Over the past school year, educators sought new ideas and digital tools to bring to the classroom to help with transitions between virtual, hybrid, and in-person learning. Rather than focus on specific digital tools, I thought of methods that would not be impacted by shifts in our learning environment. Bringing in authentic opportunities for students to design their own learning paths, to engage more in learning while developing essential SEL skills that will best prepare them for the future, is important.
One of my favorite methods to use has been project-based learning (PBL). PBL is a great option for giving students a chance to explore an area of interest, to solve a problem, or stretch themselves and learn about something impacting their community or the world. Authentic PBL focuses on student-centered learning and empowers students to develop their skills in many areas including critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, time management, and leadership skills to name a few. To help with PBL, I recently found Tract, a peer-to-peer program for students ages 8 and up in which the teachers, or creators are students.
Providing something for each student that meets their interest can be a challenge, but with Tract, all students can find something they can do independently for their unique interests and skill level.
What is Tract?
Tract is a web-based program, co-founded by educator and parent Esther Wojcicki and Ari Memar, a former student of Esther’s, who vet all of the Tract courses and content to make sure that it is safe for students and focused specifically on kids. I had a chance to speak with Ari and learn more about Tract and the many benefits for students. What I love about Tract is the variety of topics available for students to explore, how authentic and meaningful the learning is, and how students build essential SEL skills. With Tract, educators can support SEL and self-efficacy through student-directed, project-based learning through the enrichment clubs and on-demand classes available. Students can work through the classes at their own pace. Classes provide students with an opportunity to explore many different areas which include topics like art, gaming, learning to code, applying artificial intelligence and machine learning, becoming an entrepreneur, and many more.
The classes are led by middle school, high school or college students who create and share their passions for what they are learning and help inspire other students. Because of the way that it is set up, students build their confidence as they learn from peers and embrace new challenges that are inspired by students as creators from around the world.
Students can choose from the different challenges and as they complete them they are awarded coins, an experience based currency that can be traded in to use for gifts of recognition of other learners on Tract or real-world donations directly impacting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example planting a tree, protecting the coastline, and donating a meal for a family.
Tract is for use both at home and in classrooms around the world and the content is best for students in third through the eighth grade. All videos are reviewed and hosted on their private Vimeo server. Tract is providing its service free for the first 1,000 teachers using my code, RACHELLE, to request access at teach.tract.app. Once your account is ready, you can set up your students using a simple educator code..
What makes Tract different
Tract is unlike any other platform that I have seen. It is a peer-to-peer learning platform that provides students with many different ways to learn about topics of interest, to explore their passions, and to build essential skills for not just in the future but for now. For students interested in creating content on YouTube or TikTok, Tract channels that motivation. It also promotes the development of social emotional learning (SEL) skills as students become self-aware as they design their own project and track growth, build social awareness as they learn from peers from around the world, develop self-management through setting goals and managing any stress that may arise during independent learning. Students build relationships as they interact with one another and focus on responsible decision-making as they decide their next steps in learning.
Using Tract takes what can become a more passive learning experience and provides enrichment. It helps students to become more active learners, shifting from consumers to creators in and out of the classroom. They become hooked into what they are learning while also being challenged to think about and connect with the topic and process this information to design their own learning. For example, creating a video game sparks interests in coding, hands-on creating helps students to more deeply experience learning in meaningful and purposeful ways.
Scaffolded lessons and experiences build engagement and help students to see learning more as a process rather than an end product.
The library is full of on-demand learning paths available that range from topics like the arts, business, health, history and social sciences, math, physical education, politics, science, and world languages for a few examples.
Here are a few of my favorites.
- Because I love music, the “I just want to rock and roll” created by Cody Williams
- “How to Create a Learning Path on Tract” by Ryan Chester (Harvard class of 2020)
- The TikTok algorithm explained, created by a high school student
- “Give a speech like President Obama”
- “Health and Leverage AI to Support Mental Health” created by a student who has a non-profit “The Hope Sisters
- “Virtual Reality Fly Across the Globe Without Leaving Your Couch”.
Rachelle Dene is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.
She is the author of five books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World and her newest book “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” is now available. All books available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or directly from Rachelle.
Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915
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