Technology was a central component of the 58th Annual Conference and Exhibit Show of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in San Francisco, March 8-10, but hardware and software were not in the spotlight. The emphasis was largely on curriculum and the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

To be sure, many of the 11,000 professors, administrators, and teachers reportedly in attendance fully expected to rely on technology to cope with current challenges. It was just that technology had become so ubiquitous that it was not a matter for direct attention.

Conversations around the conference seemed to center more on the appearances of major speakers such as former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, who had also held posts in Congress and as mayor of Atlanta, and television personality Linda Ellerbee.

Declaring that public education will be the salvation of the United States and the world, Young confided to the overflow crowds at the opening general session that walking to elementary school as a child prepared him for his role as U.N. ambassador: “I either had to fight, run, or negotiate.”

Observed Young: “Our continued survival as a nation depends on our relationship with our young people. We must find ways to make those relationships positive, even if they don’t always start out that way.”

Ellerbee, speaking at yet another overflowing general session, urged ASCD conference-goers to turn television into a teaching tool. The key is to understand the medium, she explained.

“It’s not enough any longer to learn to read and write,” Ellerbee said. “We must teach children to understand that [television] isn’t magic or brain surgery; it’s just television. The answer is media literacy.”

Educators and students should understand five key things about television, she said: (1) that what is seen and not seen on television depends largely on what will generate profits for broadcasters, (2) that television is not reality, (3) that television news is not the whole truth, (4) that television is biased in favor of the establishment, and (5) that television, at its best, can open minds.

An exhibit hall full of vendors was eager to open minds (and school pocketbooks), too. Traffic through the exhibit area was heavy on day one and, according to many exhibitors, acceptable on days two and three.

Here are some of the products and services that seemed to generate the most interest during the ASCD conference:

AlphaSmart Inc. demonstrated its latest portable computing solution. Called Dana, this keyboard/computing tool provides students and educators with the ability to enter information via keyboard, stylus, or touch-screen functions. A Palm-powered operating system transforms the AlphaSmart keyboard from jazzed-up word-processor to interactive computing device. The machines can import and export Microsoft Word and Excel documents. Students also can print their work directly to network-connected printers. At $400 and under, the Dana is the perfect one-to-one computing option for schools, according to AlphaSmart. Special education bundles, software packages, and other deals are available through the company. http://www.alphasmart.com

Blackboard Inc. touted three complementary products for K-12 schools. The Blackboard Learning System offers content management, assessment, and communication tools designed to help educators more easily manage, align, and create online resources for students, the company said. The Blackboard Community Portal System enables educators and administrators to develop personalized web portals across a school or district-level intranet, where they and other stakeholders can communicate all the information required to function in their day-to-day school operations. Finally, the Blackboard Transaction System enables administrators and school purchasing officials to track eCommerce transactions and control access to school facilities. According to the company, each product is committed to ease of use, flexibility, and interoperability. Also on display were Blackboard’s service and support products for its software, as well as its e-Education platform: a suite of tools used to create virtual high school classes. http://www.blackboard.com/k12/index.htm

Carolina Biological Supply Co. announced the completion of an inquiry-based middle school science curriculum, called Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools (STC/MS). In development since 1998, the curriculum now offers eight educational modules for science instruction, the company said. The idea behind the product is to offer a seamless approach to K-8 science instruction, allowing school systems to implement the program in part or in whole based on the individual needs of schools. The company also unveiled its GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) materials kits, based on its GEMS teacher’s guides. The kits come with all the materials educators will need to teach GEMS-based units for up to 32 students, the company said. Carolina Biological Supply Co. also has partnered with the Baylor College of Medicine to produce three series of activity-based science and health programs for young students. http://www.carolina.com

ASCD and Excelsior Software Inc. announced a partnership to promote effective instructional and assessment practices with Excelsior’s Pinnacle Plus student assessment software. The product is to be the only student assessment software endorsed by ASCD’s “What Works in Schools” program. “Excelsior’s solutions will help educators track formulative assessment data with their students, thereby supporting our goal of increased student achievement,” said Mikki Terry, ASCD’s executive director for program development. The software enables educators to link individual assignments with the standards, objectives, and/or benchmarks they are responsible for addressing. http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com

In an effort to expand on the company slogan “Innovation in Education,” chip maker Intel Corp. now offers web resources for teaching and learning. The site features daily online learning projects and lesson plans, professional development activities and training opportunities, science and math activities for students, interactive community education initiatives, and resources to better acclimate teachers and students with technology. Teachers and students can log onto an “Innovation Odyssey” for a new learning project each day, or investigate cause-and-effect relationships through “Seeing Reason,” a tool that lets students create diagrams to illustrate and visualize thinking processes. “It’s a Wild Ride” evaluates a breakthrough learning project—the brainchild of three Idaho teachers—and shows other educators how to implement similar initiatives of their own. The company also previewed a video about new perspectives for algebra instruction as well as its “Design and Discovery” engineering program for students. http://www.intel.com/education

Now Software, a division of Power On Software, announced its Spring K-12 Education Special. Now through March 31, schools can purchase the company’s On Guard Macintosh or On Guard Windows programs for $1,500. That’s $500 off of the original price, according to the company. The products are designed to protect school computers from unwanted modifications and system reconfigurations. On Guard prevents users from renaming, moving, copying, and trashing files and folders, the company said. The product also limits access to the system files and locks control panels and printing. It even directs file saving to other media or specific folders. The company also demonstrated its Now Up-to-Date & Contact product, which provides a customizable calendar and organizer for administrators, allowing them to keep appointments, organize orders, publish calendars, and manage assignments with the use of a single application. The special educator price for this software is $49.95. http://www.nowsoftware.com

Paxton/Patterson showed off its Active Data Management and Information Network (ADMIN) for educators. This remote grading tool for the Palm operating system lets teachers engage electronic rubrics to make performance-based assessments. The Grade Manger tool provides educators with a Palm gradebook organizer for lab scheduling and test data correlation. In addition, Standards Manager and Reporting Manager functions help users devise a number of reports to show where students stand in relation to national, state, and local standards, as well as individually or by class. http://www.paxtonpatterson.com

Reading and Language Arts Centers (RLAC) Inc., maker of the Phonics First reading program, claims its approach is one of the best in the business when it comes to meeting the new demands of NCLB. Anchored by the five keys to literacy as outlined by the National Reading Panel (NRP)—phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, decoding and spelling, and comprehension—Phonics First reportedly is based on numerous research studies about how students best learn to read. RLAC also offers instructional reading software, tutoring, multi-sensory products, and summer and family reading programs. Its Phonics First Orton-Gillingham professional development initiative has been validated by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the NRP, the company said. RLAC reports its programs help teachers improve the reading skills of both beginning and struggling students. http://www.rlac.com

TetraData Corp. announced that it has signed an agreement to provide a State Data Warehousing Analysis and eReporting System for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. Data warehouses will be made available to school districts throughout the state to assist in state accountability reporting. Each school district’s data warehouse will be equipped to handle national, state, and local assessments, as well as pertinent demographics, said Martin Brutosky, chairman and chief executive officer of TetraData. “We are pleased to be working with North Dakota school districts and look forward to a successful data analysis and eReporting implementation in North Dakota,” he said. http://www.tetradata.com

Yamaha Corp. of America demonstrated its Music in Education (MIE) Technology-Assisted Music Program. Dubbed “the country’s fastest growing music program,” this initiative features unique, “split mode” keyboards that allow two students to work together creatively on a single machine or play independently, depending on the intention of each lesson. At the heart of the MIE program, however, is its curriculum. The package comes with hardware, software, lesson plans, quizzes, and other resources to bolster the effect of hands-on music education in schools. Used in combination with computer technology, the company said, these interactive resources allow music teachers to adjust their teaching methods based on the individual needs and interests of each student in the class. http://www.yamaha.com/yamahavgn/CDA/Home/YamahaHome