According to the producers, some 14,000 teachers, school administrators, vendors, and press gathered in Orlando Jan. 22 to 24 to attend hundreds of technology-focused sessions and workshops during this year’s Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). Florida’s annual state ed-tech conference enjoyed a large boost in attendance compared with other recent ed-tech trade shows.

In addition to high attendance, this year’s FETC featured its largest exhibit hall ever. Approximately 430 companies showcased their latest products and services at the event.

The show kicked off with a keynote speech by Linda Ellerbee, a long-time journalist and producer of “Nick News,” a news program for kids on the Nickelodeon cable television network.

Ellerbee emphasized the importance of teaching kids media literacy. “If we are not careful, television will be their most important teacher,” she said. “Media literacy can not be a luxury. It is essential.”

Helen Soule, senior technology adviser for the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), praised FETC attendees for being school technology pioneers.

“FETC is the largest state technology conference,” she said. “Here in Florida, you have a wonderful history of providing technology leadership.”

Later, during a session entitled, “What’s New at the Department of Education,” Soule reminded conference attendees that they have until mid-March to submit comments and suggestions for the new National Education Technology Plan.

So far, ED has received 400 comments and suggestions through the plan’s web site–and more than 210,000 students gave their input on the plan through NetDay’s National Speak-Up Day, Soule said.

Also, ED has set up a web log, or blog, on the National Education Technology Plan web site for people to give their opinions about an analysis the Education Development Center did of technology over the past 20 years.

ED also will be hosting a few No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Technology Leadership Summits in the coming months. The first summit, which will focus on accountability and assessment through the use of technology, will be held in St. Louis, Mo., March 10 to 12. The next summit, on virtual learning, will take place this summer.

Product trends

With a growing number of school districts facing budget cuts or shortfalls, eSchool News editors who attended FETC saw an increasing movement toward products touting a provable return on investment (ROI).

One such product was ENCORE!, a web-based suite of special education management solutions from 4GL School Solutions in Towson, Md.

According to 4GL, ENCORE! helps districts increase the effectiveness of their special education programs by reducing the expensive, non-instructional costs of administration and compliance liabilities. 4GL has demonstrated that its system typically provides a 100-percent or greater financial return to districts over a three-year period, meaning that every dollar a district spends will result in a dollar of savings or increased funding over that three-year period, the company says.

Recently, districts such as the Moreno Valley Unified School District in California and Plano Independent School District in Texas have selected 4GL to provide district-wide special education compliance and program management solutions for their schools.

A few companies showcased new products that help schools make students technology literate by the eighth grade, as required by NCLB.

Connected Tech, from Classroom Connect, is a web-based software program that builds students’ technology skills by eighth grade while teaching curriculum subjects using real computer programs, such as Microsoft Word. “It’s important to build students’ skill level using the real thing,” said Lisa Grantham, director of marketing for Classroom Connect. Connected Tech features more than 450 tutorials, lessons, projects, and assessments.

The Broward County Public Schools in Florida recently selected Atomic Learning of Little Falls, Minn., to teach its students and teachers how to use popular software programs. Atomic Learning offers web-based training that is delivered via short (one- to three-minute), easy-to-understand movies. With more than 5,000 tutorials, Atomic Learning’s library of movies covers more than 50 software programs for PCs, Macs, and handheld computers, including products from Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, and Sun Microsystems. Site licensing starts at $1.25 per user.

Many education companies give back to schools in the form of grants and contests, but some companies now employ in-house grant experts to help educators overcome funding challenges by writing winning grant proposals. Curriculum Associates’ Funding Connection initiative, for example, includes a corporate grant program, free grant workshops, and an online resource for grant seekers. The initiative was designed by newly hired grants specialist Parisa Tahouri.

See these related links:

Florida Educational Technology Conference
http://www.fetc.org

Secretary’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Technology Leadership Summits
http://www.ed.gov/technology/summits2004

National Education Technology Plan
http://www.nationaledtechplan.org

4GL School Solutions
http://www.4glschools.com

Classroom Connect
http://www.classroomconnect.com

Atomic Learning
http://www.atomiclearning.com

Curriculum Associates
http://www.curricassoc.com

FETC: Attendees consider products and services

AEL, a nonprofit research and development organization, announced that it now offers customized professional development for schools, districts, and states through its new Center for Education Services. AEL has key programs and services available in both face-to-face and online formats that will help schools achieve Adequate Yearly Progress goals. In addition to customized professional development programs, AEL offers online resources, webcasts, chat sessions, and an “Ask an Expert” question-and-answer service.

http://www.ael.org

America Online launched a new version of its free educational service, AOL@School. Version 3.0 provides schools with eMail virus protection, spam controls, classroom-focused menus and toolbars, a resource bookmarking feature, and easier installation. Through a partnership with AlphaSmart Inc., AOL@School also will be integrated into the internet browser included with AlphaSmart’s Dana wireless device, a laptop alternative for K-12 schools. Students and teachers using Dana will be presented with a “Powered by AOL@School” logo and search box upon accessing the internet browser. The search function will allow them to choose from more than 27,000 web sites that have been reviewed and selected by AOL’s education experts.
http://www.aolatschool.com
http://www.alphasmart.com

Academic Accelerator, from CRI Advantage, is a new web-based approach to measuring and managing student performance. The software aims to help teachers improve their effectiveness in the classroom and administrators better manage decision-making and reporting, the company says.
http://www.academicaccelerator.com

Version 2.0 Science CDs, from Discovery Channel School, offers 42 titles in life, physical, and earth sciences for students in grades 6-12. Well-suited for audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners, each CD-ROM program includes five areas of activity: virtual lab simulations, fact-filled video, reference and research materials from World Book Encyclopedia, interactive activities and assessment, and a multimedia authoring tool to design presentations. Discovery Channel School also now offers digital video discs (DVDs) for most subject areas. Each one features a teacher’s guide, online support, and more than 60 minutes of video content.
http://www.discoveryschool.com

Evan-Moor Educational Publishers announced the addition of five new titles to its Look, Listen, and Speak series, which builds vocabulary and language fluency in K-3 students. Each book in this supplemental education series contains an interactive CD-ROM, songs and chants, four-color picture cards for games and activities, and an 80-page resource book. The Look, Listen, and Speak series is ideal for students who arrive at school with limited vocabulary, the company says. The newest titles address words related to the supermarket, the mall, transportation, the farm, and keeping healthy.
http://www.evan-moor.com

eZedia Inc. showcased its latest in Quicktime authoring software for the web, eZediaQTI 2.0. This new release, which is cross-platform compatible, takes full advantage of Apple’s new operating system, Panther, and gives students the tools to create web sites and online presentations. With little to no learning curve, eZediaQTI allows students to focus on content and learning rather than mastering technical elements such as computer programming and scripting, the company says. eZediaQTI 2.0 sells for $79, and site licensing also is available.
http://www.ezedia.com
http://www.ezedia.com/library

Handmark Software announced a new version of its Education Essentials software suite for Palm handhelds, a collection of organization, productivity, learning, and teaching applications for educators and students. The Education Essentials CD-ROM features more than 30 applications and sells for $49.99. Popular titles include 4.0 Student, a student organizer; ImagiMath 1.0, a full-featured calculator program; MobileDB, a database application; and Assessa Desktop, a test-creation program.
http://www.handmark.com

Holt, Rinehart and Winston released three new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Tutors to complement chemistry and physical science lessons. The new Quantum Tutors–Stoichiometry, Chemical Reactions, and Chemical Bonding–join six web-based Quantum Tutors released in January 2003. The programs are ideal for students who need personal coaching on difficult science concepts. They provide individualized hints, guidance, and advice throughout each solution to a problem. They also use dialog-driven technology to help the student or teacher understand why an answer is correct or incorrect. The six original Quantum Tutors are Elements, Ionic Compound Formulas, Mathematics of Chemical Formulas, Measurement, Equation Balancing, and Oxidation Numbers.
http://www.hrw.com

The InFocus LP640, from InFocus Corp., is the company’s newest projector for meeting rooms and classrooms. The LP640, which already won a 2004 CES Innovations Award, features a new breed of user-friendly controls, wireless connectivity, and remote networking capabilities. It also includes most-requested features such as automatic keystone adjustment and automatic image synchronization with a source such as a computer, to ensure a quick start and smooth transitions. And with 2,200 lumens, it offers outstanding color saturation. The InFocus LP640 costs $2,699.
http://www.infocus.com

StandardsBuilder, the newest product from Jackson Software, allows district-level curriculum coordinators to disseminate state standards and associated skills by grade level and subject area to every teacher electronically. StandardsBuilder integrates with Jackson’s electronic grade book, GradeQuick. “It makes sense that teachers should be able to open their grade books each day and see the exact skills they are required to teach,” said Grey Wood, president and CEO of Jackson Software.
http://www.gradequick.com

Macromedia demonstrated the latest version of its multimedia authoring software, Macromedia Director MX 2004. With this software, students and teachers can build rich, interactive content that includes audio, video, pictures, animation, three-dimensional models, and text. The latest version adds support for JavaScript, Flash MX 2004 content, DVD video, and more. Director MX 2004 retails for $1,199 but is priced at $499 for school users.
http://www.macromedia.com/go/dirmx2004

PASCO Scientific began shipping My World GIS–a geographic information system (GIS) program designed for classrooms from middle school to college–in February. My World GIS allows students to query, plot, and analyze geographic data such as climate, geology, biodiversity, population, and more. It was developed by the GEODE Initiative at Northwestern University, with support from the National Science Foundation. A license to the My World GIS student-home edition costs $59, and a classroom license costs $99.
http://www.pasco.com/myworld

Instead of using infrared technology, the new ACTIVslate XR from Promethean Inc. is an updated wireless tablet that remotely controls an ACTIVboard interactive whiteboard via radio signals. The new radio technology allows the ACTIVslate XR to receive input from any position and distance within a classroom, so teachers and students don’t have to position themselves directly in line with the ACTIVboard. A maximum of 36 ACTVIslates are recommended per ACTIVboard, but only one slate can operate the board at any one time. Promethean also launched a new version of its group teaching software, ACTIVstudio 2 Professional Edition, at FETC.
http://www.activboard.com

LEAPS, from Provenio Group Inc., is a web-based curriculum now used for dropout prevention, behavior remediation, special education, character education, and social development training at school districts in 17 states. Teachers and counselors can use this resource to teach social skills that students may be lacking to help reverse the dysfunction in their lives. LEAPS first identifies skill deficits, then prescribes detailed action steps and lesson plans to remediate troublesome behavior. LEAPS, which stands for Life Excelerator/Assessment of Personal Skills, has been proven to increase attendance, reduce behavioral incidents, lower dropout rates, and more, according to the company.
http://www.proveniogroup.com

Riverdeep unveiled Destination Success, a new approach to reading and math instruction that promises to improve student performance in 90 days. Destination Success, which the company says will allow teachers to provide individualized instruction for every child, combines standards-based assessment, learning management, courseware, and professional development. Educators can request a free demonstration copy from the Riverdeep web site or by calling (888) 242-6747.
http://www.riverdeep.net/products/success

Rovenet, a maker of data collection software for handhelds, released two new versions of its Portable Forms system. These latest versions take advantage of the wireless connectivity and digital cameras that palmOne Inc. has built into its Zire and Tungsten handheld computers and Treo smart phones. With Portable Forms, educators or students can build a data collection form easily using a word processing application such as Microsoft Word, download the form onto a handheld device, and then start collecting data. The data can be distributed via eMail, fax, and on the web using extensible markup language (XML). Data also can be imported into applications such as Microsoft Excel or Access.
http://www.portableforms.com

SMART Technologies, which has shipped more than 160,000 interactive whiteboards to date, announced several new products and initiatives at FETC. The Sympodium ID250–an interactive pen display that sits on top of a podium or desk and displays content to a larger screen through a projector–offers the same functions and annotations as the SMART Board. Priced at $2,499, the ID250 costs 30 percent less than previous Sympodium models. SMART Technologies also announced a new version of its SMART Board software for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. In addition to thousands of curriculum-related clip-art images, the software features new functions, such as “screen shade” or “spotlight,” that allow teachers to focus students’ attention. Also, more than 100 new lesson activities created by teachers are available as free downloads from the company’s online community for teachers, EDCompass.
http://www.smarttech.com

http://www.edcompass.smarttech.com

Tysak Technologies launched a web-based internet security course that aims to combat internet threats by educating people about online security. The course can be incorporated into the classroom or made available for use by any organization trying to protect its network from internet-related threats. The course consists of three modules and tests and takes less than two hours to complete, the company said. Topics include viruses and worms, spam, hoaxes, spyware, cookies, password management, and more.
http://www.tysak.com

United Learning, a video-on-demand service provider, announced the release of unitedstreaming Network Manager, new software that allows system administrators to schedule specific video download times and eliminate stress on a school’s bandwidth. Network Manager resides on only one internet-connected computer on a school’s network. When a teacher or student selects a video clip to download, it is placed in a queue to be retrieved at a predetermined, off-peak time. Once the video clip has been saved to a local computer, it can be accessed by any computer on the same network via the unitedstreaming web interface. Network Manager costs $299 per school building, and multi-building purchase discounts are available.
http://www.unitedlearning.com

Vision Ventures, publisher of the scheduleUs calendar software suite, now offers a low-cost web calendar hosting service for publishing school calendars and event lists without special hardware. The web hosting offer is designed for schools that do not have an internet presence or that have little more than a placeholder page within a district’s site. Each publisher site can store up to 2 megabytes, large enough to store more than 2,500 events on several calendars. The annual hosting subscription is free for the first year to schools that purchase five or more copies of scheduleUs Publisher software.
http://www.schedeleUs.com

Partnerships, new studies, and other company news

AIMS Multimedia has signed a licensing agreement with Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. to add Britannica articles to the videos and images of AIMS’ flagship product, DigitalCurriculum. This program contains more than 50,000 multimedia components that are integrated with teacher guides, lesson plans, and interactive assessments and assignments that are paired with a complete record-keeping and internal messaging system.
http://www.digitalcurriculum.com

To save teachers time, Curriculum Advantage and Excelsior Software announced that they have partnered to create an interface between Curriculum Advantage’s Classworks software and Excelsior’s Pinnacle Plus Assessment Management System. With this new interface in place, teachers who log into Pinnacle Plus will be able to assign Classworks standards-based curriculum materials directly from their grade book. Educators also will have more options for generating reports required to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress.
http://www.curriculumadvantage.com
http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com

Gateway showcased a newly built school in Spring Hill, Fla., that uses technology in every facet of the student experience. Powered by Gateway desktops, notebooks, servers, and plasma TVs, Bishop McLaughlin is a model for the convergence of display, PC, and server technologies in an educational environment. Gateway is providing all information technology services for the first year of implementation, ongoing 24-7 monitoring of the network and students’ computers, and a Gateway representative is on site once a week.
http://www.gateway.com

More than 2,500 at-risk Michigan students showed dramatic gains in reading skills after using HOSTS Learning for less than nine months, according to a Central Michigan University study. Among 35 schools using the HOSTSLink Language Arts system, more than 60 percent of the students increased their reading levels by at least one grade level–and more than one-fourth increased by two grade levels.
http://www.hosts.com

Grants, contests, and freebies

CDW Government Inc. and Discovery Channel School kicked off their second annual “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes. Teachers have until May 15 to enter to win a wireless computer lab from IBM valued at $40,000. In conjunction with the sweepstakes, Discovery Channel School is offering a free Teacher Resource Kit for educators, called “Keep it Safe: Security and Storage Solutions for Your Schools.” Any school employee may download the kit–which includes classroom activities, lesson plans, and posters–from the contest web site.
http://www.discoveryschool.com/cdwg

IntelliTools Inc. is offering a 45-day, fully functioning free trial version of its newest product, IntelliTools Classroom Suite. Designed for students in grades K-8, the suite includes a multimedia presentation tool, a virtual math manipulative tool, and a talking word processor and writing tool. Educators can download the free trial version from the company’s web site or request it on CD-ROM. At the end of the trial period, teachers will still be able to access and use all activities they created or that came with the software. The editing and authoring functions, however, will no longer be accessible.
http://www.intellitools.com

The Lexile Framework for Reading has launched a free monthly eMail newsletter, “The Lexile Reader,” in two editions: for educators and families. The Educators’ Edition focuses on topics of interest to teachers, administrators, reading and media specialists, and other education professionals. The Families’ Edition offers parents, students, and other family members tips and strategies for using Lexile measures to improve student reading skills. Each newsletter includes a featured Lexile topic, current news and issues in reading education, a list of new Lexiled titles, and a calendar of events. “The Lexile Reader” replaces an earlier newsletter, “The Lexile Times.”
http://www.lexile.com

My eCoach, a division of Computer Strategies LLC, announced a collection of free educational resources and projects for teachers and students of all ages, called My eCoach Online eLibrary. It houses original artwork, photos, video, handouts, templates, literature activities, inquiry-based projects, thematic units, lesson plans, and more. “We developed our eLibrary so that teachers and students can access and use high-quality resources without worrying about copyright infringement,” said Barbara Bray, president and CEO of Computer Strategies. Resources can be searched by grade level, curriculum area, resource type, or keyword.
http://www.my-ecoach.com