SchoolCenter.com

When it comes to putting up a district-wide Web site, the most important issues faced by school administrators and technical coordinators are security, flexibility, simplicity, and control. School Center addresses all of these issues—and more.

“With School Center, every school, team, club, and classroom in a district can have their own site within the district’s main site,” says C. Robert Leininger, former state superintendent of education for the state of Illinois, and now School Center director of corporate relations. “That helps bring everyone together, including parents, teachers, and the community as a whole.”

In addition to being extremely flexible and inclusive, School Center is also very secure. Only authorized personnel can give people the access needed to make changes.

School Center is also completely free of advertising. The only promotional elements on the site would be ones the district decided to put up.

And lastly, School Center is extremely easy to license. While other sites have complex licensing agreements, just one School Center agreement covers your entire district.

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Texas Instruments TI-15 Explorer calculator

Texas Instruments’ TI-15 Explorer calculator, created for students in grades 3-6, combines the utility of a calculator with a unique problem-solving tool. In the calculator’s problem solving mode, which provides enhanced problem solving abilities without immediately providing the answers, students can choose to let the calculator give them a problem, or they can enter their own. Students then figure out a solution, review the hints the calculator has provided to check their guess, then guess again. Students are given up to three hints before the calculator provides them with the solution. There are three levels of difficulty and four operations to choose from. Students also benefit from a two-line display, which lets them view the entire problem and answer at the same time, complete with operation symbols. The TI-15 also features a scrolling mechanism and previous entry key that lets students review past entries to look for patterns or errors. Results from division problems can be featured in three ways: as remainders, fractions, or decimals, depending on which is appropriate for the curriculum. A demonstration of the calculator and its functions can be found on the company’s web site.

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Gateway Micro Server

Gateway has introduced a Linux-based server appliance designed to simplify set-up and administration of standards-based tasks such as shared internet service, eMail, web publishing, and cross-platform file sharing. The Micro Server is a turnkey device intended for small business or education clients who don’t have the resources typically needed to install, maintain, and administer a larger server. The scaled-down device, which comes with an estimated starting price of $1,299, can be up and running in as little as 30 minutes, according to Gateway.

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District suspends laptop plans after parents voice objections

In a case that demonstrates the demand for equitable computer access in public schools, a program asking parents at a Palo Alto, Calif., middle school to buy $2,000 laptops for their sixth-graders has been put on hold.

The Jordan Middle School laptop program was suspended Nov. 2 after several parents complained it wasn’t fair to families that can’t afford the computers.

“The pause will allow for a re-evaluation of the program,” said Bob Golton, acting superintendent of schools for Palo Alto, who plans to have an advisory group study the program before moving ahead with it.

Last spring, 51 sixth-graders at Jordan participated in the then-pilot program. Using borrowed laptops, students typed their notes in class, then accessed them at home for their homework. With a wireless connection, they could conduct research from class, at the library, or at a park.

In the end, 92 percent of the students felt the quality of their schoolwork improved, and 80 percent of the parents said they would recommend the program to other families.

It was because of these successes that Jordan officials chose to move ahead with the program, despite the inequities, said Marie Scigliano, director of technology for the Palo Alto schools. “The momentum was there,” she said.

But parent Steve Weinstein, who started an eMail campaign to halt the laptop program, said the school district didn’t adequately consider the inequities involved in its proposal.

“Hopefully, they can turn this elitist program into one that the rest of Palo Alto can afford,” Weinstein said.

In mid-October, more than 300 parents got a letter from the school’s principal and the district’s technology director asking them to buy Apple iBook laptops with wireless internet access as part of the school’s new technology program.

Both the letter and school staff said the purchase was optional, but enrollment in the program—which also was to rely heavily on a bank of school-purchased laptops that would be kept at school—was not.

“An optional program is never really optional,” said Weinstein. “There are a lot of people who don’t have $2,000 to spend, but they are going to be forced into it because it’s the Palo Alto way: ‘My kid might be disadvantaged if he’s four steps behind, so I’ve got to do what is necessary.'”

Informational meetings were held in late October at the school’s library and at the Apple retail store on nearby University Avenue.

“They need to open their eyes that not everyone in Palo Alto is loaded,” said Kathryn Varda, the mother of sixth-grade twins enrolled at Jordan. “There’s no way I could afford to shell out four grand right now. But do you really want your child to be the one who is hanging back and watching everyone else use a computer?”

School officials said that when the program was announced, 35 percent of parents said they would not be buying an iBook, but 25 percent say they would buy one. The rest were unsure.

The district still plans to move ahead with the purchase of 100 laptops, which will be divided among three Palo Alto middle schools and will be used by sixth-graders. Just the purchase plan for individual students is on hold.

Among Jordan’s computer-savvy kids, there is little sense of urgency in resolving the issue.

“I think it’s kind of cool, but I don’t want one,” said Gracie Varda, a sixth-grader whose parents won’t be buying a laptop for either her or her twin brother, Laurence. “It’s a public school, and if they are going to have it, they should have one for everyone.”

In the past few years, schools around the country have moved to replace bulkier desktop computers with laptops as a way to give students “anytime, anywhere” access to instruction.

In one of the largest proposed laptop purchases for education, Maine Governor Angus King announced last year that every seventh-grader in the state—roughly 17,000 students—would receive a laptop next fall. King’s proposal subsequently ran into legislative opposition and, at press time, economic conditions put the program’s implementation in doubt.

The situation in Palo Alto is not the first time controversy over equitable access to the technology has surfaced.

In 1998, eSchool News reported that middle school parents in Beaufort County, S.C., objected to Microsoft’s Anytime, Anywhere Learning program because it raised issues of inequality.

Beaufort County was one of 30 districts nationwide that piloted the Anytime, Anywhere Learning program four years ago.

The program was launched in Beaufort County middle schools on a voluntary basis, drawing 330 sixth-graders from three schools in its first year. Students’ families were responsible for the cost of the machines; they could buy them outright or lease them for three years at a cost of $60 per month.

To ensure that all students could participate, regardless of their families’ income, the district established the nonprofit SchoolBook Foundation. Run entirely by volunteers, the foundation issued subsidies to needy families based on their participation in the school lunch program. Students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches would have to pay only $15 per month to participate, and the foundation would pay the difference.

By 1998, the number of participants in the program had swelled to nearly 2,000 sixth- through eighth-graders. But the rapid growth in the program’s popularity created challenges the district hadn’t foreseen. The SchoolBook Foundation could afford to subsidize only 300 students, leaving the district scrambling to find other means of supporting the program for its low-income students.

Barbara Catenaci, who oversees the district’s community development programs, said the SchoolBook Foundation held a lottery to determine which families would receive subsidies. “A lot of parents felt left out,” Catenaci said. “Then it became a question of getting those parents into the right financing program.”

Links:

Palo Alto Unified School District
http://www.pausd.palo-alto.ca.us/home.html

Anytime, Anywhere Learning program
http://www.microsoft.com/education/default.asp?ID=LaptopLearning

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Canon VC-C3 Communication Camera

This remote-controlled, one-piece videocamera is an ideal solution for videoconferencing, distance learning, or other forms of webcasting, according to Canon. The VC-C3 reportedly improves upon earlier technology with sharper images, better color reproduction, and the ability to pan or tilt to multiple positions at various speed settings.

You can control the VC-C3 videocamera via a hand-held infrared remote or via a PC using Canon’s Control Software. The software, designed with the look and feel of the remote, can be used to control up to four cameras from one computer.

Canon’s VC-C3 retails for $1,495.

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HomeworkNOW

Created by the New Hampshire-based company Better Education Through Technology (BETT), HomeworkNOW gives schools the ability to post their teachers’ classroom assignments quickly and easily on the internet, keeping parents informed of what is going on in their children’s classrooms.

HomeworkNOW’s main benefit is its ease of use, according to its maker: No computer or internet experience is necessary to use the system. Because BETT hosts and maintains the system on its own server, all a school needs to use HomeworkNOW is a single computer with internet access.

BETT is offering the HomeworkNOW software free to schools through September 1998. After September, BETT plans to charge a yearly fee of $1 per student, up to a maximum of $750. Future plans also include distribution of the software to schools that wish to run the program on their own servers.

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Mita PointSource Ai1515

This digital copier and network laser printer allows users to print, copy, and electronically collate documents at speeds up to 15 pages per minute (ppm) directly from a PC or local-area network.

The Ai1515 boasts true 600 x 600 dots-per-inch (dpi) resolution and 128 half-tone levels for quality output of photos, charts, and graphics. The machine is modular in design and can be used as a stand-alone digital copier or as a copier/network printer by adding optional printer and network interface boards.

Mita’s Ai1515 comes with 1.5 Mb of copying memory and 8 Mb of printer memory, both upgradeable. The base unit retails for $4,295.

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Little Fingers Keyboard

Teaching children keyboarding skills like touch typing is difficult, largely because a standard keyboard is too big for their smaller hands. The Florida-based company Datadesk has come up with a solution called Little Fingers–a keyboard engineered to allow kids between the ages of 7 and 14 to reach all of the keys easily, naturally, and comfortably.

The Little Fingers keyboard works with both PCs and Macs. It comes with a built-in rugged trackball that cannot disappear, eliminating the need for a mouse. And its small footprint-12.5 inches, including trackball-leaves plenty of room for work materials.

Little Fingers will be available in the fall to schools for $79.95. An even smaller version for children ages 3-7 will be available in the spring of 1999.

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STAR Math

Advantage Learning Systems has developed its first major software product for assessing mathematics skills in the classroom. Similar to the company’s STAR Reading program, which has been purchased by more than 8,000 schools since its introduction in 1996, STAR Math uses computer-adaptive technology to adjust the difficulty of test questions based on a student’s responses during testing.

By matching test questions to a student’s ability, the computer-adaptive test yields accurate scores more quickly than traditional tests. STAR Math also generates about 10 different types of reports to aid in student placement, to track student and class progress throughout the year, and to communicate with parents.

STAR Math will be available for single-computer or school-wide use beginning this fall. The single-computer license, at $399, allows for multiple testing of up to 40 students. The schoolwide license, at $1,499, offers network or unlimited testing for up to 200 students.

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PilotSoft

SchoolSoft, a company based in Calif., has taken a PalmPilot handheld computer and equipped it with software tailored just for teachers. The result is a “pocket gradebook” that gives teachers the ability to track grades, attendance, and homework assignments quickly and conveniently.

PilotSoft was designed as part of a total networking solution for schools using SchoolSoft’s RecordSoft administrative software. The PilotSoft handheld “hot-syncs” with RecordSoft to exchange data, memos, and other information with the front office without using a single piece of paper and with no special wiring necessary. The PilotSoft solution offers a substantial savings for schools over a PC-based networking solution, according to its maker.

Even if you don’t plan to use the PilotSoft in conjunction with RecordSoft, it’s still a tool that can enhance teacher productivity. School or district packages cost $449 per machine and include site license, implementation, training, and first-year support.

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