Four Ways to Ensure that High-Tech Cheaters Never Prosper

District Administrator (formerly Curriculum Administrator), October 2001

Cheating on assignments by students is commonplace, and by some measures the problem is getting worse. Clearly, the web has eased the ability of students to find information and copy it without proper citation, or any citation at all. The question now is, how can this be combated?

Educators are wrestling with this problem, and they offer a few solutions that, in combination, may be able to stem the tide:

– Make sure kids understand. First and foremost is to make sure that students understand what constitutes cheating, as compared to legitimate online group assignments or web-based research. Clarity about these matters must start with elementary school students, and the rules of right and wrong must be spelled out and discussed repeatedly. Getting students to discuss academic honesty makes them part of the process and will go a long way toward policing all students.

– Assign personalized projects. Second, assignments can be modified to make cheating more difficult. In-class work, for example, can be monitored more closely than homework. Also, many assignments can be personalized. For instance, each student can be tasked with providing information based on his or her experiences. Assignments can also incorporate requirements in which students express their opinions or viewpoints, which are more difficult to borrow from other sources.

– Make use of preventative technology. Third, the educational software most often used by students now comes with features that make the unattributed use of information much more difficult. When a student uses a sentence or phrase from Microsoft Encarta, for example, a reference is automatically included in the student’s work.

– Use anti-plagiarism software. Finally, anti-plagiarism software continues to improve. One of the newest packages rising in popularity is called This software rates each scanned paper by grading the amount of overlap it displays with compared text, which helps teachers decide if a student’s work has crossed the line into plagiarism.


Bring Community History To Life with Your Computer

Technology & Learning, October 2001

Here’s a project that artfully blends the old and the new to create a fun and educational multimedia experience.

Ask students to bring old family photos that may be tucked away in the attic or in photo albums. Emphasize that they need to be photos that evoke a bygone era—prior to World War II, for example. Have the students ask their parents, grandparents, and others for these photos. Also, tell the students to search for photos of different subjects—people, places, automobiles, etc. Photos taken from a single geographic area (such as the town in which you are located) are even better.

Once the photos have been collected, students can learn how to scan, save, and manipulate the images online. Depending upon the students’ age and the availability of technology, students can explore cropping, coloring, and numerous other forms of electronic manipulation. It is even possible for students to add words or animation to the scanned images, such as a flashing red light atop a photo of an old fire engine.

Students also should research the things that are shown in the pictures. Research may include interviews with people in the photos (or people who knew those people) and reading old newspapers from the community. Even a visit to a local historical society might be arranged.

Finally, instructors must help students organize the information and photographs online. A virtual photographic exhibit can be created and shared with the entire community.


Are Online Professional Development Programs Failing Teachers?

Education Week, Sept. 19, 2001

At its core, education is both a personal and interpersonal activity. For many people, true learning does not come by study in solitude, but from inquiry alongside an informed instructor. True learning also comes from working with others to reach a common goal. In the words of the author, “Education means to draw out, not to put in.”

Nowhere is this truer for teachers than in the professional development they receive prior to becoming a teacher and during their professional lifetime.

Unfortunately, purveyors of online educational programs are giving inadequate attention to the community aspect of learning and seem to believe that educators can learn classroom techniques in a sort of vacuum. This model may be efficient, but it saps professional development programs of their greatest strengths.

Here are four principles that illuminate and improve online professional development:

– Students learn by doing. Education program developers in the online world understand this principle, but they rarely put it into practice effectively. Online curricula need to include more interactivity and open-ended inquiry.

– Learning requires interpersonal contact. Our gestures, posture, tone of voice, and many other actions convey a tremendous amount of information—as much from the student as from the teacher. Online education programs that seek to eliminate this contact in the interest of cost-efficiency are doomed to fail. Online chat rooms are not likely to fulfill the need for complex give-and-take between teachers and students.

– Learning requires a structure. Real learning is not merely knowing some facts, or even knowing where to find those facts. Many online educational programs are heavy on facts or rules and light on teaching the ability to synthesize information.

– Learning is done by individuals, and each individual is different. People need to feel an interaction with the information they are learning, and they need to be able to consider that information in ways that are meaningful. It is much harder for a pre-written computer program to meet these varied needs than it is for a human being who is accustomed to working with his or her students.


Seven Steps to Perfecting Your Professional Development

District Administrator (formerly Curriculum Administrator), October 2001

Here are seven tips for producing professional development programs that are valued—and enjoyed—by the participants:

1. Develop hands-on skills. Teachers want to perform better and to help their students perform better. Thus, “inspirational” speakers who do not impart information that teachers can actually use in the classroom do not make for good leaders of training sessions.

2. Know your audience and resources. Don’t teach advanced techniques to teachers who have not yet mastered computer basics, and vice versa. Also, if tech training is conducted on equipment that teachers do not have in their classrooms or computer labs, then the training has no value. If appropriate, schedule programs flexibly so people can choose the time that best suits their needs.

3. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Presentations and exercises can be leavened with humor or fun activities. Also, if the leader seems to be losing the interest of the class, it’s time for a break.

4. Provide handouts. It is much easier for staff members to follow the instructor’s lead, especially on new and complex subjects, if they have an outline upon which they can take notes. Handouts should include a list of web-based references for more information, and this list should be up to date.

5. Relate the information to the real world. Provide examples from your experience or those of other teachers.

6. Demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate. Especially if new software or a series of web sites are being discussed, show them in action. These demonstrations—whether shown by the leader or explored by the teachers in lab groups—artfully break up a long day of training, as well as provide a true understanding of the information.

7. Offer tips for follow-up work. Few computer applications can be learned upon first viewing, even with demonstrations. Give staff members exercises and projects that will enable them to improve their skills on their own time.


Pennsylvania Cyberschool Mired in Funding Controversy

Electronic School, September 2001

The Midland (Pa.) School District has created an immensely popular virtual school, the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. In fact, it’s so popular that it attracts students from across the state. However, that attraction has now thrust Midland into a controversy over funding for the school which threatens to shut down the program and perhaps chill support for similar programs elsewhere in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

Western Cyber is not a physical school with a computer-oriented program attached to it. It is a true internet-only school. That means when students in Pennsylvania register for the program, Western Cyber bills the state for their education, just like other charter schools. The state then withholds these funds from the district where the actual student lives.

Therein lies the problem. These districts have gone to court in an effort to retain state funds, usually $5,000-7,000 per student, depending on the district. While the lawsuit is pending, the state has decided to keep funding Western Cyber.

With six other cyberschools seeking charters in Pennsylvania, district and state officials are concerned about the impact of cyberschooling on funding for traditional schools. Demand for web-based education is unquestioned. In the past year, enrollment at Western Cyber has more than doubled, to 1,100 students.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is squarely behind charter schools of all types, and he and other officials are trying to broker an agreement that will end the lawsuit. One proposal that’s been floated is to allow districts to have some type of approval or oversight for the number of students who can “leave” their district to attend a cyberschool. Another proposal would have the state separately fund cyberschools through the Pennsylvania Virtual School District program.


Continuing Converage: Terrorism His Home

School systems across the country are reevaluating their safety procedures after anthrax scares have shut down dozens of facilities and forced some school officials into temporary quarantine.

So far, no actual incidents of anthrax contamination have been reported at schools, but officials say they aren’t taking any chances.

Under a new policy introduced Oct. 18 by the Fayette County, Ky., Public Schools, officials will open the district’s mail in a designated bathroom and throw out anything that looks suspicious, the Lexington Herald-Leader has reported.

Parents have been asked not to use envelopes when sending notes to school with their children. If money for lunch or a field trip is sent to school, parents are urged to use a clear plastic bag; otherwise, parents should use eMail or the telephone to contact school officials.

For the unforeseeable future, parents should not assume that schools are reading their mail, Superintendent Robin Fankhauser said at a news conference.

“If anything looks suspicious, it goes in a plastic bag and gets disposed of,” the Herald-Leader quoted her as saying.

The policy change stems from an anthrax scare that occurred at Tates Creek Middle School Oct. 15. The school was evacuated and 12 people quarantined after an envelope containing a white powdery substance was opened in an office.

The envelope, which did not have a return address or postmark, did not contain a document, only the white powder, said John Toye, director of security for Fayette County Public Schools.

Eleven adults, including Principal Leon Dudley, and one male student, were decontaminated and sent to the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center for tests after the envelope was opened.

Other students and teachers were instructed to remain in their classrooms. The heating and airt conditioning systems were shut down to prevent air flow from the office to the rest of the building.

All students were kept on campus until regular dismissal at 3:40 p.m., but the school was closed the following day, until tests showed the substance was not harmful.

New dangers

The Tates Creek scare occurred on the same day that Kentucky state officials urged local school systems to implement policies for dealing with chemical and biological terrorism.

School emergency plans created with floods, tornadoes, and handguns in mind need to be redrawn to deal with terrorism, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton and other state officials said Oct. 15.

“Safety has taken on a very different meaning in our nation” since the deadly attacks Sept. 11 that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, Patton said in a speech beamed to schools statewide over Kentucky Educational Television.

Model emergency plans developed by the state Center for School Safety in Richmond soon will include a component on chemical and biological terrorism. In the meantime, the center is offering tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for coping with chemical and biological threats.

All schools in Kentucky are required to have emergency plans, but most were designed to deal with weather disasters or student violence, Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said.

“A lot of schools haven’t thought about the new kinds of dangers that are out there,” Wilhoit said. “Schools and other parts of society are on more of a level of alert now.”

Gloves and masks

In Madison, Wis., gloves and masks will be supplied to all city schools for use by employees who are uneasy about opening mail because of anthrax scares elsewhere in the nation.

Each principal also has been directed to have all mail opened in a designated room that can be quickly sealed if necessary, said Ted Balistreri, district security coordinator. The steps are part of procedures that were sent to schools Oct. 18.

Madison schools have not received threats, he said, but officials felt the schools could be vulnerable to copycat hoaxes, so the procedures were put in place to manage any potential problems.

Balistreri compared the new procedures to being prepared for other emergency situations, such as fire drills.

“Do we expect a fire tomorrow in one of our schools? No,” he said. “But we have to be prepared for that. We think these procedures will make students, staff, and parents feel more comfortable.”

Carole Peterson, secretary at Van Hise Elementary School, welcomed the precautions and said she would wear gloves when opening mail. “I think it’s just a good practice until things settle down,” she said.

Other scares

A Flagler Palm Coast (Fla.) High School sophomore was arrested Oct. 16 after admitting he spread white powder on a teacher’s desk in hopes that an anthrax scare would force an evacuation and cancel classes.

James Smith Jr., 17, was arrested and charged with planting a hoax of a destructive device, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His arrest came on the same day that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called such hoaxes “no joking matter” and Gov. Jeb Bush vowed to punish those who make false threats of anthrax with lengthy prison sentences.

In St. Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis, fear of biohazard contamination enveloped hundreds of students and parents after a powder residue reportedly was found beneath gym bleachers. Firefighters eventually quarantined about 175 people inside the building until the substance was determined to pose no health hazard.

Indiana State Police were called to Maconaquah Elementary school in Bunker Hill, where a suspicious substance—later thought to be flour—was found among packages being delivered to the school.

All students at the elementary school and adjacent Maconaquah High School were released around noon as a precautionary measure, the Indianapolis Star reported.


Fayette County Public Schools, 701 East Main Street, Lexington, KY 40502; phone (859) 381-4100

Kentucky Center for School Safety, Eastern Kentucky University, 105 Stratton Building, 521 Lancaster Avenue, Richmond, KY 40475; phone (877) 805-4277

Madison Metropolitan School District, 545 West Dayton, Madison, WI 53701; phone (608) 663-1879


Authorities watch gand web sites to head off violence

Gang members increasingly are using the internet to discuss crimes in private chat rooms and offer gangbanger wannabes a chance to enlist by posting membership applications online. And law enforcement officials nationwide are taking notice.

In the last few years, the number of gang-related web sites has grown to tens of thousands, with about 20 percent to 30 percent run by actual gang members, said Detective Chuck Zeglin of the Los Angeles Police Department’s career criminal apprehension section.

“We recently found one site for a Crip gang back East that was trying to recruit,” Zeglin said. “One site for the P-town Gang in Kentucky has a thing on their site that you click on if you want to be a gang member. There’s a resume you have to fill out. But mostly we just find threats.”

A growing number of police departments monitor the web sites, but the information they have found has not led to significant criminal charges. The potential threat of children communicating with gang members through the web is a primary motivation for authorities to monitor the sites, officials say.

Victor Bond, founder of the Texas Gang Investigators Association and a detective in the gang unit of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, said the web sites promote violence.

“Young people can access them, see their colors, and be motivated to join,” he said.

But experts say the internet has failed thus far to help gangs boost enrollment figures or extend their reach. The National Youth Gang Center estimates there are 720,000 gang members in the country.

Leifel Jackson founded a gang in Little Rock, Ark., and just spent eight years in prison for drug trafficking. He is convinced the sites help gangs get their message out.

“Youth can go on [the web] and see how that gang is talking about how good it is, about how some guy is a Crip for life, and they are going to want to join,” said Jackson, who now works to keep kids out of gangs. “These gangs are showing off.”

Police in Miami and Long Beach, Calif., are starting programs in which officers routinely check web sites to gather intelligence information about meeting places, times, and upcoming events.

Most of the sites offer a chat room or message board where members glorify their gang or challenge rivals. One Crip site in the Midwest features a graphic in which blood drips down the screen. Others show a range of gang tattoos.

Authorities in Chicago are among those working with federal and local authorities to access chat rooms where gang members are talking.

“It’s not like telephone lines that we can tap if we have something on them. The internet is a whole other thing,” said Eugene Williams, the Chicago Police Department’s commander of narcotic and gang investigations.

Police have shown little hesitation about using information they glean from chat rooms. And the tactic has yet to produce a court challenge or regulations like those that govern telephone taps.

“We do have access to some secure sites,” Williams said. “Some, anyone can get into. So right now, we just want to see which ones we can gain access to and see what’s really in there.”

Albert Hunter, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Chicago, said the gang sites may be protected under the constitutional right to freedom of speech. But that could be a problem if the sites are promoting criminal activity.

“My real concern is if these sites are being used for criminal purposes, if they are planning conspiracies,” Hunter said. “Otherwise, the internet is a freedom of assembly.”

Jose Lopez, a gang consultant and retired Latino studies professor at California State University at Long Beach, said it’s sad that gang members are using their computer skills to promote their gang instead of getting jobs.

“My problem is they are gaining computer skills that could empower them and make a life for themselves,” Lopez said. “Instead, they are using it to flash their signs.” n


National Youth Gang Center, Institute for Intergovernmental Research, P.O. Box 12729, Tallahassee, FL 32317; phone (850) 385-0600, fax (850) 386-5356, eMail, web

National Gang Investigation Associations,


BEST PRACTICES: Pa. Schools find a cure for schoolyard fights

Schoolyard fights have been around as long as children have been going to school. But officials at two elementary schools in the Donegal School District in Lancaster, Pa., think they may have found the secret to teaching children how to get along: play.

Seiler and Grandview elementary schools combined their students on a recent Monday for “Games Day,” and children in grades 1 to 5 circulated through 10 stations throughout the day at Seiler Elementary School and learned to play games.

It was the second such day sponsored by the school district. The first event was held last year, and school officials say the results have been extraordinary.

“There were no major fights last year and only two incidents of fighting, in general. There were also 600 less injuries last year than the year before,” said Sharon Hagenberger, assistant principal at the schools. “It’s been really beneficial.”

The games program, developed by West Chester University associate professor Curt Hinson, teaches children to play games that include all students, stress cooperation between players, and break down activities into small, manageable groups.

School officials say they have seen a dramatic decrease in playground arguments in the last year. Playground injuries, such as cuts, scrapes and bruises, also have decreased from about 2,500 to 1,900—about 25 percent.

“It’s pretty fun,” Jeff Nagle, 10, said of the Games Day events. Nagle, a fifth-grader, said one of his teammates in the Grab-It game cheered with a rousing “Yes!” when their team was doing well. “It was like she wanted me to play,” Nagle said of the moment. “It made me feel included.”

Almost anyone can relate to not being picked for the school softball team or being the last chosen for basketball. “It makes you feel like people don’t like you,” said 11-year-old Carolyn Oberholtzer, a Seiler student.

But, Oberholtzer said, the focus of the Games Day program is to illustrate that everyone has something to contribute to a game. “It teaches us good sportsmanship, and we have to be able to cooperate to play properly,” she said.

Brenda Spayd, the Grandview Parent-Teacher Group president who also was helping with the day’s events, said the games foster goodwill. “The competition isn’t all about winning. They are having fun, too,” she said.

Mary Lynam, guidance counselor for both schools, and Sherrie Witmer, physical education teacher at Seiler, wrote the $500 grant application to bring the Games Day program to the schools.

“The kids weren’t playing safe. They were just being unsportsmanlike,” Witmer said. Why should children have the need to learn to play? “Most kids nowadays are either into group sports or TV and video games and computers,” Lynam said.

“Parents have very different schedules today, too,” Witmer said. “Therefore, games have actually gotten lost,” Lynam said. “We’re just bringing them back.”

Group launches teen dating violence awareness campaign

Health teacher Beverly Hoag added domestic violence to the curriculum at Toll Gate High School in Warwick, R.I., 10 years ago and soon knew she’d touched on a subject that resonated with students, but one they had trouble talking about.

Girls began approaching Hoag, herself a survivor of an abusive relationship, with stories of dating violence. Often, she said, they tried to conceal their involvement with the phrase: “I have a friend who …”

Recent studies show abusive relationships are still prevalent among teen-agers, but few victims or witnesses ever tell anyone about them.

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is highlighting the importance of reporting such incidents with a new advertising campaign launched Oct. 1, the first day of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“I have friends that have been in abusive relationships,” said Paige Tedeschi, 16, a junior at Warwick Veterans High School. “But it’s not something that we talk about much in school.”

During an assembly at Toll Gate, where the public awareness campaign was unveiled, Tedeschi read her poem, “Do You Do It Because You Love Me?” about a teen-age girl involved in an abusive relationship.

A study published in August in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said other studies have shown as many as one in three teen-agers have experienced physical violence in a dating relationship.

Yet just 3 percent have reported a violent incident to police, teachers, counselors, or parents, said DeBare.

“Dating violence is domestic violence,” she said. “Teen-agers aren’t always reaching out to us, so we must reach out to them.”

The group’s campaign includes television spots that will air on MTV, The WB Network, and other stations that cater to teens. There are billboards, bus advertisements, bumper stickers, and posters that are being hung in schools, doctors’ offices, and branch offices of Citizens Bank, a sponsor of the campaign.

“I never understood relationships when I was a teen,” said Zaida Hernandez Ford, a domestic violence survivor who told her story to about 100 students who attended the assembly. For nine years she was involved in an abusive relationship that began when she was 19.

“He beat me with a broomstick until the stick broke into pieces,” she said. “I missed out on the most important years of my life because of this man.”

Helping students to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is the first step to ending dating violence, Hoag said.

In the decade since she began teaching it at Toll Gate, students have felt increasingly comfortable coming forward to talk about abusive relationships. “People come to me more directly now. We’ve torn down some of that stigma, but there’s a lot more to be done,” she said.

“Our greatest weapon against domestic violence is to refuse to be silent,” Hoag said. “There is so much help available in this community.”


Donegal School District, 366 S. Market Avenue, Mount Joy, PA 17552-2700; phone (717) 653-1447
web http://www.donegal.k12.

Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 422 Post Road, Suite 202, Warwick, RI 02888; phone (800) 494-8100


Safe Schools Today – Calendar


8-9, New York City. Understanding and Preventing Youth Violence: From Bullies to Bullets. Sponsored by the Center for Social and Emotional Education. Contact: (212) 707-8799 or

26-28, Las Vegas. Governor’s Conference on School Safety. Sponsored by the Nevada Division of Emergency Management and the Nevada Department of Education. Contact: Harlan Ashby, (775) 684-8649 or


3-5, Atlanta. Mobilizing for a SafeUSA: A Leadership Conference to Reduce Violence and Injury in America. Sponsored by SafeUSA, an alliance of public and private organizations dedicated to public safety. Contact: (888) 252-7751.

11, Rankin, Miss. Mississippi Institute for School Safety Threat Assessment Protocol Workshop. Sponsored by the state’s Office of Safe and Orderly Schools. Contact: (601) 359-1028.

17-19, San Antonio, Texas. Eighth Annual Regional Conference on Improving America’s Schools. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Contact: (800) 522-0772, ext. 1022.


16, Oxford, Miss. Mississippi Institute for School Safety Threat Assessment Protocol Workshop. See Dec. 11 for more details.


Study faults popular anti-drug efforts in schools

Half of all teen-agers attend a school at which drugs are sold, used, or kept, according to a national organization that fights drug abuse.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a report in September detailing drug use and availability among teens.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, by the time students complete high school, 47 percent have smoked marijuana, 24 percent have used another illicit drug, and 81 percent have drunk alcohol. They also estimate that 70 percent have smoked cigarettes.

The Columbia group’s survey of 1,000 students found that half of all teen-agers said their school was not drug-free, meaning that students keep, use, or sell drugs on school grounds. Sixty percent of high school students said there were drugs on campus; 30 percent of middle school students said the same.

The random telephone survey of students age 12-17 was conducted Oct. 20-Nov. 5, 2000 by QEV Analytics. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

The percentage of teen-agers who say there are drugs on campus has actually dropped since 1998, said Joseph Califano, a former secretary of health, education, and welfare, who heads the group. But Califano said the high number of schools in which drugs are present is still unacceptable.

“When parents start to feel as strongly about drugs in schools as they do about asbestos in schools, we’ll take a giant step forward,” he said.

Califano said national efforts to keep schools drug-free have failed, primarily because drug-prevention lessons don’t address the factors that lead students to experiment with drugs. Anti-drug programs abound, he said, but many aren’t based on sound science and few are compatible with others.

Califano said zero-tolerance policies, by which students caught with drugs are expelled or suspended from school, are a double-edged sword, since they send a clear no-use message but can also encourage parents and friends of drug users to keep quiet out of fear the user will be punished severely.

Since 1996, the group’s annual survey has consistently shown that only about one-third of 17-year-olds would report a drug user or seller at school.

He said more money should be spent on school counselors, teacher training, and treatment for drug-using students, and that parents should be encouraged to play a more active role in their children’s schools.