Low-cost web solutions can add pizzazz to school sites

When it comes to web marketing, most of us find ourselves “over-missioned” and under-resourced. We all want snazzy, interactive web sites, but who has the time, expertise, or money?

Not surprisingly, the answer in this increasingly connected world of ours may be just a few clicks away. The web is packed with freebies and low-cost goodies that can boost your online image without breaking your budget—or your webmaster’s back.

Here are a few favorites. If you have some great resources you’d like to share with fellow web aficionados, please eMail me at n.carr@cms.k12.nc.us.

Free check-ups

Give your web site a free or low-cost tune-up with the following sites. Most of these sites check for broken links, spelling errors, browser compatibility problems, slow-loading pages, and HTML code errors, and most also contain tools to move your site to the top of the search engine rankings.

NetMechanic: Includes Server Check, a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week monitoring service to make sure your servers are running, and GifBot, which compresses images and speeds up page load times.

http://www.netmechanic.com

Web Site Garage: The Tune Up service includes the ability to find out how many sites link to yours, and Hitometer analyzes your web site traffic with a customizable tracking tool.

http://www.websitegarage.com

SmartAge.com: Targets small businesses, but contains a wealth of advice for boosting traffic to your site.

http://www.smartage.com

WebSideStory: The site’s HitBox.com contains free tools for evaluating and promoting your site, shrinking image sizes, and adding search and polling capabilities.

http://www.websidestory.com

Useit.com: Jakob Nielsen’s web site on web usability.

http://www.useit.com

Graphics

Custom logos, buttons, banners, and graphics can be downloaded from these sites:

CoolText.com: A totally free online service which provides real-time generation of graphics customized exactly the way you want them.

http://www.cooltext.com

NetStudio: With this software, you can create web graphics instantly, customize them for professional results, and publish them easily to Microsoft FrontPage and other web editors.

http://www.netstudio.com

MediaBuilder: Use these free online tools to instantly make 3D banners and buttons online and to optimize your images so they will download faster.

http://www.mediabuilder.com

WebFX: A graphics manipulation tool that you use right over the web (no downloads, plug-ins, or Java required).

http://www.nbswebfx.com

Love posting school photos, but hate the lengthy download times such graphic-intensive art creates? Compress those images to a manageable size with one of these sites:

GIF Wizard: Reduces GIFs, JPEGs, and BMPs up to 90 percent without sacrificing quality. You can crop, resize, rotate, adjust colors, and compress images in one integrated online editor.

http://www.gifwizard.com

Spinwave: Contains free and fee-based tools for compressing and optimizing GIF and JPEG images.

http://www.spinwave.com

eMail management

For about $100, ListBot will manage your growing eMail database and make electronic broadcasts a snap.

http://www.listbot.com

Teacher tools

Giving parents 24-hour access to their children’s grades and homework assignments improves home-school communication and is one of the hottest services schools can provide right now. Dozens of companies are jumping on this trend, so options abound. Some low-cost, teacher-friendly packages include the following sites:

mygradebook.com

http://www.mygradebook.com

Teacher’s Toolkit

http://www.teacherstoolkit.com

bigchalk.com

http://www.bigchalk.com

Classroll.com

http://www.classroll.com

iSolute.com

http://www.isolute.com

Yourhomework.com

http://www.yourhomework.com

Web site development and management

FamilyEducation Network (http:// www.familyeducation.com), American School Directory (http://www.asd.com), Lightspan (http://www.lightspan.com), wwwrrr Inc. (http://www.wwwrrr.net), School Center (http://www.schoo lcenter.com), Timecruiser Computing Corp.(http://www.schoolcruiser.com), and other companies offer a nice suite of services—some free, some low-cost, some expensive—designed to make it easy for schools and districts to have a professional web presence.

While these offers seem tempting, before you sign on the dotted line, just make sure you know what you’re getting into and what you’re giving away. Companies want access to something we have an abundance of: teachers, children, and—most importantly—cash-rich teenagers.

Free sites for schools typically are paid for with corporate advertising dollars. Keep in mind that your “good news” messages about teaching and learning, or a new curriculum initiative, are going to have a hard time competing with a four-color corporate logo or banner ad.

Too many schools spend all their time launching their sites and too little time maintaining or improving them. If you’re suffering from the “If we build it, they will come” web marketing fantasy, get over it. Even Hollywood had a hard time pulling this one off.

Your school or district web site—especially your home page—serves as your organization’s front door to the world. Make sure it says “Welcome,” and make sure it communicates the image you really want to convey.

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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.

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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

http://www.hawthorn.k12.il.us

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Students record music—and raise money—at MP3.com

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 MP3.com 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 MP3.com. 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 MP3.com, according to technology club director Richard Soos.

MP3.com 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 MP3.com 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.

MP3.com 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.

MP3.com 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 MP3.com.

Anne Darling Elementary is one of 200 schools that have uploaded music onto MP3.com. 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.

MP3.com 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, MP3.com 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 MP3.com 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. MP3.com 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

http://www.annedarling.com/schoolkids

Schoolkids on MP3.com

http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/64/school_kids.htm l

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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

http://www.hawthorn.k12.il.us

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Computer system links all Mississippi schools

A new computerized system providing Mississippi schools with information about the state’s students began operating in October. The Mississippi Student Information System, known as M-SIS, will provide educators with key information about new students without a long wait.

“It really helps us to get immediate information,” said McComb Otken Elementary Principal Rebecca Morgan. “[Until] now, the process [has been] very slow. You can wait on records for weeks. And things get lost in the mail.”

Morgan cited a case in which a parent tried to enroll a new student in the wrong grade. “Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s intentional, or if it’s because the child wasn’t living with them at the time and they didn’t know he failed,” she said. With the new system, “you can make sure the child was actually a first-grader.”

McComb is one of nine school districts that have begun transmitting student data to the state Department of Education via computers. The other eight are the districts in Lafayette, Hancock, Carroll, Tishomingo, Lee, and Jackson counties, and the cities of Pontotoc and Tupelo.

By the end of October, all 149 districts and three agricultural high schools were to have sent data that included student schedules to the department as part of the first batch of electronically sent reports.

This time next year, if all goes well, the old paper reports will be obsolete, said Nathan Slater, director of management information systems for the state Department of Education.

The new system will allow schools to send each other basic student information, such as course schedules and state test scores. The system also will benefit the Department of Education and local districts by giving state officials more accurate information on which to base budget requests and a host of other policy issues.

All the data are being gathered in a central clearinghouse handled by the Department of Education. But only authorized people will have access to certain information, Slater said. For instance, state officials won’t have access to student grades by name, because there is no need for them to see that, Slater said. They will be able to gather a grouping of data to check school attendance rates, graduation rates, and a slew of other statistical information, he said.

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Wyoming to help teachers meet standards online

The Wyoming Department of Education has contracted with an internet company to post lesson plans online to help teachers meet statewide academic standards.

State School Superintendent Judy Catchpole said the three-year contract with Copernicus Education Gateway allows teachers to exchange lessons and activities the state agrees will help students to graduate.

Teachers, parents, and students can access the internet depository by clicking on a Copernicus web site that offers the Wyoming Education Gateway, known as “WEdGate,” at www.edgate.com. All lessons must be approved by the state Department of Education before being posted on the Wyoming gateway.

Parents and students can use the site to look at lesson plans. School districts can use the site to contact parents and students on student progress and homework assignments.

The material is transmitted through the Wyoming Equality Network, a program started in 1998 between the state and US West, now Qwest, to link all Wyoming schools with advanced technology, officials said.

A review of the network’s usage after school shows teachers are seeking out internet resources, Catchpole said. “Our usage reports show a tremendous increase in online time by teachers. Here is a web resource tailored to Wyoming needs,” she said.

The state plans to train teachers on how to use the site. Work has begun with teachers to place lesson plans and activities on the site, Catchpole said.

WEdGate also will feature national internet projects sponsored by NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, Encyclopaedia Britannica, U.S. Department of Education, Voyager Online, and others.

The $193,000 contract is paid for by the federal government, state officials said.

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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.

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Connecticut launches children’s internet safety program

Connecticut has announced a new program aimed at helping schoolchildren protect themselves against online predators.

“Play It Safe Online” targets fifth-graders and teaches them appropriate use of the internet and how to protect themselves against online crime, officials said.

Police officers and other officials in 10 towns have been trained to teach the one-hour curriculum to middle-school students. The towns are Beacon Falls, Derby, Glastonbury, Meriden, Milford, Newtown, North Haven, Prospect, South Windsor, and West Hartford.

“Each day, 10 million children across the nation go online for homework or other reasons,” said Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell, who introduced the program at a news conference at the state Capitol Oct. 19.

Unfortunately, Rell said, children who are using the internet as an educational tool also can become victims of sexual predators.

“We want to make the internet a safe haven for our children,” she said. “With the help of students, parents, educators, and the police, we’re going to take cyber criminals off line. We’re going to find them and we’re going to punish them.”

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Grants & Funding: Bolster your grant application with strong goals and objectives

I hear many people complain about—and say they have difficulty writing—the goals and objectives section of a grant proposal. Sometimes, the problem is merely understanding the difference between a goal and objective, so you don’t confuse the two. In other cases, the problem stems from writing objectives that are too vague.

A goal is an end result and should be written in broad and general terms. It is what you expect the situation will be at the end of the project and should express the project’s ultimate aim or purpose. In many cases, your project will have only one goal. If you find that you seem to be writing a long list of goals (more than three, for instance), make sure you have not begun to write your objectives!

When writing a grant for technology initiatives, remember to keep your goal student- and/or teacher-focused, rather than technology-focused. Stay away from writing a goal that states “every student will have a graphing calculator” or “we will have a fully functioning computer lab.” Instead, concentrate on the skills that students will develop from having access to technology and the impact this access will have on student learning and/or achievement. Funders want to fund projects, not pieces of equipment.

In fact, you may be able to take your goal right from the request for proposals for the grant you are applying for. If the RFP clearly states the program’s goal, use the same wording (with some personalization to reflect your specific circumstances) for your own goal statement.

When writing objectives, on the other hand, there are two key words to remember: specific and measurable. Objectives tell who is going to do what, how it will be done, and when it will be done. Write objectives in terms of learning a skill or behavior that currently doesn’t exist, an increase in positive skills or behaviors that you want to see more of, or a decrease in negative skills or behaviors.

Here are some examples of well-written objectives from technology-related grant proposals:

• “By June 2001, 87 percent of the K-3 students at the targeted schools will demonstrate 80-percent mastery level of the district and state content standards as measured by district benchmarks, TPRI, or TAAS.”

• “Each of the participating school districts will be able to demonstrate four examples during the 1995-96 school year where a seminar or workshop series was offered to students in science, art, sociology, or cultural awareness through interactive television, thus enhancing educational opportunities.”

• “By the end of the 1995-96 school year, 80 percent of the first-grade students will demonstrate the ability to access the online media center catalog and other networked media sources to complete research assignments.”

To determine whether your objectives are measurable, I would recommend the following test. Give your draft of objectives to several individuals and ask them to identify the benchmarks you have set to measure the success of your project. If everyone gives you the same responses for each objective, you are right on the mark! If, however, individuals have trouble identifying the benchmarks or they give you several conflicting answers for the benchmarks of a specific objective, it’s time to go back and revise your objectives before you submit your proposal.

Don’t forget to look at copies of funded proposals to help you design goals and objectives for your project, or to ask for assistance from those who have knowledge and/or expertise in writing goals and objectives. Classroom teachers should take comfort in knowing that designing goals and objectives for grant-funded projects is no different than the process they use to design goals and objectives for their lesson plans.

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