{Third in a 3-part series}

An iPad, a recording studio and a 3-D printer are just tools. But when used in thoughtful, purposeful ways, these tools can help change the world.

That idea is part of the overall philosophy behind the technology and innovation program at GEMS World Academy Chicago, a premier private school and an Apple Distinguished School.

Technology, Innovation, Social ChangeGEMS World Academy Chicago builds its program around three broad concepts — Technology as Raw Material, Technology as a Means for Self-Expression and Technology as a Catalyst for Social Impact. Peg Keiner, the director of innovation at GEMS, said that this 3-pronged framework gives the school's tech program meaning and value.

"When we as educators talk about why we're using these tools, what we want students to do with them — that's what inspires students to take action and make their marks on the world," Ms. Keiner said.

In previous posts, we explored how GEMS uses technology as a raw material and a vehicle for self-expression. In this post, we will look at the ways in which the school's students have used technology to create positive social change.

GEMS has made a firm commitment to using technology in learning. Each student, starting in preschool, is assigned an iPad. In grades 4 and up, students are assigned laptops, as well. Each classroom is equipped with a wall-mounted touchscreen monitor that's connected to the Internet. The school's Design & Innovation Lab provides access to 3-D printers, laser cutters, robotics kits and other tools.

From the moment they start their education journeys at the school, GEMS students are encouraged to look at technology as a pathway not only to exploring their world, but also as a means of changing it. Here are some recent examples:

• Third-graders researched a variety of environmental issues, like pollution and climate change. They created short public-service-announcement-style videos about these topics using iPads and green screens, and then uploaded the videos to FlipGrid and made them available on MondoPads in the school hallway. Teachers, parents and fellow students could watch the videos and then offer written or video comments. It was a unique and interactive project that helped get the school community engaged about environmental concerns.

• Ninth-graders wanted to make their voices heard about complex social issues like gun control, sexism and more. They brought their research into the recording studio at GEMS to record podcasts in which they outlined the problems and then talked about potential solutions. The podcasts were structured like an interview show, with a teacher playing the role of a journalist interviewing the students about their specific topics. 

• GEMS hosted its first Global Design Challenge in 2018, inviting students from GEMS and other Chicago-area schools to create solutions to one of the following U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development: No Poverty, Life Below Water, Gender Equality, Life on Land, and Clean Water & Sanitation. The projects developed during the challenge were innovative and useful. One team of students, for example, designed a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) that could collect trash from the world’s oceans. Another team worked on a device that would prevent methane gas from entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming; this project won the top prize at the challenge. The students used engineering software, 3-D printers and other tools to make their designs come to life.

"It's a special experience to see young people, from the early grades all the way up through high school, discover the power they have as individuals to change the world," Ms. Keiner said. "Technology is key to that effort, but only when used as part of a well-thought-out mission."

As the U.S. Department of Education stated in its most recent education technology plan: "Technology can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners." 

When schools like GEMS deploy technology in a strategic and mission-aligned way, technology lives up to all that promise. 

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