Steve Drummond

Milo Greer's postcard had us emoji-face crying, too.
Courtesy of Melissa Greer

A few weeks ago,

Sixth-graders who used the power of two languages — Mandarin and English — to express how Asian students in their city suffered during the early days of the coronavirus.

And high school seniors who looked at inequality — and the activism that seeks to change it — to demand they be heard in the fight against climate change.

Meet the grand prize winners of the 2020 NPR Student Podcast Challenge!

It's our job to report on the big changes happening as millions of students are out of school and learning at home or online. We know for every child, that experience is different:

Summer camp is canceled. The school year ended weeks early. No one knows what fall is going to be like. "Virtual" graduation ... zoom classes. A lot of the things that were "normal" have changed. Face it, your kids are dealing with a lot these days.

OK, teachers, you asked for it: It's time once again to turn your classrooms into studios and your lessons into podcasts. That's right, the NPR Student Podcast Challenge is back.

It's a chance for your students to compete with young people all over the country for our grand prize: your students' story appearing on NPR's Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

Last school year, we received nearly 6,000 entries from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with more than 25,000 students participating.

What happened to a circus elephant in the small East Tennessee town of Erwin a century ago, and what are the people there today doing about it?

And what do a group of middle school girls from the Bronx have to say about the stigma that surrounds talking about periods?

We asked teachers and students to put on their headphones and turn their ideas into sound for our first-ever NPR Student Podcast Challenge — and boy, did they. We got nearly 5,700 entries, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Podcasts that explored climate change. Podcasts about gun control and mental health. About great books and mythology. Hedgehogs and history.

Teachers and their students at 1,580 schools participated: all told, roughly 25,000 students nationwide.

OK, class, listen up!

Here's your assignment for next semester: Take a topic, a lesson or a unit you're learning about, and turn it into a podcast.

Yup, we're launching the first-ever NPR Student Podcast Challenge. It's a chance for teachers and students in grades five through 12 across the country to turn your classrooms into production studios, your assignments into scripts and your ideas into sound.

Have something to say? Now is your chance.

Crayons, of course. Scented markers. Colored pencils, presharpened. And coloring books by the jillions.

Why do people like coloring so much? For grown-ups, I can totally get the nostalgia — and the simple pleasure of creating something.

But here at NPR Ed, we're all about kids and learning. And so, as parents head to the store this summer with their back-to-school lists, we thought this question was worth a serious look:

Paper ... or glass?

Advances in laptops and technology are pushing screens into schools like never before. So what does this drive toward digital classrooms mean for that oldest and simplest of touch screens: a plain old sheet of paper?

It may seem a wasteful and obsolete technology, ready to follow the slate chalkboard and the ditto machine into the Smithsonian, or a flat, white invitation to creativity, just waiting for some learning magic to happen.

It's a perennial debate in American education: Do kids learn best when they're sitting in rows at their desks? Or moving around, exploring on their own?

Back in the 1960s and '70s, that debate led to a brand new school design: Small classrooms were out. Wide-open spaces were in. The Open Education movement was born.

Across the U.S., schools were designed and built along these new ideas, with a new approach to the learning that would take place inside them.

We've written a lot about the link between college and the workforce — and the kinds of skills graduates will need in the 21st century to succeed. One of the skills you need is knowing how to present yourself. To put your best foot forward in the workplace, and in life.

So what's up with the crayons? Everywhere you go lately — the bookstore, Starbucks — even here at NPR — I see grown men and women sitting around coloring.

Every time, this takes me back to rainy childhood days on the living room floor: A robot. A mosaic of geometric houses. A flowery design pattern.

Clearly, I've stumbled upon the national craze for adult coloring books.