Get Ready, Because CIPA is Here

Electronic School, September 2001

October marked the deadline for showing compliance—or progress toward compliance—with the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Districts that are not in compliance may lose federal funding, under the provisions created by Congress and implemented by the Federal Communications Commission.

The act requires that school districts demonstrate three things:

1. They have an internet policy in place, and this policy has been shared with students, teachers, and staff;

2. They have implemented some form of filtering technology or can ensure rigorous human oversight that will keep students away from inappropriate material; and

3. They have held a public meeting or meetings to inform the greater community about what they are doing.

Each of these requirements has sub-requirements. A district’s internet-use policy must address the types of web sites students may visit, appropriate uses of eMail and chat rooms, and penalties for hacking or other unauthorized use of the computer.

The policy also must describe, in detail, the types of student information that may be disseminated on school-sponsored web sites, and these rules must comply with federal statutes.

The filtering requirement has received the most attention in the past two years, and its standards are well known. Many commercial products are available, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some schools are choosing to eschew filtering software and instead rely on human oversight of students’ web surfing. However, it is unclear at this time whether oversight is sufficient in federal regulators’ eyes.

Some schools propose the use of tracking software that logs each student’s web movements so they can be reviewed later for improper activity, rather than filtering software.

The requirement for a public discussion of the program creates an opportunity to remind parents to be vigilant about monitoring their children’s use of the internet at home, too, say educators. The public meeting can be integrated into a typical monthly school board or PTA meeting, but it must be well-publicized ahead of time.


Voc-Tech Goes High-Tech

Washington Post Magazine, Sept. 16, 2001, page 34

After several years of positive results, Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools are expanding their efforts to provide vocational-technology students with a head start in high-tech fields such as computer repair and network maintenance. Fairfax County’s new Chantilly Academy has been mirrored by numerous school systems across the country.

The transformation of the voc-tech curriculum has had great significance for students and high schools, Chantilly Academy administrators say. First, many of the students taking computer-oriented technical training courses plan to continue on to college, unlike traditional voc-tech students.

Second, because they are college-bound, these students are not isolated from their fellow students into a vocation-focused school-within-a-school.

Third, many of the voc-tech students pursue summer internships with local companies, strengthening their schools’ ties to the community.

Employment possibilities for these students remain exceedingly bright, even with the slowdown in the technology sector in the past year. The U.S. Department of Commerce projects that from 1998 to 2008, about 2 million new information technology jobs will be created.

Computer and software manufacturers recognize that they will need well-trained people to manage the systems they are helping to build today. Therefore, these companies often offer their expertise to Chantilly Academy and conduct certification tests for program graduates.

While the program is very popular, outside education experts sounded a few cautionary notes for administrators of these types of programs:

– Make sure the certifications students are seeking will still be valued in the marketplace in a few years, when students are likely to be seeking employment.

– Make sure the teachers of the courses are skilled as educators, not just as IT experts. Students need to learn “why” as well as “what.”

– Watch out for corporations that offer support to the programs. They might be seeking something in return, such as equipment sales.


Six Tech Lessons from Principals ‘Down Under’

The Technology Source, September/October 2001

The school system of Victoria, Australia, has made a major effort in the past ten years to integrate technology into the classroom and administrative offices. Simultaneously, large-scale changes in curriculum have been instituted. Furthermore, principals have been given authority over approximately 95 percent of their annual budgets. Thus, principals have been faced with multiple and complex changes, as well as the means to address those changes.

A survey of principals in the district reveals some of the effects they have felt and some of the benefits that have accrued:

– Understanding information technology is an absolute must. Principals do not feel they need to be technical experts, but they need to be aware of the equipment and software that is available and its potential uses.

– Exposure to technology comes from multiple sources. Professional training programs are one valuable resource, but principals say they learn a great deal about technology from their staff, their teachers, and from interaction with parents and students. Being open to all of these resources is essential.

– Computers have not decreased workload and work flow, but they have changed it. Basic tasks such as word processing and budgeting have been simplified, but expectations that principals will communicate with various constituencies have increased dramatically as the perception of “easy communications” has increased.

– eMail has limitations. Principals note that it is still very important to maintain personal, face-to-face contact with each teacher and staff member. The temptation to communicate only by eMail must be resisted.

– Principals have more control over their work flow. For example, principals can more easily work on projects from home by tapping into their schools’ networks. Also, with web access, they can readily find cutting-edge information about new teaching methods or grant programs that might be available to their staff or students.

– Teachers have only scratched the surface when it comes to the use of computers in the classroom.


Get a Clue Online Vocabulary Program

Bigchalk, a leading provider of instructional research tools, has announced the newest version of a premiere online vocabulary program for students in grades five through12.

The 2001-2002 school year edition of Get a Clue, Lyceum Communication’s well-known language tool, will be available only through bigchalk under an exclusive distribution agreement between the two companies. The program focuses on improving reading comprehension and critical thinking skills while preparing students for high-stakes tests.

The latest edition of Get a Clue offers several new features, bigchalk said, including a simplified set-up program, customized lesson planning, online pre- and post-tests, and a redesigned quiz creation tool.

The web-based vocabulary resource contains more than 1,000 continuously updated words that are divided into various skill levels and category themes. Get a Clue’s customized quizzes allow educators to judge each student’s comprehension and rate of retention. The program then develops performance reports to track personal progress.

Get a Clue was derived from the WATS (Words and their Stories) System, a vocabulary acquisition process that aims to help students learn words in a context they can remember. The new edition of Get a Clue costs roughly $3,000 per school.

(800) 860-9228


Eight Items to Consider When Choosing an Online Curriculum

School Administrator, October 2001

It’s clear that online courses will become increasingly common in the K-12 environment, especially for high school students. As schools and districts consider the best way to offer online courses to supplement their current in-school curriculum, they may wish to work with one or more commercial vendors.

In choosing a vendor, school officials should consider the following eight factors:

1. Accreditation. Online courses should contribute to a student earning the credits he or she needs to graduate. Teachers and administrators must check carefully with their states to determine whether a course meets state standards. School officials should not rely solely on the representations of the commercial vendor, because the company simply may not be aware of all of the demands of a particular state.

2. Quality. Accreditation is only one aspect of quality. Find out if the proposed course or curriculum meets state and federal educational standards in its subject areas. Check the level of interactivity the curriculum promotes through the use of multimedia features, online exchanges, and teacher-student activities.

3. Flexibility in offerings. Educators should ask themselves, “Does the vendor offer short courses that address single topics, or must we sign up for a comprehensive program?” It may be best to start small and monitor students’ and teachers’ satisfaction with a program.

4. Delivery options. Application service providers (ASPs) are all the rage in school districts now. These companies host and deliver software via the internet and manage and update systems, all for a single price. Many ASPs are now working with content providers who have developed eLearning curricula. This arrangement may be convenient for ordering online courses. On the other hand, some districts do not have the necessary infrastructure to use ASPs or may not wish to tie up their internet connections with bandwidth-intensive course programming, preferring instead to store and host these applications on their own computer networks.

5. Educator input. Superior online course providers work extensively with current and former teachers to develop an appropriate curriculum. Educators should ask, “Who are the ‘experts’ who developed the courses?”

6. Monitoring and follow-up. It’s important to establish a timeframe for when the online course vendor will check back with you for a progress update. Administrators should know who performs the follow-up services and what kinds of adjustments can be made during the school year. They should ask themselves, “Will this company be in business in six months?”

7. Handicap access. Some courses are more handicapped-friendly than others; they can incorporate text readers for the blind, for example.

8. Price and pricing options. Price is always an issue. Some programs are priced per student, some are offered on a flat-fee basis. School officials need to think about their school’s likely level of use before purchasing.


Six Education Dot-Com Survivors

Washington Post Magazine, Sept. 16, 2001, page 16

Here are six high-quality online resources for students that so far have survived the pullback of advertisers and investors in education-related web services:

– Encyclopedia Britannica ( The site includes the Encyclopedia Britannica and access to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and Collegiate Thesaurus, as well as other links. Pages do include pop-up ads.

– Internet Public Library ( Created by the University of Michigan’s School of Information, this site provides information and links to other sites by subject, similar to a physical library.

– Cool and Useful Student Resources ( Designed for high school students, this site compares and ranks web sites by topic. Updating is spotty, as some links lead to defunct sites or incorrect addresses.

– Bigchalk ( This is one of the best commercial search engines in the education market. Users can ask to search by subject and for grade-appropriate material simultaneously.

– WWW Virtual Library ( This site features a search engine designed to find the most-relevant information, not the most commonly visited sites on a subject. This is in contrast to the underlying logic of many leading search engines, such as Google, which provide responses based on which sites are visited most often.

– Tutorcafe ( This is a clearinghouse for tutors on every subject imaginable. The site lists prices, location, and expertise of tutors online.


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.