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UA Scientists Using Facebook To Build 6-12 Learning Tool

A team of faculty at the University of Arizona in Tucson is building a new Facebook program intended to help middle and high school students learn how to teach themselves. Using a three-year, $1.4 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the project, called Teach Ourselves, will give users points for doing their homework, showing others how to work through math equations, translating word problems into other languages, critiquing a student's paper, writing educational Web applications, and producing electronic flashcards or an educational video.

The point of the research is to examine how students learn in a Web-based environment built for networking and entertainment. The effort is part of the team's larger effort to build the International Internet Classroom, which is working to centralize information and resources that could be of value to teachers.

Though details are still being worked out, users might eventually be able to cash in virtual points earned for tangible goods, such as college credit. The team is also sorting out how to sustain the program once funding ends and to monitor for cheating.

According to project co-lead Carole Beal, director of K-12 STEM education programs for the College of Science, the first phase of the project will include students from 15 states. Students from all 50 states will be able to participate by project's end.

"We're hoping students will want to do intellectual work outside of school and will find it rewarding," said Beal.

Chemistry, physics, biology and computer science are among the disciplines Teach Ourselves will focus on. The team is also developing the project to help students who have a difficult time with formal learning environments and offer lessons on subjects not typically taught in public schools, such as computer science. The social networking aspects of the initiative come into play because the program also encourages participants to help educate their friends.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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