Annabelle Howard, the founder of a nonprofit organization called Big Fun Education, is showing the world how the internet can and should change the way kids learn.
It's not about looking facts up on the web. It's about connecting kids with other kids and people that they could never have worked with before the internet. And her choice of internet tools is Google+ and Google's videoconferencing tool, Hangouts.
For instance, using Google+ and Hangouts she has:
- Connected middle schoolers from Scotland with students from North Carolina to teach them what the accents in Shakespeare's “Macbeth” are actually supposed to sound like.
- Helped coordinate one-on-one reading sessions between students and adults from all different backgrounds.
- Recruited two chefs from Trinidad and England to walk students through the menu of a medieval feast, while coaching them on how to make marzipan in real-time.
- Produced a video on the feast that reached an astounding 27 million people.
Those activities came through two of Big Fun Education's programs: Macbeth Goes Social and Reading Without Borders.
Macbeth Goes Social coordinates live readings and performances of the play Macbeth with students from around the world.
Reading Without Borders connects adults with students to read books about things the kids are passionate about.
Howard says her goal is to make theatre accessible and fun for everyone and to get students interested in reading.
“Everybody loves feeling connected,” Howard tells Business Insider. “It's almost addictive.”
She started Big Fun Education in 2011, after working for many years as a teacher and publishing almost 30 classic drama adaptations that came with board games. She and her partner, Forrest Stone, wanted to find a way to bring those adaptations digital. They wanted to find a way to use social sharing tools to bring them to as many kids as possible.
She plugged into Google's Connected Classroom Google+ community and found more teachers than she ever expected willing to give her idea a shot. She eventually created her own Google+ community for Big Fun Education that now has more than 500 followers.
Once she saw how much kids came alive and engaged with the literature when acting out her plays with other students through Hangouts, she wanted to try to see if she could find other ways to get them reading. After she put out a call for willing readers, the volunteers poured in.
She has now connected students and adults in more than 37 countries.
Through Macbeth Goes Social, she has seen kids interact with plays they had previously found boring. Through Reading Without Borders, she's watched kids who hated reading get excited about books. The readers become mini-mentors, all through using Google Hangouts.
“In this day and age, where everything is known or could be known with a click or a search, we’ve got to remember how to be human,” she says. “It’s not all information. It’s about relating to each other. It’s about telling stories. It’s about listening as well as speaking. That can be magic.”