The Future is Wow: Classrooms Wired for Learning

Posted by Bora Chang and MGMT. design


This post is in partnership with Pepsi Refresh Project

It used to be that a piece of slate and chalk were the only tools required in schools, but learning is becoming more and more technologically charged nowadays, thanks to free and innovative software and tools that streamline the teaching process and help to disseminate information more easily. Here’s a look at how some schools in the nation are using technology to make learning certain subjects multi-dimensional, fun, and engaging from start to finish.

There are a lot of technological movements afoot—in some cases, literally—at Springfield Middle School in Holland, Ohio, which won a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant in February 2010. In technology classes, students are given basic programming lessons via videos to program Lego robots to perform simple tasks.

On top of learning computer programming and robot building, they tape their challenges on Flip video cameras and share PowerPoint presentations. Students thus learn to create something from scratch, but also understand how to effectively document and promote their progress.

But it's not only programming classes that utilize the latest technology at Springfield. Students in social studies participate in the Time Travel project. They record themselves reading aloud using a sound editing program called Audacity. They also use Freeplay Music to add sound effects to their presentations.

For the visual elements, they don period costumes and edit their images into relevant period paintings or photographs using another free software program called GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program. Next, the students arrange all these elements via MovieMaker, then package everything into a PowerPoint presentation to be shared with their class via eno classic Interactive Whiteboard, an easy-to-use whiteboard made with recycled materials.

Not only is it incredibly fun, it's a great way to spark student learning. “The students are very enthusiastic,” says Amy Merrill-Wyatt, technology teacher. “They really grab and understand the time period.” As Bonnie Urso, a social studies teacher explains, the project also fosters teamwork. “Some kids aren’t as advanced in technology as the others, but they all help each other.”           

Because not all the teachers are well-versed on all the programs that need to be taught, the technology department teachers put all the tutorials online at springfieldmstech.info for both the robot and the Time Travel projects. Like the accessible and helpful tutorials at the Khan Academy, the videos “let the students self-teach, which is a huge plus,” Merrill-Wyatt says. The only downside? “Technology moves so fast. We’ve created these videos in the past two years, but we’re going to have to do them all over again because we’ve upgraded our software,” Merrill-Wyatt adds.  

At another campus across the country, librarian Kristy Sandel also discovered how fast technology is moving. At Mason High School in Mason, Michigan, Sandel recognized that teens are quick on the uptake with technological gadgets, but was always surprised that so few teens at the school read a book from start to finish. To raise more interest in reading among students, she has just started a “reading revolution” with e-readers, and the interest has helped the school win a Pepsi Refresh Project grant in May. With 10 Nook Colors from Barnes & Noble, which Sandel considers to be more appealing to teenagers than other e-readers, students can check e-books out from the public library and view magazines in full color, as well as play games. The only requirement is getting parents’ permission. “It’s important since Nooks are expensive and we want parents and students to be aware of the responsibility,” Sandel says.

She is still gathering a list of books that will be available on the Nooks, but it will include the teen-faves Twilight and The Hunger Games series, as well as They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak and Sky Burial by Xinran.

She is still figuring out the logistics, too: “Even our public library with 13 branches hasn’t tried offering e-books for check-out yet,” Sandel says. But she’s hopeful that the enthusiasm will continue into the new school year. “The students and staff throughout the district were incredibly supportive, so I’m hoping that it will grow in demand as word gets out and I can purchase more of them!” she says.

Read more from the GOOD Guide to the School of Life here.