoyed demonstrating some features of one of their school’s "makerspaces" to a special guest on Wednesday.

Ted Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist turned philanthropist and public education advocate, is on a 50-state tour to promote his documentary film, "Most Likely to Succeed," based on the best-selling book about education which he co-authored.

Dintersmith, whose newest book is called "What Schools Could Be," was in Pittsburgh this week to deliver a lecture at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

When Dintersmith visited Duquesne Elementary, students demonstrated how to use virtual reality displays.

“We’re using virtual reality to visit the Holocaust museum,” said fourth-grader Lyniah McFadden.

Science and technology teacher Samantha Utley said her students have also taken virtual field trips to countries such as Sierra Leone and Egypt.

“It really provides them with solid visuals and an understanding of places they don't readily have access to,” Utley said.

Above: Students demonstrate virtual reality tools during Dintersmith's visit.

The tools are located in one of the recently developed makerspaces at Duquesne Elementary that are designed to foster innovation, promote critical thinking and engage students in lessons and activities with a focus on the so-called "STEAM" fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Students have the opportunity to visit the makerspaces several times a week to engage in hands-on activities designed to bring learning to life.

The Duquesne makerspace was supported by Remake Learning, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit network that supports innovative learning techniques that combine new teaching methods and technologies.

“The Duquesne staff is doing a terrific job with their students,” said Dintersmith, who has devoted his time, knowledge and efforts to questioning the methods of conventional 21st century American schools, where student progress is measured largely by their performance on state-mandated tests.

Dintersmith said Wednesday that teaching to those tests is a "path to failure" where "students are bored" and "teachers are demoralized."

Instead, he said, schools need to align classroom lessons with what is going to be important to them later in life.

“Here in Duquesne, the kids are excited and they are learning,” Dintersmith said. “The teachers are doing a wonderful job with student engagement. They are encouraging the kids to work on things they are really excited about and care about. It’s a great alignment.”

Duquesne Elementary Vice Principal Stan Whiteman, Ted Dintersmith and Superintendent Sue Moyer pause for a photo in the school's newly renovated library.

Dintersmith has visited more than 200 schools to encourage districts across the nation to provide opportunities for students to explore, play and learn in the 21st century.  

Besides Duquesne, Dintersmith also visited Avonworth School District this week to observe how educators are creating innovative learning programs with help from Remake Learning.

“We’re extremely excited and honored to host Ted at some of our most transformative regional schools, and of course to share his knowledge with educators and parents who are on the front lines every day, keeping kids engaged in learning that prepares them for meaningful futures,” said Sunanna Chand, Remake Learning’s director.

Duquesne has utilized the Remake Learning program for two years.

“Duquesne’s is one of my favorite makerspaces in the entire region,” Chand said. “The teachers here and the administration are doing innovation in an amazing way. They do all the work. We just support them in any way we can.”

Over the past three years, Duquesne Elementary School has had the opportunity to design and innovate two makerspaces, including The Creation Station for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, and The Boiler Room for students in grades 3-6.  

Dintersmith’s visit to Duquesne Elementary included tours of the school’s makerspaces, the pre-K rooms and the newly renovated library, which includes a recording studio for students to record morning announcements, Assistant Principal Stan Whiteman said.

“It was very exciting to hear that Duquesne was chosen as one of the schools that Mr. Dintersmith visited,” said Jennifer Jennings, principal of Duquesne Elementary.  “It spreads a positive message and allows us to show these special additions to our school.”

Duquesne Elementary has 375 students and offers an after-school program and an extended year program.

This year, enrollment at the district has increased by 12 percent.

“If you’re looking for inspiration in the world of education, come to Pittsburgh,” Dintersmith said. “The city’s remarkable Remake Learning initiative serves as an aspirational model of how a community can join together to elevate life prospects for our children, and support our dedicated teachers.”

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer who covers news from White Oak and Duquesne for Tube City Almanac, along with other topics. You can reach her at cad316@gmail.com.

Originally published May 04, 2018.

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