NASA teaching resources, plus $17,500 to buy technology

Schools from across the country are now eligible to apply online for an opportunity to partner with NASA in a program designed to bring engaging mathematics, science, and technology learning to educators, students, and families. Each year, the NASA Explorer Schools (NES) program establishes a three-year partnership between NASA and 50 school teams, consisting of teachers and education administrators from diverse communities across the country. While partnered with NASA, NES teams will acquire and use new teaching resources and technology tools for grades 4-9 using NASA’s unique content, experts and other resources. Schools in the program are eligible to receive up to $17,500 (pending continued funding) over the three-year period to purchase technology tools that support science and mathematics instruction.

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Computers, cash, and more for entering a character education contest

The Character’s Cool Contest is an annual program developed by the MindOH! Foundation to further character education and empower youth to practice ethical behavior. The Character’s Cool Contest is actually three contests in one: 1) Student Drawing: Students who fill out the Character’s Cool Contest online survey will be entered in a drawing to win the grand prize, a Nintendo Gamecube, or additional prizes. 2) School contest: The school that has the most students participant will win a new computer and a one-year license to the “MindOh! Discipline and Life Skills Series,” a $6,250 value; the runner-up, the “Project Wisdom’s Character Education Series,” a $1,000 value. 3) Essay Contest: Students may also enter an essay contest–one for students ages 11-14 and one for students ages 15-18–in which winners will receive $500 for 1st place, $250 for 2nd place, and $175 for 3rd place.

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Free computers, printers, and internet access for Pennsylvania daycare

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is now accepting applications for Phase IV of the CyberStart program, a multi-year technology and education initiative that provides computers, printers, internet access, eMail, educational resources, training and technical support free to eligible Pennsylvania child-care providers.
To date, more than 2,800 computers have been distributed to help about 6,000 teachers educate more than 48,000 children. Phase IV calls for the selection of 250 additional applicants to take part in 2004.

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High school student to become a national technology spokesperson

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is working to better inform and educate teenagers about the electronics industry and other cool new technology trends. For starters, CEA is seeking a high school student to become their national teen spokesperson. The spokesperson will gain real world, practical experience in communications, print, and broadcast journalism; report important news and information to teens through television broadcasts, print, and online news articles appearing across the country; and educate teens about cutting-edge technology issues, products, and services that impact their daily lives. CEA’s team of communications professionals and experts will provide training and support to the spokesperson. Potential applicants must answer the following questions: Why is technology important to teens? Why do teens need to know about technology? What is the impact technology has, and will have, on teens in the future?

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Take prinicpals back to school with these strategies from “e-Lead”

The Institute for Educational Leadership and the Laboratory for Student Success have created a web site called e-Lead, a free online resource intended to provide states and school districts with information about how to provide better professional development for school principals. The web site suggests that professional development works best when it is focused on sound learning strategies, driven by a clear definition of leadership, conducted within the context of an overall plan, anchored by leadership standards, designed and implemented according to proven practices, and evaluated through processes that seek meaningful results. To help stakeholders select effective program options, e-Lead contains a searchable database of professional development courses complete with a comprehensive summary about each initiative’s design, implementation, and desired impact or effectiveness. Also, a unique Leadership Library feature offers annotated information about a number of leadership development issues and links to the latest information and resources.

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Update: Microsoft to extend Windows 98 support

Microsoft Corp. will extend support for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition (Me) through June 30, 2006, the company said Jan. 12, reversing a decision from last month.

Support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition had been scheduled to expire on Jan. 16 and for Windows Me on Dec. 31 (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4792), but the software giant decided to keep supporting those systems, in large part because some customers in developing countries were not aware it was ending.

“While we’ve done an excellent job communicating our life-cycle policy for most of our products, we have found that we could use more time to communicate those guidelines in a handful of smaller markets,” including Kazakhstan, the Ivory Coast, and Slovenia, Microsoft spokesman Matt Pilla said.

During the extended support period, the company will offer paid phone support and review security threats to determine whether it will provide customers with security patches.

Microsoft’s change of heart is good news for schools. According to market research firm Quality Education Data, more than a third (34 percent) of the nation’s K-12 schools still use Windows 98 computers. Although most school district technology plans call for computer upgrades at least once every five years, tight budgets in the last few years have led many schools to put their computer refresh plans on hold.

“This is really good news, as it will allow us to make an orderly transition to 2000 or XP,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California, where half the district’s computers run on Windows 98. “The extension also gives us time to fund the replacement of computers that won’t be able to handle 2000.”

Since Oct. 15, 2002, Microsoft has offered seven years of support for its new products. Before that, it offered four. Support for Windows 95 ended Dec. 31, 2001.

Links:

Microsoft technical support
http://support.microsoft.com

Windows 98 Support Center
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=fh;EN-US;w98

Quality Education Data
http://www.qeddata.com

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Levings Learning sued in copyright dispute

An educational CD-ROM publisher has filed a lawsuit against Levings Learning LLC alleging that the Oklahoma-based education software company plagiarized its copyright-protected content.

The nearly 500 schools using software licensed from Levings Learning will suffer no harm as the result of the federal lawsuit filed against the company on Dec. 24, CEO Kenton Levings told eSchool News. Levings’ comments notwithstanding, news of the suit has raised concerns among the company’s school customers.

“The allegations are flat-out false lies,” Levings declared in a telephone interview. He added that schools using his firm’s software “will not lose their work or their money.”

Zane Publishing Inc., of Texas, filed the lawsuit against the company and Levings. The suit followed a similar legal action filed in October by former Levings Learning investors. Neither suit extends copyright infringement allegations against school districts that are using Levings Learning products, Levings said.

The company publishes several computerized assessment and training tools, including PASS Plan, Assessor, Keys to Reading Success, and Keys to College. Only the PASS Plan product is affected by the allegations, according to a statement from Levings Learning.

In its lawsuit, Zane Publishing says a substantial number of the questions and answers contained in Levings Learning’s web-based assessment tool, PASS Plan, were taken directly from Zane’s educational CD-ROMs without permission.

“Zane Publishing has never entered into any type of licensing agreement with Levings Learning,” said Stewart Cross, CEO of Zane Publishing. “I don’t have any direct relations with Kenton Levings, and I do not know of anyone else that I do business with that has direct relations.”

The Zane lawsuit requests seizure of all Levings Learning products found to contain copyright infringements, an injunction that prevents Levings Learning from continuing to sell products that contain the allegedly infringed material, damages of $150,000 for each alleged copyright infringement, and recovery of all profits arising from sales of the copyrighted material.

A person formerly affiliated with Levings Learning told eSchool News the presence of allegedly copyrighted material in the company’s products was discovered when potential investors were examining Levings Learning. The former company consultant said Levings refused to remove the material and inform customers about the problem.

In his interview with eSchool News, however, Levings contended he could not have refused to remove material and inform customers, because he did not learn of the second lawsuit until Christmas morning.

According to Levings, he had no warning that the second suit was coming. The plaintiff’s attorney never sent any cease-and-desist demand before filing the lawsuit, Levings said. Such warning letters are customary in copyright infringement cases.

The plaintiffs in the first suit, known as the Kite Family Investment Co. lawsuit, are each asking for more than $1.3 million invested in the company, plus $5 million for punitive damages.

Upon entering that agreement with the venture capitalists, the consultant said, Levings maintained that he had properly licensed the educational content. “Levings asserted that all of its assets were properly owned so we executed that transaction,” the consultant said. “He defrauded us. He lied to us. And we want our money back.”

According to the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), education customers of Levings Learning have little to worry about regarding the copyright-infringement charges.

“The action is against Levings Learning, and in theory, the customers are not liable,” said Keith Kupferschmid, vice president for intellectual property policy and enforcement at SIIA. “It’s unlikely that the customer would be sued, because the customer is not knowledgeable that there is a copyright violation.”

If an injunction does go through, Levings Learning will have to notify its customers and stop selling products if any are found to have violated copyrights.

Education customers who spoke with eSchool News said Levings Learnings immediately informed them about the lawsuit. “It was really smart of them to send an eMail to say to us, ‘This is what was in the paper today,’ instead of letting us find out some other way,” said Linda Fernandez, assistant superintendent at Goochland County, Va., Public Schools near Richmond.

The news did raise some questions, however.

“Levings is a completely online company, so what happens if you’ve paid your money and they can’t deliver the product?” Fernandez asked. “We’d be out our money as well as the time that it took to do the start-up, and we’d have to look for a new provider. We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, because they have been a good company and a good provider.”

_____________________________

Editor Gregg W. Downey contributed to this report.

Links:

Levings Learning LLC
http://www.levingslearning.com

Zane Interactive Publishing
http://www.zane.com


Statement issued Jan. 12 by Kenton Levings, CEO of Levings Learning

Our customers, clients and business partners may have become aware of recent events and negative publicity concerning what we believe are unfounded allegations made against Levings Learning. We want you to have the full picture since reported accounts have been less than complete. Levings Learning has been notified of a lawsuit filed by Zane Publishing which alleges that we have improperly used copyrighted material in our product PASS Plan. We believe this lawsuit was prompted and encouraged by a group of investors who previously filed a similar lawsuit in an effort to recover their investment once their attempt to seize control of Levings Learning failed. The same law firm represents both Zane and the investors.

Allegations made in these lawsuits that Levings has intentionally and knowingly misappropriated intellectual property from other sources in violation of protected copyrights, or intentionally and knowingly made false statements regarding Levings’ rights to use such materials are simply false. In the case of Zane Publishing, it made no attempt to confirm these allegations or discuss its beliefs with management of Levings Learning prior to filing suit.

Levings Learning believes these lawsuits are without merit and will continue to defend itself against these claims as well as aggressively prosecute its counterclaims against some of the investors. At times, these lawsuits can be disruptive to the continuing business of Levings Learning, but we pledge to continue providing our customers with uninterrupted service and product enhancements to meet their needs. We ask for your patience and understanding while we are forced to deal with these misguided tactics, and affirm our intention to you to resolve these disputes as soon as possible.

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Camera phones call up privacy fears for schools

Picture this scenario: A student is changing in his school’s locker room when a teammate or classmate takes out a cell phone, ostensibly to call home for a ride. That night, a compromising photo of the student appears online–taken with his classmate’s cell phone when the student least expected it.

Thanks to the latest advances in cell phone technology, this scenario is now entirely possible–and that has some policy makers and school leaders concerned.

After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks two years later, a number of school systems and state legislatures across the nation relaxed their rules on cell-phone use by students on campus. Now, however, the emergence of camera cell phones has created a whole new set of privacy and data-protection issues for school officials to address.

“The potential for using those devices for negative uses is certainly there,” said David Dahl, principal of Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Minn.

Besides invading a student’s privacy in a locker room, bathroom, or other private place, educators worry the inconspicuous look of camera-equipped cell phones could make it easier for students to cheat on something like a test. If a student takes a test and manages to photograph it with his cell phone, for example, it would take just seconds for the image to be distributed throughout the school.

Most schools already have rules in place that address the presence of traditional cell phones–but the increasing popularity of camera cell phones in the United States has led some forward-looking administrators to adopt policies governing the use of these devices as well.

“We’ve had a policy for nuisance’ objects–no pagers, no CD players–so we’ve just incorporated cell phones and camera cell phones [into those rules],” Dahl said.

“I think we’re ahead of any potential problems,” said Steve Degenaar, principal of Apple Valley High School, also in Minnesota. Students at Apple Valley are still allowed to have camera-equipped phones at school–but like regular cell phones, they must not be seen or heard on school property.

But enforcing these policies could be a problem.

“Kids have always had cameras, but it’s not something they always carry with them in school,” Degenaar said. “Cell phones are personal property, and there are literally hundreds of them. It’s much more difficult to control.”

Technology market research firm International Data Corp. estimates there are about six million camera-equipped cell phones in the United States.

A recent television advertisement by Sprint Corp. hypes the “spy-cam” potential of these devices when a woman secretly snaps a picture of a sloppy eater in a cafeteria and sends it to her friend with the note, “Here’s your new boyfriend.”

Though many photos are deleted before they are printed, archived, or downloaded to a computer, others are uploaded to the internet.

Mobile web logs, also known as “moblogs,” are gaining in popularity. One user on Buzznet.com, for example, showcased his experience at the recent MacWorld conference, complete with photos of Apple Computer’s booth, the company’s new iPod, and what seem like pictures of random people at the conference. On Fotolog.net, one user logs photos of homeless people.

No widespread instances of camera phone abuse have been reported yet in the United States, but a number of health clubs, gyms, swimming pools, public bathrooms, and even strip clubs have banned the use of camera phones to safeguard customers and employees.

The YMCA of Greater Louisville, Ky., banned the use of camera phones for staff and parents involved in its children programs. “Our first concern was for some of our children’s programs,” Steve Tarver, president of the YMCA of Greater Louisville, told the city’s Courier-Journal. “We’ve had no incidents or problems at this point, but we have a staff group studying camera-phone use in our total facility.”

Des Peres, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, created a penalty for using camera phones in places where people expect privacy. In Warwick, R.I., Councilwoman Sue Stenhouse proposed outlawing camera phones at city buildings with locker rooms. In December, the Chicago City Council banned the use of camera phones in public bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers.

Last November, Elk Grove, Ill., a Chicago suburb, banned all cell phones in public locker rooms, whether they could take photos or not. “There is no reason to have a cell phone while you’re changing and showering,” Elk Grove Commissioner Ron Nunes told the New York Times. “I’d rather protect the children and the public more than someone who wants to call home and see what’s for dinner.”

U.S. Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, also reportedly broadened the language of the federal Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2003 to prohibit the use of camera phones in restrooms in federal buildings.

“Our bill would only apply to federal property, but it would spur the states to pass similar legislation,” Oxley told the New York Times.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association asserts that camera phone abuse in the United States is rare.

In Japan, however, people have gone to jail for photographing up women’s skirts. Also, some Japanese residents reportedly have started “digital shoplifting” in bookstores by photographing and eMailing pictures of copyrighted material.

In Scotland, police reportedly use camera phones to help track down graffiti vandals. Police snap pictures of scribbles and doodles on school books and then compare them to photos of the “tags,” or signatures, that vandals use to mark their graffiti.

Police say this method has improved the success of their vandalism detective work by 18 percent, the Scottish Daily Record reported.

Another Scottish paper, Glasgow’s Evening Times, reported that the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association has called for a ban on camera phones to prevent cheating and to keep pictures of students from getting into the hands of pedophiles.

Links:

Apple Valley High School
http://www.isd196.k12.mn.us/avhs

Armstrong High School
http://www.rdale.k12.mn.us/ahs

Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association
http://www.wow-com.com

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New software could revolutionize computer users’ experience

Four primary schools are now piloting a new software program containing a few hundred thousand lines of computer code that could revolutionize the way people interact with computers, say its unlikely inventor and his backers.

Denny Jaeger, a musician and composer who spent the past decade developing the software, will unveil it to the general public Jan. 15, when people will be able to download a scaled-down version for free.

The public can then decide whether Jaeger is a trailblazing whiz–or a grandiose flop.

A complete software package will be available Feb. 16 for $299.

The software, called “No Boundaries Or Rules,” or NBOR, includes an intuitive user interface for writing, drawing, compiling multimedia presentations, and other PC tasks. It allows real-time collaboration and is able to send large files over the internet at lightning speed.

The cornerstone of NBOR is “Blackspace,” or software for word processing, desktop publishing, slideshow presentation, graphics, drawing, animations, audio, photo cropping, instant messaging, and real-time conferencing.

Opening Blackspace results in a blank canvas where users arrange text or create sophisticated visual displays with only a few clicks and drags of a mouse–without ever using the pull-down menus, icons, margins, tabs, and fonts of Microsoft Word and other current word processing systems.

Canvases can be saved as common document titles, such as “schoolreport.doc ,” or as a symbol, such as a star, logo, photo, or dot. Instead of sending all the data over the internet, the creator can send just the symbol alone, which would take only seconds even using a dial-up connection.

If the recipient has NBOR, he need only click on the symbol and the complete file will rebuild itself in the recipient’s Blackspace, thanks to 500,000 lines of complicated code that Jaeger and eight developers abroad spent two years writing.

“Five years ago, this would have been considered artificial intelligence, but we don’t think that term is relevant,” Jaeger said Jan. 7 during a demonstration in a San Francisco hotel suite.

Jaeger, who began his career in advertising and arranged music for Dr. Pepper and hundreds of other commercials, is somewhat at a loss to explain his software in lay terms.

“The code is like a pot of goo, and you simply have to say, Poof,’ and whatever you want comes out of it,” he told reporters.

NBOR chairman John Doyle, a former executive vice president at Hewlett-Packard Co. and head of HP Labs, said NBOR–a virtual company loosely based in the San Francisco area–would first target education and small-business markets.

Four primary schools now use NBOR in pilot programs, including Quest Academy, a private school for gifted children in Palatine, Ill.

“It took me about a half-hour to wrap my brain around it, but after I took a leap of faith, I said, ‘Wow. I can’t imagine not using this,'” said Ann Hamel, director of academic technology for Quest, where 300 students from kindergarten through eighth grade have been using NBOR since October.

A Quest sixth grader recently created a sophisticated multimedia presentation on Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn in Blackspace, including a map of the Mississippi River with drawings and text that pop up over different ports.

NBOR works on PCs and tablets using Windows 2000 and XP. Versions for Linux and Macintosh will come later this year.

It’s unclear whether the software will succeed broadly, particularly in the more lucrative corporate niche, where millions of people use Microsoft Office for programs NBOR hopes to replace.

“If this software does what it promises, there could be a market for it because people are always looking for better mousetraps,” said Al Napier, professor of management and psychology at Rice University and an expert in computer-human interface. “But people seem to be comfortable with what’s already out there, and a lot of people don’t have any problem with Microsoft Office, which is in fact improving.”

Links:

NBOR
http://www.nbor.com

Quest Academy
http://www.questacademy.org

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New ‘visualization’ technologies can help students hone web searches

As useful as internet search engines are, they have a pretty big flaw: They often deliver too much information, and a lot of it isn’t quite what students are looking for. But some intriguing new technologies are getting better at bringing order to all that chaos and could revolutionize how students and others mine the internet for information.

Newly emerging software now can analyze search results and automatically sort them into categories that, at a glance, present far more information than the typical textual list.

“We enliven the otherwise deadening process of searching for information,” said Raul Valdes-Perez, co-founder of Vivisimo Inc., which quickly puts search results into clickable categories.

Pittsburgh-based Vivisimo sells its technology to companies and intelligence agencies, and it offers free web searches at Vivisimo.com.

Valdes-Perez describes his company this way: If the internet is a giant bookstore in which all the books are piled randomly on the floor, then Vivisimo is like a superfast librarian who can arrange the titles on shelves instantly in a way that makes sense.

Consider it a 21st-century Dewey Decimal System designed to fight information overload. But unlike libraries, Vivisimo doesn’t use predefined categories. Its software determines them on the fly, depending on the search results. The filing is done through a combination of linguistic and statistical analysis, a method that even works with other languages.

A similar process powers Grokker, a downloadable program that not only sorts search results into categories but also “maps” the results in a holistic way, showing each category as a colorful circle. Within each circle, subcategories appear as more circles that can be clicked on and zoomed in on.

It takes a few minutes to get used to Grokker. But the value of its nonlinear approach quickly becomes clear.

Let’s say, for example, you’re curious about accommodations in France and enter a search for “Paris Hilton.”

Google recognizes this as a search in the category of “Regional-Europe-Travel and Tourism-Lodging-Hotels” but still produces page after page with links about celebrity socialite Paris Hilton and her exploits. That’s because Google’s engine ranks pages largely based on how many other sites link to them, sending the most popular pages to the top.

If you run the search on Grokker, however, the resulting circle shows all the possible categories of information the internet offers on a search for “Paris Hilton”–including reviews, maps, and online booking sites for the Hilton hotel in Paris, which are all but buried in the Google rankings. Now you’ve much more quickly found not what is popular among internet gawkers, but what is genuinely useful to you.

Groxis Inc., the 15-person company that introduced Grokker last year and released an upgraded, $49 second version in December, is not out to replace Google. Grokker is not in itself a search engine–it only analyzes and illustrates search engines’ results.

For example, Grokker2 can categorize and map files on your hard drive–arranging them by content, not by the folders you happened to put them in–or listings on the web. If you use Grokker2 to search the web, it combines results from six search engines: Yahoo, MSN, AltaVista, Wisenut, Teoma, and FAST, a business-focused product by a Norwegian company.

Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the 25 school systems that have purchased Grokker2, said R.J. Pittman, chief executive of Sausalito, Calif.-based Groxis. The company is targeting schools along with other markets, and volume pricing is available for as low as $25 per copy of the software.

Grokker also plans to release up to two dozen downloadable plug-ins later this year that will set its colored circles loose on a wider variety of databases, including the Library of Congress, news web sites, and yes, Google itself.

“We now have the capability to ‘grok’ anything,” Pittman said. Would-be Grokkers, a note of caution: The software requires Windows 2000 or XP or Mac OS X.

The Google plug-in is partly a market test; Google and Groxis will analyze how well it works and then consider whether to work on developing a service together, Pittman said.

Google spokesman Nathan Tyler declined to comment on Groxis. Nor would he say whether Google is exploring its own measures of sprucing up search pages with categorization tools like Vivisimo or visualization aids like Grokker.

Another visualization possibility is offered by TouchGraph LLC, which has a Google plug-in that shows links as an interconnected web, an appropriate image for the World Wide Web.

Such tools have been applied by the Manhattan firm Plumb Design in its Visual Thesaurus, which maps a word’s meanings, or in a navigation tool it developed for a Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

Meanwhile, a number of search sites have gotten hip to honing results.

For example Teoma, which is part of Ask Jeeves Inc., suggests ways to refine or narrow a search. That means a Teoma search for “Las Vegas” will serve up roughly the same links as other sites, but it also suggests subcategories such as “Vacation Packages.”

“Search has to evolve,” Pittman said. “It can’t just be Google sitting there with a stash of places they’ve crawled on the web. People are becoming more astute and demanding better results, and they’re demanding a more powerful search experience. People like to get a landscape of information once they’ve found out there’s one available.”

Links:

Groxis Inc.
http://www.groxis.com

Vivisimo
http://www.vivisimo.com

TouchGraph LLC
http://www.touchgraph.com

Visual Thesaurus
http://www.visualthesaurus.com

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