On Tuesday the Gates Foundation announced 19 winners of the second phase of its Next Generation Learning Challenges grant competition. The NGLC's priority is using technology to improve college readiness among low-income students, and what makes these new grantees noteworthy is that they're working on targeting the critical seventh- through ninth-grade years—well before students can either drop out or fall too far behind in higher level math and science. Each project is also aligned with the new Common Core Standards, which are all about developing higher-order thinking skills. While all 19 grantees are noteworthy, here are five that really stand out:
1) Classroom, Inc.: This smart project is designed as a drop-in module to prevent dropouts. Instead of sterile classroom experiences, Classroom, Inc. plans to give new meaning to "hands-on learning" by creating 10 academic-based workplace simulations in high schools. They're using their grant money to run pilots in both New York City and Chicago and hope to reach 120 students.
2) DaVinci Minds, Inc.: Getting more students interested in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—careers is a national priority. The problem is kids don't always know what kind of real jobs they can get with a STEM degree. Through the WhyCareers project, DaVinci Minds hopes to expand Whyville, a "learning-based virtual world for teens and tweens." Once in the virtual world, students can "interact with a virtual power grid, learn math and science, and earn virtual career badges in the energy industry."
3) iCivics: This online civic education platform founded and led by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor won grant money to "create Argumentation Modules to advance content-based literacy and critical thinking." The hope is by giving "students the tools they need to argue effectively about issues that matter to them" they'll be inspired to explore civics content, gain skills and "prepare for college, career, and citizenship."
4) MIT's Labyrinth Challenge: The Education Arcade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to use its grant money to run a national contest for seventh- and eighth-grade math classes around Lure of the Labyrinth, a web-based math video game. The game promotes higher order math skills and has already "been formally adopted by four Maryland school districts" and used by almost 20,000 students. The Labyrinth Challenge hopes to expand the number of users to 75,000 nationally.
5) WNET's Get the Math: This multimedia project smartly hooks students on solving real-world algebra problems by relating them to the fields teens are interested in: the music business, fashion and video games. Get the Math also features cool animation and graphics, a multiracial cast, and "a reality show production style." WNET will use its grant money to expand into low-income schools.