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Innovators Awards: Most inspiring and most innovative individual winner, Steve Martin

WINNER – MOST INSPIRING INDIVIDUAL AND PEOPLE'S CHOICE INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR

Who: Steve Martin

What: The Virtual Lesson Project 

Why you should care: Engaging kids at school and stimulating their creativity? What's not to like?

Howick College's head of junior science Steve Martin believes students today aren't fully challenged in school. 

"Too often students are working at a lower cognitive level which does not foster creative, imaginative and innovative thinking."

Martin's mission to address this led him to develop the Virtual Lesson Project, a model that fully integrates teaching with technology.

There are two components: a ‘Learning Log’ that breaks down learning outcomes based on three levels of thinking and ‘Virtual Lessons’, which provide online support. The former encourages risk-taking, as the various step levels are clearly defined. The interactive virtual lessons bring together a variety of educational tools, including flash cards, quizzes, animations, student narrated videos, digital ‘post-it’ note walls, instant messaging and software that allows learners to earn points by posing, rating and answering questions.

A key point is that it can be accessed at all times from anywhere. It solves the problem of limited sustained uptake of IT by students and teachers because there is no obvious link to teaching and learning, Martin says. And learners come away with digital skills central to the 21st century.

Martin says trial and error is encouraged in order for students to create and imagine new ideas, predictions, theories and hypotheses.

"It values that students can bring their own experiences and knowledge to a classroom and that they can have an effect on the understanding of others. They are no longer just the recipients of facts but the creators of shared understanding."

As a result, he says the number of students achieving excellence in their end-of-unit tests has increased from 3 percent to 53 percent. 

The Virtual Lesson Project earned the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Teaching Science in 2010, bringing in $100,000 to the school. And, according to Martin, it has major potential in the virtual space – there's plenty of room to incorporate gamified elements and allow students to buy virtual objects to carry out virtual science experiments with points earned.