NSF awards $1.7 million to create optics-education curriculum

This National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will be used to implement a national middle school science education program, called Hands-On Optics: Making an Impact with Light that will bring optics education to tens of thousands of underrepresented students nationwide. The program’s organizers include the Optical Society of America; the International Society for Optical Engineering; the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement; and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Links:

The National Science Foundation
http://www.nsf.gov

Optical Society of America
http://www.osa.org

ISTE publishes a survival guide for elementary school computer lab teachers
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports

A new book from International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), entitled “The Computer Lab Teacher’s Survival Guide–K-6 Units for the Whole Year,” provides a toolkit for computer lab teachers who develop and maintain a self-contained classroom with an independent elementary school curriculum. The book’s 10 units each include multiple lessons keyed to standards, as well as objectives, guided practice, extensions, and remediation. An accompanying CD-Rom includes PowerPoint presentations, quizzes, tests, worksheets, web resources, and more.

Links:

The International Society for Technology in Education Bookstore
http://www.iste.org/bookstore

The Smithsonian is the first to get a ‘kids.us’ web address
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports

The Smithsonian is the first entity to be approved for a web address in the “kids.us” domain, which was formed as part of the Dot-Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002. The law promised to carve out some child-friendly territory within America’s “.us” internet domain, so children under 13 could work, play, and surf without being subject to inappropriate content like pornography or gambling. Since the registration began last June, the Smithsonian is the only participant so far, but Neustar Inc., which oversees the domain, says it’s reviewing about 10 others.

Links:

The Smithsonian
http://www.smithsonian.kids.us

kids.us domain page
http://www.kids.us

NeuStar Inc.
http://www.neustar.com

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State web site to post disciplinary action against teachers

The Vermont Department of Education is going to post on the internet information about cases of teachers who have been disciplined.

“The page is being designed as we speak,” said Vermont Board of Education member William Corrow.

Results of disciplinary actions against teachers are public record in Vermont. A recent spate of publicity concerning Vermont teachers involved in sexual misconduct prompted the board to examine how it informs the public and how schools are kept safe in general, Corrow said.

Cases of other licensed professionals who run afoul of regulators are posted online.

The Vermont Secretary of State web page features a section detailing discipline against a variety of licensed professionals in the state, including real estate agents, nurses, auctioneers, accountants, and pharmacists.

Posting teacher discipline cases online would make it easier for the public to learn how misconduct is reported and dealt with, Corrow said.

Education department employees are deciding which information to post and where on the web page to post the records. The disciplinary data could be online in about a month.

Corrow said the Secretary of State web site would likely have a link to the education department’s list of disciplinary actions.

Vermont National Education Association President Angelo Dorta said posting the teacher disciplinary data should match the methods the Secretary of State’s Office uses to notify the public of professional misconduct.

With that caveat, Dorta said he doesn’t object to posting the misconduct data online. “We don’t seek any special favors,” he said.

The idea to post the teacher disciplinary data came out of a committee Corrow chairs looking at safety in Vermont schools. “I don’t want teachers to feel specifically or uniquely targeted,” Corrow said.

Corrow said his committee is looking for ways to better inform the public when problems arise with school personnel other than teachers and administrators.

Links:

Vermont Department of Education
http://www.state.vt.us/educ

Vermont Secretary of State: Disciplinary Action Search
http://vtprofessionals.org/opr1/opr/pubs/press_search.html

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This portable document camera shows a lot to like

As an alternative to heavy, bulky classroom projectors, AVerMedia Technologies has introduced the AVerVision300, a portable document camera that teachers can use to display crisp, clear images from 10- to 12-point text documents, three-dimensional (3D) objects, and even microscopic images. The device also can display transparencies, 35-millimeter slides, or negative film as positive images with an optional light box.

The AVerVision300 weighs only 3.9 pounds and folds down to 14.5 inches long, 6.75 inches wide, and just 3.75 inches tall. It includes two presentation modes: camera mode and VGA mode. The camera mode can display any 3D object or document onto any monitor or projector with VGA/DVI inputs. The VGA mode (for VGA output only) displays PC presentations on a VGA-quality monitor or projection screen. Both modes support a resolution of up to 1024 x 768 pixels.

The AVerVision300 is available for $999.99 through retail stores, national distributors, and the company’s web site. Education pricing also is available.

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Build engaging multimedia lessons with this software from IntelliTools

The IntelliTools Classroom Suite, launched this month by IntelliTools Inc., provides K-8 teachers with a toolbox of multimedia activities supporting reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science.

The product bundles three upgraded, integrated authoring tools–IntelliPics Studio 3, IntelliMathics 3, and IntelliTalk 3–into a single software solution. Students can use these tools to explore math concepts, build writing skills, do review activities, take quizzes, and author their own reports and multimedia presentations. Teachers can use the software to modify existing activities or create their own, and they can assign a series of activities for the week ahead so students can get started as soon as they log in. The software also tracks students’ responses to quizzes and activities and produces reports that teachers can print or view on their computer.

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Take a bite out of peer-to-peer file sharing with PacketPup Pro

Uncontrolled peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing can present schools with legal and security issues when students illegally share copyrighted materials or download viruses or worms disguised as legitimate files. But PacketPup Pro, a new product from Palisade Systems, can help school leaders easily and affordably monitor and eliminate P2P applications, including file sharing, instant messaging, and spyware.

PacketPup Pro is an entry-level solution based on the core functionality of Palisade Systems’ PacketHound appliance, which won the eSchool News Readers’ Choice Awards poll as “Best Bandwidth Allocation and Management Tool” earlier this year. Using PacketPup Pro’s real-time graphs, administrators can track protocols or categories of protocols on their school system’s network and can eliminate undesirable network traffic with a single mouse click, Palisade says.

Education pricing for PacketPup Pro begins at $429, and free two-week trials are available from the company’s web site.

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Add an evaluation of this scheduling software to your to-do list

Coaches, activity directors, secretaries, and other school staff spend a great deal of time contacting parents to inform them of the many changes to a school’s events schedule. To improve communication between schools and community organizations and the families they serve, Vision Ventures of Lake Forest, Ill., has released a new software solution called scheduleUs.

The software is available in two versions. scheduleUs Publisher allows educators to create, update, and communicate schedules to students and their families easily through their classroom, school, or district web sites. scheduleUs Family allows families to download the events and their details–including important notes and reminders–to their personal computers. Families can view color-coded calendars, sync to Palm OS handhelds, and print calendars for the entire family or just one individual. No server software is required.

scheduleUs Publisher runs on the Windows or Macintosh platforms with a folder on the school’s or district’s web server. The software lists for $189, but it’s free to schools through Nov. 13 courtesy of a special promotion from Vision Ventures. Multi-user licenses also are available. scheduleUs Family costs $49, and Vision Ventures will donate $5 from every scheduleUs Family copy purchased to the corresponding school or organization.

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Bolster your schools’ computer support with Web Help Desk 6.4

The latest version of MacsDesign Studio’s technical support software, Web Help Desk 6.4, integrates Apple’s calendar application, iCal, for users of the Mac OS X platform and Mozilla’s Calendar application for Windows and Linux users, allowing a school district’s entire tech support staff to schedule and view problem work orders and completion dates easily.

Web Help Desk is a browser-based solution that features an intuitive, easy-to-use, graphical tabbed interface. Administrators, technicians, and teachers or other school staff members reporting computer problems need only a web browser to use the application. Remote access from any location is possible by anyone with an internet connection and a web browser, regardless of platform.

Support requests can be submitted via eMail to a dedicated help desk address. The help desk eMail account is monitored by the application, with new messages used to generate job tickets and assign them to the appropriate tech-support personnel automatically. Users also can update or cancel their service requests via eMail.

Other features of the software include integrated asset management functions, real-time PDF reports, and more. Education pricing for two technician licenses starts at $2,300.

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Zoo’s computing project bears notice

School field trips could get a whole lot more exciting, if a program being launched by the Brookfield Zoo proves successful.

The Chicago-based zoo is creating a Tablet PC program in conjunction with the Chicago Public Schools to provide a more accessible educational experience for students with disabilities.

Before, during field trips to the Brookfield Zoo, students would use pencils and paper to make animal observations and were limited to the information their own class gathered. But now students can use a Motion Computing M1300 Tablet PC–distributed by the zoo–to record their observations.

First, students will learn how to use the three-pound, 12-inch screen Tablet PCs. Then, they will observe animal behavior and enter the data they collect into the device.

“Because our students must carry their supplies as they walk through the zoo to complete their assignments, ultra-mobile technology is important to the success of our program,” said Ann Roth, Brookfield Zoo’s access coordinator and manager of the “Every Student is a Scientist” project.

With Tablet PCs, students can adjust the computers’ sound and images based on their needs. For example, the device includes a Microsoft Magnifier application, speech recognition software, and a customized narrative audio program so it can magnify the text displayed on the screen, read that text aloud, or convert audio portions of the program to text.

The results will be copied to the zoo’s server and made available to teachers so they can use the materials when they return to the classroom. Because the data are digitized and available online, teachers can look at their own classrooms’ and other schools’ aggregate data in different slices to identify trends and apply the information to other activities.

Microsoft and regional systems integrator Quilogy are sponsoring the Brookfield Zoo project, which is funded by a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

Links:

Brookfield Zoo
http://www.brookfieldzoo.org

Motion Computing
http://www.motioncomputing.com

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

Institute of Museum and Library Sciences
http://www.imls.gov

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Next eRate filing window opens Nov. 5

On Nov. 5, schools and libraries can begin applying for 2004 eRate discounts to help pay for their internet and telephone service, according to the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., which administers the $2.25 billion-a-year program.

Applicants will have until Feb. 4 at 11:59 p.m. EST to submit their Form 471 applications for funding year 2004. The SLD expects to announce some administrative changes for the upcoming program year, but says more information will follow.

“We anticipate some changes, but we are not ready to talk about them,” SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said. “We haven’t got all the details yet.”

eRate insiders say applicants also should watch for forthcoming hearings and rulemaking that might affect the eRate as early as this year.

For instance, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has been investigating eRate waste, fraud, and abuse during the past year, plans to hold several hearings on the eRate this fall.

“The hearings that we anticipate happening are out of the investigations committee,” which is unusual for most hearings, said Leslie Harris, legislative consultant for the Consortium for School Networking, during a Sept. 23 webcast called “eRate and Other Federal Issues: What You Need to Know.”

“They could be pretty troubling,” she warned, adding that Rep. Billy Tauzin, the committee’s chairman, has never been a friend of the eRate program.

Sara Fitzgerald, of eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning, said in an interview, “It’s unclear when [the hearings] are going to take place and how they will be framed. A lot depends on who they invite to speak. They may highlight best practices or not-best practices.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees the eRate and is responsible for making new rules, is developing a debarment process to ban “bad actors” from participating. Already, one company–Connect2 Internet Networks of New York– has been banned, and there might be another debarment soon (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4650).

The debarments “demonstrate that law enforcement is moving forward to address cases where outright fraud was found,” Fitzgerald said.

The FCC also will be considering recommendations proposed by a special eRate Task Force formed by the SLD to help prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse in the program. The proposals most likely to be adopted would change the discount bracket and set a ceiling on the amount of funding for internal connections an entity can receive, Harris said.

However, it’s unlikely these recommendations would affect the program this year. “These changes are on the table, but there is a fairly stringent process that would have to happen to makes these changes [a reality],” Harris said.

Also, the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet is holding hearings to decide how best to revise the Universal Service Fund, which pays for the eRate and other programs. The Universal Service Fund is under-funded, because its funding mechanism is based on a world that used landline phones, not cell phones.

As Congress considers how to revise the way funds are collected from telecommunications companies to pay for universal service, eRate advocates will be watching closely to see how any changes might affect the eRate.

Other program changes announced earlier this year will take effect during the coming application cycle. For example, starting in July 2004, service providers must give applicants a choice of what kind of payment method they would like to use. Applicants can choose between receiving discounted bills or paying in full and then being reimbursed.

Regarding eRate-eligible services, the FCC recently changed the definition of “educational purpose” to mean that anything that happens in a school to support education, Fitzgerald said. Further clarification of how this should be interpreted is expected to be released around the same time as the revised eligible services list for 2004.

Voice mail also is conditionally eligible starting this year. “The FCC said voice-mail services should be treated much the same as eMail services,” Fitzgerald said, adding that further clarification of how this should be interpreted also is expected this fall.

Links:

School and Libraries Division
http://www.sl.universalservice.org

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Funds for Learning
http://www.fundsforlearning.com

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ED launches new data-management tool

Starting this January, parents and educators will have free access to a web site that translates and reports the nation’s student achievement data required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in a format that is easy to use, read, and search.

This $50.9 million public-private initiative will post disaggregated test results and other school data from each state on a single web site, so interested persons can monitor the progress of an individual school and compare it to the progress of other schools in the state.

The program, announced by President George W. Bush earlier this month, also will help school administrators analyze test results, examine financial data, and meet state and school district report card requirements, free of charge for the first two years.

“We want full disclosure. We have nothing to hide in America when it comes to results,” Bush said. “It’s an essential part of making sure that the best practices are shared widely across any particular school district or any state. It is essential that parents have data at their disposal.”

Parents who move between counties could use the online database to find out how schools in the area are faring, or a school principal could use it to determine how successful another school’s reading curriculum is for Hispanic, African-American, or other minority students, Bush explained.

“In other words, this is full disclosure of information,” he said. “We know that by using information correctly, every child’s problems can be addressed.”

The new tool is the result of a partnership among the Broad Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, and Just for the Kids, a project of the National Center for Education Accountability.

Using this resource is strictly voluntary, but John Bailey, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology, said he thinks many cash-strapped states and school districts will take advantage of the free tool.

“We think there is a lot of value to them participating,” said Bailey. “It’s a chance to get a ton of functionality while meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind at a great price [no charge].”

Initially, a hybrid tool that combines the functionality of Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services and Just for the Kids data analysis tools will be provided to all 50 states free of charge. Organizers hope to have data from 10 states entered when the tool launches in January and to enter data from the rest of the states by December 2004.

In a subsequent phase to occur next spring, Standard & Poor’s full data analysis tool will be provided to states to use at no charge for two years.

The tool will answer questions such as:

  • How much student achievement is earned per dollar spent?
  • How many qualified teachers are there?
  • Did the school meet adequate yearly progress (AYP)?
  • How many students graduate from high school?
  • How many teachers have only emergency credentials?
  • How many classes are not taught by highly qualified teachers?
  • How many schools are in need of improvement?
  • What are the teachers’ qualifications?
In addition to analyzing the data, users can make projections to estimate where a school would be in terms of achievement by 2014 if it maintained the same practices.

“What it shows is actually a proficiency gap, if you will,” Bailey said. “If you keep at this pace, this is how far short or ahead of your performance goals you will be by 2014.”

The data reporting burden on states should be minimal, organizers said, because the data will be collected from publicly available sources where possible.

“We’ve really tried to craft this with the knowledge that we don’t want this to be another burden on states,” said Pia Saengswang, associate director of the Broad Foundation, the major contributor to this program.

The Broad Foundation’s goal was to provide school administrators and policy makers with the tools necessary for making data-informed decisions during times of big budget deficits.

“We wanted to lower the cost barrier to schools and districts having these kinds of sophisticated data analysis tools,” Saengswang said. “We think it would take a significant amount of resources to create the same level of sophistication and functionality, so we hope states do take advantage of it.”

Because these tools are only scheduled to be available free of charge for two years, the initiative does not intend to replace school data management systems, but instead stimulate the urgency of improving data management systems, Bailey said.

“The danger is people thinking that they don’t have to invest in better data reporting systems. That is not what this means,” he said.

Links:

No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers
http://www.ed.gov/teachers/nclbguide/index2.html

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

Broad Foundation
http://www.broadfoundation.org

Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services
http://www.ses.standardandpoors.com

Just for the Kids
http://www.just4kids.org

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