Connecting Learning through Chicago City of Learning

| Beth Swanson

As part of our continuing dialog on STEM and STEAM, we are thrilled to have a guest blog from Beth Swanson, of the Mayor’s office. By way of definition, STEAM calls out the “Arts” skills that complement and reinforce the traditional STEM skills. Arts—all kinds including performing, visual and mediacontribute to critical thinking skills, which are so important as our children learn to make good decisions, both academically and personally. Beth is highlighting a terrific program which blends continuous learning (arts, computer science, sports, etc.) with digital technology.
~Shelley Stern Grach

Elizabeth_SwansonThe entire city of Chicago is a platform for learningwith a diverse array of world-class cultural institutions, libraries, community organizations, universities, and public spaces.  Over the last few years, an incredible amount of progress has been made towards our goal for every child to receive a world-class education. Every Chicago Public School (CPS) child now has a full day of kindergarten, pioneering educators personalize learning with technology in their classrooms, and over 80% of our freshmen are on track to graduate.

But our students only spend only 15% of their time in school, and we know that students typically lose 1-3 months of learning over the summer.  We know we need to provide even more learning opportunities for our children to thrive. Last summer, we launched Chicago Summer of Learning to challenge the entire city to make summer count and support learning science, technology, engineering, art, and mathat parks, libraries, and schools as well as at over 100 partners including nonprofits, museums and cultural institutions, colleges and universities, and online learning opportunities.  Our vision is for all of Chicago to be a campus, so we are now connecting learning across spaces to empower young people to explore pathways to the future. 

Connected Learning through Digital Badges: Learning happens everywhere in the city, but it is not always recognized. Badges make learning visibleboth to learners and to others around them. Digital badges are online representations of skills and interests, creating a complete story of achievements across institutions. This is a new way to elevate the skills, achievements, and interests that Chicago’s students earn.

By summer’s end, more than 210,000 young people participated in Chicago Summer of Learning activitiesfrom creating apps to designing jewelry and fashion, from exploring epidemiology to becoming a filmmaker. We awarded nearly 100,000 digital badges to young people all over the cityfrom Austin to Pullman, from Brighton Park to North Lawndale.

Catalyzing a Movement. We’ve expanded Chicago Summer of Learning to the year-round Chicago City of Learning, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Youth Network at DePaul, and our model has attracted interest from around the world, spurring the development of a Cities of Learning movement. Whether we design it or not, our systems of teaching and learning are changing. Chicago City of Learning is a critical part of our Citywide STEM Strategy and our efforts to challenge the city to innovate, use technology, and think creatively about what a 21st century school looks likeeffectively have our system catch up to our kids in the way they consume, learn and process information. I’m proud that Los Angeles, Dallas, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Columbus are now following our lead, launching their own Cities of Learning. Looking forward to the friendly competition this summer!

Explore Chicago and discover your future at Chicago City of Learning. Follow us on Twitter @ExploreChi.

As Deputy Chief of Staff for Education to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Elizabeth Swanson is responsible for defining the city’s education policy agenda, from birth through college. Swanson has served as point in expanding early learning opportunities, achieving a full school day, bringing quality school options to families, and launching the city’s Summer of Learning. She works with industry and university leaders to align pathways to college and career and, mobilizing all sectors to drive better outcomes for Chicago’s youth. Swanson has served as executive director of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, and she led the Chicago Public Schools Office of Management and Budget under CEO Arne Duncan.

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