Explore the mystery of all things living at “The Shape of Life”

This PBS-sponsored site is the educational complement to eight hours of programming dedicated to exploring the diversity of animal life on Earth. “The Shape of Life” contains video clips from each of the eight episodes and takes students from the evolution of the single-celled organism through the mystery of the human body. Students can research creatures such as flatworms and can look at pictures of animals from water-dwelling sponges to tree-climbing primates. The Activities and Resources section comes with step-by-step directions for a variety of crafts and projects. Students can make their own jellyfish out of paper plates or perform an experiment to determine whether snails have a sense of smell. For research purposes, an Explorations and Scientists section contains short interviews with leading scientists and briefly explains their latest research endeavors. The site also contains a comprehensive glossary of biological terms and invites students to explore in detail the eight major classifications of life on Earth. Students wishing to further their discovery will find links to more advanced materials. The site is designed for students of all ages and features appropriate content for children from kindergarten through high school.



Teach students about segregation with “The History of Jim Crow”

When folksinger Daddy Rice painted his face black and sang about Jim Crow in the 1830s, he could not have imagined that his words would remain forever symbolic of the oppression felt by African-Americans in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This new online resource, sponsored in part by New York Life, is designed to aid teachers as they attempt to educate students about one of the most trying, controversial periods in the nation’s history. “The History of Jim Crow” deals with instances of racial inequality and segregation, from the horrific lynchings of African-Americans in the deep South to the emergence of the NAACP as a national voice for change and advancement. The site includes historical resources, lesson plans, and personal statements of those who experienced discrimination during the Jim Crow era. The teachers’ resource guide contains a number of useful tools, including an encyclopedia to research people and events of the time and an image gallery with several pictures of different faces and places from the past. A geography tool illustrates the states and regions where Jim Crow laws once were widespread. The site is meant to work in concert with “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” a four-part television series to air on PBS this fall.



Poor teacher preparation hinders school tech use

Despite heavy investments in technology and efforts to narrow the digital divide, classroom technology is not used to its full potential because new teachers are unevenly prepared to use it, according to a survey released June 5 by the National School Boards Foundation.

“There’s been a lot of progress, but there are still a lot of barriers,” said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, the educational technology research and consulting firm that developed and managed the survey.

Forty-three percent of school leaders surveyed rate new teachers as only “average” when it comes to their competence in integrating the internet into their instruction, the report said.

“It’s still teacher expertise that is holding us back. It’s no longer bandwidth, it’s no longer hardware,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), who participated in a panel discussion on the survey results and their implications for schools.

Knezek described the lack of competent, qualified teachers as a national crisis. “The technology environment we’ve created in schools has redefined what ‘competent’ and ‘qualified’ mean,” he said.

President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 would eliminate funding for a federal program that provides teacher colleges with money to train new teachers in how to integrate technology effectively into the classroom.

“If you decide you are no longer going to support new teachers being comfortable with technology, how do you expect them to use it?” said Knezek, who oversaw ISTE’s Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology before being promoted to chief executive of ISTE.

In response, Bush administration officials say the 2003 budget contains nearly $2 billion for improving teacher quality, though none of the funds are earmarked specifically for technology training.

Robin Thurman, director of the National School Boards Foundation, said the business community can play a role in properly training teachers in the use of technology. “While school districts face increasing budget constraints, the results of this survey indicate they must not put technology training on the back burner,” Thurman said.

School leaders also cited funding as a major barrier to distributing technology equitably. Thirty-three percent said they lack funding for hardware, and 16 percent said they lack funding for software. Another 16 percent said they lack the time to train staff.

The survey also found that students play a large role in the overall operation of a school district’s technology infrastructure.

More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed said students provide technical support in their districts. Students troubleshoot for hardware, software, and infrastructure problems; set up equipment and wiring; and perform technical maintenance.

Having students take responsibility for a school’s technology infrastructure changes the traditional school culture, Grunwald said. “It means that the provider of knowledge and guidance is not always at the front of the class,” he said.

Although students appear to be putting their technical knowledge to good use, schools should employ professionals to handle major issues such as network outage problems, the report says.

“If you’re just solely relying on students, there is a problem,” said John Bailey, the Bush administration’s director of education technology.

Teachers use the internet mostly for searches (74 percent) or research (72 percent), followed by lesson planning (38 percent) and presentations (18 percent), according to the study. The internet is used the most in social studies classes (76 percent), followed by science (58 percent).

Here are other key findings:

• Sixty-three percent of districts provide internet-based professional development.

• Thirty-five percent of districts offer computers to families for free or at reduced prices.

• Ninety-one percent of districts report using internet filters, and 78 percent also use teacher supervision to keep students from viewing inappropriate material online.

• Forty-nine percent of districts provide formal technology training to all students.

Sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Plato Learning Inc., and the AT&T Foundation, the report is based on telephone interviews with technology decision-makers in 811 school districts, including 90 of the largest 100 districts.

Related links:
National School Boards Foundation

Grunwald Associates

International Society for Technology in Education

Corporation for Public Broadcasting


“Minority Leadership Project” aims to bridge the divide between haves and have-nots

Technology continues to play an increasingly integral part in education, but making it equally available for minority students still remains a challenge. This new site from the International Society for Technology in Education was conceived as a forum for teachers in minority communities to share ideas, voice concerns, and discuss ways to better the quality of education among some of America’s least-privileged students. The site features a Live Chat section where educators can go to pool resources, get answers to pressing questions, and exchange suggestions about how to advance educational opportunities for minority students. To keep up on current trends and evolving issues, minority educators can use the site’s Article Share feature to read papers written by peers and post findings of their own for review. A Resource link provides access to a number of sites focused on helping educators breach the digital divide. The site also contains a comprehensive directory of education leaders involved in the minority community—including short biographies and contact information—in its Leadership Bureau. Finally, registered members can access any number of archived eMail messages from other members, allowing them to make more conscious, well-informed decisions.



“Out2Teach.com” focuses on integrating technology in the classroom

Ninth-grade students Evan Russo and Marshal Roch have teamed up to create this online portal for the educational community. Out2Teach.com proves that in the technology age, sometimes it’s the students who know best. Focusing on the integration of technology into the classroom, this very professional student-created site provides a categorized link database where teachers can turn to find new and unique ideas for improving classroom instruction. Out2Teach also offers educators tips on how to update and create their own web sites under the constraints of limited time and resources. In another section, teachers can post messages and articles for peer review and comment. Educators from around the globe thus can use the site as a way to gauge the changing sentiments of K-12 educators worldwide. A major idea behind the site’s conception is that all educators should have a voice whenever they want to be heard. “Every voice is important,” said Roch in a press release. “Everyone needs to have the opportunity to share their ideas.”



“Assessment & Achievement” prepares schools for the increased demands of new federal regulations

New regulations set forth by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act have moved accountability to the forefront of every educator’s agenda. eSchool News Online’s latest Educational Resource Center, titled “Assessment & Achievement,” aims to help school leaders meet the challenge. With support from Kaplan Inc., this new online resource allows educators to learn how assessment is helping to advance education across the board. Decision-makers will find proven strategies to boost test scores, in-depth reports on how technology can help schools meet more stringent federal guidelines, and a number articles discussing current trends and changes in assessment and achievement. eSchool News and Kaplan also have scoured the web for the best information found elsewhere and have compiled a library of links to quality assessment and achievement content to help educators find what they need and find it fast. Having trouble coping with the demands of increased accountability? Kaplan offers suggestions and core insights on the best ways to lessen the burden.



With PC tracking software, stolen laptop recovered almost instantly

A teacher from DeSoto High School in Texas, knowing she would be out of the classroom on school business for the day on Friday, April 17, hid her laptop in her desk drawer. When she returned to school later that afternoon, she went to retrieve the laptop—only to discover that it was missing. But thanks to a PC tracking program from Absolute Software of Vancouver Brtitish Columbia, school officials were able to recover the machine just 20 minutes after it was reported stolen.

As mobile computers become an increasingly standard part of K-12 instruction, schools are looking for ways to protect their technology investments. Absolute claims that its ComputracePlus program is the first software-and-service solution to enable the recovery of lost or stolen PCs almost instantly.

This was the first laptop to disappear since the DeSoto Independent School District, a southern Dallas County district that encompasses 20 square miles and serves 7,100 students, selected ComputracePlus a year and a half ago to safeguard approximately 1,000 laptops. Jim Cockrell, the district’s executive director of technology services, said the decision already is paying off.

“In the first two months of our laptop deployment program … we had about four or five machines go missing, and that was just unacceptable for us,” Cockrell said. “Our leadership team [agreed] that ComputracePlus was the most appropriate approach to protecting our laptops, so we got the funding and moved on it.”

After ComputracePlus is installed on a PC’s hard drive, the software-tracking agent silently calls into Absolute’s monitoring center in Vancouver on a scheduled basis each time a user logs onto the internet. If a Computrace-equipped PC is reported lost or stolen, its location can be traced, and Absolute works with law enforcement officials to recover the asset. The software reportedly survives efforts to delete it—even if the thief were to reformat the hard drive.

The physical location of a stolen PC is discovered using two important technologies: Automatic Number Identification (ANI), which allows the company to identify the phone number and corresponding street address of any call location in North America, even unlisted numbers and those equipped with Caller ID blocking; and Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a unique fingerprint for every PC at the time of communication. When a stolen PC’s IP address is captured by the Absolute monitoring center, it is traced to the owner of that IP domain. The recovery officer then contacts the domain’s administrator to determine who is using the stolen computer.

To date, approximately 2,000 customers rely on ComputracePlus to track and locate lost or stolen PCs. Absolute says it has recovered 95 percent of the computers reported lost or stolen to its monitoring center.


Use cost-cutting eMedia to sell your schools

With more than 40 states facing burgeoning deficits, school budgets are getting slashed from coast to coast. Often, public information and communications are among the first items to get the ax.

Facing shrinking print budgets for newsletters, brochures, fliers, lunch menus, and mailings, school leaders need to focus more on what works and less on what they’ve always done.

This means more relationship-building and personalized, one-to-one communications and fewer “Dear Parent” memos and “To Resident” mailings.

Thankfully, new media techniques such as electronic newsletters and online publications can support this kind of public relations effort with little or no additional budget impacts, other than staff time.

For example, armed with a customer contact management software program such as Interact Commerce Corp.’s ACT! (for under $200), a $15 per hour college student on summer break, and internet-based eMail, school leaders can start building a database of people they need to stay in close contact with.

Called “opinion leaders” or “key communicators” by PR pros, these are those “E.F. Hutton” folks in your community (when they talk, people listen) who can make or break your program, school, or district.

They can be power leaders—such as the mayor, county commissioners, corporate CEOs, and newspaper publishers—or influential community members, such as PTA presidents, realtors, school reporters, neighborhood activists, Kiwanis Club presidents, and the local ministerial alliance.

Large districts often break their databases into two distinct camps: one for internal audiences such as teachers, bus drivers, and support staff, and one for external targets such as Chamber of Commerce executives, arts leaders, and the region’s largest employers.

At the very least, every school should have contact information (including eMail, voice mail, cell phone, fax, and pager numbers) for all staff members, parents, volunteers, and business partners in a database.

That way, principals and other administrators can use eMail, voice mail, or fax broadcasting to stay in touch with VIPs on a regular basis (six to 12 times per year minimum) with news and information concerning their children and their schools.

If time allows, a school secretary or parent volunteer can use Microsoft Word, Publisher, or other user-friendly software to create an electronic version of the school newsletter. These one-pagers should be filled with short, to-the-point, bulleted news items, deadlines, and lots of kids’ and teachers’ names.

Once the basic template is created, it takes just a few minutes to plug in the weekly or monthly news items—especially if teachers and other school reporters eMail them to the editor.

The format should be easy to read and use, with lots of short, action-oriented headlines, subheads, bullets, and other graphic organizers. One or two font styles and colors are plenty. When it comes to electronic newsletters, content, accessibility, and speed matter more than graphic design.

The goal is to get and keep people interested in what is going on at your school or district. Each news item should just be a sentence or two, followed by a hotlink to your web page or another online resource

By focusing on “news you can use”—such as registration deadlines and school lunch menus—and by including memorable, fun facts that parents and teachers can share at the neighborhood grocery store, recreation center, or synagogue, you can help create a positive “buzz” about your school or district.

The content of electronic newsletters also can be targeted to meet the needs of specific audiences. Business leaders, for example, are less concerned about individual students (unless the student is their child) than they are about test scores, academic rigor, character education, teacher quality, and the wise use of tax dollars.

Frequency also is an issue. Rather than wait for months and then load up an eMail with 10 to 15 news items, you often get more leverage by sending more regular communications and focusing on one or two stellar announcements.

The key for any audience, however, is to keep your missives short. View the subject line on your eMail as your communication’s headline. If you don’t grab your readers in the first word or two, they may trash your eMail without reading it.

While this is less of a concern with affinity groups such as parents and PTA members, you still need to be respectful of their time. Everybody is busy, and no one has time for junk mail, even if it comes electronically and from your child’s school.

You’ll also need to resist the temptation to mark all school and district eMails as urgent or high priority. Like the little boy who cried “wolf” one too many times, you might find yourself wearing out your readers’ responsiveness.

The newsletter may be included in the body of the eMail or sent as an attachment. Attachments can backfire, however, as more and more businesses use blocking software to combat viruses and spam.

If you’re not sure which technique will suit your key audiences best, ask them—and then listen to what they tell you. Also, make sure you include an “opt out” message at the end of your newsletter or eMail, especially if you don’t get the contact information directly from the source.

In additional to eMail and electronic newsletters, more school communications professionals are developing online publications, from simple brochures posted in Adobe Acrobat, to electronic magazines (eZines) created specifically for the web that feature in-depth articles, photo displays, and interactive features such as editor chats and virtual tours.

While the initial conversion from print to online can be time-consuming and expensive, the ability to make changes on an as-needed basis is quickly making print obsolete, especially for data-intensive documents such as personnel directories, course catalogues, school profiles, and test results.

By posting its personnel directory online, for example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is saving more than $50,000 per year in printing costs as well as thousands of hours of staff time from several departments, including human resources, public information, graphic production, the print shop, storage, and distribution.

Once obsolete as soon as it was printed, the online personnel directory is now updated automatically every time there is a change in the mainframe employee database.

Firewalls and other safeguards keep private information in personnel files private; employees dictate whether their home addresses or phone numbers may be shared district-wide. Not surprisingly, the directory has become one of the most frequently visited features on the district’s sophisticated intranet (internal web site).

The intranet, including the personnel directory, is advertised via the district’s weekly electronic newsletter, “Direct Line,” which is eMailed to all staff members and posted on all school and department bulletin boards.

The new communication tools seem to be working. In a recent survey, employees said they appreciated the district’s new efforts to keep them informed—a marked improvement from two years ago, when a lack of communication from central administration caused many staff members to cite the daily news as their primary source of information.

Like CMS, districts across the country are shifting more publications to the internet and cutting print newsletters, brochures, catalogues, budget books, and other traditional communications tools.

Whether the growing emphasis on electronic and web-based communications helps improve morale and create better public engagement and support of our schools or widens the information gap is largely up to us.

We can seize these new tools to build and maintain relationships with the people that matter most, or we can simply repeat the same mistakes online that we made in print and hope our “one size fits all” communication approach manages to hit its target.

Related links:
Interact Commerce Corp.’s ACT!

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Electronic newsletter publishing


Product Spotlight

Apple expands into server market with Xserve

Apple Computer Inc. on May 14 introduced its first-ever rack-mountable server product, called Xserve. Aimed at environments where Macs are plentiful—such as schools—the device includes software that reportedly can check on the status of a client computer’s hard drive to predict when a failure might occur.

Designed to appeal to technology staff who want a compact, easy-to-use server for file serving, printing, video streaming, database applications, computational clustering, and web and eMail serving, Xserve is based on the UNIX operating system. The idea for an Apple server grew after the Cupertino-based company last year introduced its newest operating system, Mac OS X, which also is based on UNIX.

Xserve features remote management tools to make set-up and maintenance easier, Apple said. System administrators can receive notification of a client computer’s failure via eMail, pager, cell phone, or handheld computer.

Pricing starts at $2,999 for a 1-gigahertz G4 processor model with 256 megabytes of memory. A dual-processor model with 512 MB of memory costs $3,999.

(800) 800-2775


VTech introduces handheld solutions for students

The VTech XL Series of handheld and notebook-styled electronic devices provides schools with a cost-effective way to introduce young kids to computers while reinforcing reading, writing, and math skills. Each of the four devices in VTech’s XL Series product line is portable and small enough to be stowed in a locker or backpack.

The devices feature a variety of education-specific software applications, including a calculator, unit converter, class scheduler, artwork studio, music creator, and more. They also include access to trusted educational resources such as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica.

The ClassMaster Notebook ($149.99), geared toward nine to 12-year-olds, features educational games that let students practice grammar, reading, comprehension, basic geometry, and pre-algebra. The device also lets students do word processing and internet research. Students can upload their projects to a PC to save, eMail, or print. The notebook includes a free, one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

The SkillStarter Handheld ($39.99) has a touch-screen interface that lets youngsters play games to practice reading and math skills. The SkillStarter Notebook ($59.99) includes a full LCD screen, keyboard, and mouse. In addition to playing educational games, kids can use it to make and record their own music and learn to type.

The MindBooster Notebook ($79.99), for kids ages seven to nine, is designed to promote independent learning and empower kids to apply what they already have learned in school to solve language, math, and logic activities, VTech said.

XL Series devices connect to a standard computer using VTech’s optional vPort Accesory ($19.99).

(800) 521-2010


Check out this automated check-out system from Sagebrush

Students and teachers now can check out library books and other resources by themselves with UCheck, a self-checkout program from Sagebrush Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn. The system aims to save library media specialists valuable time, freeing them to help students and staff members find the information they need.

“Checking out materials to patrons can be a time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Gail Mazure, UCheck product manager. “Using UCheck, librarians can successfully and conveniently let patrons check out their own materials from the library, so the library staff has more time for other library tasks.”

UCheck comes with a password-protected administration component that allows library staff to choose from a variety of methods for how materials will be checked out. Staff members can place restrictions for those who are not allowed to check out their own materials, such as young children. If a restricted person attempts to check out materials, the system will display a message indicating that the checkout process cannot proceed. The program also enables staff members to create, preview, and print status reports.

UCheck integrates seamlessly with Sagebrush’s Athena and Winnebago Spectrum library automation programs, according to the company.

(800) 533-5430


New web-based early learning program teaches math and reading skills

K-2 Learning MileStones, from Achievement Technologies, is a web-based early learning program that helps instructors teach primary phonics and math while reinforcing word recognition skills.

Teachers can use the program to assess, teach, and review pre-reading and basic math concepts while helping first and second graders build critical thinking skills. Teachers can even create individual instruction plans for students by having each child take a 15-question pre-test from a bank of more than 500 test questions aligned to state objectives.

The software requires minimal reading or keyboarding skills from students but challenges kindergartners and serves as an intervention for struggling students, the company said. It supports special education classes and guides ESL learners with Spanish audio instructions. Audio feedback with an animated character provides students with helpful hints throughout the program.

K-2 Learning Milestones comes with a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide aligned to each state’s standards for language and math. The guide contains printable worksheets for take-home activities, and the software’s printable reports allow teachers to remain accountable with administrators and parents. The program costs $2,495 for a CD-ROM and one-year internet subscription; each additional year is $995 for unlimited use in a single building.

(888) 391-3245


Macromedia’s suite of web-design tools could save schools a bundle

Macromedia Inc. is offering a suite of software tools for building everything from web sites to multimedia applications at an attractive price for schools.

Under the company’s new site-licensing solution for education, schools with more than 500 students can purchase the Macromedia Studio MX suite for only $3,000, while schools with fewer than 500 students pay just $2,000.

The Studio MX package includes the latest versions of Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, FreeHand, and ColdFusion programs. The new site-licensing solution for education also includes sample curriculum and lesson plans to help teachers start teaching web design courses or integrate web projects into standard academic subjects. In addition, Macromedia offers an online course on its web site to help train teachers in the use of these tools.

(800) 457-1774



Calendar of Events


July 5-7

San Diego. 2002 ESRI Education User Conference. Educators who use geographic information system (GIS) technology in their schools will have a unique opportunity to discuss their findings with peers and discover new classroom uses for mapping technology at this event. The conference also aims to answer any questions educators have about GIS and explore ways to implement the technology more efficiently.

Contact: (909) 793-2853, ext.1-2624


July 14-17

Baltimore. Rural, Small School System Leaders Conference. Sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators, this conference features technology and management content useful for superintendents of small or rural school districts. Sessions will address concepts such as data-driven decision making and using Palm handhelds to manage information.

Contact: (703) 875-0769


July 20-21

Seattle. Exploring the Future of Learning: A ThinkQuest Live Event. Co-hosted by the University of Washington and Advanced Network and Services, the nonprofit organization that created the internationally renowned ThinkQuest competitions, this event offers an in-depth exploration of today’s most promising emerging technologies—and the opportunities and challenges they bring to the future of learning. The event will combine an interactive technology and learning laboratory with a series of in-depth discussions facilitated by a group of leading ed-tech thinkers.

Contact: ajustham@learningspace.org


July 24-26

Arlington, Va. Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT) Education Technology 2002 Conference. The Education Technology 2002 conference will continue SALT’s practice of bringing professionals from the education, industry, and government communities together to present information on their accomplishments in the areas of technology-based learning systems, management systems, research, and applications. Focus areas will include knowledge management and instructional systems development, technical skills training, and eLearning.

Contact: (540) 347-0055


July 25-27

Philadelphia. EDVentures 2002. Sponsored in part by the Association of Education Practitioners and Providers, this 12th annual conference will focus on entrepreneurship and new or developing opportunities in the education marketplace. Workshops and panel topics will include the virtual classroom, education reform legislation, funding, curriculum and accreditation. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from more than 80 industry professionals and participate in 30 different discussion panels in all.

Contact: (800) 252-3280



Aug. 14-16

Madison, Wis. 18th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this conference will offer more than 150 workshops, advanced seminars, cracker-barrel discussions, and information sessions that will examine a wide range of practical applications, teaching methods, course designs, innovative solutions, and emerging technologies in distance education.

Contact: (608) 265-4159


Aug. 14-16

Orlando. International Security Conference & Exposition 2002. This conference, sponsored by Security Industry Association, will focus on technological advancements in security systems. The event will allow educators to explore new ways to improve security in their schools. More than 500 exhibitors will be on hand to showcase the latest developments in security technologies for school, business, and personal use.

Contact: (800) 840-5602



Sept. 12-13

Oklahoma City. Encyclo-Media Conference 2002. This annual conference sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Education is expected to bring together more than 3,200 participants and 400 vendors for two days of discussions and breakout programs designed to improve educational technology in schools.

Contact: (405) 521-2957


Sept. 22-25

Los Angeles. EdNET 2002. Sponsored by the Heller Reports, this business leadership forum gives industry executives a place to discuss trends on the business side of educational technology. Forums, roundtables, and discussion groups will focus on market trends, funding sources, new technologies, and activities of key players in the industry. The conference is billed as an opportunity for business leaders to forge key relationships with colleagues, potential customers, and government officials.

Contact: (847) 674-6282