Ellis School launching innovation incubator

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For the all-girls The Ellis School in Shadyside, changing its teaching and learning style to a more active one isn't enough.

The school wants to share its practices -- and its research about them -- with others.

Hence, the school today is announcing the creation of the Learning Innovation Institute that, according to a statement, will "pilot, create and share innovative practices that improve learning outcomes for girls and young women and teaching outcomes for their teachers."

The institute will be headed by Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Ellis director of technology and innovation.

"We really feel strongly that we want to serve as a hub of knowledge to spread how these innovations can re-envision and change education," said Ms. Abel-Palmieri.

Ms. Abel-Palmieri said she's had seven or eight requests for consulting in the past few weeks and plans to present at three conferences this summer.

Some of the innovations at Ellis this school year took place in two classes -- concepts of physics and introduction to engineering design -- where the Active Classroom for Girls was piloted.

In these classes, students at home watched videos of teachers explaining the material and then were prepared to launch directly into experiments or other active learning when at school.

In some of the videos, teachers showed the steps in lab experiments while wearing Google Glass, which recorded their demonstrations.

In the old way of teaching, classes were 80 percent lecture and 20 percent lab. The new way flips that experience.

The classrooms also were redesigned -- tables instead of desks in rows and high-tech equipment such as a 3-D printer and touch-screen computers -- to allow more active learning.

The results of research on the effects of the changes -- done with the University of Pittsburgh and a grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation -- are due out soon.

Ms. Abel-Palmieri said the results are so good the school plans to expand the approach to other classes.

"Girls are not only engaged more in an active classroom because their confidence and risk-taking increases, but also their actual knowledge of science increases," she said.

Ellis refers to its science-related programs as STEMx. "STEM," as usual, stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The "x" means they can be combined with other things, such as creativity, communication, computational thinking and global literacy.

In science classes throughout the school, Ellis integrates community partnerships in which students use design thinking to solve problems, such as identifying a problem of ducks stealing the flamingos' food at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Girls in grades 11 and 12 designed prototypes of feeding devices and installed them last month.

An example of global literacy in STEMx is this year's summer camp, at which participants will design water stations for girls' schools in Kenya. Ellis is partnering with Vanderbilt University and the Center for STEM Education for Girls to do research on the project.

As part of the institute, Ellis will name three members of its faculty as Innovation Fellows, who will teach and champion learning innovation across the school and in the region.

In addition, Ellis will set up a council on innovation, including business and industry experts.

The school has not yet set up a fee structure for the institute's services.

Ms. Abel-Palmieri said proceeds may help to provide scholarships for staff from underprivileged schools to attend workshops and may be used to provide mini-grants for classroom teachers.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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