5 Education Innovations That Are Changing Lives Right Now

Classes are well underway at the university where I teach. I’ve taught Elementary Latin for so many years that I’m ready to teach it any hour of the day or night. Nonetheless, I know I need to be on the lookout for ways to shake things up.

These days, technology is often one of the first areas educators of all ages of students turn to. There are more resources than ever, from tablets to smart boards to devices that can help a student with a hearing impairment record lectures. Provided you have access to the internet, there is the chance to take university-level courses in computer science, mathematics, electronics, immunology and much more via massive open online courses or MOOCs such as Coursera or EdX.

Here are some innovative education solutions happening now in a classroom that may be near you or very far away:

1. Let Them Play Minecraft

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Teachers around the world are using Minecraft, a video game that can be played on a number of devices as well as computers and that has users create structures in a 16-bit world to teach science, city-planning and speaking a new language. A company called TeacherGaming runs MinecraftEdu to assist teachers in setting up ways to use the game to teach gravity, explore ancient worlds and more.

2. A teacher uses neuroscience to teach the children of Brazil’s favelas

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

To teach the impoverished children in the Rio de Janeiro’s slums — where drug-related violence and domestic abuse are rampant, Yvonne Bezerra de Mello runs a school that “integrates neuroscience with didactics.” Students raised amid chronic poverty and violence have many “learning gaps” that require specialized techniques, she says. Her students attend school

… In a brightly painted classroom where they are free to get up and wander out, or move chairs. Lessons are divided into blocks of no more than 20 minutes and the more-able children take turns to instruct the class through role play. Subjects are covered for short periods in varied ways, often linked to real life, with no note taking or rote learning.

The children attend the rest of the school day at a mainstream school.

De Mello’s methods have been so successful that they are now being used in 150 other schools in Brazil and have started to attract international attention from educators as far away as Germany. As she tells the Guardian, “if children do not have this pre-learning, they cannot hope to complete their education, let alone hold down jobs. But if we help them to repair these ‘learning blocks’, they can have good prospects and lead worthwhile lives.”

3. We need to give credit where credit’s due: to U.S. military veterans

Education officials in seven Midwestern states are working to make it possible for student veterans to gain university credit for training and experience they received while serving in the U. S. military.

Some one million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now enrolled in college. State officials are seeking to save them money and time for the skills they learned while in the military — such recognition of prior learning is one of the suggestions in President Obama’s higher education proposal released last month.

4. British free schools are opening in… former air force bases and fire stations?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A number of free schools (the equivalent of charter schools in the United States) are opening in unusual spaces: a former Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire, a former fire station in Norwich and a church and youth court in London.

There are 174 free schools in England and finding facilities to house them has been a challenge. Former police and National Health Service facilities and job and community centers have also been converted into schools, without playgrounds and other amenities. Parents have been hopeful about the changes. After all, is it a building that makes a school or the people — students, teachers, staff — in it?

5. MOOCs bring M.I.T. to Mongolia

Video uploaded by Battushig Myanganbayar/YouTube

17-year-old Battushig Myanganbayar of Ulon Bator, Mongolia, is now a student at M.I.T. thanks in part to his taking Circuits and Electronics, a sophomore-level course that was the first MOOC the Massachusetts university offered. At 15, Myanganbayar was one of 340 out of 100,000 students who earned a perfect score in Circuits and Electronics.

Needless to say, that brought him to the attention of M.I.T. officials. A YouTube video about an invention of Myanganbayar’s, Garage Siren — a sensor that alerts car drivers that people, such as Myanganbayar’s younger sister, are in an apartment driveway and activates a red light — has also brought him acclaim.

Myanganbayar’s achievement is all the more notable as he is from a “country in which a third of the population is nomadic, living in round white felt tents called gers on the vast steppe.” It is also a testimony to the possibilities of MOOCs. While proponents of these argue that they are a way to provide a high quality education to many, many more, critics contend that MOOCs threaten “economic survival of non-elite colleges and are an inadequate replacement for the teaching and support of live professors.”

I’m one such live professor at such a nonelite school. Initially when I heard about MOOCs, I concluded that they spelled the end of my job and that of many fellow professors. MOOCs are still so new to the higher education landscape — which is itself in need if revision — that it’s hard to say if they will really mean that live professors will become rare. Stories like Myanganbayar’s say to me that MOOCs can provide opportunities not only for one teenager from Ulon Bator but for a world that could benefit from his brilliance and, who knows?, lead to yet-unimagined innovations in education and learning.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago


Lorna Wood
Lorna Wood5 years ago

It is troubling that you imply Minecraft will help students. There is little data supporting the idea that videogames of any sort help students, and most of those who push such projects are, surprise surprise, in the pay of videogame manufacturers.

John Wesen
Past Member 5 years ago

Video games. Yep...that'll work. :D

Michael H.
Mike H5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you Kristina, for Sharing this!

Jan W.
Jan W5 years ago


Pat A.
P A5 years ago

I enjoyed every word of the article - it gave me hope for the future - God bless Yvonne de Mello in Brazil - what a wonderful system!

Ana Marija R.
ANA MARIJA R5 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

James Beeston
James Beeston5 years ago

My son plays minecraft he is obviously training for the futre.

Fi T.
Past Member 5 years ago

As long as these help prepare students for the future