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Students and teachers use the Docs and Sheets apps to get schoolwork done on the go - whether they’re putting the finishing touches on a research paper or working with classmates on a science fair project. Today, we’re introducing Android add-ons for Docs and Sheets, new tools created by third-party developers with students in mind to help make completing schoolwork even easier.

Get more done, no matter where you are

These Android add-ons give students and teachers the ability to accomplish more in their documents and spreadsheets.

EasyBib: Quickly and easily add citations when you’re working in Docs on your Android with the EasyBib add-on. Automatically format citations by URL, title, or simply capture a book bar code with your Android’s camera. Read more here.

Google Classroom: Easily turn in your Classroom assignments from Docs on Android with the new Classroom add-on.

You can find these add-ons and many more, including Teacher Aide, DocuSign, ProsperWorks, AppSheet and Scanbot in our Google Play collection as well as directly from the add-on menus in Google Docs or Google Sheets.

Try them out today, and see how much more you can do.

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This year, the Google Science Fair invited students from around the world to use science and engineering to make something better. And they did not disappoint. From creating more eco-friendly fuel to making our water safe to drink, we were so impressed with the creative and thoughtful solutions to big world problems that students shared with us. Out of the thousands of projects from over 107 countries, we're excited to share the Top 100 ideas selected by the judges.

Check out the full list of the 100 Google Science Fair Regional Finalists.

These 100 Regional Finalists are all in the running to become one of the 16 Global Finalists, who will join us in Mountain View on September 27 for our sixth annual Awards Celebration.

In addition to these regional finalists, please join us in congratulating the five Community Impact winners! From 25 finalists, the judges had the tough choice of choosing five winners; one for each top project that focuses on fixing a difficult problem across North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. From a water filter made from seashells to using food waste to combat drought, you’ll want to check these out so read on to find out more about these incredible projects.

North America: Sea Shells for Water Safety

In 2014, Alex (15) was disappointed to see how difficult it was for the average inner city family to access lead-free drinking water during Flint, Michigan's water crisis in 2014. Eager to create an affordable lead filter option for people to use, he began researching the issue and found that water served to over 6M people across the US contains lead levels that can cause serious illnesses in children and adults. His experiments showed that you can avoid using traditional filters that require a dangerous and environmentally unsafe acid bath, and instead use simple products like sugar, water, a heating mechanism -- and, surprisingly, seashells. Highly absorbent and cheap to create, Alex's new filter lasts for at least 30 days, reducing both lead and iron levels by over 60%. Alex hopes this new solution can be used in his local community and around the US to remove lead from their local water supply until lead pipes can be replaced with safer options.

More about Alex: Alex was excited to discover the world of science with help from his dad, who's an engineer. Alex is inspired most by scientists who think outside the box to make radical discoveries that help society, like Nicola Tesla and Albert Einstein. Alex looks forward to attending college to further his education so he can continue to solve problems through science.

Latin America: Better Water for Brazil with Seed Magic

In November 2015, a mining dam failure in Brazil led to an ecological disaster when 62M cubic metres of iron-rich mud contaminated 500 km of the River Doce, polluting drinking and irrigation water for 500K people. João (15) and Leticia (18), have been affected by multiple water pollution crises like this one alongside thousands of other people across Brazil. With limited access to advanced treatment resources for restoring local water supplies, particularly when in the middle of an environmental crisis, these students wanted to find an affordable and accessible way for Brazilians to easily treat their water. It was also important to João and Leticia to find an answer that would not introduce even more pollution to the environment. They were excited to discover that the local moringa plant seemed to be a perfect solution: already plentiful in the region and popular to the local diet, the seed cakes left over in local food processing work as biodegradable water filters. João and Leticia look forward to introducing this filtering system to their local community of Fortaleza and across all of Brazil.

More about João and Leticia: João enjoys math, physics, and chemistry, which led him to meeting scientific Olympiads while in high school. They inspired him to pursue science more seriously in his studies, and he now looks forward to helping society and making a real difference through his studies. Leticia comes from a low-income family that values education, and she grew up testing scientific theories for fun. She dreams of using her talents to help people in a way that really matters for their lives, and hopes her upcoming enrollment at Stanford University, California, will help her make that dream come true.

Asia: Keeping Fishermen Safe at Sea

In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Advay (14) was dismayed to hear how often local Rameswaram fishermen were captured and arrested for long periods of time due to making a simple mistake: crossing an International Maritime Boundary line it was impossible for them to see. Given the high penalties and impact to fishermen's livelihoods, Advay wanted to create an easy-to-use GPS system to send alerts when sailors approached maritime borders or when better fishing was available in another area. The system can also alert fishermen to dangerous weather conditions, so they can steer clear. Advay's invention is designed to work on any type of handheld mobile device, and he hopes that with it more local fishermen can avoid financial hardship and stay safe at sea.

More about Advay: Advay particularly likes math and science. He hopes to study engineering at a top college so he can work for a tech company one day. Advay is also very active in sports, and he enjoys playing soccer and cricket.



Africa: No More Thirsty Crops

Kiara (16) lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, which like other nearby countries, is suffering from the worst drought the region has seen in over 20 years. Kiara believes that a critical solution to long term water needs is a special material that can hold hundreds of times their weight in water while stored within soil. Typically, these materials are man-made and filled with harmful chemicals that are both non-biodegradable and too expensive for local farmers to afford. Kiara found an ideal material that won't hurt the budget in the simple orange peel, and through her research, she created a way to turn them into soil-ready water storage with help from the avocado. Kiara hopes this low-cost material can reduce juice manufacturing waste while helping local farmers save both money and their crops.

More about Kiara: Kiara's love of chemistry, physics, and food have led her to dream of becoming a scientist specializing in agricultural science and molecular gastronomy. Kiara's scientific inspiration comes from M.S Swaminathan, who shares her belief that sustainable agricultural practices are critical within India and throughout the world.

Europe: Making Turkey Earthquake-Ready with Recycled Cans
İlayda (15) and Ezgi (15) live in Turkey and attend school together. The 7.1 earthquake that hit Turkey in 2011 claimed over 600 lives, and local scientists predict that the next decade could bring even more damage as tension continues to build along the North Anatolian Fault line. Given that many of Turkey's buildings are older, scientists have appealed to officials to help the country retrofit its buildings and train city workers to handle a potential earthquake disaster that could claim thousands of lives. Inspired to help, İlayda and Ezgi sought an affordable way to retrofit local buildings in their community with an easily available material: aluminium cans. The pair designed a solution that can be used to fill traditional concrete walls, increasing their ability to absorb impact damage from 32% to 61%. The students hope to keep their community safe from earthquakes with their new design.

More about İlayda and Ezgi: İlayda dreams of studying biology abroad and teaching in her field. Her scientific heroes are Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking because of their courage, open-mindedness, curiosity, and patience. As a lover of both art and science, Ezgi hopes to follow Leonardo da Vinci's lead. She's also inspired by the inventors Tommy Flowers and Benjamin Franklin, and she hopes to study mechanical engineering abroad.

Thanks to the generous support of our partners — LEGO Education, Scientific American, National Geographic, and Virgin Galactic — Community Impact winners will receive mentoring and educational scholarships to help them make the world a better place through science, math, and engineering. They’ll also be joining our Global Finalists at Google HQ for our Awards Celebration.

To find out who the 16 Global Finalists will be, check out the Google Science Fair site on Aug 11, and keep up with news about the fair on Google+ and Twitter.

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 Program Lead

Editor's note: Tune into the Google Science Fair website on July 18th to find out which five young scientists below will win their regional Community Impact Award! With the generous support of our partners, these winners will receive mentors and scholarships to help them further their education and inspiring projects. To keep an eye on the competition, visit the Google Science Fair site, and follow along on Google+ and Twitter.

Through the Google Science Fair, we've invited today's brightest young minds to answer an important question: how can they make the world better through science, math, and engineering? We received thousands of extremely impressive answers to this question from over 107 countries this year, and we can’t wait to announce the winners later in September.

But before we get there, we want to first recognize the projects that aim to solve tough community challenges like providing clean drinking water, keeping people safe from natural disasters, and fighting droughts. This year, we'll be giving not just one, but five regional Community Impact Awards: one for each top project that focuses on fixing a difficult resource problem across North America, Latin America, the Middle East & Africa, Asia & the Pacific Islands and Europe.

Please join us and our partners — LEGO Education, Scientific American, National Geographic and Virgin Galactic — in celebrating the top 25 global Community Impact Award finalists below:


NORTH AMERICA

Keeping Shores Sparkling with the Trusty Mangrove Oyster
José Luis (16) has a passion for protecting the environment and regularly volunteers for beach clean-ups in his hometown of Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Inspired to protect the beaches he loves so much, José Luis set out to find an environmentally safe way to preserve the beauty of the shore's ecosystem. He found the answer in a surprising resource: mangrove oysters! While this delicacy found on Caribbean and South American Atlantic coasts is a popular dish with locals, José Luis discovered that they're also highly efficient organic filters. With the ability to quickly process ~15L of contaminated water within 2 hours without any negative impact on the environment, José Luis believes the mangrove oyster is a safe, cost-effective way to restore and maintain the Gurabo shoreline for years to come.

Saving the Day with Energy-Smart Windows
Naveena (16) wants to solve the problem of global warming, and was on a mission to find a way to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions that cause this phenomenon. With buildings contributing up to 40% of today's global energy consumption, Naveena concluded that simply making buildings more energy-efficient could reduce that consumption by as much as 100 quadrillion BTUs. Her additional research showed that while installing "smart windows" is the quickest and most-recommended solution, they can be too expensive for most people to install. Her answer? Even smarter windows! With help from a cheaper glass coating technology called SEAS-LIR, Naveena believes her Richland, WA community can save thousands of dollars on installation and energy costs, while significantly reducing its overall carbon footprint.

Sniffing Out Chemical Danger in the Air
Eeshan (14) was horrified to discover how harmful poor air quality can be to expectant mothers and young children. It turns out that typical carbon monoxide and smoke detectors can't identify some of the more common chemicals in the air, and that simply opening a window can drastically reduce complications from these pollutants. After surveying mothers in his community, Eeshan also discovered that many people have no idea if or when the air quality has reached a dangerous level around them. He devoted himself to creating a solution: an app that monitors the air around you and sends an alert with specific air improvement instructions based on the level of chemicals it finds. Eeshan hopes his device can help people keep the air safe for their loved ones at home.

Sea Shells for Water Safety 
In 2014, Alex (15) was disappointed to see how difficult it was for the average inner city family to access lead-free drinking water during Flint, Michigan's water crisis in 2014. Eager to create an affordable lead filter option for people to use, he began researching the issue and found that water served to over 6M people across the US contains lead levels that can cause serious illnesses in children and adults. His experiments showed that you can avoid using traditional filters that require a dangerous and environmentally unsafe acid bath, and instead use simple products like sugar, water, a heating mechanism -- and, surprisingly, seashells. Highly absorbent and cheap to create, Alex's new filter lasts for at least 30 days, reducing both lead and iron levels by over 60%. Alex hopes this new solution can be used in his local community and around the US to remove lead from their local water supply until lead pipes can be replaced with safer options.


Growing Fruits & Veggies In Our Own Backyards 
For John (15) and Margaret Mary (16) of Milwaukee, WI, science is a part of everyday home life. With John's talents in Biomedical Engineering, and Margaret Mary's passion for medical and environmental science, the pair decided to see how their different fields could help tackle the same science challenge together. They set out to explore whether the soil in their own backyards could support a sustainable garden for their families, even when treated with common yard care chemicals. To their surprise, it turns out that organisms beneficial to gardening can still thrive in the average suburban yard, providing local families with a yard the chance to grow their own healthy vegetables and fruit. 



LATIN AMERICA

Better Water for Brazil with Seed Magic

In November 2015, a mining dam failure in Brazil led to an ecological disaster when 62M cubic metres of iron-rich mud contaminated 500 km of the River Doce, polluting drinking and irrigation water for 500K people. João (15) and Leticia (18), have been affected by multiple water pollution crises like this one alongside thousands of other people across Brazil. With limited access to advanced treatment resources for restoring local water supplies, particularly when in the middle of an environmental crisis, these students wanted to find an affordable and accessible way for Brazilians to easily treat their water. It was also important to João and Leticia to find an answer that would not introduce even more pollution to the environment. They were excited to discover that the local moringa plant seemed to be a perfect solution: already plentiful in the region and popular to the local diet, the seed cakes left over in local food processing work as biodegradable water filters. João and Leticia look forward to introducing this filtering system to their local community of Fortaleza and across all of Brazil.

Smart Farming with Volcanic Ash
Born and raised in the agricultural towns of Northern Patagonia, Félix (17), Patricio (17), and Jeremías (16) are particularly invested in helping farmers make the most of their crops, even in the face of natural disasters. When the Calbuco Volcano erupted in April 2015, nearby farmers were also dealing with a drought. The trio posed the question: could the farmers somehow use the volcanic ash left behind to grow crops? Their experiments showed this was entirely possible -- while volcanic ash doesn't itself have meaningful nutritional content for growing crops, it does a great job of retaining water. Given local water shortages, these students hope to help farmers in Argentina and Chile revitalize their crops with help from this unexpected source.

No More Head-Scratching: Recycling With Robots
Manuel (18) and Alejandro (18) are concerned about the growing landfill problem in Colombia due to overpopulation and a lack of recycling. They noticed that most people in their community of Bello, Antioquía, Colombia seemed overwhelmed with what to do when faced with multiple recycling bins, and most locals choose not to recycle because of this hassle. Recognizing that recycling can be a difficult good habit for people to adapt to, these students combined their talents in computer science and engineering to build an automated system to solve the problem. Their simple robot tells users which waste bin to throw trash into after a simple scan. Easy! These two look forward to helping Colombians adapt more quickly to recycling, and hopes their new invention leads to a significant decrease of landfill waste in Colombia.

Building Better Biofuels with the Elephant Ear Taro 
Elkin (18) of Medellin, Colombia, studies chemical engineering and is passionate about finding a way to stop global warming through alternative green methods. Given the tropical climate of his country, he wanted to find a plant that could be used to create gasoline sustainably without negatively impacting Colombia's agriculture or air. What he found was the large-leafed 'Alocasia macrorrhiza' -- originating from Southeast Asia, the plant has flourished around the world in tropical rainforests under names like 'Giant Taro' and 'Elephant Ear Taro.' After rigorous testing, Elkin determined it could work as a great biofuel that produces less pollution and actually improves car performance. This is because the plant grows rapidly and burns more efficiently leaving fewer pollutants behind due to its higher ethanol percentages. The plant has a high starch content that produces ethanol levels of 88-90%, while corn and sugar biofuels produce 83-85% ethanol. Elkin also found that you can produce more fuel with the same amount of this plant than you can with sugar cane. Given his research, Elkin is excited to introduce this new plant as a better alternative for an environmentally-friendly ethanol fuel.

Super Green Supermarket Packaging
While walking through the supermarket in Barra do Garças, Mato Grosso, Brazil one day, Kemilly (17) saw just how much waste her grocery produced in one small, easy-to-overlook food display item: plastic and styrofoam food trays. Kemilly wondered if she could find an alternative solution that would be less harmful to the environment and avoid filling local landfills. Her research led her to a magically multi-purpose plant: the buriti palm. An indigenous tree, all parts of the palm are used by local riverside communities to produce products used in daily life, from beauty and health oils to desserts and snacks. The palm fronds are also used to produce a strong fiber that can be woven into baskets and other containers, which can last for decades while still being biodegradable. Kemilly hopes to introduce the buriti palm as an environmentally-safe alternative to throw-away packaging for her local community.


ASIA PACIFIC

Keeping Fishermen Safe at Sea 
In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Advay (14) was dismayed to hear how often local Rameswaram fishermen were captured and arrested for long periods of time due to making a simple mistake: crossing an International Maritime Boundary line it was impossible for them to see. Given the high penalties and impact to fishermen's livelihoods, Advay wanted to create an easy-to-use GPS system to send alerts when sailors approached maritime borders or when better fishing was available in another area. The system can also alert fishermen to dangerous weather conditions, so they can steer clear. Advay's invention is designed to work on any type of handheld mobile device, and he hopes that with it more local fishermen can avoid financial hardship and stay safe at sea. 
Congo-ing Nuts: Making Dirty Water Clean
Like others in their local community in central Singapore, Tushmitha (15), Nagajothi (15), and Yan (15) come from diverse backgrounds. All too aware of how difficult it can be for people across India and Southeast Asia to access clean water, the trio wanted to create a safe, economical water filter. The students realized that while textile mills are a significant source of revenue for new economies in many developing countries in the region, they can also leave behind water contaminated with chemical dyes used to color fabrics. For their project, the group created a filter using the porous walnut shell to extract Congo Red dye, a common fabric dye, from polluted water. To their delight, their filter worked, proving that this biodegradable and common agricultural waste product just might be the perfect material to make local water safe to drink. 


Avoiding Landfills with Shresto Pads 
Growing up in Pakistan and Bangladesh opened Saliha's (15) eyes to the sheer volume of waste being generated by these densely populated areas, leading her community to host some of the world's largest landfills. Determined to find a solution to cut down on non-biodegradable waste, Saliha turned to a common personal hygiene item: sanitary pads. With the local economy booming with the sanitary industry, she knew it was only a matter of time before landfills would become overwhelmed with these products, which contain plastics and harmful chemicals. So, Saliha created a safer, chemical-free option made entirely of plant materials that will degrade in just two year's time. She hopes her new "Shresto" pads will help more local women feel comfortable while also making the environment safer for everyone.

Airin (17) hails from Kerala, India, a region known for beautiful tropical beaches and agriculture, specifically tea, coffee, and spice plantations. Given his community's dependence on farming, Airin was intrigued by a question: could he create a better greenhouse that could produce extra crops sustainably and remain safe for the environment? For his project, he created a greenhouse that recycles 100% of the carbon dioxide it produces. His design proved successful, quadrupling crop yields while also using less power, water, and money. Airin believes his greenhouse can help Kerala farmers increase their harvests and income while sparing the local air from pollution.

In Shanghai, where temperatures can drop severely in winter due to Siberian winds, pipes can often freeze and burst, disrupting the community's access to water for hours or days at a time. While identifying a frozen pipe before it bursts is one path to solving the problem, Ying (17) realized it was more important to identify a pipe that was about to freeze and adjust water temperatures before they become critical. She set herself the task of creating an engineering solution to monitor local pipes that can automatically send electrical currents to adjust water temperatures as needed. Ying hopes her design will help her local community avoid plumbing disasters during the coldest time of year.


AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST 
Rolin (15) of Cameroon is passionate about science and wants to modernize his rural community, which is located 20km from the capital of Yaoundé. In rural locations like Zamengoe, where he attends school, Rolin shook his head to still see so many people trekking miles to charge their cell phones. Even worse, many locals are still forced to rely on dangerous and expensive oil lamps to light their homes at night. Seeking a solution to keep his community connected to power without breaking the bank or causing fires, he built portable solar kits that are simple to construct and cheap to make. He even trained people in his town to create their own kits so they'll never go without basic power! He believes he can help more Cameroon communities enjoy energy safely while improving their quality of life with his new creation.



In Lusaka, Zambia, family involvement in local politics has made Mphatso (18) keenly interested in reducing poverty in his community. As Southern Africa struggles to recover from its worst drought in decades, farmers are seeing their crops destroyed due to El Nino weather changes, leading to famine for millions. Without crops, farmers can't make a living, making it harder than ever for them to pay for the farming supplies they need to keep their farms fertile and their families thriving. To help local farmers find low-cost, affordable solutions for pesticides and fertilizers, Mphatso investigated alternative ways of generating the supplies farmers need. He created a simple, portable production station that requires basic cooking materials like charcoal and local plant leaves from the ground. Based on his methods, Mphatso believes farmers can save hundreds of British Pounds in costs, saving ~50% on fertilizers and ~80% on pesticides to help them produce better, more abundant crops.



No More Thirsty Crops
Kiara (16) lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, which like other nearby countries, is suffering from the worst drought the region has seen in over 20 years. Kiara believes that a critical solution to long term water needs is a special material that can hold hundreds of times their weight in water while stored within soil. Typically, these materials are man-made and filled with harmful chemicals that are both non-biodegradable and too expensive for local farmers to afford. Kiara found an ideal material that won't hurt the budget in the simple orange peel, and through her research, she created a way to turn them into soil-ready water storage with help from the avocado. Kiara hopes this low-cost material can reduce juice manufacturing waste while helping local farmers save both money and their crops.

Himanshi (17) and Richa (17) of the science duo 'Higgs Bosons' live in Nairobi, Kenya. The pair know that like Nairobi, much of Africa is dependent on unreliable hydro-generated power. Alternative energies are expensive and hard to access, leaving many Africans struggling with a poorer quality of life and health care. Dedicated to careful research and answering life's problems with science, the students designed a new way to create power using an advanced 'periscope-derived energy device. A new take on solar and steam energy, this device channels heat from the sun through a convex lens, intensifying the energy received and using it to create steam in a nearby reservoir. Higgs Bosons believes this easy-to-assemble, affordable solution could be the answer to energy problems for communities across Africa.




In Cairo, Egypt, Sara (18), Nourhan (17), and Asmaa (17) were shocked to realize that a significant number of citizens suffer from disabilities yet receive little governmental support or resources to help improve their quality of life. In particular, people who are deaf and hard of hearing struggle to connect with the hearing community, who do not always have the patience to learn sign language. This trio worked together to create a glove that translates hand signals into letters and speech, helping the wearer to communicate more easily. The young women hope that their invention will be another powerful tool for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to navigate more easily through life.




EUROPE

Ilya (16) began exploring engineering and robotics at a young age in his home city of Moscow, Russia. When he saw a gap in affordable tools for people who are visually-impaired, he began creating a wearable 'radar' accessory that can identify nearby obstacles through vibration signals. After receiving feedback on his initial design from people who were blind or visually-impaired in his community, he created a second, lighter prototype that is even easier to wear. Embedded into a common baseball cap, this system alerts wearers to the specific direction of obstacles within 3.5m using gentle vibrations. This gives the wearer plenty of time to adjust their direction of movement, so they can safely reach their destination. Given its low production cost, Ilya hopes to see his device improve the quality of life for the visually-impaired in his community.

Tarik (17) and Amor (16), of Sarajevo, Bosnia, have seen first hand how massive floods throughout Bosnia in May 2014 caused harmful lead contamination in local soil and drinking water. Eager to find a cost-effective way to create clean water for growing crops using a cheaper material that's also close at hand, the pair discovered that the white mustard plant, which is native to Bosnia and Herzegovina, is especially talented at absorbing lead. The plant is also of course biodegradable, creating a simple and very accessible way for their community to make local water safe again.



A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Esra (13) was concerned about how difficult it can be for locals and visitors to access clean drinking water without worrying about lead contamination in highly industrialized areas. Most visitors are advised to drink bottled water, and to avoid getting tap water in their mouths when taking showers or brushing their teeth! Inspired to create a new filtering solution that can help people avoid this problem, Esra investigated the use of mussel shells as a filtering device. His work showed that mussel shells are ideally suited to absorbing lead from soil and water and plentiful. Luckily, they also cost very little. Esra hopes to introduce this filtering option to his local community to create clean water for everyone.





Alex (18) lives in Athens, Greece. Fascinated by the intersection between robotics, software design, and the internet, he wanted to create the ultimate solution to solving health problems "in the cloud." In thinking about who needs health care the most, he realized that many people can't afford to visit a hospital or are physically too far away to access quality health care. Particularly for critical situations where a patient needs surgical care urgently, Alex wondered: wouldn't the world be a better place if a surgeon could treat their patient safely from thousands of miles away? To solve this, Alex built a robot and manually coded software that could control the robot remotely from any internet-enabled device. Through software and mechanical engineerings, Alex has created a platform that enables medical professionals to help patients wherever they are in the world, at any time.



İlayda (15) and Ezgi (15) live in İzmir, Turkey. The 7.1 earthquake that hit Turkey in 2011 claimed over 600 lives, and local scientists predict that the next decade could bring even more damage as tension continues to build along the North Anatolian Fault line. Given that many of Turkey's buildings are older, scientists have appealed to officials to help the country retrofit its buildings and train city workers to handle a potential earthquake disaster that could claim thousands of lives. Inspired to help, İlayda and Ezgi sought an affordable way to retrofit local buildings in their community with an easily available material: aluminium cans. The pair designed a solution that can be used to fill traditional concrete walls, increasing their ability to absorb impact damage from 32% to 61%. The students look forward to helping their community stay safe should an earthquake happen in the future.

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Editor's note: Today’s post comes from Andrew Caffrey, assistant headteacher for data and technologies at The Streetly Academy in Sutton Coldfield, United Kingdom. Caffrey, a passionate supporter of technology in classrooms, recently received the Inspirational Educator Award by the Worshipful Company of Educators. We invited him to talk about the value of ebooks in encouraging students to read.

As a teacher, I know what a gift reading can be — we all wish we had more time to tackle the books on our own lists — but not all of my students feel the same way. It can be an uphill battle to convince students that books will open up new worlds. Every day at Streetly Academy, we brainstorm ways to encourage students to find and read what they love.

To start, we set aside dedicated reading time for students so they learn the value of this fundamental skill. Reading time is scheduled into the school day, just like any other subject, which telegraphs its importance for students. During these sessions, some students bring in books from home, and some read them on their Chromebooks, which use the RM Books system so we can offer as many different titles as possible. For students who are resistant to reading, variety matters. These students often believe there’s nothing out there that they’ll enjoy, so access to different genres and topics can help pique their interest.

We’ve also noticed that reluctant readers will warm up to books on screen, since students are used to devices at home and in school. Research backs up our observation: a recent study from the UK’s National Literacy Trust found that boys in particular become more avid and confident readers when they have access to ebooks.

“A lot of students, normally boys, consider reading boring and don’t even want to attempt it,” says Rebecca Leeson, an English teacher at our school. She’s seen the difference that ebooks can make with both boys and girls, as well as changing student thinking about how a “book” is defined. For example, Rebecca gives students excerpts from longer books.
Students at Streetly Academy have enjoyed the greater choice that reading with ebooks has brought them
“Students often think that reading must always involve a novel,” Rebecca told me. “The extracts give them the opportunity to look at a range of texts instead of focusing on just one. Sometimes they’re the beginnings of novels, but can also be nonfiction. A lot of students then go on to read the full texts for the subjects they enjoy.”

Greater choice of reading material is key to encouraging students to read more. Now that RM Books can be used with Google Classroom, we can select and share books even more easily with our students. We can also highlight the pages that we want to students to read so they know exactly how much reading to complete.

Along with offering students a wider range of reading choices, we also experiment with different ways to read. Rebecca, for instance, switches her teaching format depending on how students respond to a reading selection. In addition to giving students independent reading time, she’ll gauge whether small groups or a whole-class session would be more appropriate for a discussion. If students are struggling with a text, she might introduce an audio book option, or suggest that students read short articles on a subject before they move on to the full versions.

It’s heartening to see more students change their attitudes toward reading, and in some cases, to really embrace literature. One of Rebecca’s students started the school year with little interest in reading. After several months of reading short texts and discovering subjects she enjoyed, she grew so confident that she won the English award. Another reader on her way to a lifetime of discovering books!

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Editor's note: Teachers are uniquely inspiring people. It takes a teacher to innovate in the classroom and inspire a love for learning. We had a great time celebrating these everyday heroes at ISTE this week, and we wanted to highlight a few of them below. Check out the #GoogleEdu and #ISTE2016 hashtags to get a recap of what went on in Denver this week.

The teachers at Laguna Beach Unified School District in California and Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin wanted to give their traditional classroom a reboot. By upending the typical classroom layout that confines students to desks and teachers to the front of the room, they increased student engagement, introducing technology, hands-on learning and group activities.

Laguna Beach designs learning spaces to enhance engagement through movement 


“The classroom is the most neglected element in education right now,” says Mike Morrison, chief technology officer at Laguna Beach Unified School District. “You’ll find rooms with dark projectors, the lights out and the blinds drawn. How could these dark spaces inspire learning?” At Laguna Beach, Morrison and 15 teachers plunged into research on the impact that environment has on the senses — and tested technologies, furniture and even colored lighting. The core elements, says Morrison, boiled down to flexible furniture, multiple monitors and audio amplification.

To replace bulky desks that were designed decades ago to be placed in rows, Morrison and his team chose desks and chairs with wheels that can revolve in any direction. This frees up teachers and students to quickly group desks together and direct attention at any part of the classroom — or at each other. There are standing desks as well, giving students the option to have their legs engaged — a boon for students dealing with attention-deficit disorders, Morrison says.

More monitors and whiteboards provide more space for students to work as teams, instead of just watching the teacher up front. “The walls can then become anything we want them to be,” says Morrison — a place for a test review, a team project or solving a math problem as a class.

Morrison and his team also changed the audio and lighting to help set the mood for different types of learning and make it easier for teachers to be heard. Teachers wear lanyard microphones connected to each classroom’s speaker system. “A teacher who spends the day shouting to be heard is stressed, and so is the class,” Morrison says. Teachers use lighting to change wall colors depending on the activity — yellow to encourage quiet reading time, blue for creativity and brainstorming.

About 40 classrooms have been reconfigured to date, with 20 more to come this summer — and the change is palpable, Morrison says. “Teachers are walking around more, and they’re in touch with what students are doing,” Morrison says. “The atmosphere in classrooms is also much calmer.” 

Laguna Beach Unified School district put together this fun video — a takeoff on TV’s “The Office” — showing off the classroom improvements.


Classrooms become technology incubators for Sun Prairie Area students 


At Sun Prairie Area School District, teachers are inspiring students to be entrepreneurial and engage with technology. They found that by creating dedicated spaces without any of the usual trappings of a classroom, they could motivate students to break out of their comfort zones and think more outside the box.

One of these learning spaces, “Fab Lab,” was created by Stephanie Breunig, a media specialist for the district’s Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School. Students can use the Fab Lab for school or personal projects. The lab has Legos, digital and GoPro cameras, art supplies, circuit boards and software such as GarageBand, recording software for music and Final Cut Pro, a video editing software. In the Fab Lab, students work with teachers to create their own videos or music mashups and internet memes. They've even started learning 3D printing and robotics.
Student working on a project in the Fab Lab
At Sun Prairie Area, teachers are also evolving learning spaces inside the classroom. With Google Maps, students take virtual tours of the world in their geography lessons, learning details about other cultures that they couldn’t find on a regular map. “Students use Google Maps to explore and take interactive tours of other countries,” says Tim Mortensen, 6th and 7th grade social studies teacher at Patrick Marsh Middle School. “When we learned about the pyramids, they could actually see them on the map and they started asking questions about what they’re made of. Some students even explored the surrounding area, wanting to know more about the hotels and restaurants in Egypt and asking questions like why the McDonalds there has different items on the menu.”

“Literacy no longer means just reading and writing words on a page. Technology has created a new definition of literacy that includes digital,” says Curt Mould, director of innovation, assessment and continuous improvement at Sun Prairie Area School District. To teach with technology, teachers are creating learning spaces defined by interactive learning and experimentation.

Laguna Beach and Sun Prairie Area School Districts have discovered just a few of the ways that disrupting the traditional classroom environment can help engage students. From exploring the world with online activities, to simply taking the classroom outside for a lesson, there are an infinite number of ways that teachers all over are creating new learning spaces to inspire students. Is your school district trying to reinvent the rooms where learning happens? Tell us about your plans to inspire curiosity in the classroom environment.