Online conference urges new thinking for new schools

When modernizing old buildings or designing new ones, school districts should model them after the workplace, make technology centers the focal point, and get input from students, parents, and businesses, according to educators who shared their experiences in an online town meeting sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

The meeting, which aired on public broadcast and on the internet, addressed the topic, “Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century.” The live audience and home viewers were invited to ask questions of panelists, all of whom were experienced at renovating or building schools with technology in mind.

Opening the discussion, Education Secretary Richard Riley said, “We need to equip schools with the latest technology to help teachers and students take full advantage of new and exciting tools for learning.”

We also need to re-imagine schools, he said, increasing their uses by incorporating community technology centers into their design, having them remain open longer, and including all citizens in the school planning and building process.

At first glance, this is not an easy or affordable feat, since American schools are so old.

The United States has 89,000 public schools, 70 percent of which were built before 1970. The average U.S. school is 42 years old. The most recent studies estimate America’s schools need $322 billion in structural improvements, and thousands of additional schools need to be built to accommodate the rising student population.

“We have old buildings,” said Linda Quinn, principal of Emerald Ridge High School in South Hill, Wash. “The wiring is not suitable and even the conditions of the classroom are too cold, too hot, or too damp.”

She added, “We are still using four classrooms constructed in 1916.”

Anthony Amato, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, said some buildings in his district are 50 years old.

“We had issues with air conditioning, with wiring,” Amato said. “As soon as you poke a hole in the wall, the ‘asbestos police’ show up at your door.”

Creative thinking is necessary when faced with the high costs of installing computer networks in such old buildings, he said.

“Rather than put all of our resources and focus on trying to do what is an almost impossible task, we said, ‘Let’s get out of the box and turn our thinking around,'” Amato said. To avoid exposing asbestos, the district opted for wireless networking with laptop computers.

With its wireless network, students are free to roam anywhere in the school with their mobile computers. As a result, Amato said, both attendance and student work have improved.

Creating a workplace environment

Today’s society needs more graduates with real workforce skills, panelists said. Therefore, some schools are modeling not only the building, but also the curriculum and hours to mirror the typical workplace.

“We know that what students will need to survive [in] university settings or in the workplace is the ability to work in teams,” Quinn said. Her school was designed with workspaces that encourage collaboration. There are “no more chairs and seats bolted to the floor,” she said.

Gary Jacobs, former senior education specialist at Qualcomm Corp., described how a new high school called High Tech High added workplace environments and hours into the school environment.

At this modern facility, located at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, each student has his or her own workstation in addition to classroom, lab, and group workspace. The hours are from 9 to 4, and the day is divided into two blocks instead of 50-minute periods.

“If students feel like they are in a work environment, they’ll feel motivated, they’ll pay attention,” Jacobs said.

High Tech High’s curriculum, which was developed in collaboration with industry partners, is project-based. In one of the projects, students assemble their own computers. These projects interweave three curriculum strands: math, science, and engineering; literacy and humanities; and art and design.

In grades 11 and 12, students attend off-site internships twice a week, reinforcing the school’s emphasis on the high-tech workplace.

“We had to design the school so it looked good, but at the same time you have to get to everything,” Jacobs said. The building’s telecommunications cabling has an open architecture on the outside of the walls, so students can see how it works.

Emerald Ridge High School also uses its building as a teaching tool.

“When we designed our building, we tried to think of it as part of the curriculum,” Quinn said. “It becomes part of the textbook.” For example, she said, the drama students use the light and sound equipment in the auditorium as a hands-on classroom.

Some educators are designing their schools so the technology center is the focal point. “It’ll be the first thing you’ll see when you enter the school,” said Charlotte A. Wright, superintendent of the Weiner, Ark., Public Schools.

Another school used its computer lab to join two parallel hallways, so students would pass through it as they moved around the building. Others created computer-oriented social spaces, such as “cyber cafes.”

“I would like our school to look different. I don’t want Abraham Lincoln, if he were to come back, to recognize it,” Wright said. “A school can no longer be four walls. It has to be there for everybody.”

The technology centers at Weiner Public Schools are equipped with doors and gates so the community can use the computers at night without gaining access to the entire school.

“The modern building: Don’t just think of it as brick and mortar. It’s about clicks and bricks,” Amato said.

Involving the community

In deciding what the modern school should offer and how it should look, the panel agreed that the whole community—including parents, students, and local citizens—should be consulted.

“Don’t underestimate the need for time to plan—time for teachers and administrators and community members to talk together,” Quinn said. “If we don’t do this, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

“We hold hearings in our community. We hold board meetings,” said Reggie Felton of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. He said his district balances what the community wants with theory and research.

“It is very, very difficult to meet the demands to make sure every student has access” to modern technologies, Felton said. Often, schools will renovate one building while another becomes obsolete. He said school districts have to use money efficiently to reduce costs and seek federal and state support.

Jacobs said it’s good to involve businesses in the planning process, too, like officials did at High Tech High—especially because high-tech buildings come with high price tags. In addition to eRate funding and other government grants, businesses can help schools pay for technology.

Amato agreed: “Don’t wait for this money to come from any source.” There are innovative ways of getting computers, he said, such as collaborating with a company.

“There are a number of companies that are willing to give free connectivity [to schools]. Ours happens to be HighFusion,” he said.

The online town meeting has been archived and can be seen in its entirety at the web address listed below.

Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century

High Tech High



Feds, teachers mull ways to teach students ‘cyber ethics’

Thou shalt not vandalize web pages. Thou shalt not shut down web sites. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s MP3s.

FBI agents are spreading a new gospel to parents and teachers, hoping they’ll better educate youths that vandalism in cyberspace can be economically costly and just as criminal as mailbox bashing and graffiti spraying.

The Justice Department and the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group, have launched the Cybercitizen Partnership to encourage educators and parents to talk to children in ways that equate computer crimes with old-fashioned wrongdoing.

The nascent effort includes a series of seminars around the country for teachers, classroom materials and guides, and a web site to help parents talk to children.

“One of the most important ways of reducing crime is trying to teach ethics and morality to our kids. That same principle needs to apply to the cyber world,” said Michael Vatis, director of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center, which guards against computer attacks by terrorists, foreign agents, and teen hackers.

Vatis and other FBI agents attended a kickoff seminar, titled the National Conference on Cyber Ethics, Oct. 6 through 8 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. The conference brought together education, industry, and government representatives to talk about teaching responsible use of technology.

Part of the challenge: Many teens still consider computer mischief harmless. A recent survey found that 48 percent of students in elementary and middle school don’t consider hacking illegal.

Gail Chmura, a computer science teacher at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., makes ethics a constant in her lessons, teaching kids about topics such as computer law, software piracy, and online cheating.

She has argued with students who don’t see that stealing from a computer with bad security is as wrong as stealing from an unlocked house. “It’s always interesting that they don’t see a connection between the two,” Chmura said. “They just don’t get it.”

The FBI’s Vatis tells students, “Do you think it would be OK to go spray-paint your neighbor’s house or the grocery store down the street? On a web site, it’s the same sort of thing. It’s somebody’s storefront or an extension of themselves.”

Chmura tries similar messages. For instance, she asks a budding composer how he would feel if his music were stolen and given away online.

“They do sometimes realize that when they’re copying someone’s product, it’s not just that 5-cent disk but someone’s work they’re copying,” she said. “I think they do come to appreciate the fact that it’s somebody’s salary they’re stealing.”

Vatis cites a long list of cyber crimes perpetrated by minors, including the February jamming of major web sites such as and eBay. He tries to drive home the consequences of hacking—including the resources it drains from his center, as officials scramble to find who is responsible at the outset of an attack.

Authorities “don’t know if it’s a terrorist or a foreign military,” Vatis said. “It diverts very scarce resources of people who are trying to focus on crime, warfare, and terrorism.”

Members of the Cybercitizen Partnership are developing a comprehensive curriculum and program for educators to use as a guideline for teaching responsible use of technology. The group hopes to roll out the content by October 2001.

Cybercitizen Partnership

National Conference on Cyber Ethics: Teaching Responsible Use of the Internet


Phoenix students cash in academic success for free computers

Nearly 1,000 inner-city Phoenix high school students are getting an incentive to keep a “C” average. Businesses around the country have donated used computers or partnered with schools to supply new laptops to chosen sophomores. The students—who will take the equipment home on a loan until they transfer or graduate—also are required to stay out of trouble and stay in school in order to keep the computers.

The Phoenix Union High School District’s $1.2 million giveaway may well be the most extensive undertaken by a single district.

“It’s unusual,” said Cheryl Williams, director of educational technology programs at the National School Boards Association. “I think we need to try all types of experiments. Technology really engages kids.”

Educators hope the computers will open doors for those new to English and those trying to improve their reading skills. The first 100 machines were doled out at South Mountain High School Oct. 23 and 25.

Surveys will be conducted and test scores analyzed in coming years to measure the success of the program.

All sophomores are eligible for the giveaway, but families will have to pay for internet service if they want it and attend four hours of training.

The last of the computers, paid for by federal funds earmarked to improve academic performance, will be handed out by the end of the year.


Schools, businesses team up to promote tech careers

Educators and corporate leaders came together Oct. 3 to seek solutions to America’s growing need for a highly-skilled technology work force. The occasion was TechiesDay 2000, the second annual celebration designed to promote awareness of the opportunities that exist for students in the technology industry.

In classrooms across the country, technology workers focused on increasing technology awareness and readiness among K-12 students through workshops, demonstrations, and speeches.

And in Washington, D.C., policy-makers who have a major influence on education, government, and technology discussed long-term solutions for preparing and enticing kids into technology careers at the TechiesDay Workforce Development Summit.

“Everyone knows, and everyone in this room understands, we have to deal with the pipeline problem,” said Linda Roberts, special advisor for technology to the U.S. Department of Education and keynote speaker. “We have to engage fourth-graders now so they are there when you need them,” Roberts said, addressing company executives.

The nation’s schools must invest in high-quality math and science teachers and focus on high-standard, high-quality curriculum, Roberts added. Since technology in schools can amplify learning, schools should create an action-oriented, long-term strategy for preparing students to use these 21st-century tools.

Roberts acknowledged that some schools have greater needs—such as fixing leaky roofs and buying books—but she said the problem is not simply one of economics.

“I don’t think those schools are lacking money, but rather they are lacking leadership,” Roberts said. When she toured some of the poorer rural schools in Mississippi Delta states, she said, she was surprised at their ability to use technology in learning.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta said the optimum time for reaching kids and getting them to consider high-tech careers is between the ages of 11 and 15. A new web site called will inform kids and their parents about jobs in the technology sector, he said.

“High-tech jobs are the fast growing part of our growing economy,” Mineta said. “Kids need to hear about technology and careers that are waiting for them way before they get to college. We are hoping that this web page will not only engage and entertain, but let kids know what opportunities are out there.” The site is directed toward both parents and students, since parents have an impact on students’ career decisions.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the recent action by Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas—which allow foreigners to fill U.S. technology-related jobs—indicates shortcomings in the nation’s education system.

“It points to a real failing of our society that we have such pressure of seeking foreigners to fill those jobs,” Bingaman said.

Bingaman cited the recent Glenn Commission report on math and science education, called “Before It’s Too Late,” which indicates there has been a 21-percent drop in the number of math degrees and a 45-percent drop in the number of engineering degrees granted by U.S. colleges, although there are great opportunities for students who enter those professions.

“The report makes it clear that in order to increase the number of math and science workers—which everyone agrees is important—we need to [improve] math and science education,” Bingaman said. “This should be a wake-up call that this problem goes to the core of our economic future.”

A CEO panel at the summit floated ideas and concepts that both industry and education should adopt in an effort to increase the number of technology workers.

“If we say technology is sexy and chic, the demand [for it] will drive the change,” said Peter Crosby, chairman of Girl Geeks.

“I don’t see a willingness to take a risk, to make a change,” said Sherlye Bolton, CEO of Scientific Learning Corp. “Technology represents the largest, biggest change that has happened” to date.

Crosby said companies need high-tech employees who are well-rounded and socially adept—not like the stereotype of the “computer geek” that has been associated with computer users in the past. “Being able to cross-train is a big boost for companies,” he said.

Others argued that industry, government, and education need to create partnerships to solve this problem.

“Schools can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone and business can’t do it alone. We need to create these alliances,” said Phyllis Eisen, executive director of the Center for Workforce Success and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Gene Longo, director of U.S. Operations for the Cisco Networking Academy program, accepted the TechiesDay Best Practices Award for the academy’s work in training and mentoring high school students.

Five technology professionals who won the TechieTeam 2000 competition, which recognized individuals for introducing students to technology, also received a new Compaq computer and more than $3,000 worth of Microsoft software.


U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Commerce

Get Tech


NRC launches $855K study on shielding kids from web porn

At the request of Congress, the National Research Council (NRC)—the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences—is launching a study of the tools available to protect kids from pornography on the internet.

The study, to be released in 2002, will examine the capabilities and limitations of filtering software and other computer-based technologies, as well as management policies necessary to ensure safe use of the internet in schools and at home.

“Until now, the issue [of how best to protect students from internet pornography] has been clouded with rhetoric. We want to put the debate on a level playing field,” said Herb Lin, director of the NRC study.

Congress has charged the NRC with providing a foundation for objective local and national debate on the subject of internet pornography, while avoiding specific policy recommendations based on the values of one group or another.

“We plan to outline the pros and cons of each option, but we don’t plan to draw conclusions on what is the ‘best’ solution. We don’t want to impose a set of values on the study, because people and schools all have different values,” Lin said.

Congress actually passed the law that mandated the study, the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act, in 1998, but the study is just now underway. Lin explained that the legislation set a two-year time span for the study to commence but did not offer any funding for the project. “We’ve used the extra time to assemble the funding,” he said.

The program is expected to cost $855,000. Support is being provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention ($300,000), the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology ($200,000), the National Academy of Sciences ($125,000), Microsoft Corp. ($100,000), the Kellogg Foundation ($100,000), and IBM ($30,000).

Components of the study

Because of discussions with the project’s funders, the scope of the study has been altered in two ways from the original congressional mandate.

First, the study now includes nontechnological strategies as well as technology options, because technology is only one element of a comprehensive approach to internet safety.

Filtering technology “is not perfect. We want schools to find a comprehensive solution,” Lin explained.

Filtering software made by companies such as Cyber Patrol and N2H2 is an option that researchers plan to address, but Lin said there would be no formal system for testing such software.

“We will not be buying copies of all the filtering software available to schools and studying each one, no. This study is not that detailed. We will probably rely on the manufacturers themselves to answer any questions about filtering programs,” he said.

Nontechnological strategies to be considered include acceptable-use policies in schools. But, “it is very important that education is included with this, so that students and teachers understand what constitutes ‘acceptable use,'” Lin added.

The second alteration to the original mandate will be an inquiry that centers on pornography as the primary focus of “inappropriate content.” According to the NRC, other areas of inappropriate content will be explored incidentally, rather than systematically, and only as they arise in the context of discussions about specific tools and strategies used to shield kids from web pornography.

Method of study

Lin said there would be no statistical analysis or number-crunching involved in the study. Instead, researchers will rely on case studies and testimonies reviewed by a committee of experts.

The review panel will include Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general in the Reagan and Bush administrations and former Pennsylvania governor; Nicholas J. Belkin, professor at Rutgers University School of Library and Information Science; Sandra L. Calvert, director of the Children and Media Project at Georgetown University; Linda Hodge, vice president of programs for the National PTA; Margaret Honey, director of the Center for Children and Technology; and Robin Raskin, editor-in-chief of FamilyPC magazine.

“All educators are encouraged to get in touch with us about their solutions for protecting kids from internet porn,” Lin said. “The NRC wants to see what people who have grappled with this dilemma have to say.”

Anyone wishing to write and submit a white paper on any aspect of the study, provide comments through an online form (yet to be developed), or testify to the committee in person is encouraged to call Lin at (202) 334-3191 or send eMail to

Report: “Tools and Strategies for

Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content”

National Research Council

U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology

Microsoft Corp.

Kellogg Foundation



‘eLearning for schools’ steals the show at NSBA technology conference

With technology solutions that might be broadly described as “eLearning for schools,” technology companies large and small are marshaling to address core educational issues—from professional development to the formation of strategic partnerships to the electronic management of classroom resources.

What became clear at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Technology + Learning Conference, Oct. 25 to 28, is how similar most of the proposed solutions are, especially those in development at the largest corporations.

The likely result: bitter corporate competition leading to conflicting claims and confusion, followed by the emergence of a handful of surviving systems that will transform and vastly improve the delivery of instruction. Look for the first formal announcements right after the New Year.

That was what key technology companies were telling eSchool News at the NSBA conference. It’s not likely that was the message received by most of the school board members and others attending the meeting.

In an effort to make investments in school technology more successful, school board members from across the country gathered in Denver to learn and share ideas about how to use technology to increase student achievement. They heard from such dignitaries as John P. Morgridge, Cisco chairman and chief executive officer.

To succeed in technology, you need leadership, Morgridge said. “You need someone at the top who embraces this and says it’s important, and we’re going to do this.”

Because so many schools have made tremendous progress getting computers into schools and connecting them to the internet, professional development and training are the major challenges facing school boards, according to Anne Bryant, executive director of NSBA.

In an online survey that NSBA conducted, she said, 76 percent of respondents thought their district’s teachers were not adequately prepared to use technology in the classroom, and 93 percent of educators felt minimum technology-skill standards should be implemented for all teachers.

Reluctance, unavailable training, and lack of money were the major reasons cited to explain why teachers are not prepared. More than 300 teachers, school technology staff, and school board members responded to the survey, Bryant said.

Many cash-strapped school districts see corporate sponsorship and advertising as an economical way of providing top-notch educational technology tools for their students. But is advertising or a strong corporate presence in schools permissible?

Half the educators who responded to the online survey said it is acceptable for school districts to use technology products that contain advertisements in the classroom. However, 67 percent said school districts should not use their web sites to sell products to the community.

“In the best of all worlds, school districts and public schools shouldn’t have to go to outside sources,” Bryant said. “They should be adequately funded, but we don’t have that.”

Most important, she said, school districts should ask if the advertising interrupts the school’s teaching and learning climate. When the answer is “yes,” the board shouldn’t agree to accept it.

In an effort to increase parent and community involvement in school board decisions, the National School Boards Foundation and the AOL Foundation are building local virtual communities for five school districts in a new pilot program called “Xchange: Strengthening Schools Through Board Discussions.”

Each of the five Xchange web sites—for districts in Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Iowa—will feature eMail, electronic newsletters, polls, and online discussion forums so local citizens can communicate conveniently with their school boards.

“Every shred of evidence tells us that the No. 1 predictor of improved student learning is increased parental involvement,” said AOL Chairman and CEO Steve Case. “This new two-year partnership will help all of us learn how to use the internet to help parents, teachers, and school boards better communicate.”

“When a community gets involved in a school district, that school system gets better,” said Jude Theriot of Calcasien, La. “It is incumbent upon us to take advantage of that.”

Theriot said the Xchange web site will give her school board an opportunity to find out what the community really wants and to let stakeholders know what the board is doing about it.

“The board is really looking at this as a way to augment our community dialogue,” said Maggie Schmidt of Pittsburgh. “One of the things we hope to do is put the budget on the web page and give community members a way to make comments.”

Throughout the exhibit hall, the buzz was all about the electronic management of learning resources. Company after company described plans to launch systems that would help teachers create lesson plans, correlate lessons and multimedia resources to state learning standards, aggregate the instructional resources from across the internet, manage deployment of these resources through the school system networks to the individual desktops, assess student progress, and report test results to teachers, administrators, and appropriate agencies.

Here’s a rapid review of what was happening around the NSBA exhibit hall:

3Com Corp. emerged as one of several major players rushing to develop what Vice President of Strategic Alliances David J. Katz describes as a “rich-media content delivery system” for schools. A pilot program is just getting under way in California’s Campbell Union School District. The company intends to beta-test the system in January and begin delivering the product to schools a month later. The system will consist of a core set of servers running under Windows 2000 and Windows NT and a series of relay points that will optimize media transmission from the servers to the student desktops.

After AbleSoft Inc. acquired Vantage Point from Word Enterprises of Lancaster, Pa., the company formed a new subsidiary called AbleSoft Systems that will offer a complete classroom, school, and district administrative solution that integrates AbleSoft’s Teacher ToolBox with the Vantage Point software. Soon, AbleSoft Systems hopes to provide a web-enabled application service provider version of the software.

America Online announced new features and functionality for its free online learning service, AOL@School. Each week, AOL@School features a topic of the week that teachers can use to plan a week’s worth of activities, and now those weekly themes will be archived by subject so teachers can access them at any time. Also, teachers and administrators can now access their AOL@School eMail accounts from home, giving them more flexibility in grading, creating lesson plans, and communicating.

Apex Learning, a virtual school provider, now offers online schooling for teachers called Online Teacher Development Institutes. As an alternative to workshops that demand on-site attendance, these institutes individualize professional development and make it available through the internet at any time. Teachers can also receive college credit from accredited universities and colleges by taking these courses, which include Designing Classroom Procedures and Routines, Assessing Oral Reading Fluency, and Understanding Criterion-Reference Assessments., a provider of online educational resources, now offers an online professional development series, called Critical Issues, that focuses on aligning standards with curriculum and assessment, creating online learning environments, and enhancing home-school communication. Bigchalk also offers Classmate Language Arts, a tool that gives teachers the building blocks they need to create thematic, standards-based language arts lessons.

The Arkansas State Board of Education agreed to adopt Science Brainium, an online science program by Brainium Inc., as supplemental instructional material in 801 public elementary and middle schools until 2007.

Compaq Computer Corp. and Classroom Connect announced a new BonusPoints program, through which customers can earn points by buying products through Compaq Education. Customers can cash the points in for Classroom Connect’s professional development workshops or a subscription to Connected University or the Classroom Connect newsletter. bonuspoints

Computer Explorers’ new Staff Training for Technology Integration program provides trainers that go into a school and train the school’s staff one-on-one to use the school’s commercially purchased software in the classroom. The trainers reinforce what the school has chosen for its curriculum and software.

CWK Network Inc. announced plans to develop reality-based curricula, student-directed learning activities, and professional development programs based on CWK Network’s flagship broadcast news program, Connecting with Kids. The programs will meet standards for teaching subjects such as substance abuse prevention, anger management, and school safety.

Teachers can now access eHomeRoom, an online community for schools, with their Palm Pilots, since the company just launched a version of its product for the Palm operating system.

A new web site, called Fotobug, is tapping into the popularity of digital photography for the purpose of school fundraising. The site offers a free and secure space where high school students and their families can view and purchase photographs and related merchandise online. Then, Fotobug donates 20 percent of all purchases to the customer’s school of choice.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and NetSchools Corp. have teamed up to offer schools nationwide the eSchool program, a complete, internet-based learning solution. HP will provide every student and teacher at participating schools with a wireless, durable laptop along with support services and training for NetSchools Constellation, a computer-based teaching and learning solution.

Intel Corp. has expanded its Intel Teach to the Future program to Colorado with a $95,000 grant from the Intel Foundation. The goal of the Colorado program is to train 4,500 of the state’s teachers in the next two years. The Community Colleges of Colorado’s Higher Education Advanced Technology Center received the grant to operate the state’s Intel Teach to the Future program., a provider of online learning, will be the exclusive online course delivery platform used by the Florida Online High School, one of the country’s first virtual high schools. This platform comes with an eLibrary and automatic grade recording features.

The Learning Network, an initiative from Pearson PLC, announced Learning Pod for Math, an online tool that helps students in grades three to eight prepare for standardized math tests. This tool lets teachers monitor a student’s progress by reviewing the results of practice tests and educational games.

Limitless Inc., which developed the browser-based school management solution SchoolSpace, has teamed up with Brightpod Inc. to offer wireless access to SchoolSpace so educators easily can enter data, analyze trends, and check attendance from anywhere at any time using wireless technology on their personal digital assistants.

National Semiconductor Corp. announced the winners of its third annual Internet Innovator Awards, which recognize the effective ways that 15 teachers use the internet in their classrooms. Winning teachers receive $10,000 for their personal use, and their school wins $20,000 to spend on technology. This year, eligibility for the award has increased to permit applications from teachers from every region across the country. Before, only teachers from California, Texas, and Maine were eligible.

The OptiStreams Broadband Browser, known as the OBBY, by OptiStreams Inc., was designed for safe browsing in the education environment. OptiStreams developed the browser as a result of filtering legislation introduced to Congress. The OBBY browser blocks the eMail capabilities of sites that offer free, anonymous eMail accounts, and the filtering code is buried deep within the browser so students can’t override it, according to the company.

Palm Inc. launched the Palm Education Pioneers program, which will provide enough Palm handheld computers for every student and teacher in more than 100 classrooms across the country. According to Palm, the handheld devices offer an affordable, mobile computing experience. Research firm SRI International will examine the effectiveness and overall impact of Palm handheld computers on learning, the company added.

Pearson Education has created CCC NovaNET by combining two recently acquired companies, Computer Curriculum Corp. and NCS NovaNET Learning, both providers of online learning solutions. CCC NovaNET will now provide online curriculum, management, and assessment tools and support services for kindergarten to grade 12 students in a single package.

The Princeton Review’s test preparation services,, will now reach more classrooms, since the Princeton Review has partnered with SchoolNet Inc., a provider of hosted education management solutions via the internet.

Scholastic Inc. is developing educational content for students and planning tools for teachers to be used on Palm handheld computers. The content will come from the Scholastic web site, including popular sections such as News Zone, Best Lessons, and Events Calendar.

Now that has acquired Teacher Technology Systems of Pinson, Ala., teachers using SkillsTutor will be able to align their instruction with specific state standards. They’ll also be able to assess students’ ability in core subjects found on state tests and provide supplemental classroom instruction with SkillsTutor online tutorials.

Sun Microsystems has teamed up with VIP Tone Inc. through the Sun Education Service Provider program that delivers, installs, and supports bundled school software with pre-loaded and preconfigured Sun Ray appliances and an integrated customized server. VIP Tone will integrate an eLearning portal—complete with web-based content and browser-based tools—on Sun’s thin-client computing platform.

TimeCruiser Computing Corp. has launched SchoolCruiser 2.0, an updated version of its communication tools for customized school web portals that let teachers, students, parents, and administrators get and exchange information about homework, classes, and events online. Teachers can author and save lesson plans and record attendance and grades. Schools can use SchoolCruiser for free by participating in a revenue-sharing program or eliminate advertising at the cost of 40 cents per student per month.


The porcupine’s embrace

eSchool News has been so busy on so many fronts these last few weeks, we’ve hardly had time to find out who won the presidential election. This was really starting to worry us, too—until we found out nobody else knew either. Whew.

We’ve been hard at work pulling together the year-end issue you now hold in your hands (or behold on your screen). It’s chock full of news and information about how education is effecting the transition from old school to eSchool and how enlightened companies are helping to make that transition faster and smoother.

The editors have been laboring mightily, of course. But our eSchool News Conference Division has outdone itself in recent weeks, making important get-togethers possible for key players in the K-12 field. A special roundup of what went on at our annual conference in Orlando, for instance, is bound into this issue, as a kind of holiday bonus for busy readers.

We also hosted our first-ever “Superintendents’ Technology Summit” in Palm Springs, Calif. (look for our in-depth report on that one next month), and we presented a “Business to Education Technology Summit” here in Washington, D.C. At the latter conference, some of our closest friends and partners on the corporate side came together to talk about how the nation’s leading technology companies can improve their service to education.

At eSchool News, we think technology companies, by and large, are part of the solution. So we’re offering up our traditional December-issue buyers’ guide. But this year, “The Buyers’ Guide 100” comes spruced up as a sneak preview of our 750-page School Technology One Book.

Our One Book—bursting with information on companies, organizations, agencies, and other resources germane to school technology—will come in handy as the ultimate desk reference all year long.

With so much positive happening between public education and the private sector, it’s sad to have to note the darker side. But as we say around the newsroom, every silver lining has a cloud. And one especially gloomy shadow has slipped across the once-bright promise of ZapMe!, the folks who brought you that incredible offer of free computer labs. Well, guess what.

Another development to watch is unfolding right now in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in Charlotte, N.C.

School board members there actually are mulling whether to sell “naming rights” on an entire school. For me, the idea is breathtaking. But then, I still cringe during holiday bowl games to hear the announcer refer to contests like the “Kleenex Potato Bowl.” (And as a Washingtonian, I’ll never grow easy about swapping “RFK stadium” for “FedEx Field.”)

Still, the allure of money is understandable. When you read this month’s Technology Champions you might be caught up, as were we, with the vision of taking the old “Net Day” concept one step further—linking students’ homes as well as their classrooms to the internet. Public funding just won’t get you there, so it begins to appear pretty sensible to look for the money where it lives.

But I sense a full-scale backlash coiling just around the bend. Year’s end is a good time for predictions, so here’s one: “Commercialization of Education” will emerge as a big-time issue in 2001.

When it does, here’s something to keep in mind: Our politicians appear to be in a perpetual muddle, so the prospects are bleak for public funding adequate to complete the full transition to the eSchool. On the one hand, no nation or corporation can long endure without skilled, well-educated citizens and workers. On the other hand, it’s harder every day for schools to impart learning sufficient to produce either effective citizens or efficient workers without some form of help from the private sector.

So there you are. Educators, politicians, captains of industry—we need each other.

And yet, as we contemplate the corporate clinch of education in the year ahead, we might wish to think—but not too long—about the prickly embrace of amorous porcupines.

Question: How do you hug a porcupine?

Answer: Very carefully.


Maryland students use PDAs

For the past few years, laptop computers have been touted as a way of getting technology into the hands of all students, making “anytime, anywhere learning” possible. But laptops are expensive, their batteries die quickly, and they’re not always easy to lug around. That’s why some school technology experts are predicting that handheld computers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs), may be a more viable solution.

To be sure, PDAs come with their own set of problems: So far, they’ve lacked a convenient input device and software that would make them useful in the classroom. But a Baltimore-based company called MindSurf aims to change all that with a pilot program at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md.

Through this program, MindSurf has seamlessly linked a select group of ninth-grade students with their teacher via PDAs and has integrated its wireless platform with the school’s educational applications. The program’s goal: improved communication between the students and their teacher and increased productivity in the classroom.

The pilot program, which launched Oct. 3, is expected to be duplicated in additional schools throughout the year.

MindSurf, a $70 million joint venture among Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., Owings Mills, Md.-based Aether Systems Inc. and San Francisco-based Critical Path, has created an educational tool out of the Palm Pilot, with general internet access and web browsing, a searchable dictionary and encyclopedia, a graphing calculator, games, and financial applications.

The company has equipped a River Hill High School English class of 15 students with Palm Pilot Vx devices. The devices come with cellular modems that enable students to connect to the internet and to each other wirelessly from anywhere—much like the connectivity that a cellular phone provides.

“The kids generally search the internet for text-driven sites. Actually, any site on the web can be accessed, but the graphics on multimedia sites don’t display well,” said Scott Pfeifer, principal of River Hill High School.

“The kids usually go to a site called OmniSky that features a search engine for text-only web sites,” Pfeifer added. “There’s actually a button on the Palm that takes them to OmniSky. There is a growing market for writing text-only web pages for these handheld devices. Web designers are now often writing dual sites, one for broadband computing and one for text-only cellular technology.”

Students also were given collapsible keyboards from Palm that fold down to about 4 inches by 6 inches by 1 inch. The folding keyboards, which can be used to input information into the handheld computers, “make this program so much more powerful than just using the stylus to input information,” said David Long, vice president of product development for MindSurf.

The Palm computers’ capability for wireless communication allows students to use eMail and instant messaging wherever they go. They can check eMail and work on assignments on the bus ride home from school, for example, thereby extending their productivity.

“We’ve also put instant synchronization capability on the devices,” said Long. “That way, if a teacher hands out an assignment, the due dates get automatically updated on each child’s Palm calendar.”

The Palm computers also are updated automatically with daily announcements. “One of my goals is to eliminate the intercom,” Long said.

MindSurf and River Hill High School are working together to explore ways the technology can be used to enhance student learning as well as productivity.

“We are in a developmental phase of exploring new curriculum goals. We are really trying to create a culture of technology in the classroom,” said Rick Robb, the English teacher involved with MindSurf pilot program.

Robb was recruited to come to River Hill and teach the MindSurf pilot class, in part, because of his extensive technology background.

“[Robb] worked at Honeywell for a decade, so understanding the technology was not a challenge for him. We could then focus immediately on the curriculum. But we know that different people will need different levels of training,” Long said.

One thing Robb has discovered is that PDAs facilitate collaboration in his classroom. A recent activity in his class involved drafting a letter to the school newspaper. Students created their own responses and then combined them into a single letter by “beaming” each other’s writing back and forth.

“They did in about an hour what would have taken much longer otherwise, if I had run off copies for everyone,” Robb said.

Assessment features are also on the horizon, according to Long. “We also will [include] a test administration feature, where teachers can give quizzes and tests that can be graded automatically so that kids get immediate feedback,” he said.

But the assessment feature is not yet fully operational, Robb said. “We are currently researching ways of doing assessment. It’s hard to do electronic testing for an English class, because you have to grade writing,” he explained.

The response to the pilot has been tremendous so far, Long said. In January, the program is expanding to other subjects in the ninth grade at River Hill, including math, science, social studies, and one foreign language class.

The learning curve is not as daunting with PDAs as with other types of technology, those involved with the pilot say.

“Anytime you introduce a new technology, there will be some resistance, but as far as learning to use the device, it is far less complicated than a laptop. With a laptop, you have to learn a whole complicated operating system, but with a Palm [everything] is literally one or two clicks away,” said Robb.

MindSurf plans to add a teacher training segment to the program, Long added. “We will provide on-site training for the pilots we will be doing around the country, and we are putting together a training protocol for when we begin connecting whole schools,” he said.

The final product, when rolled out nationally in September 2001, also will contain security measures to protect student information and ensure that students are staying on task, according to Long.

Pfeifer acknowledges there are certainly costs involved that schools will have to deal with. “Right now, we are not paying for the cell time, and that will be a major cost to schools,” he said.

Prices for the final product have yet to be determined, according to MindSurf. “We are still trying to manage down the cost. After the first set of pilot programs, we will begin to deal with it,” said Long, who added there most likely would be an installation charge to put transceivers throughout the schools.

“But on a cost basis, it is really favorable. The devices cost around $200, maybe $300 with the keyboards. Compare that to a $2,000 laptop. Also, it is far cheaper to put in a wireless network than [it is] to wire a school,” Long said.

Despite expenses to schools, the educators involved with the MindSurf pilot remain enthusiastic about the product.

“The administrators here are very eager. The goal was not to get a device into the hands of children, but to enable learning at the curriculum level,” Pfeifer said. “We want kids to use the Palm Pilots as a productivity tool, just like adults do. The question, literally, is how do we help kids become better learners.”

Hawthorn School District 73


Students record music—and raise money—at

The Anne Darling Elementary School technology club has abandoned the traditional candy and wrapping-paper fund-raisers in favor of something a little more tech-savvy—and harmonious—with a new online fundraiser that allows kids to produce and sell their own compact discs.

The San Jose-based elementary school’s students are climbing the internet music charts with their originally written and performed MP3 songs about throwing rocks, spiders, and eating cafeteria food, available on the web site.

So popular are the kids’ rendition of “Girls Rule!” and “I Ain’t Throwin’ No Rock” that they’ve earned more than $650 this year from online CD sales and playback earnings through In October, they garnered an additional $35,500 in organizational contributions for their school.

The after-school program for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders began last year with the modest goal of bringing internet access to all classroom computers. But the tech club’s popularity soon blossomed—an online student poll found computers tied in popularity with recess and art at the school.

Naturally, creating pop songs wasn’t far behind. Anne Darling was the one of the first schools to use, according to technology club director Richard Soos. formed the Spirit 2000 fund-raising program after seeing the success that educators at schools such as Anne Darling were having using the site.

“We wanted to find new ways to get people to actively participate in our site, and we noticed that several schools already had material on our site at the end of last year,” said Chris Montgomery, vice president of subscription services at and a former teacher.

“We thought that if we could give schools the ability to make CDs of their music, then they could sell those CDs as a fund-raising tool. What parent wouldn’t want to buy a CD of their child’s music?”

The Spirit 2000 program allows students from the music, drama, and even athletic departments to create, record, and promote music, spoken word, and other audio files and sell them online. provides most of the necessary resources for schools to participate, including online lesson plans, guides for educators, and a custom web page for each school. The company also assists in the marketing, promotion, manufacturing, and distribution of finished CDs within the campaign.

Company officials explained that schools do not need to purchase expensive recording equipment to participate. “The most simple recording system is two microphones and a tape deck. The next level up would be to get a four-track recorder,” said Montgomery. believes the power of the program goes far beyond fund-raising. “This is a curriculum-enhancement tool as well as a fund-raising tool,” Montgomery said. “By going through the process of recording and selling their own music, kids can learn about music theory, music history, audio technology, business and marketing, and really almost any other subject you can think of. These kids are learning about a whole industry.”

“The kids started off asking me if they could make a CD and things blossomed. They learned how to do internet research, how to make a CD, how to manipulate sound files on a computer, and how to upload and download files and correspond with experts via eMail,” Soos added.

To participate, educators must register their students as new artists on

Anne Darling Elementary is one of 200 schools that have uploaded music onto An additional 150 schools have signed up for the program and are waiting to turn their music into MP3 files and upload them to the site’s network, Montgomery said.

According to Montgomery, Spirit 2000 helps schools make money in three ways.

“First, we make a CD of [students’] recordings and sell it online for them. We split the proceeds 50-50 with the school, and there is no minimum number of CDs to buy. Once a parent or customer buys a CD on the site, only then is the CD burned and the booklet printed. That way, there is less inventory and no risk to us,” Montgomery said. lets school officials choose the price of the CD they wish to sell. Usually, a CD will cost $8.99, but the cost can range from $5.99 to $15.

“The second way to make money is what we call ‘payback for playback.’ Every month, pays out $1 million to the people who are listening to our site. Any free music qualifies for a small portion of that money,” said Montgomery.

“The third way to make money is through our subscription audio channels. Parents can sign up for that and check the music updates more regularly. This way, we can create a backlog of audio content, which can be compiled into an audio yearbook at the end of the year.”

According to Soos, Anne Darling’s involvement with has generated other money for the school as well.

“We are blessed because the business world sees the advantage to having children participate directly in the utilization of technology as an everyday tool,” he said. In addition to other awards, the school has received an Internet Innovator’s Award for $33,500 from National Semiconductor and another $2,000 from Intel and the city of San Jose.

“I have the students who participated last year tutoring three or four students apiece this year. I am hoping by May of 2001 that each classroom will have their own CD yearbook based upon the leadership of the students who participated last year,” said Soos.

What do the kids think about the program? “We can make our own web pages,” boasted fifth-grader David Medeiros. “It’s fun because we’re singing songs and stuff like that and we get to pretend we’re famous.”

If Grammies were given out for enthusiasm, the students at Anne Darling would be shoe-ins. “Cafeteria food, tastes so rude, sausage and mush, green fish sticks!” begins the song “Cafeteria.” “No, no, no, no. I ain’t throwin’ this rock,” sings another student in the technology club.

Rhyming lyrics play second-fiddle to volume and enthusiasm on technology club tunes, while Soos provides bouncy, computer-generated background music. “Parents are extremely proud of their children and very happy to see their children crossing what is commonly known as the digital divide,” said Soos.

“There is definitely a ‘cool factor’ for kids. is a huge web site, and kids put a lot of pride into what they put on the site,” Montgomery said.

Anne Darling Tech Club

Schoolkids on l


Hawthorn Elementary’s leader has a red-letter plan

When Youssef Yomtoob first became superintendent of Hawthorn Elementary District 73 in Vernon Hills, Ill., he successfully led the implementation of computers and internet access into every classroom and library in the elementary-level school district.

Now, he plans to level the technological playing field of students of all economic backgrounds by connecting every home in the district to the internet.

Yomtoob, also known as Dr. Joe, recognizes that students who have internet-connected computers at home have an advantage over those who don’t—and he wants to do something about it.

“We would like to see that every house that has kids who go to our schools has internet access,” Yomtoob said. “If all our children have access to the internet [at home], that will enhance learning and the opportunity for success for all children.”

He isn’t sure how much it will cost or what, exactly, each household needs, but he does know some homes will need computer equipment—and a few will even need to have phone lines installed. At this point, “this is just a dream more than anything else,” he said.

The district’s school board doesn’t have any worries about Yomtoob’s dream to wire every household in the district.

“We realize that it’s a huge undertaking. It has many challenges, but that doesn’t bother any of us,” said Rich Paul, a member of the Hawthorn school board. Yomtoob has the outgoing personality required to make this vision successful, he explained.

“He’s not shy about asking people for things or telling people to do things, depending on the situation, and building a consensus,” Paul said. “Dr. Joe has the ability to make people see what the benefit is for them, as well as the benefit for the greater good.”

Since he doesn’t want to use public money to pay for his plan, Yomtoob said, he will form a foundation—involving city officials, local businesses, and the school district—to organize and raise funds for the initiative.

“We have a certain portion of our population that does not have access to the internet, which is important for school work and communication with parents,” Yomtoob said. “Fifteen to 30 percent do not have access to the internet at home.”

The foundation will need to provide resources such as hardware, phone lines, training, and internet service. It also will need to sustain and support the effort.

Yomtoob, who has been toying with this idea for the last four or five years, was expected to hold a summit to encourage city officials, businessmen, and state politicians to band together and create partnerships to accomplish this goal.

Although it is still early, parts of the community have expressed interest, he said. For example, one internet service provider has volunteered to provide every low-income household with a connection.

“We want to be the first school system to bridge the digital divide,” Yomtoob said. “We are taking leadership because, as a superintendent, it’s my belief that every kid has the potential to be successful—but [to do that] they have to be equal.”

When Yomtoob first became superintendent of the 3,400-student district five years ago, he convinced residents to pass a bond issue to spend $500,000 to $700,000 each year on technology.

Now, the K-8 district has 800 computers networked with fiber optics and T1 connections. Every classroom is wired and has at least one computer connected to the internet.

The district’s 250 teachers use the production and multimedia labs for teaching, where students practice both digital photography and digital cinematography.

At each school, a team of teachers is trained to provide technology leadership within their school. They do everything from troubleshooting to training fellow teachers. The teachers have internet connections at home and have full eMail accounts. Some students also have eMail access.

“When Dr. Joe was hired, I don’t think our schools had much in the way of computers except for a few Macintosh computers,” Paul said. Now, all the classrooms—including the ones built in 1932—are connected to the internet.

Robert Hudson, the district’s technology director, agreed that students’ access to technology took a quantum leap after Yomtoob became superintendent.

“It was wonderful for him to put so much confidence in our department,” Hudson said. “At one point, he handed us $2 million and said, ‘Make it happen.'”

Technology to enhance learning was one of the goals Yomtoob enacted when he started as superintendent. “He’s always got his eye on what’s important for these kids,” Hudson said, appreciative of Yomtoob’s leadership.

“You can’t dream without the support structure, and it has to come from the top—and Dr. Joe is the one to make it happen,” Hudson said. “It’s been very motivating and very exciting to work with him.”

Paul described Yomtoob as having great vision and “more ideas than anyone could imagine—more than he could tell the school board about. Any time someone has an idea, the reaction isn’t, ‘Oh, we tried that and it didn’t work.’ Typically, the reaction—whether [the idea] comes from the school board or a teacher or a staff member—is ‘Hmmm, that might work.'”

Realizing that learning doesn’t just happen at school, Yomtoob sees connecting every family to the internet as an opportunity to extend learning into all homes. Not only will it expose students to technology, but their parents will benefit as well.

“His heart is really in it for ‘all children will learn and all children will succeed,'” Hudson said.

Hawthorn School District 73