Renewing Schools One Project at a Time
As students head back to school, educational technology starts to take center stage in classrooms across the country. What’s changing about education is that technology makes education more accessible to students than ever before, making it both better and more personalized. Through the growing popularity of programmable software like Project LEARN, the popularity of virtual reality, mobile devices, and enhanced online resources, education is really beginning to take root, giving teachers the tools they need to engage students in the classroom and helping to maintain high standards.
Every day, 4 million young people in the United States take part in Project LEARN, a nonprofit program that works to teach kids about the world through creating. Although this organization’s services are available online, they’re now also integrated into multiple websites and apps, and as of this past year, have been offered in over 1500 schools, and 50 of the top universities in the U.S. serve their schools through their Service School School Initiative. “Our staff at Project LEARN focuses on providing quality technology teaching tools, as well as professional development, continuous technology updates, and technology staff education,” says Rachel Huligan, Project LEARN Director of Program Development. “We’re excited to celebrate our most recent accomplishment by giving a core curriculum activity to a top university!”
In 2015, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill launched a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) based program for UNC Schools called the UNC Sustained Excellence® initiative that creates an intimate learning environment, allows teachers to design and adjust classroom plans to reflect the needs of each group of students, and requires schools to be constantly transparent and accountable for teaching, learning, and measurement. Program co-creator and Superintendent of Schools, Robin Brown, explains the importance of student collaboration in the classroom to SPE’s 4th-grade students. “This classroom is the fifth spot that in your project you put together about your environment and your homes. You started out with about 10 people and then everyone was coming in, but now you have 39 people. You need about 3 minutes of teachers in your room and then you can start talking about what the schools are doing,” says 15-year-old student Jane Myers.
And the reason this program has grown to such a success is because of the education tools given to teachers through Project LEARN. UNC’s teaching tool, Guide Map, which was developed with Project LEARN, comes installed on iPads that teachers can download to students’ school devices. The Map enables students to actually sketch areas of interest on their iPads, then watch them in real time on the Map. The Map also gives teachers the ability to change the value they assign to each students area and pinpoint different topics for the fourth graders. Using the Map, educators can also mark important information for each student on the Map, and once all areas are up to date, students can go back to the Map and go through their findings. Other key software systems include HyperNote, which also allows teachers to use portable tablets in class to access assignments, guides, and practice exams, with Voice over IP; and the iChalkBoard, which can give teachers a wall-mounted screen in the classroom, which they can use to engage students in lessons.
Out of Project LEARN’s Course Model, or framework, 9% of all the students’ 2,975 lessons identified by UNC are Project LEARN’s, according to the University’s Curriculum Center. These students are learning about things like the world around them, and are learning to tell their own stories using video editing tools such as Final Cut Pro X to make content for their YouTube channels. Learning is extremely personalized through project-based education, as everything helps to create a synergy that includes teachers, students, and curriculum tools. A student’s classwork is constantly included and communicated to their teachers as well as their parents, thus creating a bond that continues throughout the year.
An increasing number of businesses are also taking note of the trend towards project-based education, and are partnering with the University to help further the mission of Project LEARN. Take Bank of America, which partnered with Project LEARN to be the global creator of its “Technology for Learning Technology Project.” As a corporate sponsor of Project LEARN, Bank of America provided funding to create four student-produced videos in conjunction with NASA’s exciting Mars Exploration Rover missions. Each video showcases the collaboration between Bank of America’s digital team and Project LEARN to create a learning resource for high school students and college students who are studying science and math.