At the Top of Teachers’ Wish Lists? Tactile STEM Projects, Flexible...

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At the Top of Teachers’ Wish Lists? Tactile STEM Projects, Flexible Furniture and Books

By Emily Tate     Jan 24, 2019

At the Top of Teachers’ Wish Lists? Tactile STEM Projects, Flexible Furniture and Books

Last year, 274,000 classroom projects were imagined, funded and fulfilled because of an idea one teacher had almost two decades ago.

That idea gave way to DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit where teachers can create projects and request resources to help their students, and then donors come in to put up the funds. In 2018, it reached classrooms in 52,000 schools, or nearly half of all public schools in the U.S.

Because so many educators turn to DonorsChoose to seek out classroom supplies, the organization is able to learn a lot from project requests posted on the site, which it analyzes and publishes in an annual insight report. For starters, teachers are increasingly showing an interest in projects related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), a reflection of a national trend in education.

But the projects themselves have evolved over the years to account for a much wider variety of interests and aptitudes, says Ali Rosen, a senior director of pre-K-12 partnerships at DonorsChoose. Take the recent push to include more computer science education in schools, for example.

“You may think of kids in front of Chromebooks learning to code,” Rosen tells EdSurge, “but we’re seeing a lot of Ozobots and Botleys instead. They’re more tactile, hands-on ways for students to learn computer science.”

The STEM-related projects on DonorsChoose—which made up 13 percent of all requests in 2018, up from 10 percent in 2016—continue to shape and expand what it means to learn computer science, Rosen adds.

Another favorite focus for projects in 2018 was “social-emotional learning.” Project requests that mentioned the buzzy phrase increased 100 percent year over year, indicating that teachers and donors alike are committing more resources to supporting children “holistically,” Rosen says.

Part of that effort is improving school and classroom environments for students. Requests for classroom furniture—specifically, flexible furniture intended to increase student engagement—were funded 111,000 times in 2018, up from 75,000 the year prior and just 16,000 five years ago.

Despite the growth in newer trends, the most commonly requested item on DonorsChoose remains one that has been around for centuries: books. They beat out computers and tablets, games and classroom supplies by a long shot.

But even the requests for this classroom essential reveal the way teaching has evolved, Rosen says. The two most popular titles requested in 2018 were “Wonder” and “The Hate U Give”—books that speak to a wide range of experiences and promote diversity and inclusion. (“Wonder” is about a boy with a facial deformity and “The Hate U Give” is about a black teen whose friend is killed in a police shooting.)

“A lot of what we’re seeing is teachers wanting to diversify their classroom library with books students can really see themselves in,” Rosen explains.

After 19 years, DonorsChoose continues to gain traction—increasingly so in rural areas, where the number of teachers starting new projects grew by 53 percent. There are a handful of working theories as to why that is, but Rosen suspects it has a lot to do with the event last spring that put the nonprofit all over national news: when a cryptocurrency company called Ripple donated $29 million to fund every live project on the website.

“That act of generosity was so huge … that it broke through this national media wall and allowed more people to hear about us,” Rosen says.

   

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