Students and teachers using technology to drive innovation is a theme woven throughout this year’s Follett Challenge.

A student-developed vocal warm-up app … Graphic novel biographies … Robotics competitions: Students and teachers using technology to drive innovation is a theme woven throughout this year’s Follett Challenge.

While schools await the live Follett Challenge winner announcement tomorrow at 12 pm CST, we’ve had the opportunity to take a closer look at many of the video entries. What did we find? Stories of innovation, technology integration, and success that every educator needs to hear. While each of the schools that entered this year’s challenge defined 21st-century learning differently, it is clear that innovation is very much alive in our schools.

Some of the more dynamic entries illustrate how the library is driving technology and curriculum decisions within the school, while shifting the focus from teacher-led to student-led, inquiry-based instruction. To keep the voting process fair, we can’t name specific programs or share links to their video entries yet, but we wanted to highlight five examples of innovation that captured our attention:

  • To improve communication skills among students, one school broadcasts a student-run TV studio.  During each broadcast, students highlight each other’s creative work. As part of the school’s Respect Project, designed to foster civility and manners, students create and edit videos highlighting the value or manner of the month. Those videos are broadcast on the student newscast. Through the TV studio, students must collaborate and become producers of 21st-century media by shooting, producing, directing, and executing the live broadcast.
  • As part of a performance-based learning initiative, students in another entry created, designed, and built their own recycling bins to improve sustainability efforts at their school. The project required students to identify issues in the current waste management program, research solutions, and collaborate with students in other areas of the school, such as broadcast and robotics, to execute an advertising plan to promote their solution.
  • In another entry, a student describes her innovation project that began when she learned from her music teacher that vocal warm-ups should change depending on the type of music she will be singing. Through research on appropriate vocal training, the student is now developing an app that leads singers through the perfect warm up. Now that’s innovation!

  • From apps to robots, technology is greatly infused in these innovative programs. One school connects its students to science, engineering, and technology by collaborating to enter a unique robotics competition. The school’s robot—designed, engineered, programmed, and built by students—plays basketball!
  • “Can one person change the world?” Sounds like a rhetorical question! But in another entry, a guided inquiry program illustrates how students read biography or autobiography titles and use technology tools and art to create a graphic biography.  This multi-media program covers a number of ELA standards.

Impressed? So are we! And remember, these schools we’ve mentioned might not even be finalists. In this second annual Follett Challenge contest, Follett sought out the most innovative schools in the world by offering $200,000 in Follett products and services by challenging entrants to incorporate the following skills into their video and written entries:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration—between students, and among librarians, teachers, special teachers, and/or administrators

Not all of the programs are centered on technology. Many use the arts to teach critical thinking. Another school took the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s songs and developed a cross-media, interdisciplinary project that illustrates how collaboration can achieve a reading/learning objective.

Whether or not the schools are using Follett solutions (like checking out and reading eBooks or other electronic content using the FollettShelf or Destiny), we created the Follett Challenge as a way for schools to highlight their innovative programs. But just having a great program is not enough. We believe schools need to be advocates for learning. So the Follett Challenge also is a platform for schools to show off their programs to their community and the world. For two months, schools shared that innovation through social and traditional media, earning votes and comments for their videos. Thirty percent of each school’s final score is based on how well they share their school’s story by earning votes.

More than 400,000 votes were cast for the Follett Challenge entries. Schools were given a Follett Challenge video promotion kit, which included a sample letter to their local media, suggested Facebook and Twitter posts, and even posters and tent cards to download and print to display throughout the school. It’s working. We are pleased to report the Follett Challenge has generated dozens of television news reports, newspaper articles, and blog posts promoting the Follett Challenge entrants and their stories of innovation in education. This is why we created the Follett Challenge in the first place!

Be sure to tune in tomorrow, April 5, at 12 pm CST for the live announcement of the winners at www.FollettChallenge.com! We hope you are as inspired by their innovation as we are.

Five generations ago, Britten Follett’s family founded Follett Corporation. Britten has returned to her roots in Illinois as the President of the Follett Educational Foundation and as Marketing Manager for Follett International.