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The Future of Education

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This column features stories from students exploring the intersection of creativity and technology through Hive Learning Network programs in NYC and Chicago.

"Folks, you're looking at the future of education," said my history teacher, motioning to the new SmartBoard perched atop the remains of our old chalkboard. The computer-powered whiteboard was quite an impressive gadget, for sure. But when I think about the future of education, a different picture pops into my mind. I see me and my peers brainstorming ideas around a canvas in a Chelsea gallery, having thoughtful conversations with artists and scientists, holding fierce debates over cups of apple juice, getting inspired while planning the third annual Emoti-Con Festival... I see us learning through creating.

Over the past year, I was lucky enough to savor all of these experiences with a fabulous group of creative teens and organizations. From the hip, artsy Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, to the Midtown hub of honking taxicabs, to the far East Side reaches of "skyscraper suburbia," I went on an unforgettable journey that will stick with me forever.

Over my three-month student residency at the grungy, futuristic Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, I stretched my artistic mind alongside senior resident artists and inventors. My only assignment? To create a final project of any art genre, for display during Eyebeam's public Open Studios showcase. Though it was initially tempting to place a plank of wood on canvas and call it my masterpiece, over the three months I learned the intense, soul-reaching side to art that I never quite understood during art history class. As a student resident, I had access to an overwhelming bounty of supplies, from metalworking machines to infinite types of odd editing software (and I thought Camtasia was a Disney spin-off of Fantasia...). My invaluable resource, however, came in a different form. While developing my final project, I regularly delved into the wonderfully quirky and interesting thoughts of Eyebeam's music engineers, self-professed "professional doodlers," social activist-artists, and ingenious computer hackers.

Every two weeks, my intense Eyebeam mind grind was peppered by Youth Planning Committee meetings at Global Kids, an organization devoted to developing confident youth leaders. The committee included teen representatives from the diverse organizations in the Hive Learning Network NYC. Our mission was to help develop an interactive, engaging agenda for Emoti-Con, a youth-made media and technology festival to take place at the New School. Over juice and piping hot pizza, we planned the event with the warm guidance of Global Kids staff. I brainstormed ideas for innovative festival activities with insightful teens from the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the YMCA, MOUSE, the New York Hall of Science -- you name it. Together, we took on responsibilities such as producing a Facebook video to advertise Emoti-Con, taking photo and video footage on the "big day," and even introducing guest speakers live, during the festival. Film students from the Parsons School of Art and Design graciously showed our committee how to use all sorts of funky recording equipment. A smattering of experts in the public relations field often sat in during meetings to offer public speaking tips and industry wisdom.

How did my journey at Global Kids and Eyebeam wind down? Emoti-Con effortlessly streamed along without a hitch on a bright June afternoon. The Global Kids Youth Planning Committee met once more after the event for some animated reflection (and voted on the Hive's final name and logo!). As a matter of fact, we gathered together recently to help run the Hive NYC booth at the World Maker Faire, an inventive art and technology festival held in the sprawling New York Hall of Science parking lot. And after weeks of filming with Eyebeam artist Fran Ilich and mixing the footage in a cozy video-editing suite, I at last produced my final project. During Open Studios, I showcased my black-and-white, iPhone-generated short film exploring the juxtaposition of quaint solitude amid the urban noise of Times Square.

Though Emoti-Con and Open Studios have long passed, I have taken with me two experiences that will last a lifetime. In the daily high school routine of drudging through textbooks, annotating passages, and dissecting calculus problems, it's easy to forget that learning is an interactive process. Together, a group of inspiring teens and adults debated, experimented, sketched, asked questions, and explored. But most importantly of all, we created something truly amazing. Now that's the future of education.

The Global Kids Youth Planning Committee presenting awards to the finalists of the Emoti-Con technology expo.