By Maureen McTaggart

St Cyprian and Josh FalkSt Cyprian students in Cape Town work with the Smithsonian's Josh FalkStudents around the world are being encouraged by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, Microsoft, and TakingITGlobal to join forces to address some of the challenges facing the planet through Shout, a new website launched this week.

According to Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of worldwide education, Shout will allow educators to “create an opportunity for students to expand their horizons and connect with each other and the opportunity to bring challenges that excite, engage and connect students in classrooms around the world.”

Speaking at the annual Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, he told his audience of more than 500 teachers from around 70 countries that it is also a partnership that is built on a commitment “to create interactive opportunities to bring best of breed content with exploration opportunities and connect students to not only embracing the potential of service learning but opening them up to act and explore how they can make a difference in the environment, the universe and in their communities and countries”.

Shout’s inspiration comes from the pilot DeforestACTION project where students in Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka worked together on campaigns to protect the rainforests in the Asia Pacific region. This involved collaborative fund-raising campaigns and petitioning governments and national television programmes to help raise the awareness of the impact of deforestation. A 3D movie based on the students’ findings is on the cards.

'We really appreciate having students involved in work where they have passion'

As one of the aims of the Shout project is to encourage educators to use technology in innovative ways, it is entirely web based and kicks off in November with an online conference. The first monthly challenge features the core environmental issue around deforestation and to help students and teachers grapple with the subject; each bi-monthly challenge will be supported via webcasts by Smithsonian scientists and Microsoft Innovative Teachers and online materials – some of which will be provided by the Smithsonian scientists.

Claudine BrownClaudine BrownClaudine Brown Smithsonian’s director of education says they like the idea of Shout as it allows them to reach a global community and they are particularly interested in learners of all ages knowing about their work.

“We have a long history of doing interactive education and we believe that the approach for this work is an approach that we can get behind. We like the fact that students can learn from scholars, we appreciate the fact that they will be doing work that allows them to participate in what some people have been calling citizen science and that they will be collecting data that will actually be used. We really appreciate having students becoming actively involved in work where they have a passion, where they learn and where they are collaborating with others.”

Microsoft is committing more than US$1 million (£627,998) over three years to develop the project and will use the mighty reach of its Partners in Learning network and that of TakingITGlobal’s connection of teachers and students to connect any school that wants to join in. Described as “combining action with science” the first year of Shout will focus on the land followed by issues relating to water and air.

“We are excited about the innovative connections and ideas and approaches and the way students will bind together to approach these challenges to bring excitements and new optimism to some of the challenges facing the planet,” says Anthony Salcito.

“It’s a very powerful concept to have students from around the world connecting and collaborating on similar projects and connecting with each other and learning from each other. We also think students will gain some critical thinking skills and 21st Century competency skills that will not only help them expand their learning journey as they move on to college but create an opportunity for them to think differently about how they can have a mission connection to their education journey and the way they think about accountability long term”.

Microsoft Partners in Learning