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College of Education Partners With School Districts in Appalachia

by Whitney Harder

(Nov. 19, 2014) — Schools across the country are seeking better ways to match the skills of their graduates with opportunities that exist beyond high school. In parts of the country where jobs are scarce, educators have an even bigger challenge.  Being "college and career ready" just isn’t enough. Graduates in these pockets of the country will need to create jobs for themselves and their neighbors.

Students studying on laptops

If necessity is the mother of invention, schools in Eastern Kentucky are poised to improve education beyond what schools in even the most affluent districts struggle to achieve. In January, the New York Times controversially described it as the hardest place to live in the United States, statistically speaking. Perhaps nowhere in the nation does the tie between education and economic growth have more potential than in Eastern Kentucky, where employment opportunities beyond coal are needed.

Determined to rise above statistics and stereotypes, 17 school districts in the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) have an ambitious set of plans that helped them secure a $30 million Race to the Top grant last year. Now, these schools are preparing for a seismic shift in the way students learn and are partnering with the University of Kentucky College of Education, among others, to help carve out what that looks like. The 17 districts (also known as the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative or "ARI") share resources and professional learning opportunities, while also working to affect policy and protocols.

More than 600 teachers, leaders, students and community members gathered in Pikeville in October 2014 to get a first glimpse at how ARI projects are taking shape during the National Promising Practices Summit and Appalachian Innovations Collaborative Meeting. Next spring (April 21, 2015), the public will again have the opportunity to gather in Pikeville to see results of the Promising Practices work.

UK College of Education Leadership Academies

The UK College of Education's involvement in the KVEC plans is two-fold. The college works alongside district leaders and teachers to provide support, leadership and professional learning communities on issues that help schools meet the unique needs of 21st century learners. The plan involves about 100 principals and district level staff participating in the College of Education's Next Generation Leadership Academy each year over the course of the next four years. Additionally, 100 teachers will participate annually in the Next Generation Teacher Leader Academy. The academies are year-long professional learning endeavors focused on the critical attributes of Next Generation Learning, developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The attributes guide the work of the academies as a set of design principles or systematic change.

The Leadership Academy, derived from the college's Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab, began in 2011 and consists of superintendents, principals and central office teams representing all regions of the state. University faculty, regional university partners and state and national leaders work together to design and build new systems for learning. The professional learning for KVEC districts began with an intensive summer experience, culminating in planning for changes in the upcoming years. A robust social learning network provides online and classroom follow-up and mentoring for participants through The Holler, Google Hangouts, and a design thinking course through Canvas. The Holler is a social learning network developed in central Appalachia by founder Bruce Parsons. Through a partnership between the University of Pikeville, KVEC and ARI, The Holler allows KVEC members to develop a unique learning platform designed to support and scale the innovative initiatives at work in rural education.

Innovative Projects Partner UK Faculty with KVEC Schools

The partnership between the school districts and UK is also a launching pad for a number of innovative special projects. For instance, UK College of Education professor Joan Mazur is part of a multi-disciplinary team that presented plans at the Pikeville summit for a mobile "FabLab" (short for "fabrication laboratory") to help Eastern Kentucky join the growing Maker Movement.  Following the Pikeville presentation, the team traveled to Stanford's FabLearn Conference on Creativity and Fabrication in Education in Stanford, California, where they presented a workshop and short paper.

Pike County Public School representatives at the 2013 Next Generation Leadership AcademyUK has a FabLab collaborative of faculty from the colleges of Fine ArtsEngineeringArts and Sciences and Education and the UK Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT). The visionary approach involves a collaboration with the UK College of Education's P20 Innovation Lab and the Next Generation Leader and Teacher academies. A new FabLab facility is currently under construction.

Next summer, the project team plans to build a mobile lab that would repurpose a mobile shell — perhaps a transatlantic shipping container that could be placed on a flat-bed truck.  Modifications to the shipping container may include a window wall to allow for observers outside the confines of the lab space. The lab's mobility will allow students across a wide geographic region to have hands-on access to its learning opportunities.

The idea was derived from a class in hybrid fabrication, taught by College of Education doctoral graduate and CELT staff member Derek Eggers, that launched this semester by the UK College of Fine Arts. During the course, UK students are engaged in analysis, design, rapid prototyping and fabrication of 3D printing technology for sculpture and artifact replication. By the end of the Fall 2014 course, students will fabricate an open source 3D printer that they use to print student-designed patterns for sculpture, mold making and metal casting. Students will use their molds to cast aluminum, bronze, and, in some cases, iron.

By replicating this course in a mobile FabLab for students in the KVEC districts, the FabLab has the potential to show students how they can leverage Eastern Kentucky's culture of hand crafts and makers into an economically robust industry. Those behind the project say the FabLab can create opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation, leadership development and youth engagement, lifelong learning, and regional collaboration and identity.

The UK FabLab collaborative will work together to design and build the mobile FabLab in collaboration with KVEC schools. This school year will focus on engaging KVEC students and teachers in the project, training and designing the mobile FabLab. Construction of the mobile FabLab is planned as a Summer Institute project in summer 2015.