The publishing industry has been abuzz about the Common Core for some time now, trying to keep abreast of the best ways to meet the marketplace demand for resources that align with the standards. Developers have come through with a host of new products—including immersive virtual environments and video games—that not only support the standards but, more importantly, have students excited about learning, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Although the future of the Common Core State Standards is still hazy, some of the new products and trends we’re seeing offer a reason for optimism, as technological innovations aim to spur their students’ creativity—even we got a little excited!
STEM, Games, and Makers
Right now, STEM education is a hot topic, and software and technology companies are creating new and innovative products to help students get a handle on technical topics. One example is zSpace, a virtual reality company. Students can use its software to participate in a range of tasks that provide them with the “ultimate immersive learning experience.”
Trying zSpace firsthand was an amazing experience for us. During demos, we marveled at having the ability to view and “dissect” a 3-D image of a heart, or to practice assembling a motor. Freeport High School (Rose’s school, in Freeport, N.Y.) recently purchased zSpace for use in engineering, art, and science classes. Many zSpace learning applications tie in to Common Core, making it an appealing package for school librarians and teachers. “We’re excited about zSpace’s ability to engage students in learning, and then to provide learning experiences that foster exploration, experimentation, and rapid iteration,” says Elizabeth Lytle, director of educational solutions at zSpace. “Our immersive learning platform creates experiences to bring information that requires imagination to the forefront of the student experience.”
Common Core has generated controversy, but it has also spurred a growing movement to encourage creativity in education. Two popular approaches are “gamification” (making tasks interesting by incorporating elements of games) and makerspaces (workshops for all kinds of hands-on activities). Both allow students to take a more active role in the learning process, and both require and encourage the kind of creativity that has often been stifled in favor of rote memorization and test prep.
For students who are apprehensive about taking advanced science and math classes, these fun approaches help tough topics to look a lot less scary. Educators validate student efforts and encourage self-directed learning with virtual rewards that make homework feel like a game. And the growing maker movement is turning classrooms and libraries into hands-on laboratories. Maker projects range from high-tech robotics and 3-D printing to writing code or just tinkering with building materials. As students experiment with the different options available in school makerspaces, they learn by doing rather than memorizing.
The early results are promising. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recently shared the results of an experiment that put apps and games on mobile devices to help students better understand difficult concepts taught in physics classes. The apps allowed students to better visualize abstract concepts and ideas, and they excelled as they used the apps to analyze concepts found in popular games such as Angry Birds.
Data Mining Our Kids
With sales of pre-K–12 educational software just shy of $8 billion last year, it is safe to say education is changing. But the rapid evolution and availability of new technologies has also raised concerns around the tracking and storing of student data. Educational technology companies are now able to mine copious amounts of information about how students use apps and tools. The question is, what will be done with that information?
California is on its way to becoming the first state in the country to enact a law limiting what can be done with the data gathered by these companies. As educational technology advances, more lawmakers will have to grapple with the benefits of gleaning relevant information about children and their educational progress against the specter of permanent online profiles that may follow students throughout school and into their future in the workforce.
As we grapple with these concerns, we can be heartened by signs that the tide may finally be turning away from grooming students to be rote test takers, and toward becoming independent thinkers and problem-solvers—a stated goal of Common Core. The question we have now is, how will traditional publishers and creators of print materials work with classrooms that feature such robust interactive and immersive technologies? Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.