Consumer groups blast Bush’s stance on digital divide

The Bush administration should protect federal programs that promote internet access in homes and should do more to close the gap between technology haves and have-nots, consumer groups said in a report issued May 30.

The groups contend the administration is misinterpreting a government study on the topic of the digital divide by looking at internet access at work and in schools rather than concentrating on homes, where most families use the internet and the gap is greatest.

“The administration’s claim that we no longer need policies to close the gap is simply wrong,” said Chris Murray of the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, which released its analysis along with the Consumer Federation of America and the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy.

“Rather than misdefine the problem of the digital divide, the Bush administration would like to misinterpret it out of existence,” Murray said.

The issue is an important one for school leaders, many of whom believe students who lack computers and internet access at home are at a disadvantage and often must compete for limited computer time while at school.

Michael D. Gallagher, deputy director of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said the administration agrees the digital divide is a serious issue.

But he said the government now is taking a different approach from the Clinton administration’s, which included a program launched in 1994 that brought computers with internet access to inner cities.

“This administration focuses much more on digital opportunities as opposed to divides,” Gallagher said. “We believe in expanded opportunities, which happen in schools, in libraries, in workplaces, and at home.”

Gallagher pointed to the adoption of cable television and wireless phones, which are now popular across the economic spectrum.

“That occurred without a government subsidy, a government program, or a government handout,” Gallagher said.

In an annual digital divide report released by the Commerce Department in February, the administration pointed to a trend that showed internet use growing at a faster rate among the poor and minorities and in rural areas.

Emboldened by the survey, officials then declared that the digital divide was closing and expensive government programs such as Commerce’s Technology Opportunities Program are no longer needed. That program, which once cost $45 million per year, creates self-sustaining technology projects, such as public computer labs in inner-city schools and communities.

Bush cut funds for the program to $15 million last year and marked it for elimination in his 2003 budget.

Gallagher said the administration is encouraged by $20-per-month internet access and $500 computers, common prices for low-end access, “which are much more robust than what was available in 1994 when this program was initiated.”

Bush’s 2003 education budget terminates several other technology projects, including a $33 million program that creates community technology centers and a $63 million program to help teachers learn how to use computers in the classroom.

Administration officials contend that these projects duplicate others, and they cite the need to put more money into anti-terrorism projects.

The consumer groups’ report says 45 percent of Americans still do not have internet access. It also laments the second-tier digital divide brought by broadband, in which richer Americans are getting high-speed internet access, while many poor families have none at all.

Critics also cite the Federal Communications Commission for policies that loosen requirements on the local telephone giants. Consumer Federation of America research director Mark Cooper said the policies will result in higher prices for home and school internet access.

The administration’s policies “will only worsen the problem, ensuring that the internet will not be a mechanism for increasing equality and spreading opportunity, but will be a case of the rich getting richer,” Cooper said.


Consumers Union

Consumer Federation of America

“Does the Digital Divide Still Exist? Bush Administration Shrugs, But Evidence Says Yes” (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

“A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use Of The Internet”


Sally Ride launches girls’ science and technology club

A new science club founded by former astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, aims to link girls who are passionate about science and technology with each other and with women already in science careers.

The goal of the Sally Ride Science Club, founded late last year in San Diego, is to keep elementary and middle-school students from losing their interest in science, math, and technology at an age when statistics show they are most likely to do so. Designed as a forum for girls to discuss math and science, learn from professional women, and participate in science-centered activities, the club aims to inspire the next generation of female scientists and engineers.

“Our philosophy is to keep young girls interested, to introduce them to women role models and show them the range of opportunities open to them,” Ride said in a recent interview.

The club’s current roster of 1,000 members have access to a members-only web site, monthly newsletters, and eMail updates about upcoming science events for girls. Membership costs $30.

Eventually, Ride envisions the club spreading nationally through local chapters that meet after school.

The club is the centerpiece of Imaginary Lines Inc., a for-profit company Ride started last fall to host nationwide community science festivals for girls in grades six through eight, and to offer girls-only events with partners such as Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. The company is also working with Smith College, an all-women’s institute, to sponsor a national toy design contest for elementary school boys and girls. Future plans include developing science-centered products, such as books and computer software.

The combined efforts already are earning praise from club members such as Carrie Leneweaver, a 13-year-old from Chandler, Ariz., who joined the Sally Ride club after her engineer-dad took her to one of Imaginary Lines’ festivals, a daylong event at Arizona State University in March. The honors student said listening to Ride talk about her career was a highlight.

“She talked about how she went off into space and how she saw a hurricane from space. It was really neat,” said Leneweaver, who became intrigued with electronics, circuits, and all things scientific in the fourth grade and has no plans to give them up.

Not every girl feels the same way. Studies show an overwhelming number get frustrated or turned off by math and science beginning in middle school, even if they have succeeded academically in the subjects. Some simply decide math and science aren’t cool.

The result is that while boys and girls do equally well in science and math in the fourth grade, boys pull ahead by the eighth grade, a trend that does not reverse.

“We believe that back in elementary school there are a lot of girls who are really interested in math and science who could very well go on to pursue careers in these fields,” Ride said. “But perhaps they might not get quite the same encouragement that a boy might. A girl might not get quite the same reaction from her friends, or the same encouragement from a teacher. Parents might not find quite the same range of products to support her.”

Ride knows firsthand the importance of a supportive family. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, she developed a love of science that was supported by her parents, even though neither was a scientist: Her mother was a homemaker and her father, a political science professor.

“As a girl I loved math puzzles. I loved science puzzles,” Ride said. “I was fascinated by the space program.”

At 18, Ride was inspired by watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. She went on to study physics at Stanford University. At 27, armed with three degrees in the subject, she answered a call by NASA for astronaut candidates and was one of six women chosen from among 8,000 applicants.

Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983 as a communications officer aboard Challenger, and completed a second journey the next year. (Valentina Tereshkova of Russia became the first woman in space in 1963.)

Today, Ride is concentrating full time on her new mission. As president and CEO of Imaginary Lines, she has raised close to $1 million in private investments and created partnerships with Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and International Rectifier to sponsor events. She also has recruited many of the female scientists who have taken part in the company’s science festivals.

Several moderators said they enjoyed seeing the girls’ excitement about science issues and careers.

“I talked about cancer research and cell biology,” said Susan Kane, a professor of molecular medicine at the City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute in Los Angeles, who hosted workshops at a festival held at the California Institute of Technology in March. About 900 girls attended the event.

“I found that there wasn’t enough time to talk about everything that I wanted to talk about because the girls were asking so many questions,” Kane said. “It was fabulous.”

Another moderator agreed.

“Not everybody has parents who know very much about science,” said Marianne Bronner-Fraser, the first woman to chair Cal Tech’s faculty, who also participated in the Cal Tech festival. “Once you see that it can be done, it makes it much easier to visualize that you can do it, too.”


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    Lawmaker: State-level accountability key to school reform

    A Pennsylvania congressman wants to take the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act one step further and hold states accountable for providing school districts with the core resources—including technology—that would enable them to deliver high-quality education to all students regardless of economic status.

    Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), a fourth-term lawmaker from Pennyslvania’s second congressional district, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Delaware County, floated the idea in testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions during a May 23 hearing on the poverty of educational resources in many school districts across the nation.

    “Children are required by the federal government to take federally mandated tests, in every school, in every year,” said Congressman Fattah. “If we are requiring them to take tests, we should ensure that they have all the tools necessary to achieve their potential….”

    Rep. Fattah said he will introduce legislation, entitled The Student Bill of Rights, that will call on state governments to meet seven specific needs of students or risk losing certain types of federal funding. According to Fattah, there are “seven essential keys for learning”: instruction from a highly qualified teacher, rigorous academic standards, small class sizes, up-to-date textbooks, state-of-the-art libraries, updated computers, and qualified guidance counselors.

    Fattah said his proposed bill would attempt to shift the burden of accountability from individual schools to the state level, where he said many funding decisions are made and handed down.

    “State governments make every important decision in education—how many school districts there are, how to tax for school funding, the curriculum, what’s adequate,” said Fattah. “Not since the beginning of this country have states shown a desire to provide poor children with the same opportunities as other children.”

    According to Fattah, each state would be given two years to outline and implement a plan to meet all seven standards. Each year, the federal government would publish a report on which states fell short on any or all of the criteria. If after three years states did not improve, the federal government would have the option of withholding from the failing states certain monies allocated for administrative purposes, Fattah said.

    “If we want to seek comparable results, we have to have equal opportunities,” said Fattah. “The bill would require states to act more aggressively in that direction.”

    Fattah’s idea appeals to some education officials in Philadelphia, where a chronic lack of resources has for years thwarted efforts at reform.

    “It is unfair to hold students to the same standards when there is clearly a wide variance in the resources they have available to them,” said Debra Kahn, Philadelphia’s secretary of education.

    While serving on the Web-Based Education Commission, impaneled during the Clinton Administration, Fattah said, he found a noticeable disparity in the technology options offered in different schools across the country.

    According to “Unequal Education in America”—a report Fattah compiled to support his proposed legislation—disparities abound in the technology resources available to rich and poor students.

    The student-to-computer ratio in California is 10 to 1 in schools where at least 81 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, according to Fattah’s report, but the ratio is 7 to 1 in California schools where 20 percent or fewer students receive such lunches.

    In New Jersey, the report found, the computer-to-student ratio in low-income Ocean County is 7 to 1, while schools in the more affluent Camden County operate at a ratio of 4 to 1.

    And in one especially hard-pressed Ohio school, the report said, only 12 computers are available to more than 1,800 students.

    Philadelphia’s education secretary said Fattah’s proposed legislation could change the focus of reform efforts. “As a matter of federal policy the [Student Bill of Rights] is a significant standard,” said Kahn. “It’s saying, let’s get real. It’s important that the federal government recognizes that states have a real role to play.”


    Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.)

    Philadelphia City Schools


    Microsoft dials down school software audit demands

    Software giant Microsoft Corp. is working to ease the hard feelings sparked by an aggressive anti-piracy campaign aimed at schools. The campaign, which Microsoft now acknowledges was ill-timed, has prompted at least a few school officials in Oregon and Washington to consider switching to free, open-source software programs.

    The 24 largest districts in those states received letters in April asking them to complete an audit of all Microsoft software on their computers within 60 days. The letters also contained brochures that explained Microsoft licensing options available to schools.

    The letters were part of a broader campaign by Microsoft to find out whether schools nationwide are “under-licensed” and inform educators of what they must do to make their software legal, Microsoft spokeswoman Catherine Brooker said. Microsoft has sent letters and brochures to 500 randomly selected school districts in 32 states in all, she said.

    Calling the audits “insensitive,” however, many Oregon and Washington school officials said they were offended because they received the request toward the end of the school year, already the busiest time of the year for them. Fulfilling the audits also would require extra manpower and expenses their schools hadn’t planned for, they said.

    In response to the criticism, Microsoft has backed off its original request. The company said it would give school officials in those states more time to complete the audits.

    “The letters that went to Oregon and Washington were the last letters to go out, and the timing was just bad,” Brooker said. She acknowledged that company officials weren’t “as sensitive as they should have been, and the second they realized it they moved to address [the problem].”

    The inventory process is both time and labor intensive, school officials said. It requires someone to list all the software on each PC and Mac in every building, check to see if the licenses are current, and then possibly purchase new licenses.

    “You’re basically asking someone to touch every machine,” said Scott Robinson, chief technology officer for the Portland, Ore., Public Schools. “We have 500 to 600 machines in 100 buildings. And, oh, by the way, I have a staff of 10 that would be doing this.”

    John Rowlands, director of information services for the Seattle Public Schools, wasn’t entirely pleased with the request, either. “It’s a pain and a chore to do, but we’ll do it, and we’ll have it done in about a month,” he said.

    Rowlands agreed that his district should have a valid license for each copy of software used, but he questioned the way Microsoft handled the request. “In the Pacific Northwest, the ‘randomness’ seems to be pretty specific,” Rowlands said. “Everyone we know has been audited. We all talk.”

    He added, “I think Microsoft underestimated the work load required to do this.” Unlike private-sector businesses, he said, school districts are spread out across several buildings and lack additional staff members to inventory software.

    The audits might end up costing some school districts more money then they have in their budgets.

    Rowlands said schools struggle the most from software on donated computers, because donators don’t always pass along the software licenses with the computers. “If you cannot provide proof that the operating system was purchased, you have to go out and buy it,” he said.

    The Portland Public Schools have 25,000 computers, about half of which are donated. Robinson said his district has only two choices: Take the machine out of service because there is no license on file for its operating system, or buy a new license.

    “We don’t have the funding to go out and buy licenses, and we don’t have the manpower to do these audits,” Robinson said.

    Several school officials in the two states banded together, telling Microsoft that its timing was inappropriate and that they lack both the funds and the resources to complete the audits. A Microsoft official told eSchool News that the company deeply regrets merely sending a letter and is now working directly with the districts on a case-by-case basis to devise a reasonable solution.

    “Our approach was not sensitive to our customers,” said Robin Freedman of Microsoft’s education solutions group. “In the future, we will meet with our customers to work out an appropriate timeline.”

    Nonetheless, the unexpected audit has prompted at least a few school districts to try free, open-source software programs such as Linux.

    “[Microsoft is] driving more and more schools to Linux, because it’s a much more attractive environment financially,” Robinson said.

    In fact, the Portland Public Schools are switching at least 17 middle school computer labs, each with 30 computers, to Linux Terminal Server labs by the fall. “We’re wiping Microsoft off those machines,” Robinson said.

    These high-use labs will be cheaper to operate because the software is virtually free, he said. They’ll also be easier to maintain, because the computers will function as thin clients, powered by software sitting on a server rather than individual desktops.

    “Linux does not have the problems with bugs and viruses that come with Microsoft. People tend to target Microsoft,” Robinson said.

    A small but increasing number of school districts nationwide have been migrating from Microsoft to Linux software in the past few years. Sixteen school districts in central Iowa installed Linux on their computers last summer.

    Eric Harrison from the Multnomah Education Service District in Portland, Ore., and Paul Nelson from the Riverdale School District in Marylhurst, Ore., created an open-source software package called K-12 Linux Terminal Server Package (K12LTSP) and reportedly have distributed it to some 5,000 schools.

    Microsoft does offer license management tools that school officials can download from its web site at no cost to help them expedite the audit process, but school officials told eSchool News that these tools are not compatible with all computers that must be audited, such as Macintosh machines.


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    Old West meets new technology at “Frontier House”

    A hands-on history experience that will challenge students to re-examine their perceptions of the Old West, this web site is the online companion to the six-part PBS series “Frontier House,” which premiered April 29. Visitors to the site can follow along with the Glenn family of Tennessee, the Clune family of California, and the Brooks family of Massachusetts, who headed to Montana in May 2001 to live as 1880s homesteaders with only the tools of the period at their disposal. The web site brings daily frontier existence to life, with engaging history features on topics such as the Homestead Act and life on the trail, penned by producers, historians, and others involved with the series. Educators also will find a series of lesson plans for immediate use in their classrooms. “These standards-based lesson plans have been designed in conjunction with one of our major teacher training initiatives,” said David McCarthy, the site’s producer. “The resulting media-rich lessons move students to another time and place using video, the internet, and other interactive experiences.”


    ‘Augmented reality’ soon could enhance learning

    An emerging technology known as “augmented reality” soon will allow people peering through computer-powered goggles to overlay virtual images atop those of the real world. Researchers say the technology has practical applications for everything from law enforcement to education.

    For a firefighter, a computer-aided streetscape might show a school’s fire exits and sprinkler connections—vital details in a fire. For a police officer responding to school incident, the goggles could relay video surveillance images of an assailant, helping the officer get a bead on the bad guy.

    And for students, the technology might provide virtual images to supplement lessons.

    Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth professor of learning technology at Harvard University, envisions a scenario in which museum exhibits, for example, are augmented by virtual environments. At a panorama showing dinosaur bones found at a tar pit, the technology might depict a virtual reconstruction of the dinosaurs that were trapped at that prehistoric location.

    For now, augmented reality—a clever amalgam of computing, Global Positioning System navigation, and a device that tracks a person’s head movement—lives mainly in the cluttered realm of university research labs.

    The systems first are supposed to determine the user’s exact location and field of vision. Then, depending on the program running on the hard drive, the computer augments the scene with images—a yellow building label for the firefighter, a blinking red dot for the sharpshooter, a virtual reconstruction for the student.

    Researchers at Columbia University are fashioning some of the innovations. There, users can strap on a backpack frame bristling with 25 pounds of antennas, batteries, and computing gear and take a tour of the upper Manhattan campus.

    Instead of seeing only the university’s Greek revival halls and tree-draped plazas, the computer goggles superimpose images of long-demolished Victorian buildings that housed an insane asylum predating the school. Building name tags pop up and disappear when you turn your head to gaze around the campus.

    The project, created by Columbia’s schools of computer science and journalism, has a more pressing purpose than mere campus orientation.

    The lead federal agency funding the project is the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, which is spending $2.5 million a year on augmented-reality research.

    Spurred by the deaths of United States military personnel in Somalia in 1993, the Navy wants scientists to develop a belt buckle-sized computer and slim pairs of computer glasses to help the Marines fight better in cities.

    The Navy also is developing a version for amphibious landing craft that aims to guide invasion forces through minefields, fog, and other hazards. It seems plausible that the resulting technologies eventually will find their way onto school buses, say, to reduce the risk of transporting students during periods of poor visibility.

    In Singapore, developers are building an augmented-reality system for a military defense of that city-state. And in Britain, researchers want to use it to “see” buried pipelines during construction projects.

    Other research projects under way across the United States and elsewhere aim to use augmented reality to aid everything from surgery to education to jet engine repair.

    Columbia computer science professor Steven Feiner, who gets about $150,000 per year of the Navy’s funding, is developing the visual interfaces seen by wearers of the computer goggles.

    The clunky backpack system built by Feiner and his students is cobbled together from a laptop computer and a pair of GPS satellite receivers—one developed by the Russian military—along with a head tracking device, a high-speed wireless internet connection, and a tiny video camera.

    When the wearer’s location tells the computer to augment the scene with an image, it pops up on a pair of Sony goggles with a see-through liquid-crystal computer display.

    “We are not implying that someone should walk around with something that weighs even half of this,” Feiner said, giving a tour of his lab, where mannequin heads are scattered among computer parts and workstations. “Being able to look at stuff, and seeing information in context with that stuff, that’s what [this technology is] all about.”

    Augmented reality should be ready for consumer use in a decade or so, Feiner said, and it could be ready for education even sooner.

    First, U.S. soldiers will be trying it on for size.

    One impetus for the Office of Naval Research’s Battlefield Augmented Reality System, known as BARS, was the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, where 18 Americans—and hundreds of Somalis—died in fierce urban combat.

    A three-dimensional cityscape is one of the most treacherous battlefields, laced by tunnels and sewers below and buildings above, with clutter and traffic at street level. Enemy forces can be tough to distinguish from friendly ones. Snipers and mines could be anywhere.

    In the Mogadishu battle, U.S. military personnel on a critical rescue mission got lost in the city’s sandy alleys, because street signs had been taken down.

    In future city battles, U.S. soldiers with augmented-reality viewers will see labels on buildings and streets and also active details, like areas of sniper fire and locations of friendly forces, said Lawrence Rosenblum, director of virtual reality research and systems at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

    “All of a sudden, [a soldier using augmented reality] can be really involved in what’s happening and know what’s going on around him,” Rosenblum said. “We’re taking that information, giving it to him in a way that’s never been done before. That’s got to make him better.”

    When such technology makes its way to the classroom, it’s bound to make teachers better, too.


    Columbia University’s Mobile Augmented Reality Systems project

    Office of Naval Research’s Battlefield Augmented Reality System project

    Chris Dede’s web site


    Intel taps California school as ‘world showcase’ for technology

    Intel Corp. plans to announce today that it has chosen a California high school to become the second in the nation to participate in its Model School Program, eSchool News has learned. Over the next six months, the company and its partners will contribute $3.9 million in products and services to the school and showcase it around the world as a model for the future.

    Whitney High School in Cerritos, Calif., is no stranger to success. In fact, the school ranks among the state’s best for student achievement. With today’s announcement, the school also will become a benchmark to which other schools can compare their own technology initiatives.

    With the agreement, Whitney will receive a variety of services from Intel and participating partners, including a number of wireless and wired devices, computers, software, and audio-visual components.

    According to Terry Smithson, K-12 education manager for Intel, Whitney High “will be a world showcase school.”

    Among other amenities, the program will furnish the school with 100 wireless desktop and 100 wireless laptop computers. Each machine will run with Intel’s latest Pentium 4 technology.

    “We will be showcasing some real cutting-edge technology,” said Mike Mustillo, the school’s technology coordinator.

    Mustillo said the Intel-sponsored project will supply a combination of wireless technology and Ethernet services. When it is completed, students will have the ability to log on to the school’s network from home and take advantage of ubiquitous computing through the addition of several wireless components. The company also is considering offering video conferencing services.

    “It will really give the students a chance to shine,” Mustillo said.

    In addition to supplying new hardware, Intel also will upgrade existing machines for high-speed internet access.

    According to Smithson, the upgrades are a good way to demonstrate how old machines can be made new for schools at a fraction of the cost.

    “We want [schools] to be able to get the best value for their budget,” he said. A range of software products will be offered to aid in learning and professional development. Companies that have agreed to furnish software titles include NCS Pearson, Riverdeep, bigchalk, and Blackboard.

    Mustillo said that software packages will include tools for curriculum, standards, and teacher development.

    Intel chose Whitney as the second school in a two-part testing module to explore, deliver, and demonstrate the best possible wireless and integrated technology solutions for schools.

    The first school, Miami Carol City Senior High School in Miami, will function as a totally wireless institution. Conversely, Whitney will serve as model for the use of integrated technology that includes both wireless and hard-wired services.

    According to Intel, the goal of the project is to provide two separate road maps for schools to follow to achieve the best educational value from their technology options. Miami Carol will serve as a blueprint for the wireless tract, while Whitney will emerge as the standard for schools seeking the use of wholly integrated services, Intel said.

    Students are not the only ones receiving technology help from Intel. The program also provides for teachers and educators to attend a retreat that will focus on teaching them how to use and implement the new services effectively.

    Mustillo said the opportunity for staff development is key.

    “Students are often more fearless about technology than teachers can be. This is a great way to get the information out there,” he said.

    The retreat will allow educators to ask questions and receive training before they are expected to integrate the technology into busy classroom environments.

    Mustillo said the program is slated to be up and running fully when the school opens again in September.

    Whitney and Miami Carol are the only two schools that Intel has agreed to “world showcase,” Smithson said, but all schools are welcome to apply for technology from the company’s Model School Program.

    According to Smithson, if Intel likes what it hears from their proposals, it will furnish other schools with certain technology needs. For more information, see the company’s web site.


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    New resource helps schools promote safe and responsible web use

    Three organizations have teamed up to provide teachers with free professional development tools and integrated lesson plans geared toward making students in grades K-8 wiser to the ways of the web.

    The National Cyber Security Alliance announced May 16 that it would offer a new resource called Tech Talk to schools at no cost as part of its Stay Safe Online program. Tech Talk was developed by the CyberSmart School Program in partnership with Macmillan McGraw-Hill to provide teachers and parents with a foundation for teaching kids safe, responsible, and effective use of the internet in schools and at home.

    The announcement came not long after a congressionally mandated report stressed the need for educating children about how to deal with harmful material they are likely to encounter online.

    According to Jim Teicher, executive director of the CyberSmart School Program, Tech Talk serves as a precursor to the program’s curriculum and is intended as a time-efficient tutorial for teachers who are unsure how to integrate cyber-security lessons into existing standards.

    “Teachers don’t have a lot of time,” Teicher explained.

    Tech Talk consists of six different slide show presentations ranging in length from two to eight minutes. Each presentation is designed to take the instructor step by step through the various objectives of the CyberSmart curriculum.

    Upon completing a broad introduction to CyberSmart, educators use the final five presentations to explore the goals behind the curriculum itself. SMART—otherwise known as safety, manners, advertising, research, and technology—is based on a set of skills that Teicher says students must acquire to become confident, efficient, and effective citizens of the online community.

    According to Teicher, lessons about safety focus on how children can enjoy the internet securely without falling victim to pedophiles, scam artists, pornographers, and other online dangers. Manners-oriented activities deal with the different social, legal, and ethical responsibilities associated with being an internet user, and advertising focuses on how to identify commercial messages and protect online privacy. Research-bases lessons outlay strategies to mine online resources effectively. And technology, he said, covers the past, present, and future of the internet.

    Before CyberSmart, “teachers had been scrambling on their own to teach these skills,” said Teicher.

    The curriculum itself is broken down by grade level and designed under the notion that internet literacy is best taught progressively, beginning with students in kindergarten.

    “For students to responsibly and effectively use the internet, we need to give them a skill set that goes beyond the traditional notion of safety,” he said. “It needs to be started at an early age.”

    Teicher added that every lesson in the curriculum is designed to mesh with the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Education Technology Standards (NETS) so that educators do not have to worry about including extra lessons into already busy teaching schedules.

    Lessons are tailored to the age and maturity of students at various grade levels. While young learners in grades K-2 are exploring how to identify web addresses and evade internet scams, students in grades 6-8 can use another lesson to conduct the mock trial of a computer hacker and consider the legal consequences of improper online behavior.

    Renee McGah, instructional coordinator at Briargrove Elementary School in Houston, said students and teachers there have gained a lot from the CyberSmart program.

    “We know that with CyberSmart, [students] are going to be safe and use [the internet] in a wise manner,” she said.

    Each lesson plan in the curriculum is made up of a combination of online exercises, hands-on activities, and paper-based worksheets, which can be downloaded at no charge from CyberSmart’s web site.

    According to Teicher, the program is meant to be viewed only partly as an online course. “We use the internet only as a frame of reference,” he said.

    Teachers, said McGah, find the curriculum’s accessibility and ease of use inviting.

    “Anything that is user-friendly is useful,” said McGah. “The more teacher-friendly it is, the better chance you have of getting [teachers] to use it.”

    According to Teicher, a key component of the program is teaching the development of proper research skills.

    “Research is a skill that needs to be taught to be done efficiently,” he said.

    If students know how to find what they are looking for, they will use their time at the computer more effectively and not be as likely to encounter inappropriate material by mistake.

    McGah agreed and added that Briargrove students used what they had learned during the research units to produce in-depth reports about significant figures in American history.

    Another goal of the program, said Teicher, is to make certain that each learner develops the faculties necessary to act responsibly when confronted with inappropriate language and visual materials online.

    “Even in the most filtered environment, a lot of the information and content available may be inappropriate,” he said.

    CyberSmart’s commitment to teaching responsible internet use matches the sentiments voiced by the National Research Council in its “Youth, Pornography, and the Internet” report. The document says filters alone can’t protect children from harmful content on the internet and calls for communities to blend an appropriate mix of educational, technical, and legal strategies to keep kids safe online.

    “Wherever we are on the internet, children need to have mindfulness,” said Teicher. “They have to have the skills to make decisions responsibly.”


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    Schools use heart-monitoring software to boost student test scores

    With students’ test scores soon to affect how federal aid to their schools is allocated and spent, educators are looking for whatever tools might give their students an advantage on high-stakes exams. Now, some 200 schools are using heart-monitoring software to help their students learn how to manage emotions such as anxiety and frustration so they can improve their performance during testing.

    Students who experience extreme anxiety, frustration, or worry tend not to do as well on exams as they could, the software’s proponents claim.

    “You want a little adrenaline because it gives you a little edge, but often anxiety goes over the edge,” said Jeff Goelitz, program developer for the Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit research organization in Boulder Creek, Calif.

    Goelitz and his colleagues at the institute developed Freeze-Framer, a software program based on more than 10 years of heart research that helps students manage mental and emotional stress and smooth out stressful heart rhythms.

    “Emotion dictates where our attention is,” Goelitz said. “If your emotions and thinking brain are not in sync, then your ability to think straight is jeopardized.”

    Different emotional states affect the patterns of the heart, Goelitz said, so HeartMath figured if people could learn to control their heart patterns, they could control their emotional states and perform better.

    “What anxiety does is it creates a noise, a mental static, so it blocks our ability to retrieve what we know,” he said. “The worry overloads the brain circuits, the ones needed for retaining information.”

    While sitting at a computer, students insert their finger into a pulse sensor that is plugged into the computer. The heart rhythms are then displayed in a graph on the computer screen, so students can see what their heart rhythms look like.

    Students are asked to shift their focus to their heart and breathing, then generate a positive image and hold onto this state for five to 15 minutes while they watch their heart rhythms change. Throughout the exercise, students learn what positive emotions look and feel like, so they can train themselves to move their heart rhythms from jagged to smooth.

    Once they’ve mastered that, students play three different games to practice their new skill. In one game, students use their positive emotional state to turn a black-and-white meadow scene into color on the computer screen. In another game, students move a hot-air balloon off the ground by holding a positive emotional image. If students lose their positive state, the balloon begins to fall.

    “Freeze-Framer trains students to get in this optimal learning mode,” Goelitz said. However, “the critical part is taking that calm, focused learning state and applying it when taking a test.”

    Twenty high school seniors from the Minneapolis Public Schools who had failed the state’s exit exam five times or more did just that.

    They passed the Minnesota Basic Standards Test after using Freeze-Framer for three-weeks. Collectively, their math scores reportedly increased 35 percent and their reading scores improved a reported 14 percent.

    “We found [the software] helped students feel calmer and more focused when they took the test,” said Stephanie Thurik, a reading specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools. “These were all kids who had struggled in school, but stuck with it and were able to pass.”

    For the last five years, Diana Govan, a resource teacher at Carmel High School in Carmel, Calif., has been using Freeze-Framer at the beginning of the school year so her students can learn to shift emotions, anger, and frustration to a positive state. She said her class usually spends 50 minutes a day on the program for two weeks.

    “It sets us up for the rest of the year to be much more optimal,” Govan said.

    Most of her students have a history of failure in mainstream classes, as well as negative memories, emotions, and feelings about school. “It teaches them to neutralize their feelings and emotions about an upcoming test or assignment,” Govan said. “For most of my students, unmanaged emotion is their roadblock to success.”

    Govan said Freeze-Framer was critical in helping one of her students graduate. The student was labeled with severe attention-deficit disorder, had a history of poor academic achievement, and had difficulty managing his anger.

    “He learned Freeze-Framer instead of punching someone,” Govan said. The software “has nothing to do with academics, but it has everything to do with how successful he is going to be.”

    Freeze-Framer is more effective at helping students achieve a calm state of mind than deep-breathing exercises, Goelitz said.

    “You can be in a relaxed state of breathing, but if a strong emotion comes on, it still hijacks your brain,” Goelitz said. “Breathing is helpful, but the emotional component plays such an influential role in our thinking process.”

    He added, “Attitude and emotion have an overriding factor.”

    The Freeze-Framer kit costs $295 and includes a finger sensor, software, music, curriculum, and technical support. Site licenses also are available.


    Institute of HeartMath

    Minneapolis Public Schools

    Carmel High School


    New site to help students, educators find royalty-free works

    An internet clearinghouse launched May 16 aims to counteract the barriers to creativity its founders believe is fostered by current copyright law fosters. The clearinghouse is meant to help educators, students, artists, and researchers find creative works they can use without fear of being sued for copyright infringement.

    The Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization based at Stanford University and formed by legal scholars and web publishers, will encourage authors and other creative persons to donate selected writings, music, video, and other works for free exchange.

    A student filmmaker needing a shot of the New York skyline could then use the clearinghouse to find royalty-free footage, or a small-town school drama department with limited funding could find plays to perform for free.

    Currently, a filmmaker or drama director must track down a copyright holder, obtain permission, and often pay royalties. Unpopular projects might never take off if copyright holders won’t license their works, and confusion often exists as to whether works are protected under copyright law.

    Copyright holders who choose to participate in the Commons may set general conditions for use of their works, such as allowing royalty-free use only in noncommercial settings, but they won’t be able to veto individual projects.

    Users would be able to search for digital and physical materials at

    Glenn Brown, assistant director of the project, said the web site does not host any content itself and does not offer educators the ability to link directly to the materials. What it does do is locate works that artists have agreed to share without penalty.

    “We are like a card catalogue. We can link you to the information that you are looking for,” he said.

    According to Brown, the site could be used by teachers who direct their students to create their own web pages, but who want to make sure the information compiled does not violate copyright law or fair-use exceptions.

    Spearheading the effort is Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, a prominent scholar who complains that the current strict legal interpretation of intellectual property rights frequently stifles the type of sharing that spurs innovation.

    The Creative Commons seeks to counteract that tendency.

    Molly S. VanHouweling, the project’s executive director, said the clearinghouse is ideal for start-up bands and lesser-known authors who want their works more widely heard or read.

    More established creators, meanwhile, might wish to donate their works so noncommercial projects could succeed, she said.

    Contributors retain copyrights on their works. They can still sell them; for instance, they can offer them through the project royalty-free for noncommercial use but charge others independent of the Commons.

    The Creative Commons has raised nearly $900,000, mostly from the Center for the Public Domain, a nonprofit foundation.

    The clearinghouse is necessary, its founders say, because the scope of copyright law has grown over the years.

    Initially, a book’s author or publisher had to register works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Now, a copyright is automatic.

    And while copyrights lasted 14 years in 1790, Congress gradually extended them. A 1998 law protects works owned by individuals for 70 years after their death and those owned by corporations for 95 years.

    The extension means that web sites must wait longer to legally post works that once would have quickly entered the public domain. Web publisher Eric Eldred, a board member for the Creative Commons, is among the plaintiffs challenging the 1998 extension in the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Several groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have pledged administrative support. O’Reilly and Associates, a technical publisher, plans to donate some of its books, while the Internet Archive and Prelinger Archives are looking to contribute their archives of moving images, according to VanHouweling.

    The Creative Commons will need much more to be useful. Organizers are hoping to get more contributions over the next several months and begin allowing exchanges by the fall.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan, a University of Wisconsin professor critical of modern copyright laws, praised the initiative as enabling creators to become less than totally beholden to traditional publishers and distributors.

    But the Commons won’t address key objections raised with a separate 1998 law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to circumvent copy-protection technologies or discuss methods for doing so.

    Critics say the prohibitions restrict scholarly research and other “fair uses” that are normally legal under copyright law.


    The Creative Commons