In a few weeks, the halls of a school in Nanuet, N.Y., will teem with mini race cars. The vehicles will sport custom-designed wheels, each set carefully tuned in diameter and thickness to achieve maximum speed.
But the cars’ makers aren’t college-level engineers; they’re middle-school students attempting to learn about physics and technology by using a device that combines both–the school’s 3-D printer. “It’s rewriting what’s possible” in education, says Vinny Garrison, the teacher who organizes the races.
It’s not the only innovation doing so. Nearly three-fourths of U.S. teachers use technology to motivate students to learn, according to a survey by PBS LearningMedia. And that tech is getting smarter: students can now virtually tour ancient worlds to learn history, take quizzes via smartphone and more.
Most of the changes are designed to better prepare U.S. students for careers in fast-growing fields like science and engineering. But they can come at a cost–and not just financially. A $500 million plan to supply Los Angeles students with iPads was recently suspended after students bypassed content filters and some parents complained that the initiative was pulling focus from much needed building repairs.
So far, however, research shows that using next-gen tech in the right ways can make students smarter, more engaged and more creative. Here is a look at six new technologies that are shaping the classrooms of the future.
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This appears in the September 22, 2014 issue of TIME.