Gates gives $20 million for digital learning

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Wednesday it would be investing $20 million to bring new national education standards into the classroom using game-based learning, social-networking and other approaches to capture the imagination of bored or unmotivated students.

The Seattle-based foundation is partnering with the nonprofit arm of one of the largest textbook publishers in the United States to create the new learning tools and offer some of the materials for teachers and school districts to use for free. It is also working with education game developers and an online public school in Florida for this project.

Judy Codding, the Pearson Foundation executive leading the course development team, said during a news conference that her organization already planned to be involved in developing new ways to help teachers adopt the new national education standards that will replace local learning goals in more than 40 states.

The partnership with the Gates Foundation offers the philanthropic side of the textbook company the money it needs to really innovate and try out new ideas that catch kids' attention, said Codding, former president and CEO of America's Choice, an education reform company acquired last year by Pearson.

"We can have all the best standards in the world, and we can have the greatest assessments, but if we don't motivate and engage kids, we can't win," she said.

The new learning tools that will be ready for teachers to use during the 2013-2014 school year will include video games that build proficiency in math, reading and science, as well as a new game platform that can be used for various subjects. Game developers and curriculum writers from around the world are involved in the project.

Wednesday's announcement also included a $2 million grant for Florida Virtual School, a statewide, Web-based school, to develop four digital classes based on the new standards. Two of the classes will be math-based and two will be literacy-based, but all will be encased within another topic such as engineering or natural sciences.

Vicki Phillips, director of the Gates Foundation's education program, said the grants announced Wednesday were only the beginning of the foundation's investment in curriculum development for the new national standards.

The foundation recently convened a meeting of game designers and curriculum writers to talk about how they can work together, and they will be working with teachers around the country to try out new ideas.

"We're learning a lot as we go," Phillips said. "It's going to be an exciting feedback loop."

She expects more nonprofit and for-profit companies will join them in the effort to design the way American kids will learn in the future.