“Parlo” parlays online lessons into foreign language fluency

Parlo’s unique Virtual Immersion method of language learning enables students to enjoy a “study abroad” experience without having to leave the comfort of their computers. Students can visit the Parlo.com web site to enroll in premium online courses with enhanced audio and interactivity, as well as a wide range of free eMail lessons in French, Spanish, English, and Italian, with German coming soon. Parlo’s site also features pen pals, magazine articles, teachers’ materials, and shopping opportunities. This site is a great way for educators to supplement language learning in the classroom. Parlo offers a variety of materials that teachers can use to enhance the language immersion experience for students. Teachers can choose which lesson topic suits the needs of their students most. Dialogs, grammar explanations and exercises, reading selections, pronunciation activities, and quizzes can help emphasize important concepts learned in class and provide extra practice for students who need help with particular language skills. Students are encouraged to take a diagnostic test in their chosen language of study in order to help Parlo place them at the right level for lessons and chat rooms. Language Curriculum teams consist of top language teachers, linguists, publishers, and ESL specialists, with focused knowledge in technology and distance learning. Full online courses cost approximately $39 to $49 each.


Build students’ understanding of the Civil War era with this Lincoln log-on

PBS’s award-winning American Experience series recently aired “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided,” its first biography of a 19th-century president and its first dual biography. This well thought-out web site accompanies the acclaimed documentary, but the information contained in it can stand on its own. The site’s detailed portrait does much more than explore the personal story of one of the most intriguing couples to have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It also reflects on how the Lincolns’ lives paralleled that of a nation at war. The program and web site paint a vivid picture of life in America in the mid-19th century, focusing on the most volatile issues of the period: slavery, states’ rights, women’s rights, and the growing prominence of the industrial economy. The events of the time are brought to life through primary source documents, interactive maps, QuickTime clips of historically significant sites, photo galleries, and video clips. Students and teachers can choose from topics that include “Partisan Politics,” “Slavery and Freedom,” “A Rising Nation,” “Americans at War,” and “A Woman’s World.” There is also a teacher’s guide that allows for lesson planning in conjunction with the site’s educational content.


Unlock the myths behind St. Patrick’s Day with this History Channel resource

Who was St. Patrick? Did he really drive all the snakes out of Ireland? What Irish national symbol was part of St. Patrick’s Christian teachings? What’s the meaning of “Erin Go Bragh?” What are some fun things to do to celebrate the Irish national holiday? The History Channel’s St. Patrick’s Day web site is an informative look at the March 17 holiday. In keeping with the History Channel’s excellent reputation for compelling, accurate, and informative programming, this web site gives all the fascinating details related to St. Patrick’s Day. Detailed information on Ireland’s conversion from paganism to Christianity and the Anglo-Irish conflict that consumed the Emerald Isle for 800 years is included. Irish scholars can take an online quiz on the history of Ireland, and the “Interactive Ireland” section of the site provides users with a map of the country so they can click on certain areas to get more information about the region’s history, attractions, and culture.


Explore the earth’s remote regions at this

Through this site from National Geographic, students can learn the latest about the rarest and most endangered species on earth, as well as fragile ecosystems in their own region. “Sights and Sounds” brings students interviews and information about specific regions of the world. At press time, the focus was the Bering Sea. The extraordinarily detailed map allows classes to zoom in and out on certain regions of interest and learn more about the ecosystems in different parts of the world. By defining hundreds of different ecosystems and explaining what differentiates them, the site gives students a real working knowledge of the ecological variation that makes our planet so fascinating. The Wild World maps are designed to help teachers bring into their classrooms the wonders of biodiversity and the urgency of conserving it. The “Educator’s Guide” that accompanies the maps offers lesson plans and activities on subjects like map fundamentals, biodiversity, and ecoregions.


Celebrate Women’s History Month with this award-winning web gem

March is National Women’s History Month, and in keeping with that theme educators should direct their students to the National Women’s History Project web site. Teachers will want to bypass the main page of the site and head right for the educational content, provided in the “Learning Place” portion of the site. The National Women’s History Project Learning Place is designed to provide educators with information and educational materials about multicultural women’s history. Among the resources gathered here are “Performers,” a list of women’s history costumed performers by state. Audiences across the country can learn about historic women through first-person historical portrayal. The performers listed here will travel to your state and either introduce individual American women and men or focus on fictitious characters from specific time periods. The site also includes a list of women’s museums and organizations by state, and a list of women’s history links in categories ranging from aviators to political leaders to sports figures. Kids can even test their knowledge of women’s history online or with a printout version downloaded from the quiz page. The “Teachers Lounge” provides suggestions to help teachers make women’s history more accessible and lists exercises and games to do with students.


It’s a safe bet you’ll find this web site a valuable resource

Safeyouth.org, a comprehensive new resource from the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (NYVPRC), outlines a variety of topics related to youth violence for both educators and counselors. NYVPRC was established as a source of information on prevention and intervention programs, publications, research, and statistics on violence committed by and against children and teens. Sponsored by the White House Council on Youth Violence, the center is a collaboration between the council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies. The center’s web site includes links to topics such as youth violence, violence prevention programs, intimate partners and domestic violence abuse, firearms, suicide, and homicide. Users can also access a variety of FAQs and a complete A-Z directory of topics related to youth safety and violence prevention. The NYVPRC web site and call center, at (866) SAFEYOUTH, serve as a user-friendly, single point of access to federal information on youth violence and suicide prevention.


“Teacherline” offers a lifeline for novice technology users

TeacherLine, from PBS, is a professional development web site designed for K-12 teachers, college instructors, and future teachers. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, TeacherLine is a series of modules produced by leading educators, education institutions, and companies. The video-rich, web-enabled modules guide educators toward integrating technology into their learning and teaching and are individualized, self-paced, and sequenced at various skill levels. The modules also can be used to earn certificates based on national and state technology standards. Certificates are awarded in four competency areas. “Technology Skills and Knowledge” focuses on how computers can be used effectively in the classroom. “Professional Practice” instructs teachers in how to use technology in their professional practices. “Teaching and Learning” teaches ways to adapt pedagogy to use technology in order to meet a variety of learning styles and student needs. Finally, “Curriculum and Assessment” focuses on integrating technology into curriculum, instruction, and assessment for specific content areas. Many of the valuable tools on the TeacherLine site are free with registration. Institutions license the TeacherLine professional development modules on an annual basis. To see if you are affiliated with a licensed institution, check with your school district’s professional development office or school of education. The site is a great professional development resource for teachers who want to join the ranks of the truly tech-savvy.


“Concept to Classroom” features interactive teacher workshops

Thirteen/WNET New York and the Disney Learning Partnership have relaunched their Concept to Classroom service with free, multimedia-enhanced seminars and resources for educators. The updated site includes new interactive workshops and tools to help participants apply for credit for the classes they complete. With titles such as “Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Classroom” and “After-school Programs: From Vision to Reality,” Concept to Classroom workshops are divided into four stages. “Explanation” examines educational theory. “Demonstration” shows examples of successful applications that are provided via video, internet links, lesson plans, and activities. “Exploration” is a section that includes potential pitfalls, information about technology integration, and answer to FAQs, and “Implementation” includes support materials that help bring the ideas to life in the classroom. Concept to Classroom workshops are targeted toward K-12 teachers, administrators, computer coordinators, librarians, and media specialists. Thirteen/WNET New York is a key program provider for educational content on public television.


Students add superintendent search to district’s web site

A tiny school district in Washington state is making use of its students’ ingenuity and technological know-how to help find a replacement for its current superintendent, who is scheduled to retire June 30.

In an attempt to broaden its search and attract a variety of qualified candidates for the superintendency, the Nine Mile Falls School District (K-12, enrollment 1,550) near Spokane has empowered a group of tech-savvy teens from local Lakeside High School to begin the development of a web page that district officials hope will draw applications from candidates across the country.

Three students from Lakeside High computer teacher Mark St. Clair’s Multimedia Computers class designed the superintendent search feature on the district’s web site as part of a group project.

The superintendent search page includes background information, a timeline for the selection process, and eMail links to the district.

St. Clair is quick to explain that his students are beginners, and only one of the students responsible for the superintendent search feature had ever studied web design. Other teams from the class were responsible for other aspects of the district’s new web site.

How did these beginning webmasters get the chance to try their hand at a district web page? “Their instructor was silly enough to volunteer them,” joked St. Clair. “All the board members visited each school after the announcement [that our superintendent was retiring], and when they came to the high school, school board President Joe Poss said they’d really like to see the web used in some way,” he explained. Since Nine Mile Falls did not have a proper district web site, only a page linking to the various school web sites, St. Clair was anxious for his students to fill this need and gain some invaluable web-authoring skills at the same time.

“We just thought it was ridiculous not to have a district web page. It’s such a great way to communicate with the local community,” he said.

According to St. Clair, district officials had two primary reasons for wanting to create a superintendent search page on the district’s web site.

First, they wanted a way to advertise the position outside Nine Mile Falls.

“We’re not even a dot on most maps, even though we are only 15 miles from Spokane,” said St. Clair, who said the other reason for the web-based superintendent search was to provide potential candidates with all the information they needed about the district. “We got mission statements and vision statements from the district and posted that information on the site,” he said. “These are the types of things that will be asked of [applicants].”

St. Clair said the entire district web site is being overhauled, but the superintendent search feature was “the catalyst for getting the whole thing done in the first place.” St. Clair’s students are using Macromedia’s DreamWeaver web-authoring software to create the pages on the district’s web site. The package being used by Lakeside computer students includes Macromedia’s Flash animation component; Director, a multimedia component; and Fireworks, Macromedia’s graphics production piece.

“Last year, the class was purely doing HTML [hypertext markup language] programming,” said St. Clair. “While the students need to know HTML, it has been my observation that most professionals are using a web-authoring tool of some sort.”

St. Clair said his students like the Macromedia product, because it allows them to switch back and forth between the set templates and original HTML coding easily.

“The program lets the kids tweak the code very easily,” he explained. “There’s a button that allows you to click over to HTML and then click back to DreamWeaver. Professionals call that clean code.”

St. Clair said his experiences in project-based teaching with the Multimedia Computers class have changed the way he conducts the rest of his classes. The Multimedia Computers class “is very popular and self-motivating. The push in education now is for larger, project-based learning that asks kids to solve problems. This class is all about real-world applications,” he said. “It’s really opened my eyes to how traditional approaches to learning can stifle creativity.”

St. Clair’s students have even designed web sites for local businesses.

“We did one site for a local ski resort,” he said. “They wanted something better than what they had, and they told us to go ahead and design it–and if they liked it, they’d use it.” St. Clair believes his students have found the real-world applications of web design to be very exciting. “There are no textbooks. We work on our projects in design groups. It’s exactly like the business world, because they work in design groups as well,” he explained.

Superintendent candidates who have applied for the position at Nine Mile Falls will be notified by April 18, according to the student-created web page. So far, the response has been enthusiastic.

“We have even gotten some eMails from overseas,” St. Clair said.


LT Voice Server gives a voice to school staff and community

Franklin: It’s a famous name in American history. It’s also the Wisconsin home to the 3,800-student Franklin Public Schools, a suburban district just south of Milwaukee, whose success “can be clearly linked to an active partnership with families and the community,” said Superintendent Gerald Freitag.

“We’re a school-centered district,” said Janay Wittek-Balke, coordinator of communications and public engagement for the district, which has seven schools and a full- and part-time staff of 530. “That means we are constantly listening to students, parents, and staff. It’s all part of our commitment to continuous improvement.”

How does the district stay connected to those it serves? “We hold focus groups. The superintendent conducts listening sessions. We open part of board meetings for public comment. We do some paper and pencil surveys,” Wittek-Balke said. “However, our automated telephone questionnaires are among our most valuable listening tools.”

Franklin schools use a technology called LT Voice Server, from the Everett, Wash.-based Leadership Technology Group (formerly Voice Poll Communications), to tap into stakeholders’ opinions. When respondents dial a special phone number to complete an interactive telephone questionnaire, they are connected with a district server.

“The computer, equipped with special software, does an immediate tabulation and gives us a running total of their responses. We can print that information out at any time and begin our analysis,” Wittek-Balke said.

“Our automated questionnaires have become a part of the culture of our schools,” she added. “Principals are constantly using these high-tech, easy-to-use tools to spot and correct problems, improve student and staff performance, and build even stronger relationships. On a district-wide basis, we’re also getting feedback for teachers in our orchestra program, because they want to constantly improve their instructional strategies, and for our food service program, because they want to offer the best service possible for our students and staff.”

A case in point is Chuck Wedig, principal of the district’s Pleasant View Elementary School. “We make extensive use of the automated questionnaires, which make it possible for those who participate to punch in their responses on their telephone keypad,” he said.

In an interview, Wedig highlighted how he uses the telephone technology:

Students. “We now have telephones in every room of our building. This past year, we asked students in grades three through six to respond to 11 statements using the automated questionnaires.” All 311 students at those grade levels participated in the process, privately entering their responses – yes, no, or not sure–on the phone keypads. The statements included items such as: “I know what is expected of me at school,” “I have everything I need to do my work right,” “My teacher cares if I learn,” and “The principal knows my name.” Overall responses for the school are shared with the principal and community, but specific responses for each classroom are shared privately with the teacher. They are not part of the evaluation process.

Parents. From home or school, parents are asked to respond to statements related to their child’s experience in the classroom and school improvement objectives. Among these statements were: “My child’s teacher has appropriate expectations for student learning,” “My child’s teacher knows and treats students as individuals,” “My child’s teacher cares about my child’s success,” and “Your child participated in a goal-setting process this school year. Do you believe the goal-setting process was effective for your child?”

Parents and staff. Both parents and staff were asked privately to give letter grades ranging from A to F to the school principal, the teaching staff, the overall operation and performance of the school, and the overall operation and performance of the district.

“With these automated questionnaires, we get results immediately. They are instantly tabulated by our computer,” Wedig noted. “The effectiveness of any organization depends on its being measured. Feedback needs to be fed forward so that each of us can respond to it, constantly building a better education for our students.”

Making the general results public has “reinforced our credibility as public servants committed to outstanding education,” Wedig said. “The very process not only helps us build a sense of participation, it also helps us get valuable information at the same time–what some people are calling the ‘partimation effect.'”

The results of this internal and external listening have been a source of positive reinforcement. “We get a lot of positive feedback,” Wedig acknowledged. What’s getting further attention as a result of the process? Quite a number of things. For one, 83 percent of students said, “My teacher cares about me.” “That’s positive, but our teachers are concerned about doing even better in reaching the other 17 percent,” he said.

What about the principal? Wedig volunteered, “Only 73 percent of students said the principal knew their name. We know that can have an impact on student success. I’m working on the other 27 percent.”