Are schools turning students off of science and technology in the name of classroom discipline? Teachers and administrators often treat personal digital devices as a menace, implementing “turn them off” policies in classrooms and even in school hallways. Yet research has repeatedly shown that it is the daily interaction with technology that first awakens and then encourages kids’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Now, in an attempt to fan the flames of STEM in pupils of all ages, Verizon has announced an initiative aimed at spreading, rather than suppressing, the use of mobile technology in schools.
The initiative, which integrates three separate programs, will allow students to do more than just use their gadgets in class. It will provide insight into the knowledge and understanding that goes into making them functional and useful. The programs – the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, Verizon Innovative Learning Schools and the Thinkfinity platform – will offer kids an under the hood peak at the tech driving their mobile devices.
The Innovative App Challenge, created in partnership with the Technology Student Association, is a competition that invites middle and high school students to design concepts for mobile apps that integrate STEM and address a problem in the students’ school or community. To guide the students, Verizon’s Innovation Center engineers have created a set of instructional videos on app design and development that will be on the App Challenge website, www.verizonfoundation.org/appchallenge.
Rose Stuckey Kirk, the president of the Verizon Foundation, says that the App Challenge will allow kids to customize their mobile experience for their own use and for the use of their peers. After all, they are experts in the hurdles to learning they confront day to day and therefore there is no one in a better position to figure out the best ideas on how to overcome them.
Verizon will select the winners for the App Challenge – five middle schools and five high schools – who will each receive a $10,000 grant in addition to expertise in developing and even marketing their winning apps. Each member of the winning team will also receive a free Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet. Registration for the contest has been open since October 17th, and will continue to accept applications until December 1st of this year.
The second part of Verizon’s education initiative is the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program, which is designed to help teachers utilize technology and integrate mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, into classroom instruction to enhance student learning and achievement in STEM subjects. The International Society for Technology in Education and the Verizon Foundation have been working with 12 schools, designated as Verizon Innovative Learning Schools and located in underserved areas across the country, to design and deliver a comprehensive, year-long professional development program for teachers and administrators. Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School is one of the 12 schools.
Thinkfinity, hosted at Thinkfinity.org, is an extensive library of digital content meant not only to train teachers in the aspects of Verizon Innovative Learning Schools curriculum, but also to provide academic materials that can be easily deployed in classrooms across the country. The academic materials provided on the website cover a wide range of STEM-related topics, offering enough options to excite any kid about STEM subjects.