“eScholar” is a one-stop shop for scholarships, fellowships, and more

Higher education is an expensive enterprise, from tuition fees to travel expenses and even the cost of books. Luckily, there are resources students can turn to for help—and this new web site from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) now serves as a one-stop gateway to these various resources online. The federal government’s eScholar initiative, unveiled March 28, is accessible through OPM’s StudentJobs.gov home page and contains hundreds of government-funded scholarships, fellowships, grants, internships, and cooperative programs designed to help students pay for their education. According to the site, it’s the first internet resource of its kind to offer a comprehensive listing of educational programs from the federal government. Students also can search for jobs and educational opportunities, create personal profiles that are made available to internship coordinators and potential employers, post resumes, and even look for part-time summer employment.

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Stitch together high-quality space science lesson plans with this NASA site

Sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, this interactive and easy-to-use web site provides age-appropriate activities and lesson plans for teaching about the solar system in K-12 classrooms. Each lesson included on the Space Science Curriculum Standards Quilt meets National Science Education Standards. To use the site, you simply choose an appropriate grade level, then choose from any of the illuminated squares on the interactive patchwork quilt. There are 16 subject areas arranged in vertical columns, including the sky, planetary objects, apparent motion, patterns, size and scale properties, stars, and more. Each subject area can be cross-referenced with one of five scientific concepts arranged in horizontal rows: Science as an Inquiry, Technology Connections, Personal Social Connections, Nature and History of Science, and Unifying Concepts and Processes. Once you choose a square, each lesson that pertains to the given topic will appear in a box under the quilt. Teachers then can read summaries of these lessons or view the lessons in their entirety by double-clicking on the highlighted link.

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“Frontline” examines the front lines in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television series “Frontline” has launched a new online feature called the World Fellows Program, which aims to foster new voices in international reporting. In this first installment of the program, students can accompany a University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism student as she makes her way to the Israeli frontier by way of a war-torn path that includes the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon. Along the way, students will read first-hand accounts of the physical, cultural, and historical borders built as a result of the decades-long land dispute between Israelis and Palestinians—a primary source for much of the anger many Arabs harbor toward Americans. Students can witness the historical tension among these warring peoples with the help of interactive maps, photographs, and well-written journalistic accounts encompassing the opinions and attitudes of those who live there today. The site also contains links to recent news stories relevant to the conflict, as well as an introduction to the author and the purpose of her mission. Other resources on the Frontline site include information about the war in Iraq and the escalating tension between the United States and North Korea.

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Self-managing server technology could reduce costs

Beginning with its next generation of network file server software, Microsoft Corp. said it will offer new technologies designed to help business and school customers automatically manage the flow of computing power and resources to match their workload.

The new technologies will enable school information technology (IT) staff to spend less time defining requirements and validating that applications work, which will reduce deployment costs and network downtime, Microsoft said.

The Redmond, Wash., company formally announced its “Dynamic Systems Initiative” March 18. The effort is similar to others already under way at competitors, such as IBM’s “autonomic computing” program.

The central idea for all these efforts is that the networks of large enterprises, such as companies and school systems, should be able to monitor themselves, shift processing power, and dedicate storage where and when it’s needed. By instructing the networks to manage themselves, system administrators will be freed up to focus on other matters, rather than baby-sitting the network.

Microsoft’s initiative focuses on new technologies to create and support “smart” programs that know how to anticipate such needs, said Bob O’Brien, Windows Server group product manager. For example, every time someone places an order on a web site, the underlying program can be instructed to make a certain amount of storage available.

“If the application knows … what kind of resources it will need, it starts to see that work load increase, [then] it knows how many resources to put on,” he said.

In addition, Microsoft is working with hardware manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Computer Corp., EDS, and Opsware Inc. to deliver infrastructure that works seamlessly with these applications.

Windows Server 2003, Microsoft’s newest server software release which was in April, will include some of the technology, and Microsoft expects to release more tools in the next three to five years, O’Brien said.

IBM announced its “autonomic computing” initiative about 18 months ago. “The complexity of technology is growing exponentially,” said IBM spokesman Michael Loughran. The goal, he said, is “to have IT people focus on the business and not focus on the actual infrastructure anymore.”

The IBM eServer product line, which incorporates autonomic computing, has the ability to self-configure, self-heal, self-optimize, and self-protect. That means the servers configure and reconfigure autonomously both at boot time and during run time; detect hardware and firmware faults instantly and then contain the effects of the faults within defined boundaries; measure the performance or usage of resources and then tune the configuration of hardware resources to deliver improved performance; and protect against internal and external threats.

Although school technology directors were intrigued by the possible benefits of these new technologies, many said the severe budget shortfalls they now face mean they could be slow to adopt such systems.

“At the moment, we are fighting to keep technology funding. I would like to test and use new products, but find this to be challenging,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for Pennsylvania’s Governor Mifflin School District.

See these related links:

Windows Server 2003
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/default.mspx

IBM’s “autonomic computing” initiative
http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/autonomic

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‘Internet nurses’ serve rural schools’ health needs

High-resolution cameras and speedy internet connections to a doctor’s clinic in Norfolk, Neb., are helping some cash-strapped schools provide nursing services they otherwise might not be able to afford.

“It is a good way to level the playing field for rural areas in getting good health care,” Dr. Keith Vrbicky said of his American Educational Telecommunications LLC.

Through internet broadcasts to schools, Vrbicky’s company provides advice from nurses—and doctors, if necessary—on hard-to-diagnose cases. It also offers information on asthma, diabetes, adolescent development, and other topics.

Vrbicky, an obstetrician-gynecologist, started the company in 1997 to focus on international telemedicine and distance education. He opened an office in Egypt, but business slowed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

So he turned to helping schools in his own state, providing internet nursing services for free last year to schools in Leigh, West Point, and Pleasanton, Neb. He now charges for the service and is starting a pilot program for businesses.

“It’s very beneficial to schools that don’t have a nurse, and our experiences with them were very good,” said Larry Ferguson, superintendent of Leigh Community Schools.

Vrbicky hopes to help alleviate problems caused by a nationwide nursing shortage and school budget cuts.

His company might be the only one providing this kind of service to schools, although some universities and medical colleges have undertaken similar projects, said Jonathan Linkous, executive director of the American Telemedicine Association.

Westside Community Schools in Omaha signed up its 10 elementary schools this school year after the county cut funding for a visiting nurses program that the district had relied on.

At Westside’s Swanson Elementary School, health assistant Nancy Yount can activate a videoconference in less than a minute when she links with Vrbicky’s clinic 90 miles away.

Yount’s computer screen fills with a hallway and doors in Vrbicky’s office, and shortly afterward a nurse enters the picture. In the right-hand corner is a smaller square, showing Yount in her own office, together with a student at her side cooperating with a demonstration.

Yount picks up a high-resolution video camera connected to the computer and trains it on the student’s injury. A nurse on the other end gets a close look while talking through the computer to Yount and the student.

“It’s a nice tool to have,” said Yount, who has used it several times this school year, including to help verify that a student had shingles and the best course of action for dealing with it.

Outside Nebraska, 21 schools in southeast Kansas are getting the service, and Vrbicky’s company recently signed a contract with the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara’s School of Medicine. The university will use the network to help provide clinical care in Mexico and elsewhere.

Vrbicky’s company has faced challenges in hooking schools up to its services. It found Macintosh computers that lacked the software to support American Educational’s platform were widely used at Westside and the Kansas schools. The company has provided computers while it works on the problem.

The schools’ costs for the program are based on the number of students served and other factors. Westside is paying $60,000 for the 2,800 students in its elementary schools.

Putting nurses into each of Westside’s 10 elementary schools was not feasible at $25,000 to $40,000 a position, and Vrbicky’s company was a viable alternative, said Ken Baldwin, director of building services at Westside.

American Educational is compiling medical records for all the schools’ students and is sending three to five nurses to Westside schools when necessary to help with health exams.

The Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, known as Greenbush, used a grant this year to have American Educational put cameras in 21 rural school buildings. Some of the schools had been doing without a nurse, while others shared a nurse among six buildings, said the center’s Kristy McKechnie.

The service is better than a telephone consultation, and it can be applied to special-needs students who might require daily monitoring, medication, or other consistent medical help, McKechnie said.

“The benefit is the nurse actually seeing the child,” she said. “If there is a cut or an abrasion, the nurse can see the problem. Or if the student is having trouble breathing, the nurse can watch the chest and hear the wheezing.”

It’s also more personal, McKechnie said: “If I’m a child, I can actually see an adult who is looking at me.”

See these related links:

American Educational Telecommunications
http://www.aetmedical.com

American Telemedicine Association
http://www.americantelemed.org

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Study: Spell-check function impedes students’ writing

A study by four University of Pittsburgh researchers suggests that students who use the grammar and spell-check functions of word processors tend to place too much trust in the software’s ability to catch mistakes, resulting in more errors than if they’d used their own judgment.

In the study—which underscores the danger of relying too heavily on technology—33 undergraduates were asked to proofread a one-page business letter, half of them using Microsoft Word with its squiggly red and green lines underlining potential errors.

The other half did it the old-fashioned way, using only their heads.

Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, five errors, compared with 12.3 errors for students with lower scores.

Using the software, however, students with higher verbal scores reading the same page made, on average, 16 errors, compared with 17 errors for students with lower scores.

Dennis Galletta, a professor of information systems at the university’s Katz Business School, said spell-checking software is so sophisticated that many students have come to trust it too thoroughly.

“It’s not a software problem, it’s a behavior problem,” he said.

Galletta and his team of researchers—which included teaching fellow Alexandra Durcikova and graduate student assistants Andrea Everard and Brian Jones—approached the experiment expecting to discover that students who demonstrated a strong command of English would use spell-check and grammar correction software to better effect than students who were less proficient in English. But that wasn’t the case.

When using the software, Galletta said, “everyone got worse”— especially students with superior verbal skills, which he acknowledged was surprising.

“Our speculation is that experts tend to be less careful when the [software] is on and assume that their text has been checked carefully for them,” the researchers wrote. “Users of the [software] seem to attribute greater power [to it] than it really has; they are lulled into a false sense of security.”

Although Galletta admits the sample size for the experiment was relatively small, he said the results were so telling—and in many ways, unsettling—that a larger sample size wasn’t needed.

The study found the software helped students find and correct errors in the letter, but in several cases they also changed phrases or sentences flagged by the software as grammatically suspicious, even though they were correct.

For instance, the letter included a passage that said, “Michael Bales would be the best candidate. Bales has proven himself in similar rolls.”

The software—picking up on the last “s” in “Bales”—suggested changing the verb from “has” to “have,” as if the subject were plural. Meanwhile, the spell-check feature ignored the word “rolls,” which should have been “roles.”

Microsoft Corp. technical specialist Tim Pash said grammar and spelling technology is meant to help writers and editors, not solve all their problems.

Richard Stern, a computer and electrical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University specializing in speech-recognition technology, said grammar and spelling software will never approach the complexity of the human mind. “Computers can decide the likelihood of correct speech, but it’s a percentage game,” he said.

See these related links:

University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Business School
http://www.katz.pitt.edu

Dennis Galletta’s home page
http://www.pitt.edu/~galletta

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Bush administration pushes $200M cut for voc ed

Across America, nearly half of high school students choose vocational programs—from automotive repair to computer network design—as a major part of their studies, and a quarter of students go further and concentrate on a specific job-focused field, according to the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Now, millions of these students could face major changes in their studies if a Bush administration plan to remake vocational education is approved.

Bush wants to replace the $1.2 billion national program with a trimmer, $1 billion version that would require schools to prove student achievement before they receive federal grant money. And for the first time, states could shift federal vocational education money to programs that strengthen math and reading for low-income students.

The administration says it wants to ensure more young people are prepared for college or greater technical training and are able to switch careers smoothly. Bush’s plan would raise the stakes for vocational education, just as his No Child Left Behind Act heightened expectations and consequences for those who teach general education.

“We can do this much more effectively if we just prepare people adequately so they’ve got options in life,” said Carol D’Amico, ED’s assistant secretary for vocational and adult education. “Just because we’re saying all students should have the same foundation doesn’t mean we’re saying all students need to go to a university and be a professor. What we’re saying is that training for a specific job is shortchanging our students.”

Details about the Bush plan won’t be ready until later this year, when Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the Perkins Act, the nation’s vocational education law. There probably won’t be a mandated curriculum, D’Amico said, but money likely will be tied to how well students score on tests and advance to the post-high school education needed for most jobs today.

Federal money often determines whether high schools keep their equipment and teacher training up to date. And although Congress contributes just seven percent of the nation’s vocational education funds, advocates in the field fear cash-strapped states will back off their investment if the federal priority changes.

Vocational educators say the idea that occupational training doesn’t provide much in the way of academics is outdated.

“There are a number of perceptions about career technical education that are not necessarily reflective of what’s happening in schools today,” said Kimberly Green, who leads a consortium of state directors in the vocational education field.

“Can you go out and find schools that are doing old-world voc ed?” she asked. “Sure. But you can find bad English and math programs, too. The Perkins money has helped produce change.”

The range of career programs these days is vast, covering such classes as architectural drawing, digital photography, engineering physics, landscape design, and sports marketing. Even the most traditional trades—fixing a car and cutting hair—have become complex.

For example, in Margaret Pilger’s cosmetology class at the Marshall Academy, a popular career-focused high school program in Fairfax County, Va., students use computer imaging to assess the best cuts and styles for their customers. At least twice a week, students immerse themselves in anatomy, physiology, and chemical theory.

Every Marshall Academy student, college-bound or not, must pass Virginia’s high school exit exams. School leaders say the occupational courses help students meet the requirement by giving context to learning.

For instance: Network design students study three volumes of company manuals and finish their courses ready to test for professional certification. Automotive repair courses used to rely on diagnostic machines that weighed hundreds of pounds, but students now must learn to use high-tech, handheld digital equipment to assess what’s wrong with cars that have twice as many electronic components as older models.

“What we’re trying to do in our classes is show [students] why they need to be strong in science, why they need to be strong in English, why they need to be strong in math,” said Paul Wardinski, the Marshall Academy administrator. “We’re not separate.”

But nationwide, D’Amico said, there aren’t enough vocational education programs that offer rigor and coordinate with colleges.

Her message for the states: If vocational education helps students reach high academic standards, it can continue and thrive. If not? “Then it could be in jeopardy,” she said.

Measuring how well vocational education does the job is complex, researchers say. Statistics run a few years behind, states use different figures, and technological achievement is rarely charted.

Some vocational education benefits will never show up on standardized tests, said Jay Diede, the principal of Watford City High School in western North Dakota. In a district that stretches 1,500 square miles, courses in farming, ranching, and vocational business keep many students engaged, he said.

“They aren’t going to be taking our advanced math or advanced science,” Diede said. “But … we have kids coming out of here with technology skills that are second to none.”

See these related links:

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

Marshall Academy
http://www.fcps.k12.va.us/marshallacademy

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Videos show best math teaching practices from other countries

Intel Corp., working with LessonLabs Inc., has released a professional development package that includes demonstration videos showing instructional techniques typical in Japan, Hong Kong, and Switzerland, three of six countries that outscored the United States on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The Intel package is based on findings derived from a recent study of TIMSS, and algebra is the subject taught in the demonstration videos.

The study, called “Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the Third International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) 1999 Video Study,” summarizes the teaching practices of 638 teachers from Australia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.

Because these six other nations all outperformed the U.S. on previous TIMSS mathematics tests, researchers wanted to find out what American teachers could do to improve their results.

In each case, a teacher was videotaped for one complete lesson, and in each country, videotapes were collected throughout the school year to capture the range of topics and activities that can take place.

After systematically analyzing data collected from thousands of hours of videotaped lessons, researchers found that teachers from high-achieving countries do not use a single, common method for teaching mathematics. They also found that teaching practices in the United States differ remarkably from the way mathematics is taught in higher-performing countries.

Compared with other countries, Australia and the U.S. used a smaller percentage of problems that require students to make connections between mathematical facts, procedures, and concepts. Japan used the highest percentage (54 percent) of problems that emphasized making connections. The other countries ranged from 13 percent to 24 percent.

Also, Australian and American teachers tended to turn conceptual problems, where students have to think of what to do to find the answer, into procedural problems, where students simply follow directions to find the answer.

Based on the findings of the TIMMS Video Study, LessonLab and Intel are offering an online professional development course that highlights teaching techniques from teachers in Hong Kong, Japan, and Switzerland.

Thirty-five teachers have piloted this program, which is offered either as a six-week facilitated course with an optional university credit, or as a non-facilitated course that allows for self-paced learning but with no credit.

“After taking the TIMSS video course, I began to understand that there are many alternatives in teaching algebra”that I needed to gather questions that help my students make mathematical connections, to further develop their critical thinking skills,” said Joseph Sabol, a teacher with the Alvord Unified School District in Riverside, Calif.

LessonLab also is selling 28 videotaped lessons, complete with translations, on CD-ROM to help expose teachers to these practices. Unlike the online course, these CD-ROMs do not include curriculum.

See these related links:

TIMMS Video Study
http://nces.ed.gov/timss/video.asp

LessonLab Inc.
http://www.lessonlab.com

Online course
http://www.intel.com/education/math

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Schools get help in meeting tech requirements of NCLB

U.S. Department of Education (ED) officials and state ed-tech leaders have unveiled a new toolkit designed to help states and school districts implement the technology provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Announced April 9, the resource includes specific guidance for implementing the new education law and best practices from various states regarding such issues as scientifically based research, technology literacy assessment, common data elements, and effective teaching using technology. It also makes recommendations for the new National Education Technology Plan that is due in January.

The toolkit, called “The National Leadership Institute Toolkit: States Helping States Implement NCLB,” is the result of discussions held at a national summit last December where state leaders worked closely with research experts and federal officials to draft strategies to implement the technology pieces of NCLB.

“The results from the National Leadership Institute provide another example of how [ED] is committed to working with states to successfully implement No Child Left Behind. Even more importantly, it demonstrates what can be accomplished when state leaders work together,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said in a statement.

The toolkit is available for anyone to access free of charge through the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) web site. It is directed to state technology directors and federal officials, but school districts will be able to benefit from it as well.

Members of SETDA—which represents all 50 states—identified the topics of greatest concern, as NCLB has added significantly to the demands on school technology directors. The law requires schools to improve their accountability systems, provide high-quality teachers in every subject area, and ensure that students are technology literate by the eighth grade.

The toolkit will help schools meet these challenges with step-by-step guides, checklists, definitions, answers to frequently asked questions, and other practical resources for implementing the technology aspects of NCLB.

“The real value of this toolkit is the insight offered by state educational technology leaders who are primarily responsible for implementing NCLB,” said Anita Givens, SETDA chair and ed-tech director for the Texas Education Agency.

“Working together, we’re able to solve problems collectively that independently we would not be able to,” she added. “One thing we cannot afford is recreating and inventing things that other state leaders have already created.”

Some of the toolkit’s resources include:

  • Essential questions and answers for developing a statewide scientifically based research program and eight steps on how to get started;
  • A framework and criteria for measuring technology literacy;
  • Recommendations to ED about what common data elements should be collected to meet Title II, part D of NCLB;
  • A matrix outlining assessment strategies for evaluating effective teaching with technology; and
  • A set of key components essential to building a National Education Technology Plan, including themes, recommendations, and stakeholders to consult.

“This toolkit is significant because it truly does represent a consensus among state leaders on the best ways to interpret and implement today’s education law,” said Melinda George, executive director of SETDA.

An important milestone of the toolkit is its consensus on what information states should collect from schools and how they should collect it.

“SETDA ought to be commended for pulling states together on this [issue] to provide common data that can be compared easily,” said John Bailey, ED’s director of educational technology.

The toolkit actually is a work in progress. “There’s quite a bit of work left to do. This is really a starting point,” George said.

Some of items to be added in the future include success stories of scientifically based research programs, state-level survey instruments based on the common data elements, and collective, comprehensive information about the various technology assessments used by states.

See these related links:

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org

No Child Left Behind Act
http://www.nochildleftbehind.gov

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from the publisher: eRate Action Now

With nearly all eyes cast toward Baghdad, a small but ferocious fedayeen in the U.S. House of Representatives has mounted an all-out offensive against the eRate. (See the Front Page story, “Schools lobby to save eRate” and the “eSN Special Focus: eRate Under Fire,” beginning on Page 29.)

Distraction and unawareness among the population at large are allies of the faction out of kill the eRate. Working in a convenient obscurity, these injudicious zealots have targeted one of the most successful programs ever mounted by the federal government in the service of education.

Although it’s true that every one of the eRate adversaries in the House is a Republican, educators and education advocates probably would do well to avoid casting the eRate fight in purely partisan terms. It is not yet clear, for example, that the anti-eRate putsch is embraced by all Republicans. In fact, the eRate is likely to have supporters among some in the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Senate, and even among some members of the House.

Democrats in Congress, once they awaken to the threat, might savor a partisan wrangle on the eRate, because it probably is one of the few battles they could win, even as the minority party. But for those of us interested, first and foremost, in preserving the eRate, it probably would be better to seek out and embrace all the support we can find—on both sides of the aisle.

As to those stealthy eRate enemies, we might do well to apply the lesson of the Iraqi battlefield. Confront the destructive forces. Drag their nefarious strategies into the light of day. Then watch the bully boys back down, head for the border, or skulk back into the darkness empty handed.

Victory is all but assured if supporters rally, but it could be lost without decisive, concerted action. In other words, now is the time for all good educators to come to the aid of the eRate.

We need loud, sustained communication in defense of our vital education programs. We should rise to the challenge before opposition solidifies. We should mount an educational counter-offensive aimed at those lawmakers, commissioners, and government staffers not yet committed to the attack on this vital program.

The Consortium for School Networking, the American Library Association, and a few other interested associations have taken up the torch. But many remain silent, seemingly oblivious to the threat. We should spur our somnolent professional associations to action on this issue. We should encourage corporate partners to enlist and throw their considerable powers of persuasion into the fight as well. And most importantly, we should alert parents, community education advocates, and the general news media to what’s been going on.

Saving programs from the chopping block is a far easier task than getting programs reinstated after they have been done away with.

At the same time, we mustn’t confuse legitimate and needed reforms with efforts by the few to terminate the eRate.

The alleged abuses of the eRate represent a relatively small percentage of the program as a whole, but that’s no reason not to put an end to whatever actual wrongdoing might be found. Most of the abuses alleged so far appear to be technical violations caused by lazy school officials, sloppy paperwork, or overenthusiastic applicants. But clamping down on such violations right away takes ammunition out of the hands of the opposition. In fact, the swift, firm action taken so far by the Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Co. is more likely, in the long run, to protect the eRate than to harm it.

There are more educators, parents, and corporate partners by far that favor preserving the eRate than there are misguided true-believers seeking to bring the program down.

Education has the moral high ground here, and we have the numbers to carry the day. Let’s use both to the advantage of our schools and students.

Let’s set up a din that will vibrate all the way to Washington, D.C. Let’s act right now to save the eRate.

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