In a South Carolina middle school classroom, a group of girls cluster around the computer engaged in animated discussion. They’re not adding hashtags to selfies on Instagram, they’re working together to design and 3-D-print a functional prosthetic for a girl born without a hand. They’ll go on to host a “hand-a-thon” to print dozens more prosthetics for other children in need.

At a high school in Illinois, a legally blind student, the son of first-generation immigrant parents, uses powerful engineering visualization software to design a fuel-efficient car capable of achieving more than 100 mpg.

Another student, isolated in a hospital cancer treatment unit in Pennsylvania, attends school back home in Florida as a rolling robot, moving from classroom to classroom with his friends and classmates, learning with them via live video feed.

This is not the future; this is the present.

“When students are asked to use technology actively to communicate their ideas, to collaborate with others, and to solve real world problems, they learn more...”

Getting connected

When students can access high-speed internet both at school and at home, they are more prepared for the challenges of the digital world. Until recently, most schools didn’t have the classroom bandwidth they needed. But thanks to President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, 20 million more students have access to broadband in their classrooms. This access is particularly helpful to otherwise disadvantaged students, who are now participating in online AP computer science classes not offered at their schools or conducting research as part of a virtual science team led by a university professor, building early college connections.

Active vs. passive use

When students are asked to use technology actively to communicate their ideas, to collaborate with others, and to solve real world problems, they learn more than if they are simply asked to sit and watch a screen. The U.S. Dept. of Education 2016 National Educational Technology Plan calls for schools to turn their students into digital creators. Many schools are turning the tables on passive tech consumption by asking students to design digital games rather than just play them, to learn to compose, mix, and record their own music rather than just listening, and to script, shoot, and edit videos exploring issues in their communities rather than just watching videos online.

Empowered educators

Change doesn’t happen on its own. To fully realize the benefits of technology in our education system, we need to invest in our teachers to provide them resources and professional learning opportunities they need to use tech effectively. We also need leaders in our schools and local communities to support these efforts. 

This is why we are working with others to support over 2,200 Future Ready school districts all over the country that have pledged to prepare their students for the digital age. Find out how your district can make the pledge at When educators are empowered, schools thrive. 

Together, we can help students become responsible digital citizens at an early age, laying the foundation for them to become leaders using powerful technology tools to improve the world we share.