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At Google HQ, Forum Focuses On Learning Innovations

The Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age forum kicked off yesterday here at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., with A-list speakers and some 200+ educators, policymakers, and corporate representatives on hand to brainstorm ways technology and innovation can drive real school reform.

The first panel, featuring Stanford Researcher Linda Darling Hammond and New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, among other education experts, discussed the need for systemic change in the nation's schools. Putting technology in classrooms ruled by outdated curriculum mandates and inflexible accountability requirements, or in the hands of teachers ill-equipped to tap their potential for improving instruction, will do little to improve student learning, the panelists said.

"There are teachers out there who are clearly ahead of the curve [in terms of using technology]. But part of the problem is that when teachers go out from [teacher education] programs like ours into the urban school, they don't have the technology in the classroom," Hammond said, adding that systemic change in curriculum and policy are needed in order for schools to effectively use technology in instruction. "Our kids are bubbling in multiple choice tests, when in other countries students are doing projects and collaborating. Their system is an innovative system."

To help fuel the needed change, Gary Knell, president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop, announced a new competition to begin early next year that will reward innovation in children's media.

"Today, 40 years later, Sesame Street still thrills children in this country and in 140 countries around the world," Knell said, noting that Sesame Street was created to tap the power of emerging media—television back then—to promote learning. "We have in this room an ability I think to push the envelope for something bigger, and to bridge the divide with formal school and so-called informal learning, which as you know... engages children, in case you haven't noticed."

In a video-taped message to the forum participants, Joan Ganz Cooney, a co-founder of Sesame Street and the Sesame Workshop (previously known as the Children's Television Workshop), said she hoped the forum would yield new, dynamic ideas for learning that take advantage of advances in technology.

"Today, it's not just television. It's the Internet, cellphones, gaming platforms, and virtual worlds," she said. "The question is the same (as it was 40 years ago), 'How can emerging media help children learn?'"

Cooney continued: "Let's once again push the boundaries of innovation that made this country a world leader."

The forum continues today, and can be seen by Webcast through the Cooney Center at the Sesame Workshop, which organized the forum. The center also has more information about the children's media prizes on its homepage.

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