Philadelphia on Thursday opened a public high school where students work on wireless laptops, teachers eschew traditional subjects for real-world topics and parents can track their child's work on the Internet.

Called The School of the Future and created with help from software giant Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT - news), it is believed to be the first in the world to combine innovative teaching methods with the latest technology, all housed in an environmentally friendly building.

The school, which cost the school district $63 million to build, is free and has no entrance exams. The 170 students in the inaugural ninth-grade class were selected by lottery from 1,500 applicants.

Three-quarters of the students come from the surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhood; 95 percent of the students are black, and about 85 percent come from low-income households, the school district said.

Philadelphia School District Chief Executive Paul Vallas told students they would be scrutinized by other schools around the world.

You have become instant role models, Vallas said. People are going to be ... watching you.

Student still sit in classrooms, but lessons rely heavily on information found on the Internet and on interactive software. Students will be allowed to learn at their own pace. Homework is done on computer and sent to the teacher for grading and parents can access the school's network to read teacher feedback on their child's progress.


Traditional education is obsolete and fails to teach students the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication, which they need to succeed in the 21st century, principal Shirley Grover said in an interview.

It's not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test, Grover said. It's about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu.

David Terry, 14, said he was hoping to turn over a new leaf after discipline problems in his previous school left him with an average to really bad academic record.

This is a great opportunity for me, he said. In other schools, I would not get this kind of education.

Christopher Green said he was ecstatic that his daughter Meray was selected to attend the school. She's a cancer survivor, and this is her second wind, he said.

The school's environmental enhancements include natural lighting, windows made of photovoltaic glass that generates some of the building's power supply, and cabinets made from trees removed from the site during construction, officials said.

Microsoft, motivated by a combination of altruism and self-interest, was closely involved in planning the school and providing its technology, said Mary Cullinane, group manager for the company's Partners in Learning program and the school's technology architect.

We have a vested interest because we need to hire the kids who are graduating, and we want to make sure we have created a blueprint that other folks will be able to use, she said.

Microsoft sees the project as a way to give the poor majority of the world's population an education that is more relevant to the world of work, said Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer.

If we want to continue to see the global economy expand, we need to find a way to lift 5 billion people out of their poor environment, he said.