Students taught by one Model Classroom workshop participant said they never felt so enthralled by schoolwork.

South Carolina is at risk of a water shortage. With $500,000 in grants available for innovative conservation projects, it’s up to the students in Bryan Coburn’s introduction to engineering course at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., to devise solutions.

Armed with smart phones and an array of ed-tech tools, the teens spent much of last semester on that hypothetical assignment. By the project’s end, they had created elaborate online portfolios showcasing their research, 3D designs, and multimedia packages.

Students said they never felt so enthralled by schoolwork. Some were inspired to become engineers.

“It was amazing,” freshman Parker Hooten said. “We didn’t just sit there and learn. We actually did stuff. It made the class much more fun and involving. You want to be there.”

That’s the kind of school experience that Coburn, the state’s Teacher of the Year in 2009, and the founders of a national program want to replicate.

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Coburn is among a cadre of celebrated teachers rethinking how to prepare students to excel in an age of rapid innovation and global uncertainty. The project is called “The Model Classroom.”

Run by the Pearson Foundation’s New Learning Institute, the two-year-old program invites Teacher of the Year winners from around the nation to Washington, D.C., during summers for workshops on making better use of ed tech to inspire a new generation of students.