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New Program Helps Classes Tackle Environmental Problems with Tech

Microsoft's education division has teamed up with the Smithsonian and TakingITGlobal, an organization that facilitates online collaboration among young people, to launch a global program intended to inspire teachers and students to participate in environmental issues. Shout is a new online community that will use technology to address serious environmental problems while helping students develop skills in collaboration, critical thinking, and social responsibility. Over the next three years, each member of the partnership will commit $1 million per year to the initiative.

Beginning in November 2010, instructors will be able to go to the Shout Web site and find the first monthly challenge, which addresses deforestation. Each challenge will kick off with an online event featuring Smithsonian scientists specifically for teachers and students. Once a teacher starts a challenge, he or she will be able to connect with other educators, access curricula on the topic, and learn about best practices for applying the materials in the classroom. Then students will be able to communicate with other students around the world and create activities that allow them to participate in the challenge.

The project was announced at the sixth annual Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa. The event, hosted by Microsoft's Partners in Learning program, brought together 125 teachers from 60 countries to share practices for embracing the use of technology for learning.

Shout grew out of a pilot program launched by Microsoft and TakingITGlobal at the company's Partners in Learning Regional Innovative Education Forum in Singapore earlier this year.

The pilot program, DeforestACTION, connected students across countries including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and Australia. Student actions include fundraising, working on collaborative projects to build awareness, and developing social action campaigns to support the protection of forests in the Asia Pacific region. They helped create a public service announcement that's playing on television in Sri Lanka and are working with a movie company in Australia to expose the problem of deforestation in a 3D movie.

"My sixth-grade class has not only been learning how palm oil production is directly linked to the destruction of the rain forests in Indonesia and Malaysia, but they have been collaborating with classes around the world to teach other kids, reach out to their community, and even petition their governments to stop deforestation," said Australian elementary school teacher Emmanuelle Blake. "Our kids are learning how they can work together to make a real difference, and technology is breaking down borders to help them."

"Shout is driven by the concept that students can and should direct their own learning both inside and outside the classroom, with teachers collaborating along the way," said Michael Furdyk, co-founder of TakingITGlobal. "DeforestACTION exemplifies the power of student-centered learning demonstrating that students can be leaders in driving positive change and learn the skills they need to shape a better world."

"This partnership is a fantastic way to build connections between teachers and students around the world, and address some of the most critical environmental issues of our time," said Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Public Sector Education at Microsoft. "Technology is an amazing tool to reach beyond geographic and cultural boundaries and build meaningful, collaborative partnerships."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.