Education
1:09 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Forging New Frontiers in Education: 'Sparking' The Next Big Idea In Education

It’s not your granddad’s classroom. And it probably isn’t the kind of classroom you grew up in either.

In a leaner, meaner job market where competition spans well beyond international borders, education is spanning well beyond the classroom walls of our forefathers.

This bi-weekly series looks at how Duval County is working to prepare the next generation for what's ahead by forging new frontiers in education.

Credit One Spark
Forging New Frontiers in Education: Sparking The Next Big Idea - Rhema Thompson

Education Innovators

In the back of an office on Baymeadows Way, Ebony Payne-English makes her way through stacks of big, bright boxes. With neon colors and the words “School Beats Academy” on the front, they almost resemble boom boxes.

Payne-English pulls out the items inside the boxes—work books, lesson plans, instructional materials. It’s music to an educator’s ear.

The materials are part of School Beats Academy, a musically-inspired curriculum designed to engage kids in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. However, the kids don't necessarily know they're learning. They think they’re running a record label.

“It’s a student-ran record label so it’s not just a club. They don’t just take the music; they learn how to run their own business,” she said.

That includes kindergarten lessons in product distribution, elementary school assignments on the physics of sound, and high school tutorials on music production.

Payne-English is in charge of curriculum development for School Beats Academy. Joseph Vickers is president of Education through Entertainment and Arts Partnership which developed the kindergarten through 12th-grade program.

“They’re simultaneously learning a lot of different concepts,” he said. “And a lot of these skills in the program are at an advanced level but because it's revolving around something they truly enjoy, they're grasping these different concepts.”

It’s one of the many projects looking to push the bounds of learning in brave, new ways at the second annual One Spark Festival. This year, the festival has partnered with the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership to provide a venue especially for those competing for funding for education-based projects.

So far, creators have registered more than 110 projects showcasing the next big idea in education.

Diane Bixler, an educator of 18 years, will also be among them. Bixler, who works at Flagler Palm Coast High School, came up CLASSwrites.  An avid writer herself, Bixler said the idea takes the writing process a step further, outside the conventional classroom. 

“The piece that we’re missing is the publication component,” she said. “And that’s what this platform offers is the ability to actually publish those works, and it turns around and generates money for the classroom setting.”

The web-based program provides a space for collaborative writing as well as an opportunity for students to raise funds by selling their published works.

“So it takes students all the way through the writing process and gives them a reason to do the writing," she said.

A prototype of the software will be on display at the One Spark event.

Courtney Fletcher is another One Spark creator this year. She wants to bring a new world of education to kids by bringing the world to them. Her organization, Kids’ Foundation for Uniting Nations, or FUN, seeks to educate children by connecting them around the world.

Fletcher’s own journey to founding FUN, began about three years ago.

“Following my trip to India, I actually had a fifth grade class in Florida Skype with some kids in India and it sort of opened my eyes to how little we know about other cultures,” she recalled.

The solution: create a global network for students. It began with Skype chats and emails and expanded. Now, the non-profit’s network has grown to include students in Costa Rica, Canada, India, Stanton College Preparatory, Fletcher High, Landrum Middle and Mayport Middle and Elementary schools.

Students have connected through Skype, email and even in person. This summer a group of FUN students will make their second trip to a youth center set up by the organization in Costa Rica.

“It’s opening their minds to a whole 'nother culture, environment, everything else,” she said. “And those that can’t, because technology is so good now, we can sort of bring that travel experience to them, which is incredibly important.”

It’s a changing landscape where connections are global and information is mouse-click away, and educators must provide a bold, new game plan, said Payne-English of Education through Entertainment and Arts Partnership.

“You have to go with the how--not the what-- and how does this apply to you. How do you use this information, how do you extract things that are particular to you as an individual from all of this information,” she said. “As educators, we’ve got to figure that out, and fast.“

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.