With lawmakers’ attention focused on better test scores and year-end performance, educators who attended the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) annual conference in New Orleans March 20-22 were reminded that although the road to student achievement might end in assessment, it begins with creative minds at work in the classroom.

Many of the more than 12,000 educators and stakeholders who attended this year’s meeting, “Focus of Education: Courageous Actions, Powerful Stories,” applauded educator and author Margaret Wheatley when she called the current education system too focused on speed and efficiency and pleaded with colleagues not to lose sight of more traditional values in the face of change.

“We are trying to create humans that operate at the speed of machines,” Wheatley cautioned during a morning keynote address. “What we need to realize is that human beings operate at the speed of life, not the speed of light.”

The hour-long presentation–so highly attended that dozens of educators found themselves rifling through storage bins in search of spare folding chairs–championed the values of communication and creativity in the classroom, while calling into question the competitive nature of the current federal law.

As school administrators fight to keep schools from being labeled in need of improvement, Wheatley–president of the Berkana Institute and author of Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future–questioned whether a national preoccupation with assessment and Adequate Yearly Progress will evolve into a monoculture of pedagogical approaches, one that discourages ingenuity for fear that new ideas will fall short of the federal standard.

Rather than reach for the first thing that works, Wheatley suggested, educators should brainstorm about ways to create change, use their creativity to foster new ideas, and listen to those around them for guidance, support, and vision.

“For us to do our work well,” she said, “we must be in relationships with lots and lots of people. …You can’t just speed up life and expect good things to happen. [Right now,] the only place we’re getting is sick and tired, and overwhelmed.”

Getting personal

Though students might not process information at the speed of machines, educators who attended the many general sessions and roundtable discussions held throughout the weekend reaffirmed the belief that technology has its place in the classroom–if not to speed up the learning process, then to personalize it.

For instance, in an afternoon session entitled “Best Practices in Using Technology,” a few California-based educators discussed very different ways that technology can be used to spur effective, hands-on learning in the classroom–and the kind of innovation that Wheatley encouraged.

One such methodology is Project EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology Initiative), a service-based approach to education that provides students with intensive, high-level technology training and requires them to use their newly acquired expertise to head projects and experiments that make a difference within their communities.

Through Project EAST, students are exposed to a variety of technologies depending on the scope of their project. For instance, if a class decides to build a web site for a local community organization, students might receive training in computer programming and web design. If the goal is to create a television spot for a local nonprofit organization, students might receive lessons in computer animation. Or, if the idea is to draft an electronic response system for the local fire department–as was the case in one California district–students might learn to use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and imaging devices, among other advanced tools.

Rowland Baker, western regional director of Project EAST and a project director for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, said the program has opened doors for hundreds of at-risk students who otherwise were in danger of being left behind.

As part of the program, students at the Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, Calif., a suburban community about 15 minutes outside of Los Angeles, used GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to map portions of the Los Angeles Harbor and test its waters for lead and other contaminants. Chief among their findings was that water in the harbor contained more than five times the amount of lead and other pollutants allowed under federal regulations. The discovery made the front page of the Los Angeles Times on three separate occasions, according to Baker. At Santa Ines Valley High School, another group of Project EAST students used GPS mapping technology to chart an ancient aqueduct system running around the Santa Ines Mission, one of the area’s historic landmarks. Project EAST students in other parts of the country have embarked on ambitious projects to save their schools money by implementing solar panel technology, research and restore environmentally protected areas around their schools and communities, design building projects, and experiment with cutting-edge virtual reality technologies, among other innovations.

The idea, according to Baker, is to provide “real-world projects” that elicit “real-life results.” For students, he said, the technology is viewed as a “seamless extension” to help them accomplish their goals.

Project EAST, which has evolved into its own nonprofit foundation to support programs in a number of schools and districts across the country (but mainly in Arkansas and California), procures funding for its projects by working with industry partners to provide the often-expensive equipment at a fraction of the cost to schools.

The typical EAST project, Baker said–including lab time, software, and training–carries a price tag of $140,000. But prices vary, and the training is intensive. In a course on computer animation, for example, students received hands-on, guided instruction from animators who worked on the Disney movie Toy Story.

A cheaper but equally effective means of spurring creativity and higher-order thinking among students by means of technology is through the use of WebQuests.

Considered the architect of the WebQuest model along with colleague Tom March, education professor Bernie Dodge of San Diego State University has put together a popular web site for teachers that includes some 1,500 WebQuest activities sorted by subject and grade level.

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the internet. “This is about putting teachers in charge of their own curriculum,” Dodge said. “A good WebQuest asks kids to do something amazing, then provides the resources to help them do it.”

As an example, Dodge led attendees through “The Martian Haiku Quest,” a 15-minute, internet-based lesson asking participants to team up and write a poem about Mars and its relationship to Earth. In completing the exercise, participants were encouraged not only to share in the history of Mars, but also to think critically about the presentation of these facts and form a creative response based on their findings.

Dodge predicts WebQuests will become increasingly beneficial as 21st-century employers show an interest in recruiting talented young people who are familiar with technology and can think for themselves.

“This is where the jobs are,” he said. “This is what [employers] want.”

Choosing the right tools

In a session called “Making a Difference with Handheld Computers,” two South Carolina educators discussed the use of handhelds as an option for students and teachers.

Assistant Superintendent Wayne Brazell and Director of Instructional Technology Patrick Hanks, of Lexington County School District One, said the advent of handheld computers has dramatically changed the way staff members operate in this district of 18,000 students.

Three years after the implementation of handhelds in the county’s schools, instructors and administrators now use the technology to share and collect student data, maintain schedules and eliminate conflicts, and even perform crisis management. If there were a bus accident, for example, school leaders would have instant access to who was on the bus, instead of wasting precious time looking the information up from a desktop computer.

Brazell said educators like handhelds because of their ease of use, versatility, low price, and portability.

Using a variety of software packages such as Wireless Generation’s mClass, he said, educators have been able to collect and use classroom data in real time to improve administrative efficiencies and keep better tabs on student progress.

With the aid of peripherals such as detachable keyboards and MP3 players, he said, teachers are able to build interactive classroom lessons designed to integrate the technology while holding students’ interest.

On the administrative side, educators are slowly becoming more at ease with the technology. Using a secure system, administrators in Lexington County now have handheld access to school- and district-wide student databases displaying class schedules and emergency contact information for every student.

“I can honestly tell you that I couldn’t imagine how you might operate without the use of a handheld,” Brazell said.

During the session, educators discussed such issues as security and professional development for teachers. They also weighed several software options and took part in a tutorial on how to use handhelds to their advantage in schools.

Administrators in Lexington County have used handheld computers to deliver real-time assessments in reading and math, and even to take pictures of students sleeping in class for use at parent-teacher conferences, Brazell said.

It begins with teachers

But when it comes to implementing the new federal education law, stakeholders agreed technology alone is not the answer.

“It’s the people who make a difference,” said former ASCD President Ray McNulty, who stressed that solutions and approaches forged in the classroom are only as good as the educators charged with implementing them.

During the conference, McNulty stepped down as president of the group, handing the reins over to longtime Nebraska educator Martha Bruckner. Bruckner, associate superintendent of educational services for the Millard Public Schools, has been a high school teacher, assistant principal, and principal and has worked in public schools for 24 years. One educator making a difference is Jennifer Morrison, a teacher and language-arts department chair at Piedmont Open IB Middle School in Charlotte, N.C., and the second-ever recipient of ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educator Award.

ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter, who presented her with the honor, said Morrison received the prize for turning her classroom into a “living laboratory for best practices and for sharing research-based knowledge with her colleagues.”

A Fullbright scholar and National Board Certified Teacher, Morrison told onlookers she had doubts about becoming a teacher, wondering whether “good teachers were simply born, or if they were made.” After changing her major three times, she discovered “they were made.” And she’s been in a classroom ever since.

For her efforts, Morrison took home $10,000, an original artwork, and an ASCD Institutional Membership for her school.

Exhibitor news

Elsewhere, in the conference exhibit hall, the search for new learning solutions continued.

The College Board highlighted two new resources: its SAT Readiness Program for the New SAT and College Success Skills–a guide for teachers, counselors, and administrators to help students prepare for this important test. The latest Readiness Program takes into account both new and revised portions of the SAT, including the new written portion, revised mathematics sections, and critical reading items. Using the program, educators can tailor the resources to class and individual needs; create a customized preparation course; provide resources for home and independent study; and highlight the concepts and college-success skills emphasized on the new SAT, which will be given for the first time in March of 2005. Another College Board product, Real SATs Online, offers the ability to deliver a full-fledged preparation course across the internet with self-paced learning for students and a suite of useful reporting tools and metrics for educators. http://www.collegeboard.com

Discovery Communications announced the formation of a new business initiative, Discovery Education. This new corporate division will combine recently acquired United Learning Inc. and the existing in-school activities of Discovery Channel School, positioning Discovery as a market leader in video-based learning, company officials said. “Discovery Education will strengthen Discovery’s strategic position in the education-content business and will serve the company’s goal of providing educators, students, parents, and others with the highest quality video content available for educational purposes,” said Judith A. McHale, president and chief operating officer of Discovery Communications. Currently available to more than 26,000 subscribing schools and their 10.5 million students, United Learning’s “unitedstreaming” is a video-on-demand delivery system and the only digital video application shown through scientific research to increase student achievement, the company said. http://www.discovery.com

eBoard.com recently launched an upgraded version of its eBoard service, a web site organizer and online communication tool designed to increase dialogue between parents, teachers, and students. The service’s teacher web pages, for example, are billed as an easy way for educators to post classroom information online for parents and students. Now the eBoard service is getting a new look and feel, as well as a number of new features. Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania implemented eBoard in September. According to the company, teacher web sites in the district now receive and average of 1,000 visits per day. http://www2.eboard.com/eboard/servlet/IndexLoginServlet

Edline Inc., which also aims to enhance parent-teacher-student communication, demonstrated its web-site hosting and portal solution for K-12 schools. The product, which serves as a companion to school web sites, enables visitors–including students, parents, and teachers–to access personalized school information using individual access codes. With Edline, interested parents can log on using a unique password and get information about their child’s grades, school news, assignments, upcoming school-related activities, and schedules, the company said. http://www.edline.com

Etraffic Solutions, an international provider of online learning content and applications for K-12 and adult learning, demonstrated its line of products and services, including its Accelerated School Administrator Program (ASAP). ASAP provides individualized professional development that prepares school administrators and teachers to be more effective leaders. The program, designed specifically for principals and teachers, contains a mix of online technology, group and individual work, and personal coaching from experienced educators. The idea is to ensure that school administrators and teachers have the skills necessary to remain consummate professionals. Earlier this year, Etraffic announced it was partnering with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), promoting ASAP to 29,500 K-8 educators in the United States, Canada, and overseas through the NAESP web site. http://www.etrafficsolutions.com

Excelsior Software announced a new partnership with ASCD to promote effective instruction and classroom assessment practices with the company’s standards-based assessment management software program, Pinnacle Plus. Under the agreement, Pinnacle Plus will be the sole student assessment software product endorsed by ASCD’s What Works in Schools program. Pinnacle Plus allows teachers to link specific learning standards and benchmarks to assessments; track student attendance, demographics, and performance; generate real-time, customized reports for administrators and parents, as well individual and group report cards; and tailor data collection efforts in response to individual needs. http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com

Exemplars demonstrated its differentiated, classroom-tested, standards-based assessment and instructional materials for schools. All materials feature scoring rubrics and annotated student benchmark papers, a collection of classroom-tested assessment and instructional tasks keyed to national standards, easily differentiated performance tasks designed to meet the needs of all students, teacher notes for assessment and instruction, and alignment with national standards. All solutions are Mac- and PC-compatible, the company said. http://www.exemplars.com

Films for the Humanities and Sciences and the Shoah Foundation, established by renowned filmmaker Steven Spielberg in 1984, announced the two organizations would begin distributing a program intended to reduce violence and racism. “Giving Voice” intermingles interviews with a diverse group of teenagers with the testimony of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. The package consists of a 25-minute reality TV-style documentary, a 43-minute film of eyewitness Holocaust accounts from the Shoah Foundation archive, and a teacher’s guide with classroom activities that tie the two videos together. Schools can purchase a VHS copy of the film for $89.95. The DVD version is priced at $99.95. http://www.films.com/Films_Home/News.cfm/1/off/21/Detail

IntelliTools Inc., a provider of learning and assistive technology solutions for K-8 classrooms, recently announced that Downers Grove, Ill., School District 58 has signed a contract for district-wide implementation of the IntelliTools Classroom Suite in each of its K-6 classrooms. The decision follows a successful pilot program conducted on four network servers in buildings across the district, the company said. The software provides age-appropriate, cross-curricular classroom activities for students to practice. It offers answer-tracking and student-portfolio reporting for teachers to assess student performance, as well as authoring capabilities for both students and teachers to practice activities and take quizzes, explore mathematical concepts, and create multimedia projects. http://www.intellitools.com

The International Education and Resource Network (iEARN) bills itself as the largest, most experienced online K-12 network in the world. iEARN was designed as an online tool and learning network to help young people acquire skills in critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, and experience working with new technologies, the organization said. All projects within iEARN are designed and facilitated by participants to fit their particular curriculum and classroom needs and schedules. After joining, teachers and students are invited to enter online forums, meet other participants, join existing internet-based projects, or work with others internationally to create and facilitate their own projects. http://www.iearn.org

Kelly Educational Staffing recently announced it has been selected by Christ Lutheran High School in Davenport, Iowa, to provide substitute teachers. Christ Lutheran is the first school in Iowa to work with Kelly Educational Staffing, marking the 40th state where Kelly has won a contract to provide substitute teachers. Kelly Educational Staffing currently serves more than 1,700 schools in the United States and the United Kingdom (UK). Kelly launched its educational staffing program nationally in 1999 and expanded the service to the UK in 2002. Standard features of Kelly Educational Staffing include recruiting, screening, training and orientation, scheduling, quality control, and retention of substitute teachers. Kelly assumes all employer obligations related to a school’s substitute teacher program, including payroll taxes, worker’s compensation, and unemployment compensation. Substitute teachers from Kelly meet state and local certification requirements for any K-12 teaching situation in a public or private school, the company said. http://www.kellystaffing.com

LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the school division of LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., a developer of technology-based learning products, sponsored a meeting with Reid Lyon, chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. As part of a speech entitled “The Impact of Reading First on Early Reading Instruction,” Lyon engaged in a dialogue about translating educational research into effective instructional practices. “Dr. Lyon was a significant contributor to No Child Left Behind, and his research has made an enormous impact on the field of child development and behavior,” said Bob Lally, president of LeapFrog SchoolHouse. Lally called Lyon “one of the foremost thought leaders in the education industry.” Lyon also was a lead contributor to the design of the National Reading Panel’s recommendations within the education law. http://www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com/home/index.asp

Learning.com, a provider of online technology curriculum and integration tools, and Pearson Scott Foresman, a division of Pearson Education, recently announced the signing of a third exclusive statewide sales and distribution agreement, through which Pearson will present Learning.com’s EasyTech technology integration system to California’s K-8 schools. Under the terms of the March 4 agreement, Learning.com will continue to provide its EasyTech technology integration system, including customer support, to all existing and future customers in California. Earlier, the companies announced similar exclusive agreements covering K-8 schools in Texas (January 2003) and Florida (July 2003). EasyTech includes technology curriculum that teaches students critical technology skills within the context of core curriculum, a management system to help teachers with planning and assessment, and ongoing staff development and support to ensure successful implementations. EasyTech was developed to meet the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Education Technology Standards. The product also fulfills the requirements of the California Education Technology Master Plan. http://www.learning.com

MyLearningPlan.com, an online service dedicated to providing schools with a way to manage their professional development efforts, looks to save educators time, money, and frustration by leveraging the power of the internet to meet state certification requirements and improving service to staff. Teachers can use a private identification and password to maintain records of all training activities, set up and view their individual learning-plan portfolio, participate in online-learning modules, and print completion certificates. School administrators can use the site to approve activities and print reports. All users benefit from a streamlined workflow, which automates many tasks and provides faster access to records and information, the company said. http://www.mylearningplan.com

PBS TeacherLine, a provider of online solutions for teacher professional development, is using a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to give school and district administrators fast, effective solutions to help teachers meet the “highly qualified” requirements under No Child Left Behind. TeacherLine now offers more than 80 research-based online and facilitator-led courses for teachers at every grade level. Courses in math, reading, technology integration, teaching strategies, science, and curriculum mapping all aim to address NCLB requirements for highly-qualified teachers and qualify for graduate credits at many colleges. http://teacherline.pbs.org/teacherline

Pitsco Inc. announced that its Synergistic Systems science labs will be used in 15 New Orleans public high schools in the 2004-05 school year. According to the company, Synergistic Systems is a revolutionary approach to teaching and learning whereby curriculum is delivered via modules, each a seven-session exploration of a particular topic. These modules are delivered at student workstations that accommodate everything students need to complete their activities. The idea is to present and reinforce science principles in a way that engages and motivates students. Scientific studies have demonstrated that Synergistic Systems is effective with a variety of students, including at-risk students and students with Individualized Education Plans, the company said. http://www.synergistic-systems.com/getflash.html

PLATO Learning and ASCD recently announced professional development for American educators at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU’s) Fischler Graduate School of Education and Human Services. NSU has joined with PLATO to supply online professional development opportunities designed to fit the busy schedules of educators. Through its joint partnership with ASCD, PLATO enables educators enrolled in select ASCD online professional development courses to receive graduate-level credit with the Fischler School. http://www.fgse.nova.edu/platolearning/introduction-ascd.htm

Scantron Corp., a provider of educational testing and assessment tools, recently launched its Achievement Series assessments. Complementing its Performance Series solution, this web-based system is designed to increase the flexibility and efficiency of test development and deployment and to affect instruction in real time. “Achievement Series is a Scantron-powered test engine with a content-neutral environment that allows educators to create and deploy their own exams and quizzes as well as to easily incorporate content provided by third-party publishers,” said Tim Loomer, president of Scantron’s Testing and Assessment division. “We have built our business and reputation on providing accurate and reliable test delivery and scoring solutions, and this system extends our commitment in this area.” http://www.scantron.com

SchoolKiT International demonstrated its EDclass product, the company’s latest generation of content for students and teachers, and activBook, its technology delivery system. The EDclass library of K-12 learning activities provides ideas for teachers and students to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in the classroom by providing hundreds of classroom-ready learning modules that make use of technology to enhance students’ conceptual understandings, higher-order thinking capacities, and creativity. activBook provides enhanced interactivity and seamless transition between the EDclass library of classroom-ready learning activities and SchoolKiT’s PDpoint teacher professional development resources. PDpoint workshops provide teachers with a plan for developing an effective technology and learning framework, as well as strategies for embedding technology into their curricula and instruction. Driven by the requirements of No Child Left Behind, schools, districts, and states are responding to heightened pressure to demonstrate how their investment in technology is being leveraged to improve learning for all students–and these solutions can help, the company said. http://www.edclass.com

SMART Technologies launched a new lesson activities contest on EDCompass, its online community for educators using SMART products, to mark the first anniversary of this online resource. The contest invites North American and UK educators to submit lesson activities in Notebook software and SMART Ideas concept-mapping software. Depending on the format of their lesson activities, contestants will be entered into one of two grand-prize drawings to win classroom technology products for their school. Each qualifying submission entitles the contestant to one entry into the drawings. Multiple submissions are allowed. The final date for submitting entries is May 31. SMART also recently unveiled its Sympodium L250 interactive lectern, a next-generation multimedia presentation unit with an integrated, pen-enabled LCD screen that is used for presenting in lecture halls, auditoriums, and conference centers. “The Sympodium L250 interactive lectern gives presenters convenient access to the technology tools and content they need to comfortably and effectively engage large audiences,” said Nancy Knowlton, president and co-CEO of SMART. “It is a cost-effective alternative to custom-designed lecterns.” The Sympodium L250 interactive lectern has a suggested retail price of $7,999, according to a company statement. Nonprofit educational institutions may qualify for a grant through the SMARTer Kids Foundation that would reduce the price to $6,399. http://www.smarttech.com

The Thomson Corp. recently announced a free grant-writing service for educators as part of the company’s Peterson’s line. In this era of school accountability, officials at Peterson’s contend it’s critical to prepare students for high-stakes admissions exams while staying within a budget. With this free service, educators will get help from a professional grant writer at no cost to locate grant money that will help pay for Peterson’s products, the company said.