Students Impact Change in Times of Crisis

When a hurricane strikes, thousands of people unite with a common goal to provide disaster relief. When a local treasure is facing devastation, a community is mobilized to find a solution. Among them are the brightest budding minds of our future—students.

A 2009 study commissioned by The Volunteer Family and Harris Interactive found that 73 percent of 12-17 year olds in the U.S., or 18.8 million youth, have engaged in a volunteer activity. This spirit of service is driving many educators to incorporate real life scenarios into their classroom curriculum, challenging their students to help solve real world problems. This was the case for four educators from New York City and Rockville, Maryland, selected as finalists in Microsoft’s Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum this coming July which celebrates innovative teaching practices. Their students tackled issues of disaster response and the impact pollution has on marine life.

Designing Disaster Relief Solutions

At NYC iSchool, high school students are using social media, and their knowledge of geography, political science, and economics to get creative and design solutions for disaster response problems during 12-week course titled Maksoom Justeen final presentation for Disaster Bear#Disastercamp. Students created prototypes such as a “Disaster Bear” to comfort and assist young children separated from their families, a mobile application designed for deaf or hearing-impaired victims, a mobile system to help victims reliant on daily medications fill prescriptions and a communication system for victims who find themselves homeless.

Above: Maksoom Zahara (left), Justine Serrata (right) present their prototype for Disaster Bear to the class. Zach Behrman looks on. Below: Early whiteboard prototype for “Disaster Bear.”

Christina Jenkins and Francesca Fay were inspired by the 2011 Microsoft Imagine Cup and challenged students to find solutions for Disaster Bear whiteboard prototypeemergency response and crowdsourcing difficulties. During #Disastercamp students analyzed case studies in disaster vulnerability preparedness and response, examined the way social media has been leveraged in times of disaster, researched and tested mobile apps designed in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and spoke with emergency managers at FEMA through Skype to understand the domestic approach to disaster management.

At the end of the course, students proposed their own mobile app solutions and used PowerPoint to present their final solutions to guest critics including designers from Parsons the New School for Design, global design firm IDEO and Bard College, and then used their feedback to improve on their solutions. While students got the satisfaction of developing solutions to help people during a natural disaster, they learned how to think creatively about complex problems, how to accept and integrate feedback into their work, how to problem solve difficult or frustrating roadblocks, and how to be deliberate about every design decision they make so they can be confident when defending their work to critics.

Reviving the Bay

Just down south of New York City and the NYC iSchool sits Chesapeake Bay, well known across the country for its beauty as the largest estuary in the United States and famous for its seafood production. In recent years, the bay has been associated with the depletion of oysters due to pollution; a problem that students in Nancy Ale and Michelle Lipson’s classes at Earle B. Wood Middle School seek to solve.

Students studied the ecology of Chesapeake Bay and the impact of pollution, infestation of non-native species and other environmental impacts in their science class. Using that knowledge and research of the oyster depletion issue, students applied critical thinking skills as they developed strategies for the renewal of the oyster population. Students then used PhotoStory to develop a multimedia public service announcement to inform the local community and government of the current status of oysters in the bay.

At the end of their research, students worked together to create Oyster Reef Balls, a technology being used to promote oyster growth, and placed them in the bay to create new homes for the oysters and other marine animals. Beyond the academic lessons, students gained an understanding of how to use technology to increase efficiency and productivity when communicating with the community. For some students, this lesson was the first time they used technology for reasons other than as a toy. Perhaps far greater than the grade they earned, students gained tangible experience and realized they can have an impact on environmental change.

Collaborating for Change

Inspiring students to learn and promote positive change is no easy feat; these educators are at the top of their class incorporating academics with real impact. The Partners in Learning US Forum will bring together 100 like-minded educators using technology to creatively engage students, providing them the opportunity to collaborate and further the impact they have on students in the classroom and beyond.

If you would like to follow the progress of the 2012 US Forum, track #pilus on Twitter and follow @TeachTec for updates. Select educators from the US Forum will advance to share their work on a global scale at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Athens, Greece in November 2012.



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