Interactive reading instruction from MindPlay

Version 3.0 of MindPlay’s My Reading Coach, an educational tool that provides interactive reading instruction, puts more emphasis on administrator and teacher management tools to help ensure better student performance in phonics, spelling, and reading comprehension skills.

Not only does the My Reading Coach system evaluate a student’s reading ability; it also provides lessons that adapt to each student’s individual needs. Every mistake is instantly corrected with clear feedback tailored to the error, according to MindPlay.

The program’s 47 lessons offer a variety of learning modalities and customized navigation paths. The software’s management system tracks student progress, so teachers can see how students are doing and what mistakes they’re making. For motivation, students get a certificate after each review test and can view their performance reports.

Featuring artificial intelligence and interactive audio/video, My Reading Coach was developed in part by Jim Larrabee, phonics and reading teacher for 25 years and author of the book Phonics Fusion.

(800) 221-7911


3-D animations provide visual aids for students

Users of’s bigchalk Library now have access to more than 3,000 three-dimensional animations from Working Stock, a provider of nontraditional visual stock content and a division of Knight Ridder Tribune Information Services. These animations, which will be updated daily, aim to help students better understand how a device or process works and help them visualize complex concepts.

“Visual aids are so critical to student comprehension. Animations, such as these, can often make abstract subjects clear and easy to understand,” said Sue Collins, senior vice president and general manager of

The 3-D animations cover a full range of topics, including health, space exploration, history, technology, weather, environment, nature, transportation, and earth sciences. For example, an animation on Doppler radar enables teachers to show how radio waves are used to gather information about storms. Each animation includes on-screen text and voice-over narration to explain the visual.

The bigchalk Library also offers access to more than 1,000 magazines and newspapers, as well as TV and radio transcripts, books and reference collections, photographs, images, and maps.

(800) 860-9228


Seven Steps to Creating a Fail-Safe Contingency Plan

Electronic technology is great when it works, but it’s far less reliable than a textbook and blackboard (just ask a teacher in California!). Here is a systematic way to create a plan for responding to unexpected computer downtime, either in the classroom or in administration offices:

  1. Define possible threats. As a team, think about all the things that could go wrong, from computer malfunctions to sabotage by students or staff.

  2. Conduct impact analysis. Consider the impact of each of those threats and rank them from most damaging to least, and from most likely to least.

  3. Generate possible responses. Consider different approaches for responding to each threat.

  4. Identify responses. Choose a course of action for each type of threat. Be as detailed as possible. For example, if a decision is made that certain information cannot be lost, even temporarily, then decide how to provide an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) to that computer.

  5. Adjust policies to reflect the plan. If creating the fail-safe plan results in needing to obtain more information about users of the system or restricting their activities, make sure that everyone is told what changes are being made—and why.

  6. Implement the plan. Make it someone’s priority to ensure that it will be done.

  7. Review the plan periodically. This includes checking backup computer systems and networks on a regular basis to make sure they are backing up data as expected.

Free CD-ROM illustrates gene mapping

Students can learn about the Human Genome Project in a highly visual and interactive way, thanks to a free CD-ROM developed by IDI Multimedia in collaboration with Henninger Media Services and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The free CD-ROM, which dynamically guides students through background information on genetics, genome sequencing, and the Human Genome Project, boasts three-dimensional animation of molecules, cells, and DNA; an interactive timeline of genetics; suggested classroom activities; and a glossary of terms.

“It was critical for us to develop a format that would engage our target: student users,” said IDI President John Grzejka. “Of course, for teen-agers, it also had to be cool.”

The new CD-ROM is part of a multimedia kit called “The Human Genome Project: Exploring Our Molecular Selves.” The kit includes an award-winning video documentary, a classroom wall poster, and a brochure. The kit can be ordered at no cost from the web address listed below.


Second-story instincts

Technology and the internet are changing what educators have to worry about, and the changes go beyond the obvious.

Time was when the alphabet soup of federal agencies meant next to nothing to the average educator. Except for once a decade or so—when issues such as Sputnik, school desegregation, or federal aid to education would explode into the headlines—it used to seem pretty safe for school folk to ignore what the geniuses and assistant geniuses where up to in Washington, D.C.

Ever since it really got rolling some 50 years ago, federal funding has held a degree of interest for educators. But even federal money has traditionally earned only a 6 or 7 percent rating on the educator-interest meter. Reason: Federal funding did—and still does—amount to only about 6 or 7 percent of the total funding for education.

Far more profound on the school funding front: whether your friends and neighbors will approve that tax levy or budget referendum.

So is 6 or 7 percent all that important? Well, as our Front Page story reports, President Bush just proposed his first federal budget, and you can judge for yourself. The Bush budget would knock out about $55 million in the federal support you’ve been getting for school technology.

Those $55 million would round out a bank account nicely. But in a field that spends $8 or $9 billion on technology every year, a federal cut of that size would hardly be apocalyptic (unless, of course, part of those particular federal millions had a role in funding the technology program in your schools).

Even so, Congress is as certain as sunrise to fiddle with that funding level before the budget actually is enacted sometime next fall or winter. In other words, it’s premature to worry too much right now. That’s why Mr. Bush’s budget is likely to leave the sleep of educators in Bmidji, Minn.; Gnawbone, Ind.; and the community where you live largely undisturbed.

But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about from Washington. In fact, the variety of Washington issues to worry about is on the rise these days.

If not money, then meddling is what we need to watch out for.

In just this month’s issue of eSchool News, one story after another cites agencies and offices educators rarely, if ever, had to think about before. When, for instance, was the last time you had to wonder what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was up to?

Well, now you do.

You do, that is, if you care how well web sites for kids are complying with the regulations enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, page 14). And just in case your schools’ web sites attract visitors under thirteen, guess what: You, too, had better be up to speed on the COPPA rules.

And how about that Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? It’s getting so not a month goes by without an FCC development important to education. So how much time did you spend in grad school studying the role of the FCC in education?

Neither did anyone else.

Yet right now, savvy educators from coast to coast are letting out a sigh of relief. The FCC won’t be taking away your instructional television spectrum, after all, to make room for cell phones, pagers, and other wireless devices (page 19). A spectrum change such as the one being contemplated by the FCC could have cost some school systems millions.

But just as one worry fades away another looms, this time in the form of the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The FCC has just issued the rules schools and libraries must follow when it comes to filtering internet content (page 20). If you want your schools to remain eligible for eRate treats, you must perform your CIPA tricks before next Halloween.

No doubt about it. Technology and the internet have opened a window on the world for education, but they’ve also altered who might climb in. Unfortunately, some people in our federal government react to an open window like a second-story man. They’re gripped with an irresistible urge to grab a ladder.

It’s enough to make an educator want to shutter.

Gregg Downey
Editor and Publisher


Take advantage of these new resources from chip maker Intel

Intel Corp. announced in March that it has launched a number of new online resources for teachers who want to teach with technology. New features on Intel’s education web site include a lesson-plan database, called “Units and Lesson Plans,” with topics ranging from history and science, to math, English, and foreign languages. Each lesson plan includes resources and examples of how to conduct lessons, all available for downloading at no charge. Another new feature is “Ask our Teachers,” which enables teachers to consult with expert teachers on using technology to improve instruction. Finally, Intel continues to offer its “Journey Inside” technology literacy course, which uses interactive experiments and multimedia to help middle school teachers and students discover how computers and the internet work. The Journey Inside is divided into two parts. The “Student” section is similar to an online science museum, filled with activities such as a virtual microscope. The “Teacher Guide” includes tools to help teachers customize the activities in the “Student” section to fit the needs of their classes.


“” is a well-organized education portal

This useful educational resource portal was conceived and designed by a retired Long Island junior high school history teacher of 32 years and is sponsored by BASCOM, a developer of secure school web sites. contains links to nearly 2,000 sites for students, teachers, and parents, with a special emphasis on practical information. The site recently added 200 new linked resources, with some links offering streaming radio and video. “Learning the Net” and “Microsoft Product Tutorials” are new to the list as well. Other notable features include curriculum-related links for major subject areas, reference links, links related to high school and college, and teacher and parenting links. The site is pretty bare-bones, with no bells or cyber-whistles, but it scores high for ease of use. Addressing a plethora of subjects from current events to the arts, colleges and careers, lesson plans and resources, and virtual field trips, this site is a great way to locate materials to supplement lesson plans.


“” could bolster your teacher recruitment efforts, powered by the Center for American Jobs, is a new recruiting solution that integrates the web and the telephone to provide employers with a comprehensive skill assessment of job candidates. The web site is intended to provide a fast, easy, and cost-effective way for employers to find pre-qualified candidates that meet their minimum hiring standards. The heart of involves the pre-screening and pre-qualifying of prospective employees, using state-of-the-art Interactive Voice Response (IVR) telephone technology and the internet. Responding to recruitment advertising, candidates can call 800-NOW-HIRING or go to the web site to answer a series of job-related questions designed to pre-qualify them to the employers’ hiring standards. The site’s proprietary system compares the candidate’s answers to employers’ individual hiring criteria, and, where there is a match, automatically eMails or faxes an enhanced resume to employers. The site also allows candidates to record a special message to prospective employers, allowing them to listen to those messages at any time via the internet or the telephone. Use of the service is fee-based for districts, but free to the job-seeker.


“Project 2061” is a launching pad for successful science curricula

In 1985, the American Association for the Advancement of Science launched a long-term effort to reform science, mathematics, and technology education for the 21st century. That same year, Halley’s Comet was approaching the sun, prompting the project’s originators to consider all of the scientific and technological changes that a child entering school in 1985 would witness before the return of the comet in 2061—hence the name, Project 2061. Project 2061 “is dedicated to making science literacy a reality for all students and will continue to develop innovative, yet practical, tools educators can use to put science literacy goals to work at every level of the education system,” according to its web site. Panels of scientists, mathematicians, and technologists have prepared a report, called “Science for All Americans,” outlining what all high-school graduates should be able to do in science, math, and technology and establishing principles for effective learning and teaching. The project’s web site includes links to several publications that encourage science literacy. Its “Benchmarks” section provides sequences of specific learning goals that educators can organize however they choose in designing a core curriculum that meets the goals for science literacy recommended in “Science for All Americans.” The site is a great resource to use when developing science curriculum.


Make “The Technology Source” one of your sources for ed-tech information

The University of North Carolina publishes “The Technology Source,” a bimonthly, peer-reviewed periodical, as a resource for educators working to create useful technology programs and initiatives that address the needs of all stakeholders, from students to teachers to families. According to the site’s authors, the purpose of The Technology Source is “to provide thoughtful, illuminating articles that will assist educators as they face the challenge of integrating information technology tools into teaching and into managing educational organizations.” Articles cover topics in the areas of assessment, virtual universities, case studies, and faculty and staff development. Recent articles covered a range of education topics, including: “Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses,” “Online Communities as a New Learning Paradigm: An Interview with Paul Shrivastava,” “eLobbying: Marketing eLearning to the Legislature,” “Electronic Tuition Rates Overcome Distance Learning Barrier,” “Using Technology to Improve Curriculum Development,” and “The Role of Education Faculty in Choosing Web-based Course Management Systems.”