Website combines project-based learning, social responsibility


The program encourages students to examine global problems. (Photo courtesy of Shout web site)
Shout encourages students to take on real-world challenges through online collaboration with their peers. (Photo courtesy of Shout web site)

A new partnership between Microsoft Corp., the Smithsonian Institution, and TakingITGlobal will encourage teachers to use educational technology to improve the way students learn. The partnership, called Shout, will help teachers integrate project-based learning to develop students’ problem-solving skills by having them team up with their peers around the globe to solve real-world challenges.

Shout was announced at the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Africa. Representatives from the groups involved said it will help teachers and students use educational technology to address some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues through online collaboration, while also teaching students social responsibility.

More than $1 million will be directed to Shout over the next three years in hopes of creating a global network that connects millions of teachers and students as they attempt to solve real-world challenges affecting land, air, and water. Online collaboration plays a key part in the project.

Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Public Sector Education at Microsoft, said the partnership is a solid step in helping students and teachers across the globe connect to solve common problems, and in helping teachers use educational technology to boost students’ problem-solving skills through a project-based learning approach that is relevant to students’ lives.

“Technology is an amazing tool to reach beyond geographic and cultural boundaries and build meaningful, collaborative partnerships,” he said.

Shout’s web site, http://www.shoutlearning.org, launched on Oct. 27. Beginning in November, teachers from around the world will find the first Shout challenge, which addresses the issue of deforestation. Each challenge will kick off with an online event for teachers and students featuring Smithsonian scientists.

Once teachers start a challenge, they’ll be able to connect with millions of other educators, access related curricula and best practices, and connect their students to others around the globe though online collaboration.

“When students and teachers are connected with one another using technology, cultural and language barriers disappear, and a space can be created for deep, meaningful [online] collaboration that helps drive positive social change,” said Claudine Brown, director of education at the Smithsonian Institution. “Shout will harness the power of [educational] technology to connect the Smithsonian’s vast research and education resources with education leaders.”

Shout grew out of a pilot program launched by Microsoft and TakingITGlobal at the Partners in Learning Regional Innovative Education Forum in Singapore earlier this year.

The pilot program, DeforestACTION, connected students across several countries, including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and Australia. Participating students are raising funds, working on collaborative projects to build awareness, and developing social action campaigns to support the protection of rain forests in the Asia Pacific region.

They even helped create a public service announcement that is playing on national television in Sri Lanka, and they are working with a major motion picture production company in Australia to expose the problem of deforestation in a 3-D movie to be released in cinemas worldwide. The first global student challenge in the Shout program will be modeled on DeforestACTION.

“My sixth-grade class has not only been learning how palm oil production is directly linked to the destruction of the rain forests in Indonesia and Malaysia, but they have been collaborating with classes around the world to teach other kids, reach out to their community, and even petition their governments to stop deforestation,” said Australian elementary school teacher Emmanuelle Blake. “Our kids are learning how they can work together to make a real difference, and technology is breaking down borders to help them.”

Shout will combine action with science to provide a very real project-based learning experience for students around the world. Educators attending the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town saw this process in action at two local schools. Smithsonian researchers demonstrated how they use stainless steel bands to measure the growth of trees over time and to determine how trees respond to changes in climate.

The schools—St. Cyprian’s and Hout Bay High School—will be the first in the world to participate in this global scientific research project. Teachers and school leaders attending the forum received free tree-banding kits and will contribute to the research. In January, the Shout partnership will issue a global student challenge to engage hundreds of schools around the world in tree-banding experiments.

“Shout is driven by the concept that students can and should direct their own learning both inside and outside the classroom, with teachers collaborating along the way,” said Michael Furdyk, co-founder of TakingITGlobal. “DeforestACTION exemplifies the power of student-centered learning, demonstrating that students can be leaders in driving positive change and learning the skills they need to shape a better world.”

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