Oklahoma’s Garrett urges push for more school technology

The Oklahoman newspaper reports on Oklahoma state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett’s call for more technology in the classroom. Speaking at an annual leadership conference, Garrett said: “Students who have access to high-tech tools and toys outside of school find classes without such access to be antiquated and irrelevant to their real world.”

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Free educational videos and guides on math, science, and more

For the past 25 years, ConocoPhillips Co. has been producing high-quality educational videos and teachers’ guides for math, science, and environmental topics. These materials have been offered to qualified teachers for free and have been seen by millions of junior high and high school students. These free teaching guides and videos cover topics ranging from math and science to problem solving and protecting wildlife. To order one of ConocoPhillips’ educational films, visit the Teaching Tools web site or fax your request to (570) 822-8226.

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$25,000 for community improvement

Teams of middle school students are invited to enter the Christopher Columbus Awards, a free awards program that challenges students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities. Teams of up to four students and a coach must identify a community issue and use the scientific process to solve it. Finalist teams win an all-expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World, where they will compete for U.S. Savings Bonds and the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant to help bring their idea to life. Coaches may be teachers, parents, community leaders, or mentors. Teams do not need to be affiliated with a school to enter.

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WinXP SP2 raises compatibility fears

When software giant Microsoft Corp. releases a major security overhaul of its oft-targeted Windows XP operating system (OS) next month, the company is likely to find a number of school customers resistant to change. Though the upgrade promises to make the embattled OS safer, school leaders worry the transition will create significant headaches for their busy IT staff, many of whom say the timing couldn’t be worse.

“The timing is horrific for schools,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for the 4,000-student Governor Mifflin School District in Shillington, Pa. “We usually use the summer to refresh and update all computers.”

Going into a new school year, Becker isn’t exactly jumping at the chance to outfit the 800-plus computers in her district that are currently running XP with Microsoft’s beefed-up Service Pack 2 (SP2), reportedly the biggest security upgrade ever for Windows.

“Changing an operating system involves [investing a great deal of] time in testing,” Becker said, “especially with Microsoft products.”

Safer XP or not, there’s no telling how the upgrade might affect the myriad of learning resources and special-education applications configured to run on the older system, said Becker, adding that she wouldn’t have sufficient time to address these and other compatibility issues until at least the winter break.

As Microsoft toes the line between compatibility and safety, the impending overhaul has elicited grumbling from school and business customers alike, whose applications could require major changes–and glee from security experts who say any software product that doesn’t work wasn’t secure enough in the first place and needs to be fixed.

“The applications that will break with SP2 were essentially doing things wrong from a security perspective,” said John Pescatore, vice president of internet security at Gartner Research.

SP2 comes in response to a series of attacks that have plagued Microsoft’s products, taking advantage of vulnerabilities to spread viruses, steal personal information, and otherwise wreak havoc.

Some companies rushing to make their applications compatible–or trying to negotiate last-minute Microsoft changes–complain that SP2 is creating headaches.

“The changes Microsoft is proposing for SP2 will have serious negative consequences on the consumer experience of many applications and web sites,” RealNetworks spokeswoman Erika Shaffer said. The Microsoft rival makes a digital music and video player and sells subscription download services.

The new system bolsters security on Windows, its built-in Internet Explorer browser, and Outlook Express eMail. Among the changes: A Windows Firewall will be turned on automatically, helping to guard against attack. The browser has been fortified, and a new attachment manager will offer tougher policing against eMail-borne attacks.

The changes in the way Windows polices itself–particularly the newly strengthened firewall–could cause troubles for applications that are used to working with Windows’ old ways. Some say that’s particularly true of applications that regularly interact online, such as gaming programs or music services.

Security experts say it’s tough to know how many companies might have to change their products to be compatible.

Microsoft has delayed SP2’s release, originally scheduled for June, amid efforts to improve compatibility. Microsoft group product manager Barry Goffe says the “vast majority of applications” should function properly when SP2 comes out.

In the end, analysts believe most consumers will avoid major problems because most companies that have problems will fix them by the time SP2 is released. Gartner Research estimates that a mere 3 percent of applications that run on Windows won’t work once SP2 is out.

Perhaps the biggest change with SP2 will be a host of new alerts the user suddenly will get, offering more detailed information about what programs are trying to contact the computer and giving the user more chances to accept or decline.

Macromedia Inc.’s Flash technology required only minor technical changes to make it compatible with SP2. But the company was more concerned about early language in these warnings that could make even legitimate interactions seem scary and unwise.

David Mendels, Macromedia’s senior vice president in charge of developer products, said Microsoft was very responsive to its concerns. Now, he said, the prompts are less dire and more specific.

Microsoft’s own products are not immune. Joe Wilcox, a senior Jupiter Research analyst who is testing an early version of SP2, recently was blocked from using Microsoft’s Office Live Meeting conferencing product. Although he could have overridden that, Wilcox instead skipped the online option and called on a regular phone.

To Gartner’s Pescatore, such inconveniences are worth it.

“From a security perspective, the problems we’ve been having–these worms and such–we can often blame on things that need to be fixed in Windows,” Pescatore said. “So when Microsoft finally gets around to fixing them, it’s going to take some pain to get past that point.”

But Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California, doesn’t quite see it that way.

“My belief is that the real problem is not the fix, it is the fact that [Microsoft] designs software and brings it to market before these types of issues are identified and resolved,” he said. “While new problems will always come up, if [Microsoft] has the quality engineers it professes, then these problems should be anticipated–and many are not.”

Liebman said his district, which uses XP on 20 percent of its machines, does not plan to not install the upgrade, at least for this school year. “We currently have effective hardware, firewalls, virus protection software, and numerous filtering systems in place to protect our system,” he said.

With those protections in place, Liebman said, the district has little need to make a switch, especially one that could prove to be a problem for administrative and instructional software.

“We will let the field play out the problems and develop the necessary fixes before transferring over,” he said.

Microsoft says it will make SP2 available for download through its web-based Automatic Update applications. The company also plans to distribute the service pack on CD-ROM and is currently in talks with major retail outlets to increase distribution and visibility of the free product.

Links:

Microsoft Security

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$250 prizes for best student-designed toys

TOYchallenge is a toy and game design competition that is sponsored by Sally Ride Science Club, Smith College, and Hasbro Inc. The competition aims to encourage middle school kids, especially girls, to pursue their interest in science and engineering while having fun. To join TOYchallenge, design teams must find an adult coach and register before Dec. 15 (registration fee is $25 per team); choose a theme from seven toy categories, such as “Build It!,” “Get Out and Play,” and “Remarkable Robots”; and create and submit their entry, which must consist of a visual presentation, written description, and early version of their original toy or game concept. Teams that cannot attend one of the regional events may mail in their written entry. To participate in the National Showcase, teams must construct a working prototype or model of their design. Boys and girls in grades five through eight may participate, but at least half of the members of each team must be girls. Five teams at each regional event will be awarded $250 development grants toward presenting their toy or game at the National Showcase. TOYchallenge 2005 will officially launch Sept. 15, and the deadline to register is Dec. 15. Participants who pre-register before Sept. 15 can receive a free TOYchallenge 2004 T-shirt for each team member while supplies last.

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$500,000 to improve student achievement in Kansas City schools

The Sprint Achievement Program will provide grants exclusively for Greater Kansas City area teachers to develop and implement programs in their classroom that expand classroom resources, improve student enrichment opportunities, and foster professional development for teachers. Sprint’s support will include financial, in-kind, and volunteer resources to help provide enhanced learning opportunities for students and fill areas of critical need as identified by local teachers. Sprint will offer a limited number of grants, ranging from $500 to $5,000 per grant, twice a year. The first grant session begins Oct. 1 and ends Oct. 31. In all, Sprint expects to donate more than $500,000 in monetary, in-kind, and technology contributions in the Kansas City region during the 2004-05 school year.

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Free copy boards with every projector purchase

For a limited time, with every purchase of a PLUS Vision U5 series projector, school administrators also will receive a free copy board with their order. The U5 series is PLUS Vision’s newest value-based projector line geared for the education market. The PLUS Vision copy boards allow for text and drawings to be copied directly from the board’s surface to a memory card, eliminating the need to connect to a PC. PLUS Vision said it paired these two products for education because recent studies indicate that students who are taught with interactive technology, like a copy board and a projector, tend to be more engaged in the classroom.

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Up to $550,000 for innovative science projects

The Toyota TAPESTRY Grants for Teachers program will award up to $550,000 in grants to K-12 science teachers this year. Sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. and administered by the National Science Teachers Association, the program will make 50 grants of up to $10,000 each and 20 “mini-grants” of $2,500 each. Interested teachers should propose innovative science projects that can be implemented in their school or school district over a one-year period. Toyota TAPESTRY projects must demonstrate creativity, involve risk-taking, possess a visionary quality, and model a novel way of presenting science.

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100 Pennsylvania schools getting a big dose of handhelds

The Bucks County Courier Times reports on seven suburban Philadelphia schools that won a state Hands-on Technology grant to buy dozens of handheld computers for classroom use. The seven schools were among 100 Pennsylvania schools that won such grants, which combined for more than $1 million in funding.

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