Laptops key element of S.C. district’s $8M technology-lease plan

The Chronicle-Independent of Camden, S.C., reports that the Kershaw County School District will give laptops to students at three of its high schools this month as part of a pilot technology plan. The first group of students will receive the laptops on Jan. 13. The laptop initiative is contained in an overall $8 million technology lease program with Hewlett-Packard, taking effect in the district over the next four years. The program will bring 1,200 laptops into local high schools each year.

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Tech-savvy schools get millions in Medicaid

When officials at the San Diego City Schools decided to convert the district’s special-education system to a new computerized tracking database, it marked the beginning of the end to a long-running bureaucratic nightmare for special-education director Carolyn Nunes.

After spending her entire career struggling to keep pace with the unending barrage of paperwork that followed every one of the district’s approximately 17,000 special-needs students through the school system–the second largest in California–Nunes was convinced the district needed a more efficient means of ensuring that eligible students were receiving the care they so desperately needed & and deserved.

“We were looking for something that could capture everything we needed into one system. In addition to tracking student timelines, we wanted a system that had the ability to keep us in compliance and potentially help us increase our revenue recovery through MediCal,” California’s version of Medicaid, Nunes said.

San Diego is one of dozens of school systems nationwide reportedly benefiting from the use of new technology designed to track, monitor, record, and report the delivery of special-education services. Not only do these electronic tools promise to reduce dramatically the amount of paper pushed across administrators’ desks on a daily basis, but some say the technology is helping foot the bill for special-needs children–giving schools a much more efficient means of applying for and collecting millions in state-provided Medicaid reimbursements.

In St. Paul, Minn., special-ed coordinator Janet Lowe estimates the district increased its recovery of Medicaid funds by more than $1 million per year after moving to an automated tracking program furnished by Boston-based Public Consulting Group Inc. (PCG). And in Baltimore, officials reportedly realized a tenfold increase in Medicaid recovery–to $25 million–within three years of upgrading to a software program from Baltimore-based 4GL School Solutions.

Though the St. Paul school district was entitled to reimbursements from the state for a variety of services, Lowe said, the sheer volume of paperwork and the complexity of the reporting requirements often precluded busy administrators from applying for anything more than standard nursing services.

Using the automated filing system, she said, district officials now can apply for state money to fund everything from physical and occupational therapy sessions to speech and audiological services, as well as necessary social work and additional paraprofessional support.

Accountability is another benefit. Instead of digging through rooms full of file cabinets to account for services provided to students, Lowe said, special-education teachers and district and state auditors now can see those services reflected almost instantly by logging onto the system, which even allows service providers to fill out the necessary paperwork from their Palm Pilots almost immediately after meeting with students.

Clark Easter, chairman of 4GL, which also worked on the San Diego project, first envisioned the benefits of an automated special-education system in 1996.

Charged with helping the beleaguered Baltimore City School System meet its timelines for special-education children, Easter began searching for ways to expedite a process that, at the time, was failing to adequately account for 30 percent of the district’s special-needs students. The situation was so bad, in fact, that the district was under a judicial decree to get its house in order, Easter said.

The problem with a paper-based system is that it’s not very efficient, Easter noted. When a special-education service provider–whether a student psychologist or a physical therapist–comes to the school to meet with a child, the provider’s top concern is to provide assistance to the student. And that’s a good thing. But it also means the paperwork is likely to get put off until the service provider returns to his or her office. For most schools, Easter said, that’s where the trouble starts.

Without the proper paperwork in hand, administrators have a difficult time keeping track of which students are receiving adequate care and which are being forced to go without. In the public school system, every special-needs child is required to have an individualized education plan, or IEP, that charts a course for success from kindergarten through high school graduation. Failing to provide services prescribed in an IEP is a violation of federal law and opens the school up to potential lawsuits filed on behalf of frustrated parents.

For schools, finding the money to pay for such services–from psychoanalysis to physical and occupational therapy–isn’t easy. Though special-education students typically account for less than 20 percent of a school system’s total enrollment, Easter said, districts can spend as much as 50 percent of their full education budgets on special-needs programs.

Fortunately, schools can use state Medicaid dollars to pay for these services, assuming that the paperwork is done correctly and handed in on time. But that alone can be an onerous task. To receive payment for special-needs services, administrators first must navigate a complex web of forms and procedures, which makes meeting deadlines for claims virtually impossible in most cases, Easter said. As a result, it isn’t uncommon for school districts to get less than 50 cents on the dollar for treatment rendered, leaving them to pay for the remainder of the services out of pocket.

When Easter arrived in Baltimore City Schools eight years ago, the district reportedly received $2.5 million a year in Medicaid funds from the state. Three years later, after switching to an automated system, officials reportedly reaped more than $25 million in claims reimbursements.

“People were incredulous that there was that much money there,” he said. “What they failed to realize is that Medicaid and special education are two halves of the same coin.”

Today, a number of companies–including 4GL, PCG, and Mobile, Ala.-based Software Technology Inc.–market web-based software solutions designed to simplify the administrative burdens inherent in special-education record-keeping, while optimizing the financial opportunities available to schools.

Back in San Diego, Nunes said that while she couldn’t imagine life without the technology, it’s not a panacea.

“A large, painful challenge for us is teaching people to do things the right way,” she added. “But I’m a visionary. I know that two years down the road, it will be a beautiful thing.”

See these related links:

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

Public Consulting Group Inc.
http://www.pcgus.com/about.asp

Software Technology Inc.
http://www.sti-k12.com

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Ed tech suffers $191M budget hit

Congress on Nov. 20 passed an omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2005 that provides a $1.4 billion overall increase for education–but some $191 million, or nearly 30 percent, less for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program, the primary source of federal funding for school technology.

Though overall education funding will top $57 billion this year, ed-tech advocates who spoke with eSchool News decried the final bill for failing to provide enough money to support the use of technology in the nation’s schools. EETT, which was funded last year at $691 million, will receive around $500 million in 2005.

Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, called the news “very disturbing” and said cutting EETT will carry “some very serious implications” for the nation’s schools.

In fact, he said, the final cut was much more severe than ed-tech advocates originally had envisioned. In its original budget bill, the House recommended decreasing EETT funding by $91 million, a far cry from the nearly $200 million slash ultimately applied by Congress.

Knezek said the final cuts fly in the face of everything the federal government has said with regard to its support of technology in schools. He said the current administration has repeatedly tried to justify cuts to smaller technology-specific education programs, such as the now defunct Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program and the Star Schools program, by continuing to pump money into EETT and other NCLB-related initiatives.

But as EETT and other tech-specific education programs continue to suffer major hits, he said, questions abound with regard to the federal government’s true intentions.

During budget negotiations, lawmakers from both parties traded salvos over just how necessary a tool technology is in helping the nation’s schools meet the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which took on even greater significance when President Bush won reelection in November. Among the bill’s many requirements, which include an increased emphasis on tracking and reporting student achievement data, is a provision that calls for all students to be technologically proficient by the eighth grade.

But the final 2005 education budget is weighted heavily in favor of other NCLB priorities, such as the president’s Reading First and Early Reading First initiatives, which received a $62 million boost this year.

Without strong federal leadership on educational technology, Knezek said, preparing today’s students for success in tomorrow’s technology-driven workforce will become increasingly difficult. A stronger federal commitment is necessary to demonstrate the correlation between technology and improved student achievement, he said.

Mary Kusler, senior legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators, echoed Knezek’s sentiments, adding that her organization was “really concerned about funding levels this year.” By decreasing federal funding for ed-tech programs in particular, she said, the federal government essentially has put the onus on state legislatures to come up with the money for many of these programs–not an easy task, considering the majority of states are just beginning to emerge from one of the worst fiscal shortages in recent history.

“This has to be very disappointing for educators across the country,” Kusler said. “They’re just not going to see the dollars flowing from Washington that they had expected to see.”

Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), said such a severe cut to EETT likely will harbor dire consequences for schools. In 2003, SETDA commissioned a study that found 25 percent of the nation’s state technology directors rely solely on NCLB-related funding, including the ed-tech block grant, to provide technology access in their states’ schools.

“These funds were literally the ‘only game in town’; their school districts had no other funding earmarked specifically for technology in schools,” the report stated.

George and others believe the loss of EETT funding will force school leaders to expand their partnerships with local businesses–already a dicey proposition, given controversy over the increasing corporate influence in the nation’s schools.

Two other significant ed-tech programs survived in the final budget, though one of these was slashed in half. The Star Schools program, which received $20.5 million in 2004 to help underserved schools deploy advanced telecommunications services, will get $21 million in 2005. And the Community Technology Centers (CTC) program, which got $10 million last year to provide federally subsidized computer centers for students in low-income areas, will receive just $5 million this year.

CTC and Star Schools have been on the chopping block for the last four years, as the Bush administration has adopted the goal of consolidating federal education programs that are considered “duplicative.” In each year, the Senate has voted to preserve these programs, and they ultimately have survived.

The 2005 budget news wasn’t all bad for schools.

In fact, a number of initiatives saw funding commitments increase this year–though, in many cases, the increases were smaller than those recommended by the president, Kusler said.

Title 1, which provides financial assistance to underprivileged students, received a $500,000 boost compared with fiscal year ’04, pushing federal spending on that program to a record $12.8 billion. Bush had asked for even more, requesting that lawmakers fund the program at $13.3 billion. The Pell grants, intended to help low-income students afford college, received $458 million more than last year, for a total of nearly $12.5 billion. Again, Bush had requested more money, asking Congress to provide $12.8 billion for the program.

Though technology-specific programs seemed to suffer most this year, spending on NCLB-related initiatives increased overall. For instance, the Improving Teacher Quality program, which provides federal funding for teacher professional development, will receive a $10 million increase compared with last year, bringing that program to nearly $3 billion.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which helps schools pay for the instruction of special-needs students (story, page 7), got a $1.7 billion boost, to $11.8 billion. But funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program will remain flat compared with last year, at just under $1 billion.

Lawmakers also agreed to increase funding for Head Start, the nation’s early learning program, by $124 million over last year’s level, bringing total spending on that front to $6.9 billion and putting an end to widespread speculation that Head Start might be eliminated–at least for another year.

See these related links:

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

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org

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eSN Online update

In a recent eSchool News Online poll, 80 percent of our readers said they planned to attend a major educational technology conference in the next 12 months.

We knew many of our readers attend conferences, but the 80 percent figure was a real eye-opener that showed just how important conferences are in shaping the future of education. Our online readers are particularly tech-savvy and undeniably passionate about making new technologies work for schools, and they aren’t likely to spend their time on things that don’t benefit students. If 80 percent of them attend conferences, then these events deserve all the media attention we can provide, which is why we’ve built a dedicated, year-round Conference Information Center at eSchool News Online.

If you’ve been to a major ed-tech conference, you already know why these events are so popular with educators. Whether it’s the impressive displays in the exhibit hall or the intensity of the presentations given at workshops, one thing is clear: Everybody at a conference is there because he or she cares about the future of technology in schools. Talk to people, and you’ll find the conversation always comes back to learning. The one question on everybody’s lips is not “How will this technology make my life easier?” It’s “How will this technology benefit my students?”

One of these major events–the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC)–will take place later this month in Orlando. At eSchool News Online, we’ll be striving to capture every last drop of insight gained at this and other conferences, and we want to help educators make use of it in their schools. But covering a major ed-tech conference like FETC is no easy task. With hundreds of workshops and dozens of lectures to attend, it’s virtually impossible for any news organization to chronicle everything.

This is where you come in, and it’s one reason we hope to see you in Orlando. At the recent National School Boards Association’s T+L2 gathering in Denver, we reached out to conference attendees, asking them to volunteer as correspondents for eSchool News and eSN Online. We were delighted that so many of you agreed to help us cover that event, and because of your efforts, we had coverage of more than half of the 77 T+L2 workshops. The result was a more complete picture of T+L2 than had ever been possible before. Once the conference ended, NSBA linked to our coverage on the home page of its T+L2 web site–an indication of just how much the correspondents had helped us achieve.

In case you missed any part of our T+L2 coverage, you can access it all at this link: http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic/indexTL22004.cfm

If you’re going to Orlando for FETC, you can get a first-hand experience of our eSN Online coverage by joining us as an FETC correspondent. If you’re interested in having as much fun as our correspondents had in Denver, we invite you to fill out the form at this link before the Jan. 14 closing date: http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic/fetcreg.cfm

In filling out the form, you’ll be able to choose the sessions you wish to cover and, depending on supplies, you might even receive some cool technology to take home, such as the AlphaSmart Neo computer companions we gave to correspondents at T+L2.

Speaking of educator communities that are passionate about learning with technology, be sure to visit the new Ed-Tech Insider at eSN Online. We’ve brought together a group of ed-tech experts who post daily tips, tricks, and best practices. Like the Conference Correspondents, they do it on a volunteer basis because they want to help their colleagues and help the ed-tech movement in general.

In addition to the buzz around our Conference Information Center and Ed-Tech Insider section, eSchool News Online will be packed with other features in January. Among these is another addition to our Educator’s Resource Center, titled “Wireless Solutions for Education.”

With financial support from Sprint, we have aggregated our best content on wireless in one easy-to-access web page. You’ll find information about laptop programs, handhelds in the classroom, wireless security, and much more. Check it out at this link: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/wirelesssolutions/index.cfm

So stop by eSN Online in January for comprehensive coverage of FETC, expert opinion on the nation’s most pressing ed-tech issues, convenient centers for ed-tech research and, of course, the very latest educational technology news and information.

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Federal grant review process should be fair and open

In the September issue of eSchool News, there was an article titled “ED grants to Bennett’s K12 Inc. challenged,” which discussed the use of federal grant funds to establish the Arkansas Virtual Academy (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/). According to the article, the school–which uses curriculum supplied by former Education Secretary William J. Bennett’s for-profit company, K12 Inc.–has received $4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) Voluntary Public Choice Program. But the Arkansas project scored lower in the review process than at least one other project that wasn’t funded. According to ED insiders, this is a “highly unusual occurrence.” It raises the question whether the project received preferential treatment as a result of Bennett’s–and Arkansas state officials’–political ties with the current administration.

I’ve had first-hand experience in receiving a high score during a review process and not getting funded, and it’s a frustrating situation. Several years ago, a grant proposal that I wrote was the second-highest scoring proposal in a state competition. However, the applicant I was working for was denied funding. A state education department employee called to tell us he overheard someone say the applicant had received several grants in the months prior to this competition, so it was time to “give someone else a chance.”

An ED spokeswoman, Susan Aspey, was quoted in the story as saying, “We always have the discretion to fund additional applications, and that’s exactly what happened in this case.” As a professional proposal writer, I believe this raises some serious questions that need to be examined. I sent an eMail message to Ms. Aspey asking in what document this “discretion” is explained, but I received no response from her. Perhaps a statement to this effect needs to be included in every federal RFP (Request for Proposals)–or, for that matter, in any RFP–where the funder has the “discretion” to go beyond the results of the scoring process and even make awards to those applicants who didn’t score high enough during the process.

If a funder can override the decisions of reviewers, what does this do to the integrity of the review process? Would you be willing to spend hours of your time reviewing and scoring proposals if you knew that the final funding decisions could be based on other factors that do not appear on your scoring rubric? And if, in fact, political ties play a role in the funding decision process (and sadly, I believe they often do), is it really necessary for a team of reviewers to spend valuable time reading and scoring proposals?

The question still remains how pervasive is the practice of awarding funding to applicants who scored lower than the threshold. We really have no idea how often this occurs. Traditionally, grantees are announced for awards with no mention of the score their proposals received during the review process. Perhaps it’s time for each applicant’s total score to be announced as well. This would allow those individuals who were not funded to see how close they came to receiving an award based on their score. In addition, it would be public knowledge if any applicants were the recipients of funding based on the discretion of the funder.

If you feel the same way I do about this issue, I hope you’ll pass this column along to your colleagues who write proposals and also to your local legislators to generate interest in this topic at the grassroots level. Perhaps, in your discussions, you can come up with some suggestions for how we might shed more light on the public-sector review process and make it more fair and equitable for applicants. I would be very interested in hearing your suggestions and comments for a follow-up column.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or Debor21727@aol.com.

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PLATO Learning chief resigns

The chief executive of PLATO Learning stepped down Nov. 17, leaving ed-tech insiders to question what his abrupt departure will mean for the company’s 20,000-plus school customers.

After meeting with the company’s board of directors, John Murray, who served as president, chairman, and chief executive officer of the company since he took the helm in 1994, agreed to relinquish all three titles and his seat on the company’s board, effectively cutting all ties between himself and the Bloomington, Minn.-based firm.

Current PLATO board member and former NCS Pearson boss David Smith has assumed Murray’s duties as interim CEO, a position encompassing the duties of president as well, until a replacement is found. Board member Thomas Hudson has taken over as interim chairman. Murray reportedly will stay on as a consultant during the transition.

The move came just one week after the company’s chief financial officer tendered his resignation and PLATO executives announced the educational software provider would miss its earnings targets for the fourth quarter and fiscal year.

But sluggish earnings haven’t been the only thorn in PLATO’s side recently. Ethical questions also have been raised about the company’s aggressive courtship of school districts, including its apparent ties to at least one high-level district employee.

In September, the Baltimore Sun reported the company provided Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools CEO Andre Hornsby with a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa. The trip, which reportedly took place in July 2003, was organized by the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), of which Hornsby was president.

As NABSE’s corporate sponsor, PLATO–which was seeking a bid for a district-wide contract in Prince George’s County at the time–footed the bill for the trip. School board officials said Hornsby informed them of the trip but never disclosed it was being paid for by PLATO. According to the Sun, Hornsby went on the trip again this past July, despite having stepped down as president of the alliance.

PLATO spokeswoman Terri Reden said it was NASBE’s decision to use a portion of PLATO’s sponsorship to finance the trip for members of its leadership. She also said Hornsby paid for the second trip out of his own pocket.

In a January ethics disclosure form obtained by the Sun, Hornsby said that during his time as president of the alliance he never accepted gifts or money from companies doing business with the school district. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Maryland prosecutor’s office have opened probes into Hornsby’s dealings with PLATO and other companies with ties to the district. A Prince George’s County School Board ethics panel cleared Hornsby of any wrongdoing in December.

PLATO executives said the change in leadership had nothing to do with any suggestion of impropriety by the company. Reden also denied speculation that the move was made to halt two consecutive years of losses for the company.

Though the board “has been somewhat disappointed with the company’s earnings,” Reden said, PLATO is performing well compared with its competitors–and losses are a reality of the current fiscal climate.

According to Reden, both the board and Murray felt it was simply a “good time to bring in new leadership that could help get the company to the next level.” She said the change would have no effect on any of the services PLATO currently provides to its school customers.

During his tenure, Murray served as the chief architect behind several high-profile contracts and mergers, including the company’s acquisition last year of Lightspan Inc. He also played an integral role in inking a $22 million deal to provide software, support, and computerized instruction for students across the state of Idaho.

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Firefox turns up heat on Microsoft IE

After years of sluggish innovation in the Microsoft-dominated world of web browsing, a new open-source internet browser called Firefox has emerged to challenge the software giant’s Internet Explorer (IE). The upstart technology has been garnering attention in schools and colleges in recent months, as ed-tech leaders search for ways to circumvent the latest security holes in Microsoft’s proprietary solution.

Though the Firefox browser enters the market as a David in the shadow of a Goliath, several ed-tech enthusiasts believe the technology has great potential. Not only is it free, they say, but it also provides a level of security that IE–even with the release of Microsoft’s highly publicized update, Service Pack 2 (SP2)–so far has been unable to achieve.

Built by the Mozilla Foundation, Firefox is designed to spur innovation in the browser community–something many people have been waiting for since the end of the so-called “browser wars,” when IE conquered its only major competitor, Netscape, to reign supreme as the browser installed on more than 90 percent of PCs worldwide.

In schools and colleges, proponents of the new open-source competitor contend Firefox makes an enticing option.

Though the price tag doesn’t hurt, either–Firefox can be downloaded free of charge from the Mozilla Foundation web site–Tim Wilson, technology integration specialist for the 10,000-student Hopkins School District in suburban Minneapolis, says he’s considering switching to Firefox primarily for its security, among other benefits.

And he’s not alone. Citing security risks, Pennsylvania State University is urging students to drop IE in favor of alternate browsers like Firefox. In a notice sent to students Dec. 8, the school’s IT Services department recommended that students download other browsers to reduce the likelihood of attacks through the Microsoft software, online news outlet CNET.com reported Dec. 9.

Not that Firefox is perfect. Like any technology, Wilson said, bugs will be exposed–eventually. And it is IE’s very ubiquity that makes it such an attractive target for wrongdoers. As Firefox gains in popularity, it is likely to draw fire from the same miscreants now sniping at IE.

Unlike the Microsoft browser, however, Firefox is not bundled with the applications commonly installed on the PC at the factory–meaning that if the new browser were to be attacked by a hacker, the attack more likely would be localized and less apt to spread throughout the entire system.

Though security is important, Wilson said, it’s not the only reason he’s considering making the switch. Firefox contains a number of subtle innovations that he said breathe life back into a browser market largely moribund during IE’s reign.

Among the most significant of these is “tabbed” browsing, which allows users to open new pages as tabs in a single window instead of opening multiple windows. According to Wilson, the technology makes for much easier organization and overall browsing of multiple sites.

Plus, Wilson said, Firefox is platform-neutral. Unlike other web browsers, including IE and Apple’s popular Safari browser, Firefox is configured to run the same on any operating system, including Linux. (Mac OS 9 and earlier versions of Apple’s Macintosh system were not supported by Firefox at press time.)

Even with the new browser’s attractive features, Firefox has a long way to go before it could unseat Microsoft’s IE as king of all browsers. Despite complaints that the software giant has been slow to update IE, Microsoft executives say they haven’t given up on the application.

“Microsoft is committed to continuing innovation on Internet Explorer and to working with developers and partners who build for Internet Explorer,” said Anthony Salcito, general manager for Microsoft Education. “We’ve done a lot of work to ensure that Windows customers have an opportunity to choose from the broadest set of third-party applications in the industry.”

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Student engineers take on stellar challenges at this NASA web site

Students who sign on to participate in NASA’s Engineering Design Challenges Program will encounter many of the same challenges faced by some of NASA’s top scientists and engineers, as they compete to design the next generation of space vehicles, habitats, and futuristic technologies. Working under the supervision of their teachers, students design, build, test, redesign, and rebuild high-tech models depicting all sorts of out-of-this-world technologies–from the electrodynamic propulsion systems used to power spacecraft to satellites and thermal protection devices. Each challenge encourages middle and high school students to participate in classroom activities meant to simulate the actual design, testing, and evaluation process used by real-life engineers in developing these and other cutting-edge technologies. The goal is to encourage students to apply analytical skills to improve their designs, according to the site. Teachers who wish to participate in the program with their students should download the Educator Resource Guide for the challenge they wish to conduct and use it as a blueprint for carrying out the challenge with their students. At the end of the program, participating students are asked to prepare a presentation describing their findings.

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Online and into your school: The Smithsonian brings history to life

The Smithsonian Institution has upgraded its central education web site to include a wealth of new educational content for students ages 6-12, including interactive activities, homework help, and games for all disciplines–from art and history to science and space. Updated features include Explore and Learn, an online gateway to dozens of interactive and educational Smithsonian web sites for kids; Smithsonian Kids, a site that invites younger learners to see and explore many of the artifacts preserved by the Smithsonian over the years; Apollo 11, an interactive feature that takes student learners back to the days of Neil Armstrong and examines the state of science, politics, and technology during the days when man first set foot on the moon; and Mr. President, a resource created in response to the 2004 presidential elections, which provides resources that include brief biographies of our country’s leaders and portraits of current and former presidential figures. Overall, the web site–which features separate sections for children, families, and teachers–contains resources from 18 Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, and the Smithsonian’s many research centers.

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In pursuit of elusive targets, students have fun learning geography

As agents for the fictional Fin, Fur and Feather Bureau of Investigation (FFFBI), students ages 8-13 are invited to undertake a series of imaginative online missions designed to enhance their geographical knowledge and increase their understanding of foreign cultures. From Tokyo to India’s Bollywood and the Australian outback, students will use their newfound geographic skills to hunt down the FFFBI’s most wanted animal fugitives. With names like the Cyber-Toothed Tigers and the Axis of Weasels, each adventure promises to hold a new twist for the young student detectives. In 2002, National Geographic published a survey stating that 83 percent of students could not find Afghanistan on a world map and 86 percent could not locate Israel on a map of the Middle East and Asia. National Geographic and the public television station WGBH in Boston partnered to create this award-winning web site as a means to bolster the quality of U.S. geography instruction in the nation’s schools, helping put U.S. students on par with their foreign counterparts by encouraging a better understanding of the world in which they live.

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