From the Editor
Found in the Editor's Mailbox
Anne Wujcik — Friday, February 11, 2011
I see lots of great information in the course of a week, as do most of you. Recently there were a few items I wanted to share. One comes from Jim Brazell, a strategist and leader in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) arena. Jim's Sputnik Moment post opens a door into the really amazing and meaningful work that is being done all across the country with young people who are using both their minds and hands to learn by creating, designing and building and in the process becoming part of the solution for national innovation, competitiveness and security. The second came from Scott Traylor, CEO at 360KID. Scott is my life line to what's happening with interactive media in the consumer marketplace as well as more out-of-the box classroom technology. Scott asked me to "applaud" a 360KID project for the National STEM Video Game Challenge, which led to a round of browsing among the many entries for this competition.
I was thinking about Jim's stories as I read about a new report from researchers at Harvard. Pathways to Prosperity questions the now commonly accepted wisdom of "college for all," arguing that more attention needs to be paid to the career part of the college- and career-ready goal. There's no issue here about the growing importance of a post-secondary education to an individual's future success nor any question of tracking students into career education based on grades or performance. It's about creating a system in which students are presented with a variety of viable choices as to the path they want to pursue.
According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the U.S. economy is projected to create some 47 million jobs in the 10-year period ending in 2018, nearly two-thirds of which will require some post-secondary education .But nearly 14 million of those jobs can and will be filled by people with an associate's degree or occupational certificate. The report's authors point out that the U.S. is pretty much alone in its emphasis on higher education as the solution to creating a skilled workforce and argue that we need to pay more attention to preparing young people for the middle-skill jobs, as well as simply paying more attention, overall, to the "critical importance of relevant work experience in a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood." Not only is the workplace a great place to test out possible career choices, it's also "the best venue in which to learn the 21st century skills."
The National STEM Video Game Challenge, being held by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media in partnership with sponsors AMD Foundation, Entertainment Software Association and Microsoft, aims to motivate interest in STEM learning among America's youth by tapping into students' natural passions for playing and making video games. The challenge features two complementary competitions: a Youth Prize and a Developer Prize. Middle schoolers were challenged to design original video games to compete for the Youth Prize, while emerging and experienced game developers were asked to design mobile games for pre-K through 4th graders that teach key STEM concepts and foster an interest in STEM subject areas.
360KIDs' submission, Blockheads, is described as a digital paper folding journey through the imaginary land of CubeWorld. Players follow a puzzle-based story, playing a series of mental rotation mini games. Players become masters in the fine art of "Body Folding". Body Folding is the mental and physical art of understanding how two-dimensional objects map in three dimensions, specifically via the basic shape of the Blockhead universe: the cube. Now I'm one of those people who turn a map upside down if we're driving south, so it matches my world view, so I found this idea very challenging. I'd love to see this worked up and watch some kids interacting with it. Talk about problem solving.
Online public voting for the People's Choice Award is open through Feb 25. There are 35 games competing in this category, some from companies I recognize like Emantras, GeoGames, Imagine Education, Kid Games Interactive and sciTunes, as well as 360KID. Some fun stuff here.
It was interesting to see both Microsoft and the George W. Bush Institute announced education initiatives this week. Very different programs and funding levels, but still a reminder that private foundations are playing an increasingly important role in not only funding educational initiative, but setting directions and influencing policy. The Gates Foundation grant exemplifies that well. It supportive of the Common Core standards, focuses on developing rigorous content and supports New Tech Network in scaling its efforts to transform high schools throughout the United States. New Tech Network operates 62 New Tech High Schools in 14 states across the country, schools marked by project-based learning in a technology-rich environment. High school reform is really hard work and I like the New Tech High model. But I also know how hard it is to cover the standards while managing a complex project. Helping teachers improve the quality of their projects and tying those tie those projects more closely to the Common Core Standards is a great first step in making it easier for teachers to sustain their efforts.