Featuring Projects, Not Technology

11/15/2003 By: Susan McLester

Innovation is a word being tossed around an awful lot these days. For a while, we were all being asked to "think outside the box," to divest ourselves of "low-hanging fruit," to deal with it when somebody "moves your cheese." So, it is with some relief that we return to a term that has been in the English language for a bit longer than five years.

Certainly the last two decades have seen tremendous innovations in technology and technology-related products, including virtual learning, wireless and handheld devices, digital video, biometrics, and many others we've profiled in our November Top 10 issues of the past ("Top 10 Technology Breakthroughs for Schools," and "Top 10 Smart Technologies for Schools." This year, with "Top 10 Innovative Projects," we wanted to focus more directly on the student, and how that student's daily learning experience is being transformed by all these new technological capabilities.

As you can imagine, narrowing down to 10 the innovative projects happening in today's classrooms-or, more to the point, out of today's classrooms-is a near-impossible task. There were many editorial huddles around exactly what the definition of "innovative" was. In the end, we decided to look at a broad range of projects that would be accessible to educators at a variety of levels of technological sophistication. We wanted to acknowledge the continued excellence of projects like ThinkQuest, which is still evolving, adding new layers of technology and broadening its topics and its audience. On a smaller scale, we also wanted to profile simpler, homegrown projects that model ways teachers can capture the imagination of kids who've had limited experience with technology and even less experience being in the limelight. Thus, "Life on the Streets," a straightforward look at the world of the homeless, created by kids who know it firsthand.

Of course, we also wanted to examine projects that, though less accessible than most, still push the envelope as far as both technology and learning are concerned. Two high-end, real-life adventures fill that bill: "Road Rules," where students design, build, and race their own solar-powered cars; and "Andes Adventure," which puts a group of high school girls in an "extreme sport" venue as they tackle the job of mapping and measuring a tropical glacier. There are several common threads throughout the 10 projects, but in the end, what they share more than anything else is a project-based approach and lots of fun.

Next month, look for something new from Technology & Learning. Those of you with e-mail addresses on file are slated to receive our special, bonus Awards Issue in interactive digital format. You will find direct links to all the resources you've come to expect from the magazine, as well as a clickable table of contents, the ability to digitally add a note to a page and pass it along to a friend, downloading capabilities, and additional features that will turn this holiday edition into a miniportal.

Susan McLester, editor in chief, T&L smclester@cmp.com


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