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“Technology – specifically mobile devices – can help to capture students’ interest and attention in the classroom.”

The Verizon Foundation is the philanthropic entity of Verizon. We are focused on accelerating social change by using the company’s innovative technology to help solve pressing problems in education, healthcare and energy management. The Foundation has several education programs focused on developing students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Some of those key highlights are:

– The Verizon Innovative App Challenge – launched last Fall, this competition tasked high- and middle- schools across the country to come up with an innovative app concept for the chance to win $10,000 for their school and get a Samsung tablet, courtesy of Samsung Mobile! The competition closed Jan. 18 and the 10 winning teams – 5 high schools and 5 middle schools – of the Verizon Innovative App Challenge were recently announced. The 10 winning teams have begun to work with MIT Media Labs to learn about the basics of coding to build their app and bring it to life, using the MIT App Inventor tool, a free tool which allows anyone — young students — to be able to fully develop an app from scratch with limited technical knowledge. We will work with these students to bring their apps to the Google Play Store by the end of this summer.

– The Verizon Innovative Learning School (VILS)- this is the Verizon Foundation’s program where it partnered with ISTE (ISTE.org) to provide teachers with training on how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom to help increase student interest in STEM subjects. Note, while many schools have mobile technology in the classroom it is not used effectively… many times students are using it to do online searches or to watch YouTube. When taught how to integrate mobile devices into the classroom, teachers are offered a real-time view of how well students understood the course material that was just covered (for instance, teachers can conduct instant polling) and students can use those devices to better understand subjects that are tough for them (for instance interactive games to learn about fractions or other subjects).

MO: Why has the Verizon Foundation chosen to focus resources on helping to increase the interest of students on the core subjects of STEM?

The Verizon Foundation: US college freshmen are entering institutions of higher learning ill-prepared for higher level STEM coursework. Additionally, students often decide early on whether they like or are fearful of STEM subject matter. We chose to focus resources on helping to increase the interest of students on the core subjects of STEM to help bridge this gap. Well-designed and properly implemented programs focused on increasing interest in STEM can make a dramatic difference in the level of exposure students are provided in this area leading to an increased level of interest in the subject matter as well as engagement in class.

MO: Can you discuss some of the more innovative concepts the Verizon Foundation is involved with for STEM education?

The Verizon Foundation: The two programs discussed earlier, the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools and the Innovative App Challenge, are two innovative and unique ideas that support STEM education that the Verizon Foundation has implemented in the past year. However, over the last decade, we have also invested significantly in the Thinkfinity.org platform, which is one of the nation’s largest resources of free K-12 Common Core standards aligned content for teachers. Together with our partners, including National Geographic, the Smithsonian, NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) and AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), the Verizon Thinkfinity community has over 64,000 teachers accessing our STEM content among other subject matter on a daily basis. We are working closely together with our content partners to make this vast trove of content more easily accessible on mobile devices through apps and web friendly websites.

MO: Are you using technology in ways that help overcome obstacles that may have made some of your goals in education much harder to achieve in the past?

The Verizon Foundation: Technological hurdles often increased the difficulty in making the difference we wanted to make in the classroom. Connected mobile devices provide us a unique opportunity to impact students and teachers right where they are. Students are now digital natives who “live” on their devices. What better way to help them learn than on the device they carry everywhere they go. [A recent survey we commissioned found that technology – specifically mobile devices – can help to capture students’ interest and attention.] Education and technology are impacting each other in ways we have never seen before. We are right at the intersection of education and technology where teachers are learning and better understanding how best to utilize technology in the classroom to capture student interest and help them achieve.

MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for the Verizon Foundation and its focus on STEM?

The Verizon Foundation: We are working to launch our new Higher Education program soon. It is an exciting opportunity for us to take what we learned from our VILS program to a new community of educators. We will be focused on providing technology as well as co-creating curriculum around mobile learning at four universities around the country. We will be working with Colleges of Education at those Universities in training STEM majors working on their teaching certificates. Our work will focus on supplementing their programs with mobile technology and professional development on how to integrate that technology within the classroom so when these students become teachers the will be prepared.


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