The most wired school in America

The School of the Future is now, but can too much tech impede critical thinking skills?

The technology in corporate America is thriving, creating a Future World environment that provides instant access to anything imaginable. But what about America's schools? Without the expertise and financial resources of a profit-based corporation, how can the educational community keep pace with the future job requirements of the global markets?

"There is no 'silver bullet' answer to the problems in education," says Mary Cullinane, director of Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning. "But one important conclusion is that education institutions face many problems when designing and building quality learning environments for their students. We, as a company and a member of their community, need to figure out a better way to support them. At the end of the day, it's about the kids, and being able to help address the challenges our country is facing is truly a privilege."

Better ways

Enter the School of the Future (SOF) and see that "better way" in action. Located on seven acres in West Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, this new, very futuristic facility is at the top of the list for the most wired school in America. However, in this case, the most wired school in America is, in fact, mostly wireless.

The School of the Future opened its doors in September 2006. Funded by the School District of Philadelphia with additional support and technical assistance from Microsoft Corp., this $63 million project is a technological inspiration for other educational institutions across the globe.

All the students and educators carry Gateway laptops with fiber-optic Internet connectivity.
 
All the students and educators carry Gateway laptops with fiber-optic Internet connectivity.

"The school can handle 750 students, four grades," says Barbara Farley, director of the office of communications at the school district of Philadelphia. "Currently, we have grades 9 and 10 enrolled in the SOF, approximately 400 students. In two years, the entire student body will be included in the SOF's curriculum and technology. However, we want it to be known that it's not just about the technology."

"Our philosophy," says Robin Walker, development coordinator at the SOF, "is to be sure that the curriculum drives the technology and not the other way around. We place the emphasis on learning first, with technology second."

"In addition," says Rosalind Chivis, SOF associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, "we wanted to build a replicable school using processes (both educational and technological) that work as an incubator for best practices, to make this project scalable districtwide."

The 162,000-square-foot, four-story building has an equally impressive architectural design.
 
The 162,000-square-foot, four-story building has an equally impressive architectural design.
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