Texas district brings technology instruction to all K-6 students

The Midland Reporter-Telegram of Midland, Texas, reports that the local school district has added a technology curriculum for K-6 students after years of offering computer instruction only to students in grades 8-12. To prepare the K-6 teachers for this major change, the district’s technology trainers are working with Pearson Prentice Hall and Learning.com to become experts on the software they will be using. The trainers will bring this knowledge back to the district to help classroom teachers adjust to the software. “It will be wonderful for teachers to have the opportunity to integrate technology into their programs,” said Ann Dixon, Midland’s lead teacher trainer (and eSN Conference Correspondent at TCEA 2005).

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LCD monitor buyers beware: Comparing speeds no easy task

PC World magazine reports on the lack of standard specifications for measuring pixel response time in LCD monitors. This has caused problems for consumers, who are unsure if one monitor is “faster” than another because competing vendors are often using different measurement techniques.

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The hunt is on for ed-tech visionaries

The search is on for the nation’s top education visionaries. Not long after Intel Corporation staged its own Visionary Conference in Washington, D.C., two more technology giants are on the hunt.

Dell Inc., the nation’s leading provider of computers to schools, and the world’s leading software maker, Microsoft Corp., have announced the creation of a Visionary Award. The program seeks to empower forward-thinking educators by providing the tools and resources to help them upgrade the nation’s classroom for the 21st century.

Three educators committed to turning their vision for the future into a reality will each win $250,000 in technology and services for their school, according to the companies. The visionaries will be chosen based on personal essays detailing how technology can transform education and help their students prepare for the future.

The awards are part of a larger million-dollar grant initiative, dubbed FutureReady, which seeks to equip educators with the skills, resources, and technology necessary to prepare the nation’s students for success in the ultra-competitive global economy.

Winners will be announced at Dell’s Global Education Day in early 2006, where they will be given the opportunity to share their vision of education and technology with education stakeholders around the world.

“These [students] are the people who down the road are going to be our employees,” said Scott Campbell, Dell’s vice president of sales for K-12. “But these students will not be successful in the future if they do not have the skills they need to succeed.”

Rather than awarding people for the work they’ve already done, Campbell said FutureReady seeks to award forward-thinking educators for the work they plan to do.

“We have a tendency in these types of programs to award people for work they’ve already done,” he said. “This program is about the what-ifs. It asks, ‘what if I had the resources to do something different?”

He added: “We want to give educators an opportunity to inspire students to integrate technology effectively into the classroom.”

Anthony Salcito, general manager of U.S. Education for Microsoft, said the goal “is to shine a light on the good examples [of what’s] being done across the country.”

The Visionary Award winners will be selected based on how well their individual essays describe a plan to use 21st century technology to increase student achievement and the development of 21st century skills in their students; increase teacher productivity and improve instruction; improve the effectiveness of the school’s administration through access to data; and provide an opportunity for their local communities to participate in education.

The call for classroom innovation has intensified in recent months. As high school graduation rates nationwide continue to decline, parents and employers question whether it’s the schools–not the students–that have been left behind.

With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act and a widespread emphasis on what works, Salcito said the focus has shifted from outfitting classrooms with the latest high-tech solutions, to proving that the effective use of technology does, in fact, breed academic success.

“These days, it’s not about the technology … but about how the technology can be applied to learning,” he said. The hope is that the winning educators and their stories will inspire others across the country to follow their lead.

“We really believe technology can have a profound impact on education and student achievement,” added Salcito. “There are islands of excellence in education. The challenge has always been pulling together and taking those best practices to scale.”

Dell and Microsoft are providing numerous ways for schools and communities to benefit from the program. Beyond the Visionary Award, educators also will have the opportunity to win Mobile Computer Labs and even a Dell Intelligent Classroom worth up to $75,000 for their schools.

In all, five school districts with the most visits to the program web site–www.futureready.org–will each receive a mobile computer lab provided by Dell and Microsoft. Each lab, valued at $10,000, includes Dell notebook computers, a mobile cart, a wireless access point, and a Dell laser printer, the companies said.

Based on a random drawing, three schools or school districts will each win a Dell Intelligent Classroom, a technology-enabled classroom that allows educators to choose from a variety of customizable technologies, including wireless-enabled Dell computers (desktop or laptop); a wireless projector; interactive whiteboard; wireless polling and quiz-taking applications; a wireless pad that allows professors to control classroom presentations remotely; a document camera and overhead projector; multimedia devices, including DVD players and high-quality LCD TVs; a central audio/visual control system; managed printing for individual and classroom use; and a classroom PA system. Campbell said Dell and Microsoft will consult with the winners in an effort to help them design the classroom that best resembles their vision.

The program was first announced last month during the National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia.

To be considered for the Visionary Award, each entrant must be an educator or administrator representing a K-12 school or school district in the U.S.

For a complete description of FutureReady criteria, rules and regulations, and to submit an entry, educators are encouraged to visit the web site. Submissions will be accepted online beginning this fall until mid-November 2005. No purchase or entry fee is required.

“Educators can inspire students and awaken their curiosity for learning by integrating technology in the classroom,” Campbell said. “Through the FutureReady program, Dell and Microsoft are committed to highlighting schools that have a vision for the classroom of the future, and equipping schools with the technology they’ll need to make it a reality.”

Related story:

Ed ‘visionaries’: Schools must change
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5674

Links:

FutureReady program web site
http://www.futureready.org/

Dell Inc.
http://www.dell.com

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

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Atlanta columnist: Poor leadership led to Cobb laptop dilemma

Mike King, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines the problems plaguing the ambitious Cobb County one-to-one computing initiative. King says that the program has been mishandled “almost from the start.” He says a failure to anticipate public reaction to the initial laptop announcement and a refusal to entertain debate on the issue are now coming back to haunt the district’s leadership. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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All 905,000 Missouri public-school kids to be given ID numbers

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri plans to give a 10-digit ID number to each of its 905,000 public-school students. The ID number will help in tracking students’ test scores and in reporting more accurate dropout rates. It will cost $600,000 to develop the Missouri Student Information System, and all financing will be handled with federal funds.

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New group promotes ‘PC Turnoff Week’

Touting surveys that claim to show the harmful physical and psychological effects of too much computer use, a newly formed parents’ group is promoting a worldwide media awareness week that asks parents to turn off their children’s (and their own) computers for a week in favor of other activities. PC Turnoff Week, organized by the group PC-Turnoff.org, is scheduled for August 1-7 of this year.

PC-Turnoff says it “was founded by parents who became concerned with their children’s overuse of computers.” The group means to provide users with news and opinions regarding the latest research in the area of children and computers. Leaders of the campaign own a company that sells software designed to let parents turn off computers, a fact disclosed on the organization’s web site.

PC-Turnoff says that, in an age of complete media saturation, American children now spend less time reading, playing outdoors, and socializing with family and friends. Though the group believes “computers are wonderful tools for learning, assisting with research, and communication,” it says today’s youth “often waste time aimlessly surfing the web, playing games, or chatting online.”

The founding member of PC-Turnoff, Joe Acunzo, said the group was formed in April. “There is a small handful at the core of the movement at the moment,” Acunzo said. “We’re hoping the group will grow … We have every intention of making [PC Turnoff Week] an annual event. It will be a mechanism for getting the word out, getting [parents] to take a look.”

Acunzo said PC-Turnoff has modeled itself on the successful TV-Turnoff group that began a similar campaign in 1994, urging families to spend time away from what many have called “the electronic hearth.” That group has since broadened its focus to include the so-called new media of computers and video games.

Don Knezek, director of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), warned against taking a “televisionist” view of current technology and the role it plays in the lives of young people.

“You need to examine the & assumption of the computer as the old box that sits still,” Knezek said. “In fact, young students today are using technology in a number of mobile ways.”

Acunzo said PC-Turnoff’s efforts are based on recent studies of technology use among kids at home.

“What we’ve discovered from the research & is that there are issues of social isolation, children are not interacting one-on-one with their peers. Yes, they are interacting virtually, but it doesn’t compare,” Acunzo said. “[Also,] I’m sure that you’ve seen and read the childhood obesity rate is at an all-time high. And learning issues–children have difficulty focusing on things.”

Acunzo and the group’s web site point to, among other sources, a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation called “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds” (see “Today’s kids are media multi-taskers“), which studied media use among young people. Though the study makes few value judgments about students’ computer use and instead records their habits, Acunzo notes that “one of the conclusions [it draws] is that anything that’s taking up so much time in our children’s lives [has the] potential for negative effects.”

PC-Turnoff recommends a number of alternate activities for families, such as “reading, exercise, play, or family time,” and links to organizations that feature more elaborate family activity planning.

But Acunzo is equally quick to stress that his group is “by no means anti-computer or anti-technology.”

“We recognize that technologies have the potential for negative effects,” he said. “[But] we firmly believe technology is a great tool for children, both socially and academically. We are concerned with what happens with excessive use. That prompted us to start this.”

“I’m pleased [PC-Turnoff’s] agenda is not abstinence through grade eight, as some groups propose,” Knezek said, alluding to the Alliance for Childhood, which PC-Turnoff also uses as a source to support its idea of a PC-free week. Knezek added that it’s good PC-Turnoff appears to be “interested in limiting any potentially damaging conditions. Those are very good concerns in the whole technology agenda.”

But Knezek warned that careful, sophisticated consideration must be given to the studies used by groups like PC-Turnoff as support for their claims.

“The first thing that we need to do is examine the assumption that excessive use of technology is the issue that’s causing our students to be, [for instance,] overweight,” Knezek said. “If the accusation is that increased technology use makes [students] illiterate, you need to look at some of the recent studies that show the opposite.”

One PC Turnoff Week sponsor that is featured heavily on the PC-Turnoff web site is a for-profit company called SoftwareTime, which produces a software program that allows parents to limit the amount of time their kids spend online. That company is owned by Acunzo and his business partner, Marc Sicignano.

“SoftwareTime started as a commercial venture, and now we have this other movement,” Acunzo said. “SoftwareTime is going to evolve as a company; we’re going to go on to other things. We want to make [the relationship] very clear–we fully disclose it on the PC-Turnoff web site. We don’t want to lose credibility of the company. We offer a lot of good information on the [PC-Turnoff] site. We’re going to just offer the information at no charge. We also recommend other products and books.”

Links:

PC-Turnoff.org
http://www.pcturnoff.org

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

Kaiser Family Foundation
http://www.kaiserfamily.org

Alliance for Childhood
http://www.allianceforchildhood.org

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British teachers fear damage from labeling students as ‘failures’

The Daily Telegraph of London reports that British Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has shot down a teachers’ association effort to have the word “fail” removed from schools and instead replaced with terminology related to the concept of “deferred success.” Some British teachers felt that being labeled a “failure” at a young age was too devastating for children, but Kelly said children must learn to deal with success and failure in order to prepare for adult life. “Education is about creating well-rounded young people who can deal with these sorts of situations.” Kelly said.

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Tech award winner gives eRate credit for Ala. district’s success

The Daily Sentinel of Scottsboro, Ala., reports on Dr. Angela Guess ,a local district technology coordinator who won the Marbury Technology Innovation Award from the Alabama Department of Education. Guess, who has overseen the district’s technology efforts since 1993, credits eRate funding for playing the biggest role in her district’s success over the past decade.

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Suburban Seattle high school brings Gates’ vision to life

Seattle Weekly magazine has an in-depth report on the progress at Mountlake Terrace High School in suburban Seattle. This school is the flagship for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s plan to transform U.S. high schools. For the past five years, Mountlake Terrace has been moving to the Gates Small Schools model, and administrators are discovering what it means to be the “guinea pigs” for such an ambitious undertaking.

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FLY pentop set to take off

LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the school division of the Emeryville, Calif.-based company that six years ago introduced the LeapPad electronic learning system–a device so popular it had parents flocking to toy stores nationwide–this fall will release its latest tool for learning: a computer the size of a pen.

Dubbed FLY, the new “pentop computer” works with a special brand of electronic paper that lets students interact with their own drawings. Using the magic-marker sized device, students can write a word in English, then hear the word translated via a special voice synthesizer to Spanish; draw a piano keyboard, then listen to the notes played back to them by tapping the keys with the pen; or make a calculator that performs mathematical operations by touching the pen to a combination of handwritten digits.

The product is built specifically for today’s “tween” set. This demographic group, which includes students in the third through fifth grades, is receiving increasing attention these days, as emerging technologies–sophisticated cell phones, laptops, MP3 players–continue to shape how these near-teens live their everyday lives.

The hope of LeapFrog marketers: This new pentop will put the bounce back in their step. The company, which lost upwards of $8 million in 2004, has watched its stock slip more than 70 percent since its highest levels in 2003.

Patt Montgomery, vice president of marketing for LeapFrog’s SchoolHouse division, said the goal is to expand the company’s reach by tapping into a new market share.

“With FLY,” she said, “we’re really looking at aging up the learning platform.”

Executives say the FLY pentop computer is the first consumer electronics device to give users real-time audio feedback as they write and draw on special FLY paper. The idea, Montgomery said, was to take a tool that both teachers and students were familiar with and personalize it for individualized instruction that can take place anywhere. “Pen and paper is the most pervasive tool [set] there is,” she pointed out. “Teachers know how to manage pen and paper.”

Al Johnson, technology director for the Jefferson Parish Schools in Louisiana, plans to test the FLY technology next year with the district’s tough-to-reach middle school crowd.

“It has so many applications, and we’re providing so much–like calculators and workbooks–that we can condense it into one device,” he said at a product demonstration during the National Educational Computing Conference last month. “Whenever you can make a child feel like something is special just for them, they want to use it. It’s a valuable tool.”

Pentop computing has been around for a while–mostly in the form of Bluetooth wireless-enabled pens from companies such as Sony and Ericsson–but LeapFrog’s SchoolHouse division is perhaps the first education company to fashion the technology specifically for use by students.

The “intelligent” pen receives it commands from a series of dots laid out on the specially designed FLY paper. The dots are then read by a tiny optical sensor located on the tip of the pen. LeapFrog developed the technology in conjunction with Swedish technology firm Anoto–the same company that has helped several of the nation’s leading cellular phone makers build Bluetooth wireless-enabled pens for use with handheld computing devices.

FLY gets its wings from special character-recognition software that interprets students’ handwriting based on a system of ideal letter shapes and stroke patterns, rather than a system of symbols, company executives told eSchool News. A special phoneme-to-speech technology supports a lexicon of more than 70,000 words–a feature that ensures the pen is as articulate as the students and many of the teachers who it’s been built to help, the company said.

“With ‘intelligent’ technology, the FLY pentop computer will assist people of all ages in the mastery of core academic subjects and provide a new genre of entertainment,” said Jim Marggraff, the visionary behind FLY and LeapFrog’s executive vice president of worldwide content.

FLY was developed with the help of 50 product testers ages 8-13. Nicknamed the Quantum X Team, these “kid developers” worked on a regular basis over the past year with LeapFrog product designers to provide input on the FLY platform and its applications, the company said.

LeapFrog plans to follow its usual strategy for new product releases: rolling out FLY first through retail channels before eventually making it available to schools. The idea, according to executives, is to get the product into homes, while continuing to develop and hone applications for the classroom.

Applications immediately available to consumers include FLY Through Math: Multiplication and Division, a first-of-its kind product designed to helps students master math homework assignments. With Fly Through Math, students can write a long division problem out on the FLY paper, then receive guided, step-by-step instruction from the pen as they work to solve the problem. Though the pen gives hints, LeapFrog says, one thing it won’t do is help students cheat by providing the answers.

Another application, FLY Through Spelling, incorporates teacher-provided spelling lists and generic grade-level spelling lists to help students build their vocabulary skills and word usage. Also available is the FLY Through Spanish Translator, an English-to-Spanish dictionary that allows students to touch a word written in English with the pen and hear it translated into Spanish.

With an eye toward higher test scores, the company also is offering a special test-prep package for math, science, and social studies in grades 6-8. Developers contend the material, which includes talking maps and book excerpts, correlates with more than 90 percent of the material currently featured in subject-related textbooks across country.

Each application is activated by way of an interchangeable cartridge that is plugged into the top of the pen, in much the same way a video game or memory card is inserted into a portable player.

FLY is creating quite a buzz in the broader technology marketplace, where companies such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Disney, MeadWestvaco, Upper Deck, and NBC News reportedly have approached LeapFrog with ideas for new content.

“Every time we talk with someone about this product, it seems like they come up with something new to do with it,” said Montgomery, who noted that LeapFrog executives encourage companies to approach them with new ideas about how to leverage the technology.

“HP supports LeapFrog’s vision for its FLY pentop computing platform,” said Frank Cloutier, chief technology officer for the imaging and product group at HP. “We are excited to explore the possibility of expanding the use of intelligent printed paper to a broader world of learning and entertainment opportunities at home, school, and work.”

HP and LeapFrog are currently looking for ways to leverage HP’s imaging and printing technology on the FLY pentop computer platform, such as providing ways for schools and consumers to print their own electronic paper.

LeapFrog also is talking with school-supply providers such as Mead to produce its special electronic paper for use in schools.

FLY will be available to consumers this fall. The pen itself is expected to sell for about $99, and the applications are expected to range from $7.99 to $29.99, the company said. The pen is powered by a single AAA battery. LeapFrog has yet to announce when the product will be made available in bulk to schools, but the company did say it plans to offer special education pricing discounts, which were not yet announced at press time.

Links:

LeapFrog SchoolHouse
http://www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com/

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