XML could cure schools’ repetitive data-entry syndrome

Back-to-school season used to signal a severe outbreak of RDES (repetitive data-entry syndrome), but now some schools believe they’ve found a cure—extensible markup language (XML).

Every year at about this time, as the new students begin arriving, the Upper Dauphin Area School District in central Pennsylvania has gone through the same ritual.

Clerks would enter names and other information into computers used by school administrators. They would repeat the process to create network passwords for students, and then again to activate a math tutorial, and then once more for an electronic gradebook, and yet again to issue library cards.

Beginning this fall, all that will change. Clerks will have to enter information only once, and the various computer systems that divide up the work will understand one another.

Starting this fall, the Upper Dauphin district computers will be using XML.

Built on the common architecture of the world wide web, XML is a kind of mandatory Esperanto for computers. It’s at the heart of a relatively new software technology that allows disparate systems to speak a common language.

By automating mundane clerical work, XML will let people focus more on the tasks that really matter.

“If you’re not going to have people worry more about entering student information, you can have people worry more about students’ education,” said Bryan Campbell, technology coordinator for the Upper Dauphin school district.

And computers could get smarter in the process.

Hidden XML tags that make automation possible could one day help school principals such as Kate Clark, leader of the Ocoee Middle School in Orlando, Fla., analyze data in new ways, improving student performance.

By linking a grading system with computers that process subsidized lunches, for example, educators could tell whether poorer students perform better with certain teachers.

“Right now, you can’t do all that without a lot of hand calculations,” said Clark.

XML is all about giving meaning to data.

As anybody reading eSchool News probably knows by now, web publishers using hypertext markup language, or HTML, can specify whether a sentence should appear in bold or italics, as well as what font, color, and size to use.

But the web’s current foundation won’t help a software application identify which number on an HTML page is the ZIP code.

And that makes Web pages often nothing more than glorified faxes.

Using XML, web publishers can mark ZIP codes and even specify whether they belong to senders or recipients.

A tech-savvy teacher could code online resumes to flag his or her special skills for prospective school district employers. The human resources department could launch a web-based search through thousands of electronic resumes for, say, Spanish speakers located nearby with at least five years of web design experience. Without XML, the human resources department would have to look through resumes one by one.

And after hiring an applicant, the school district could feed data from the resume directly into its employee databases.

The World Wide Web Consortium, a standards-setting body, released XML specifications in 1998.

Specifications are akin to letters of the alphabet, and various organizations have been working since to create words from those letters, along with grammatical rules to govern their use.

Schools and school vendors have set up the Schools Interoperability Framework to let systems at Upper Dauphin and Ocoee talk to one another. Human resource companies created rules for employment tasks. XML versions are in the works for spacecraft and computerized chess.

XML is also entering mainstream computing.

Microsoft Corp. is basing its next-generation .NET initiative on XML and has incorporated XML features called “Smart Tags” into its Office XP and Windows XP packages.

Using Smart Tags, users can type a stock symbol into a spreadsheet and automatically get the latest stock prices and company news. Or from a browser, tags can direct users to selected Web sites – a feature that has drawn vehement complaints from Microsoft’s detractors.

At the moment, XML use is rudimentary. Wes Rishel, a Gartner research director, says many industries have launched pilot projects, but “there’s very few, if any, large-scale production applications.”

One challenge has been integrating the hundreds of XML definition sets, some complementary but others conflicting.

Part of XML’s flexibility comes from its ability to let anyone define XML tags.

But that flexibility can lead to “a lot of confusion, a lot of experimentation and frankly a lot of chaos,” said Laura Walker, executive director of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, which is trying to coordinate some of the XML work.

David Sommer, director of electronic commerce for the Computing Technology Industry Association, doesn’t doubt that XML will take off. “It’s more a question of what standards are going to win out,” he said.

In the past, larger organizations communicated with others using customized protocols that were complicated and expensive to set up; separate arrangements often had to be made between pairs of organizations.

XML promises to unify all that. Examples are already beginning to emerge in business. Using XML, airlines, hotels, and rental car companies could all speak the same language without customizing computers. Dollar Rent A Car Systems Inc., for example, already uses XML to let Southwest Airlines agents book car rentals.

Not that customers will necessarily notice. Though travelers may be able to make all arrangements from a single Web site, they won’t need to know XML drives it.

Same goes for the health care applications.

XML could link medical records and lab results from school health clinics and hospitals. It could warn doctors of drug reactions and help them analyze the success rates of specific treatments for certain combinations of symptoms and family histories.

But patients, even doctors, would care only about the effects.

“If I’m on a business trip and (have to visit) an emergency room, my medical records could be accessed and they would know right away whether I’m allergic to penicillin,” said Rachael Sokolowski, a consultant working on health care standards.

The ease of sharing data raises new concerns among privacy advocates. There’s a version of XML being developed for marketing and consumer profiling.

But XML supporters say the tags can ultimately help enhance privacy. Software could restrict employee performance reviews to top decision-makers, filtering out low-level clerks in human resources who might now have access as well.

And XML is the basis for the Platform for Privacy Preferences, techniques being developed to let browsers automatically interpret Web sites’ privacy policies.

XML is “like a Swiss army knife. It’s hugely useful in a lot of different areas,” said Uttam Narsu, a research analyst with Giga Information Group. “By the end of next year, I will be hard pressed to find a single company that won’t be touched somehow by XML.”

Links:

World Wide Web Consortium
http://w3.org

Schools Interoperability Framework
http://www.sifinfo.org

XML resources
http://xml.org

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Kentucky district spanked for eRate oversight

Kentucky’s largest school district is embroiled in a flap with state education officials over who should pay to finish wiring its schools. At issue is whether the state should pay for wiring costs that officials say could have been covered by eRate discounts, had the district only applied for them sooner.

The Jefferson County school district, which encompasses 150 schools and includes the city of Louisville, has asked the state for $1.25 million to help connect its remaining 48 schools to the internet.

But according to a state official, the district could have taken advantage of at least $2.5 million in eRate discounts to pay for internet connections during the program’s first two years, and now the district wants the state to cover the loss.

“Do you reward them? We pushed the other 175 [Kentucky districts] to do this,” David Couch, an associate commissioner of the state Department of Education, told the Associated Press (AP).

Kentucky’s funding formula for wiring its schools factored in the eRate discounts that each school was eligible for and instructed schools to apply for these discounts.

“We encouraged every school district to apply [for eRate monies]. In fact, they had to apply, it was part of the [state’s] funding formula,” said Phil Coleman, director of school network services for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Couch told AP that Kentucky was uniquely positioned to jump at eRate discounts in 1998 because it already met a federal requirement to have state and district master plans for technology.

The eRate subsidy that Jefferson County was eligible for averaged 78 percent the first year and 68 percent in the second, according to Couch. Jefferson County “should have jumped on [the] eRate” in the first two years, he said, when there was enough funding in the program to wire all of its schools.

“I think someone needs to answer: Why didn’t you take advantage of this?” Couch said.

Alan Whitworth, director of information technology for the district, said Jefferson County did not apply for all of its schools to be wired in the program’s first two years, because not all of its schools were ready. Many buildings lacked sufficient electrical power, he said.

Also, some schools chose not to apply. “That was their call,” Whitworth added. The district invited all its schools to apply if they wanted internet connectivity, but only schools that expressed interest and were best prepared to integrate the technology were wired first.

“Why would I network a … school if they aren’t going to use [the internet]—if they haven’t got a plan to integrate it into the curriculum?” Whitworth said. “Our boss [Superintendent Stephen Daeschner] is very kid- and instructional-oriented. He said if we’re going to spend a lot of money doing this, we have to make it count.”

Eligibility for the eRate is based in part on the proportion of low-income students. But even the most affluent district in Kentucky received discounts in the program’s first two years, because there was so little competition for the money, Couch said. Now, other states have caught up.

Currently, the eRate—funded at $2.25 billion—is oversubscribed, meaning many applications will go unfulfilled. Jefferson County has applied for funding to wire its remaining schools, but the widespread demand for discounts means it’s unlikely the district will see any more money from the program for its wiring project.

Whitworth said his district has racked up eRate savings of more than $8.1 million so far and has been approved for nearly $600,000 more. He acknowledged asking the state for about $1.25 million, but he insisted the district had made a “good faith effort” to first get a subsidy for that amount.

“If a district did not take advantage of [the] eRate, we don’t give them the difference because it isn’t there,” Coleman said. “We just don’t have money sitting, waiting in case someone did not take advantage of the eRate.”

On June 5, Couch told a Kentucky Board of Education committee that nearly a third of Jefferson County’s schools—48 of 150—are not yet wired. Nor did the district establish eMail accounts that permit teachers to receive, and instantly respond to, messages from Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, Couch said.

Why not? “I’m trying to say this kindly. It’s just not been a priority,” Couch said.

Whitworth conceded the district is “a little behind” but not as backward as the state department seemed to imply.

“They said it wasn’t a priority. I respectfully disagree. If you look where the funds came from, you can tell it was a priority,” Whitworth said. The district began wiring its schools in 1997, a $34 million project that was funded primarily with local money, eRate discounts, and state funds from the Kentucky Educational Technology System (KETS) program.

“The state said if we think you are making a ‘good faith’ effort, we will give you some funds. Now they’re saying we didn’t make a ‘good faith’ effort, and we’re confused,” Whitworth said.

The 102 schools wired to date do have internet access, though not always at the classroom level, Whitworth said. The rest are in the process of becoming wired.

On June 6, the full state board decided to seek a meeting with Jefferson County school officials. “I’m not interested in castigating people at this point,” board Chair Helen Mountjoy said. “But I am interested in students in Jefferson County having opportunities to learn that are available to other students.”

Links:

Kentucky Department of Education
http://www.kde.state.ky.us

Jefferson County Public Schools
http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us

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Grants to fund music education programs for children

The Mockingbird Foundation Inc., which generates charitable proceeds from fans of the rock band Phish, funds music education programs for children. The foundation looks for projects that encourage creative expression in all musical forms (including composition, instrumentation, vocalization, and improvisation), but also support more basic needs within conventional instruction. The foundation is particularly, though not exclusively, interested in funding programs that benefit disenfranchised groups. Interested parties should review the funding guidelines available at the Mockingbird Foundation web site. In its first three rounds of funding, the foundation contributed more than $250,000 to music education.

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$30,000 to $10 million in matching grants to access online courses

CyberLearning, a project of the National Education Foundation, aims to help bridge the digital divide by giving K-12 schools, colleges, universities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations the opportunity to receive matching grants to access more than 1,000 online courses in information technology (IT), management, and SAT preparation. Applicants must write a one-page proposal that describes their target population and how they would use the courses to improve the IT, management, or SAT skills of their target population, including students, teachers, and staff. One-year matching grants ranging from $30,000 to $10 million are awarded to applicants based on the poverty level of the target populations or communities. Recent awards include $50,000 to Seattle Shoreline Community College, $250,000 to the New Haven School District in Connecticut, and $4,000,000 to the New Jersey State Department of Education to train 75,000 disadvantaged high school students and teachers.

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New ‘automated buddies’ could change school communication

With the explosion of instant messaging (IM) as an alternative to eMail, school technologists foresee a number of educational applications for IM designed to give computer users simple, immediate access to a wide range of information—from homework help to what’s on the school lunch menu.

About 61 million people, or roughly half the online population, use instant messaging, according to research firm Jupiter Media Metrix. Teens in particular have joined IM networks, prizing the ability to engage in flurries of instantaneous conversation with a selected list of online friends.

Now, “automated buddies” are cropping up, giving marketers an innovative way to reach consumers online. Automated buddies are a new concept that developers say will take IM in a new direction, allowing people not only to communicate with designated friends, but also to pose queries to a computer.

“We all want to believe we can ask a computer a question and get an answer,” said Peter Levitan, chief executive of ActiveBuddy Inc., a New York start-up developing the new IM buddies. Levitan says his company has not targeted the education market yet, but he believes school districts could benefit from using ActiveBuddy’s personalized “agents.”

The advantage of creating an IM agent for a specific subject, explained Levitan, is that users can ask a question and have the computer deliver the answer directly from a database.

The corporate world already has begun to embrace the potential of these “buddies” for instant messaging.

Capitol Records recently commissioned an automated buddy called GooglyMinotaur to answer fans’ questions about the rock band Radiohead. The Radiohead buddy will help Capitol reach a rabidly enthusiastic, internet-savvy fan base, said Robin Bechtel, head of new media for the record label.

The buddies are programmed to understand and answer a limited range of “natural language” sentences, written the way people tend to speak naturally. That capability is analogous to the internet search engine AskJeeves.com, which fields natural-language questions and “answers” by supplying links to other web sites.

Active Buddy’s search agents, or “bots,” operate in a narrower scope, only answering questions about a specified knowledge domain.

But, unlike some natural-language software that creates answers based on a computer’s recognition of keywords, ActiveBuddy’s programmers have created a computer script able to recognize phrases and sentence patterns, even when the same query is posed in different ways.

Computer users also will be able to communicate with ActiveBuddy bots in a shorthand format. For example, instead of asking “What movies are playing in zip code 24508?” a user could enter “movies” and “24508” and get the same listing.

Those shortcuts could get a workout, as school officials and consumers make greater use of IM on handheld computers and other wireless devices where extensive typing is more difficult, Levitan said.

“There’s also the potential to do outbound messaging, so we could send [instant messages] out to parents,” said Levitan. He said ActiveBuddy is waiting to hear from interested users, at which time the company either will build this application for them or provide them with software to build it for themselves.

Automated buddies could take IM to another level, said Bob Moore, executive director of information technology services at Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan.

“Rather than a specific query application for each environment, an active buddy could be your query tool for any environment—and [because] it’s coming straight from a database, the response is nearly instantaneous,” he said.

“Public information offices should love the ‘automated buddy’ concept,” added Michael Parrish, distance learning coordinator for Guilford, N.C., County Schools.

In Guilford, a team worked for six months to create an organizational scheme for the information on the district’s new web site, Parrish said.

“The challenge was to think of how many different ways a patron might be looking for something. Schools refer to ‘child nutrition,’ while parents think of ‘lunch menus.’ This technology exponentially expands the range of questions that could be answered through a one-stop mechanism,” he said.

The technology might even have some specific educational applications in the future, according to Emily Lenzner, director of public relations for ActiveBuddy.

“One of our thoughts was to do something like a ‘study buddy,'” she said. “And one of the early demos of the technology a year ago was flashcards. These could actually quiz the kids, and the students would reply with an answer.”

Maribeth Luftglass, chief information officer for Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, said she sees a possible benefit of this new technology in online courses.

“Right now we are [offering] an online creative writing course, and the teacher has students from 14 different high schools,” she said.

That teacher has electronic “office hours” during which students can ask questions and get feedback, said Luftglass, but an automated buddy tailored for creative writing could be a great source of information for online students, especially when the instructor is offline.

“As we move toward more and more online courses, I see this as a viable way for parents and students to keep the lines of communication open,” said Luftglass.

So far, ActiveBuddy programmers have built 4,647 questions into the software powering GooglyMinotaur, whose launch is being promoted by Capitol Records on its Radiohead web site.

Developers have built the ActiveBuddy service to handle any IM protocol; Capitol Records uses America Online’s IM service.

ActiveBuddy is one of the few companies capable of building these interactive agents, Levitan said. But the company expects to release a software package that allows users to build their own agents by late this year or first quarter of 2002.

ActiveBuddy, with $10.6 million in financing, is backed primarily by Reuters Group PLC and investment banking firm Wit SoundView Group.

Links:

ActiveBuddy
http://www.activebuddy.com

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Missouri teachers begin online grading of state exam

Before this year, grading the standardized tests taken by students as part of the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) was a decidedly hands-on assignment.

Teachers from the state packed up for sessions at the test publisher’s offices in California and Indiana, ready to wade through stacks of the actual test booklets filled out by students.

It made for quite a hassle.

“You’re talking many, many pallets [of test booklets] being trucked around, huge mailing and shipping bills, huge bills for temporary staff to move this stuff in and out, and a huge headache in terms of keeping track of it all,” said Randy Bennett, who works in research and development at Educational Testing Service (ETS), which publishes the SAT, Graduate Record Examination, and other national tests.

This year, 24 Missouri teachers on June 11 began grading online some of the MAP tests taken by about half a million students this spring. Rather than travel across the country to read a test booklet filled out in Missouri, they’ll stay in the state and grade the tests from home or school using a secure internet connection.

“I think it’s going to be awesome,” said Anne Benson, a fourth-grade teacher at Brennan Woods Elementary School in Jefferson County.

The tests to be graded online have been scanned from the original test booklets and turned into a set of images, with answers still in a student’s own handwriting, that can be stored on a computer.

After reading the tests online and recording a score, teachers will transmit the results to CTB/McGraw-Hill, the test publisher, where all the scores and results will be tabulated. The results will be available to school districts in August.

The 24 teachers grading online won’t see all, or even most, of the MAP exams. Most of the scoring is still being done by CTB/McGraw-Hill scorers. But if this online grading session works well, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education wants to expand the electronic scoring to include more teachers.

“As far as I know, the Missouri approach really is a unique one throughout the country,” said Michael Kean, a vice president at CTB/McGraw-Hill. “I wouldn’t be surprised if other states try to emulate it.”

The teachers grading online will score tests from across Missouri, but they won’t have any way of identifying the children or their schools.

“Part of improving instruction is having teachers have a good feel for what high-quality and low-quality work look like,” said Judy Arter, national training director at the Assessment Training Institute in Oregon.

Scoring lots of exams from across the state will do just that, Arter said.

“How could it not improve how I teach?” Benson, the teacher from Jefferson County, said. “I can only be better when I see what’s out there.”

The pilot project has three main goals: One, to get more Missouri teachers involved in grading the exams. Missouri education officials hope that teachers will have more confidence in the test if their colleagues are involved in the grading. Two, to get results back to school districts faster. And three, to save the state money.

“Once you make it electronic, a lot of these [logistical] problems go away,” said ETS’s Bennett of the scoring process. Bennett said ETS grades several of its exams over the internet and has done so for years.

Links:

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
http://services.dese.state.mo.us

CTB/McGraw-Hill
http://www.ctb.com

Educational Testing Service
http://www.ets.org

Assessment Training Institute
http://www.assessmentinst.com

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Congress mulls national ‘Digital School Districts’ program

As members of the United States Senate debate their version of a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) this week, education and technology advocates have announced their support for an amendment to create model tech-savvy school districts in each state and the District of Columbia. They hope to rally support for the legislation among members of the eSchool movement.

The National Digital School Districts Amendment, sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., would fund model “digital districts” in an effort to implement the vision of the bipartisan Web-based Education Commission.

That commission, which was led by former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., was impaneled during the Clinton administration to uncover and report on the potential of the internet for learning.

The commission released a report, “The Power of the Internet for Learning,” late last year, calling on policymakers to enact an eLearning agenda for the nation’s schools.

The proposed amendment, which would create a national version of Pennsylvania’s Digital School District program, is supported by the SchoolTone Alliance, a not-for-profit, independent consortium of companies promoting the benefits of internet-based computing in schools. Members of the SchoolTone Alliance include bigchalk.com, BritannicaSchool.com, HighWired.com, Lucent Technologies, National Semiconductor, PowerSchool, Riverdeep, and Sun Microsystems.

The amendment also has been endorsed by the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a D.C.-based technology advocacy group. CCIA has released a white paper in support of the Web-based Education Commission’s recommendations and the Cantwell-Enzi amendment.

The initial legislative language called for the authorization of $150 million over two years for each state to oversee a competitive grant process, by which school districts would propose comprehensive, districtwide strategies for using technology to improve the learning environment.

In the first year of the process, one district from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia would have received funding. In the second year, state and local governments would have provided matching funds to create a second grant.

In the third year, the legislation would have authorized $25 million to conduct a nationwide study to compare, evaluate, and assess the 102 individual model programs to evaluate effective and ineffective uses of technology in schools.

But the language that finally appeared before the Senate June 7 was far broader and bore little resemblance to the detailed agenda initially outlined by the amendment’s authors and supporters.

According to Jason Mahler, CCIA’s vice president and general counsel, the initial figures were struck from the amendment shortly before ESEA came up for discussion in the Senate, in an effort to align the amendment with the block-grant format passed in the House version.

“With the funding recommendations, we feel [the amendment] may not have passed,” he said. “[Districts] can apply for the funds they need, but the initial figures were struck from the amendment.”

In the final version presented to senators, the amendment would fund district-level programs designed to “encourage the effective integration of technology resources and systems with teacher training and curriculum development, to establish research-based methods that can be widely implemented into best practices.”

Once those criteria have been met at the participating districts, the legislation requires that not later than 36 months after the date of enactment, school officials and the Department of Education shall report to Congress on the findings of those pilot programs.

“We particularly liked the idea that at the end of the three years, [the amendment] would allow us to actually assess what the best practices for school technology are,” said Kim Jones, vice president for global education and research at Sun Microsystems.

Legislators and lobbyists expect the amendment to be rolled into the ESEA bill pending a voice vote.

According to Kim Anderson, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the question is whether it will stay in the bill when it goes to conference. “It depends how hard [the conferencing legislators] will push to have a pared-down bill, and we just don’t know that yet,” she said.

The amendment may come up for a voice vote as early as this week, and its supporters remain optimistic about its inclusion of the final version of ESEA.

“I believe that Democrats and Republicans can build a consensus on this,” said Jones. “I know they all think that technology is one of the areas where we can make a difference in education.”

Advocates of the measure are urging members of the eSchool movement to contact their senators and representatives to express support for the Cantwell-Enzi, Digital School District amendment.

Links:

Computer and Communications Industry Association
http://www.ccianet.org

SchoolTone Alliance
http://www.schooltone.com

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

Sen. Maria Cantwell
http://cantwell.senate.gov

Sen. Mike Enzi
http://enzi.senate.gov

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Schools get free educational programming via satellite TV

Up to 50,000 schools could receive free educational television programming from DirecTV Inc. as part of the “DirecTV Goes to School” program, a public service initiative from one of the nation’s leading digital television providers.

The initiative is DirecTV’s answer to Cable in the Classroom, a public service effort by the cable television industry to provide a free cable connection and commercial-free educational programming to schools across the country. DirecTV Goes to School, which is a satellite-based program, may be useful for schools in areas without access to cable TV.

DirecTV, which has more than 10 million customers, launched its school program last fall. “It’s a way to give back to the communities that we serve,” said Bob Marsocci, the company’s director of communications. Currently 2,300 schools subscribe to the program.

Participating schools receive free access to 66 educational channels from television networks such as C-SPAN, CNN, Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and the Learning Channel.

“Our programmers—like CNN, the Weather Channel, and Discovery—agreed to allow us to provide this programming to schools for free, so we created a package called the School Choice Package,” Marsocci said. The package offers an array of news, educational, and informational programming.

Popular programs include “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” the Weather Channel’s earth science series “The Weather Classroom,” and A&E’s eight-part series on the history of the solar system, “The Planets.”

“We just deliver what we get from the networks, so there is advertising. We don’t edit the content,” Marsocci said.

In addition, participating schools receive a free 350-page guide—complete with articles on the programming—with a cover designed especially for DirecTV Goes to School subscribers.

“We have a monthly guide that we send to all our customers. We have taken this guide and modified it slightly so teachers can use it,” Marsocci said. “It highlights programming that might be useful to teachers.”

For its home consumers, DirecTV charges $21.95 per month for access to 50 channels, so comparatively, the DirecTV Goes to School program saves schools almost $300 a year, Marsocci said.

Schools do have to purchase the DirecTV system and pay to have it installed. The system consists of an 18-inch satellite dish mounted outside, a receiver for the TV, and a remote control.

“For schools in select underprivileged areas, we are providing systems and installation for free,” Marsocci said.

Because the satellite signal can be received by only one television, the DirecTV service is limited to only one television set. “What we’re suggesting is that it be installed in a library, because it can’t be moved around,” Marsocci said.

That’s exactly what Dale Buboltz, librarian at James A. Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles, did. With DirecTV set up in the school’s library, Buboltz said he airs coverage about important news and events, like the election coverage or the launch of a NASA space shuttle while students work in the library.

“At least for a few minutes people could catch it,” Buboltz said. “Certainly if there is an emergency we can have that coverage and know what’s going on.” Occasionally an item on TV will captivate the attention of all the students in the library and they will sit down and watch it together, he said.

Even though a lot of the content is repeated several times throughout the day, Buboltz said, “it works perfectly for me because my audience changes.” The Foshay Learning Center is a K-12 public school serving 3, 400 students in a year-round schooling environment.

“DirecTV was brought in to us because we were having such a hard time with the cable service,” Buboltz said. Cable in the Classroom was installed in the school’s Product Development Center, a high-tech computer lab, instead of the school’s library, where it would be more useful.

“Even if we paid for it, we couldn’t get them to put a drop in the library,” Buboltz said. “They weren’t geared up to make an exception for us. It was difficult to use the [cable] service.”

Under the terms of the DirecTV agreement, teachers can record programming, edit the content, and replay it later to fit their curriculum.

Buboltz said he records various programs from DirecTV for teachers to use in their classrooms so the teachers don’t have to do it themselves.

To make it easier on teachers, Buboltz looks for shows listed in the DirecTV guide that would be timely and interesting, then writes about them in a monthly newsletter he distributes to the 180 teachers in his school.

“I don’t approve of just having the TV on to entertain kids,” Buboltz said. “It had to be meaningful and planned into the curriculum. As a librarian, I’m connecting teachers with these resources.”

Because so many students have grown up in a TV culture, teachers like to use DirecTV to supplement and enhance their curriculum with educational programming, Buboltz said.

“Everything has a place in the classroom if it is contributing to the bottom line of educating those students,” Buboltz said. “For some kids, that’s their modality of learning.

“So far, the high school folks are most interested. For the middle school folks, there isn’t quite enough material,” Buboltz said. “It goes over their heads a little bit.”

For more information regarding the DirecTV Goes to School program, call (888) 330-7827.

Links:

Directv Goes To School
http://www.directv.com/school

James A. Foshay Learning Center
http://www.foshay.k12.ca.us

Cable in the Classroom
http://www.ciconline.com

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Up to $10,000 for safety and security initiatives

The Allstate Foundation makes grants to nonprofit organizations, including public K-12 schools, for projects that are related to automobile and highway safety, homes and neighborhoods, and personal safety and security. Under the personal safety and security initiative, programs that raise awareness of poverty, child abuse, drugs, and violence prevention are eligible for consideration. Applicants should offer safeguards against gangs, guns, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Grants typically range from $5,000 to $10,000. There are no deadlines.

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Grants to meet the educational needs and interests of underserved yout

In 2000, Merrill Lynch adopted children and youth as its global cause for 2000 to 2005. The foundation supports programs that meet the educational needs and interests of underserved children and youth, and it gives priority to specific programs and projects that are innovative, sustainable, easily expanded from a local to a global perspective, and have a measurable impact. Technology skills in particular were cited by the foundation as one of several elements a project can address. The Merrill Lynch Foundation gives priority to grant requests from New York City and national organizations that reflect its focus, but the foundation does consider a small number of unsolicited requests from nonprofit organizations, including school districts. All requests outside of New York City should be submitted to the branch managers of local offices. When making a grant decision, the foundation considers other type of support an organization already might be receiving (e.g., matching gifts, United Way funds, etc.).

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