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Old Town School Spreading Technology-Based Learning To Schools Near And Far

By Mina Bloom | June 22, 2016 5:35am
 A teacher working with materials during a fabrication workshop at Catherine Cook School's second annual conference.
A teacher working with materials during a fabrication workshop at Catherine Cook School's second annual conference.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

OLD TOWN — This week, teachers from near and far are learning about everything from fabrication to coding at Catherine Cook School, which has become a hub for technology-based learning.

The Old Town school, 226 W. Schiller St., is hosting its second annual IDEA:TE conference, which is bringing together 50 teachers — both from Chicago and six different states across the country — for workshops in technology education like coding, creating furniture with laser cutters and using virtual reality, to name a few.

Instead of slideshow presentations, the conference, which runs Monday-Wednesday, puts a heavy focus on hands-on learning, giving teachers access to computers and other materials to use during class.

The classes are taught by local teachers from schools like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and technology professionals in addition to Catherine Cook teachers. 

The idea is teachers will return back to their schools armed with new lesson plans.

"It's like a dream here," said Lindsay Mosshammer, who teaches second- and third-grade science at The Francis Xavier Warde School, 120 S. Desplaines St. 

"It's unrealistic to imagine that we'll do everything" at the conference, she said. "But this gives us a lot of hope." 

That opinion was shared by Dave Kust, who traveled to the conference all the way from his school in Grand Valley, Minn. 

"We're not as far along [in tech-based education], but we're ramping up our programming," said Kust, who called the conference "stimulating and thought-provoking."

JD Pirtle, director of innovation at Catherine Cook, co-founded the conference when he realized that other conferences weren't focused on hands-on learning.

"We're more like a startup. We're making our history instead of working against it," Pirtle said of school, which is outfitted with futuristic desks, white board cabinets, huge laser printers and a hi-tech "makerspace."

In its first two years, the conference has drawn teachers from private schools in Chicago and around the country, but not many Chicago Public Schools teachers. 

That's mostly because CPS is still in session and Catherine Cook already ended its school year, according to Stacy Shafer Peterson, director of advancement at Catherine Cook.

She said her team would like to work with more CPS teachers in the future.

"We'd really love to get more public schools involved, give them comp tickets and give them any services where they can start a maker program in their school," she said.

"Maybe they don't have a big fancy laser printer, but we have ways of doing projects [without that]."

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