Passion for iPod turning Windows users into Mac fans

Macworld.com reports that the popularity of Apple’s iPod has been translating into more widespread usage of Macs. As more Windows users purchase iPods, a certain percentage transfer their product loyalty to other Apple offerings. One market analyst said it’s not just the iPod that’s pulling Windows users into Apple camp–it’s also security concerns from the increasing number of viruses turning up on Windows-based machines.

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Life after Auschwitz: Experience tragedy through the eyes of survivors

From the nonprofit Shoah Foundation comes “Surviving Auschwitz: Five Personal Journeys,” a new online exhibit that takes a look at the extraordinary lives of five men and women who lived through the tragedies of the Holocaust. Organized around an interactive map of the world that traces the survivors’ paths across five continents, the web site seeks to demonstrate how the shared experience of the Holocaust affected individuals from a diverse mix of cultures and backgrounds. Geared toward students in grades 8-12, the site uses four hours of video testimony from the Shoah Foundation’s archive. In October, lesson plans and other teaching resources also will be available for downloading from the web site. “Surviving Auschwitz” is the third in series of online exhibits commemorating the Holocaust and the lives of Holocaust survivors. Other Holocaust exhibits accessible from the Shoah Foundation web site include “Voices of the Holocaust: Children Speak” and “Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust.”

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Mich. district gives two schools a $144K dose of technology

The Detroit News reports that Fowlerville Community Schools in Fowlerville, Mich., has budgeted $144,000 to upgrade computers at its high school and a middle school. The district’s 189 new computers will include 30 Dell machines for the high school’s computer-aided design program. Most of the other computers, being supplied by Hewlett-Packard, will be used to replace outdated equipment.

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Pa. district to spend $376,000 to equip classrooms with TVs

The Observer-Reporter of Washington, Pa., reports that the local Trinity Area School Board has approved nearly $376,000 to be spent on classroom televisions for Trinity High School. The money will also pay for the network infrastructure that will link these televisions. The district expects to purchase 87 32-inch televisions and eight 42-inch plasma TVs, although at least one board member thinks too much is being spent on the project.

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Reading, math up for nine-year-olds

Reports of significant gains in reading and math among the nation’s youngest test takers have set politicians and education interests scrambling to take credit.

The scramble slowed hardly at all on the realization that middle-school students showed only modest gains and that high-school students showed almost no progress, with some of the older groups actually showing declines, according to an analysis of federal test results released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) July 14.

The test, known as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), or the Nation’s Report Card, is widely regarded as the best indicator of long-term academic trends. The results, which measure academic scores across a span of three decades, showed that in 2004 nine-year-olds tested higher in reading and math than in any previous year of the assessment. The prognosis was especially bright for minority students who, over the last four years, have made significant strides to close the achievement gap that persists between them and their white counterparts, the study found.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and other Bush administration officials were quick to point to the results as proof that the three-year-old No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is working, but critics urged caution.

There is little proof, the critics contend, that the improvements are a direct result of NCLB. Some advocates suggested the recent explosion of student assessment software, online professional development resources and other technology tools in schools also likely played a role. Still others said the results for nine-year-olds are good, but could be much better if the federal government would pony up money sufficient to fully meet the law’s demands.

“[The] Report Card is proof that No Child Left Behind is working–it is helping to raise the achievement of young students of every race and from every type of family background,” said Spellings in a statement following the official release of the results. “And the achievement gap that has persisted for decades in the younger years between minorities and whites has shrunk to its smallest size in history.”

The long-term-trends test is given every few years to students ages 9, 13, and 17. The most recent findings, collected during the 2003-04 school year, were taken from a sample of 28,000 public and private school students in all 50 states, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency that published the report.

On average, younger black students’ reading scores shot up 14 points from 186 to 200 based on a 500-point scale between 1999 and 2004, the study found. Hispanic nine-year-olds improved their reading scores by 12 percentage points, from 193 to 205, compared with an increase of just five points for white students. Similar gains were made in math, where the achievement gap between white and Hispanic learners was found to have narrowed from 26 points in 1999 to 18 points in 2004, researchers said.

For black students, the increase in reading scores continued into the middle grades, with 13-year-old African-Americans posting a modest six-point increase during the same time period. Hispanic students in the same category, however, showed a two-point decrease in scores during that time, while white students decreased by one percentage point, the study found. In high school, the 17-year-old sample showed no increase in reading scores at all, with white and black students scoring the same in 2004 as they did in 1999. Hispanic high schoolers, meanwhile, showed a seven-point decrease, from 271 points in 1999 to 264 in 2004, the study found.

“I am pleased with [the] results, but in no way completely satisfied,” said Spellings, who, along with President Bush, has been actively campaigning to push NCLB-type reforms into America’s high schools. “We are at the beginning of the journey and certainly have room for improvement, particularly at the high school level,” she added. “We must support older students with the same can-do attitude that helped their younger brothers and sisters.”

NCLB is important, said education advocates, but it’s not the only factor driving change in schools.

Leslie Conery, deputy chief executive officer for the International Society for Technology in Education, said that improved professional development and technology within the classroom also likely contributed to the improved test results.

“If you put powerful tools in the hands of teachers, powerful results will occur,” Conery said.

But whether NCLB is itself driving change, or contributing to the kinds of innovations that do, critics continue to question whether the law–at least in its current form–is the answer.

“For years in this country we accepted mediocrity and failure from students and finally we said, ‘enough–we can and must do better,’ said Rep. George Miller, D-Caif. “The No Child Left Behind Act has brought substantial changes, which haven’t been easy but which, we now see, have spurred real progress … we must stay with our commitment to the law and to our schools to continue that progress until all students are proficient at reading and math.”

Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and a co-author of NCLB, said he hopes the results will encourage the Bush administration to provide full funding for the law.

“Now that you can see that progress is being made, will you stop under-funding this law and put your full weight behind this effort?” he asked. “Imagine what these scores would be if you had not shortchanged schools by $40 billion over the last several years. Imagine what these scores would be if you had implemented the law in a timely and clear manner.”

Daniel Kaufman, spokesperson for the National Education Association–the 2.7 million-member teachers union, which recently sued the administration for failing to adequately fund the law–said that the NAEP results are good news, but stopped short of giving credit to NCLB.

Just three years into NCLB’s existence, it’s “very premature to make claims that the law is having an impact one way or another,” Kaufman said. “When you have a big focus on standardized testing, as we do now, you can see an initial jump in scores, but sometimes that will level out after a few years.”

To sustain these gains and drive improvements at the higher grades, he said, teachers and schools need more support from the federal government.

“We need to see continued funding in interventions to make a difference,” he said. “Let’s pat ourselves on the back now, but make sure educators and policy makers do their part–make sure they have resources they need.” In regards to student achievement, he cautioned, “we’re likely to see backsliding,” if the demands on teachers continue and the money eventually runs out.

“These important gains are the product of years of emphasis on reading and math using research-based instruction,” explained Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teacher union, “as well as the result of a sharpened focus on high standards as the engine behind student progress.”

She added: “It is clear that if we want to continue these gains, we have to get NCLB right.”

Spellings agreed. There is a lot of work still to be done, she said.

“Changing the direction of America’s schools is like turning the Queen Mary, a large ship whose captain can’t change course on a dime,” she explained in a statement about the results. “The goal requires a lot of time and effort, but we are beginning to turn our own Queen Mary around. I know we can continue to do it together–teachers, principals, parents–so that all children receive the quality education a nation such as ours is capable of providing.”

Contributing Editor Howard Kussoy contributed to this report

Links:

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

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

National Center for Education Statistics
http://nces.ed.gov/

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

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Parents paying the price for their kids’ love of cell phones

In an article carried by The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Cox News Service reports on the dramatic increase in pre-teens who have their own cell phones. Some 40 percent of kids in the 12-14 age range now carry cell phones, which have become a clear status symbol for this generation. And although it gives parents a certain peace of mind to know their kids can contact them in an emergency, it has also led to higher bills due to increased use of text-messaging services.

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Summer camp gives Calif. girls a chance to discover science

The Dispatch of Gilroy, Calif., reports on Tech Trek, a week-long, all-girls camp at five Northern California college campuses. The program, run by the American Association of University Women, dates back to 1998. Each year, it encourages 1,200 California girls to learn about math, science, and technology in the hope that they will develop career ambitions in these fields.

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Students shine behind the cameras

Before this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in June, the largest audience 17-year-old Brian Stevenson ever had for his video projects was a class of 25 to 30 students.

So imagine how he felt when several thousand educators and other attendees at NECC’s closing ceremony watched a highlight reel of the conference that was filmed, edited, and produced entirely by Stevenson and his peers.

“That was so exciting,” said Stevenson, who will be a senior this fall at South Burlington High School (SBHS) in Vermont. “I was proud of the work I did on that highlight reel, because I was working with a new software program and, though I struggled a little at first, I was able to pick it up pretty quickly.”

Stevenson was one of six talented students who got a unique opportunity to learn firsthand from a team of professional photojournalists and video editors at NECC as part of the first-ever eSchool News Student Video Discovery Awards (SVDA) program. Now, in this story for the newspaper and via the internet, their work is being showcased for eSchool News’ entire print and online audience of some 500,000 educators and education advocates.

Sponsored by Discovery Education, with vital support from Cisco Systems, Apple Computer, Avid Technology, Macromedia, and NEC, the initiative was designed to give students greater visibility for their outstanding work in video production–as well as some valuable professional experience.

“Video journalism plays an increasingly critical role in our society today, and it is one of the fastest-growing areas of study in schools and colleges. At all levels in education nowadays, video is used both as a learning experience and a communications tool for students,” said Gregg W. Downey, editor and publisher of eSchool News.

“Recognizing this trend, [we] created this award to honor excellence in student journalism and video production, while also providing a meaningful learning experience for the winners.”

For consideration in the inaugural awards program, eSchool News asked high school and college students to submit videos they created themselves under the guidance of an educator sponsor. Entries, which could be up to 10 minutes in length, were to focus on the use of technology in the students’ school or district.

Brian Stevenson, center, conducts an interview in the NECC exhibit hall while Erik Archibald captures all the action on camera. (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

Hundreds of students from across North America, working as teams or as individuals, submitted entries last winter. From these entries, the six judges–all professionals from the education, journalism, and video-production fields, including Ed DeLeon, the Emmy award-winning executive producer of “Assignment Discovery”–chose three deserving finalists.

Stevenson, fellow SBHS student Kyle Kelley, and their academic advisor Mike Dumont were among the winners. The others were Erik Archibald, Doug Waters, and Charles Horne from Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa., and their advisor, Marilyn Stinebaugh; and Jen Campbell from Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., and her advisor, Sandy Melillo.

The winners traveled to Philadelphia with the eSchool News editorial team to cover this year’s NECC and produce video news segments of conference focal points. Under the expert tutelage of professionals from Discovery, Apple, Avid, and local television station PBS 39, as well as their academic advisors, the students worked late into the night shooting film, editing clips, and producing professional-quality videos highlighting the key people and presentations at this year’s conference.

During the show, students created and posted two to three video news clips each day on the Conference Information Center section of eSchool News Online, where visitors to the site can still view the clips in QuickTime or Windows Media Player (WMP) format. The videos explore topics ranging from the Internet2 project to one of the key themes at this year’s NECC: listening to student voices.

The students’ work culminated in the creation of the 10-minute highlight reel shown at the closing ceremony of NECC on June 30.

“NECC 2005 was a richer conference this year, thanks to the participation of the winners of the Student Discovery Video Awards. They impressed NECC attendees with their work completed prior to NECC and with their work on site,” said Leslie Conery, conference chair.

It seemed appropriate that a major theme of this year’s NECC was the importance of student voices–because the SVDA project was a perfect example of how technology can be used as a tool to empower students. Using high-tech tools and with guidance from their mentors, program participants produced video news clips as good as you’d see on any local news channel.

Best of all, they had a learning experience that will last a lifetime.

“I’ve had friends who have done college internships, and they’ve ended up pushing paper and having no control. This program was great, because students really got hands-on experience with video editing in a real-life news setting,” said South Burlington academic advisor Dumont.

Northeast High’s Jen Campbell agreed: “[The SVDA program] gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my skills on a high-paced assignment. It was an amazing experience, and one of the most fun projects I have ever had the pleasure to participate in. I learned so much from the people I worked with. It’s … an experience that will have a profound effect on my career.”

Charles Horne of Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa., works on Avid Xpress Pro software as he compiles footage from NECC 2005. (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

Learning on the job

The mini-internship began with a pre-conference meeting on June 27, where the students met each other and their professional mentors.

One of the key challenges the students faced was having to work together as a team, having never met each other before. Each came from different backgrounds and contributed different strengths and experiences to the project–but how best to marshal these strengths was a task for the students to decide.

The students split up into two groups: One would focus on the daily news clips, the other on the highlight reel. The daily news group set up shop on two Apple PowerMac G5 computers equipped with Final Cut Pro Studio video-editing software. On hand to advise them as necessary was Dan DeFossey, a former classroom teacher who now works with Apple. The highlight reel group worked at a Hewlett-Packard XW8200 workstation using Avid Xpress Pro HD Studio Complete software, under the guidance of Avid’s Kate Irwin.

For cameras, the students used a Panasonic CDVA101 and two smaller Canon GL2 mini-DV units. The students shot all of the footage themselves, learning some of the tricks of the trade from photojournalists Eric Werner, Melissa Leffel, and Andrew Brett from PBS 39 in nearby Bethlehem, Pa. Brett previously worked as a cameraman for the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village.

After early-morning meetings to plan the day’s coverage, led by eSchool News Managing Editor Dennis Pierce, the students went off to record the agreed-upon events. They also planned and carried out interviews with NECC organizers, including Conery and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) President Kurt Steinhaus and CEO Don Knezek.

Although the students already had extensive experience behind a camera, the PBS team was able to pass on some useful tips. One of these was to change the time codes for every new tape, so that instead of having all time codes begin with “00:00,” tape two would begin “02:00,” tape three would begin “03:00,” and so on. That way, it’s easier to keep track of all the footage you’ve shot, Werner explained.

The students also got an expert look at how to set up three-point lighting for formal sit-down interviews.

“I was familiar with three-point lighting, but I’d never had the chance to set it up correctly on my own,” Stevenson said. “The PBS crew went through every aspect, then let me do it for myself. They made sure that when I left, I had the knowledge and experience needed to set up the lighting on my own.”

Stevenson and the others also learned a useful technique for creating a desirable visual backdrop for the interviews: the use of a simple yellow or purple gel, or filter, with slits cut into it for the background lighting.

The students used this to good effect when interviewing Conery, Steinhaus, and Knezek on camera, as well as keynote speakers Joel Barker and Deneen Frasier Bowen. They also captured footage of the technology playgrounds, Internet2 demonstrations, and many other conference elements.

eSchool News Managing Editor Dennis Pierce, left, discusses the NECC coverage schedule with Kyle Kelley of South Burlington High School. (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

Back at the editing room, the students captured the video to the computers for editing. They sifted through interviews for compelling sound bites, wrote scripts that narrated the news stories, and sent camera crews out to shoot more B-roll footage, or images used to illustrate or accompany voice-overs or sound bites culled from the interviews.

In one example, a crew went back out to record footage of Conery walking through the convention center. A few seconds of this footage was inserted within the clip of her interview. “The key is to try not to make it look staged,” PBS’s Werner said of shooting B-roll footage of interview subjects.

Then the really intensive editing process began. Using the software at their disposal, students worked long and hard matching words with images and music. (In the conference highlight video, for example, as Conery says something about attendees taking technology to the next step, viewers get a shot of people’s feet as they walk through the crowded exhibit hall.)

The final phase to producing the daily news clips was recording stand-ups by the anchor in front of the camera. That job fell to SBHS’s Kelley, who was the sharpest-dressed of the bunch. Though he had very little experience in front of the camera, Kelley quickly learned on the job, rapidly memorizing large chunks of information to introduce or wrap up the news clips.

It wasn’t always a smooth process–but part of what made the program such a valuable experience was that students were allowed to make, and learn from, their own mistakes.

“I learned that on the highlight reel, we didn’t spend enough time on storyboarding up front,” acknowledged Stevenson. The students were up until 4 a.m. the night before the highlight video was to be completed, frantically trying to finish on time. As a result, Stevenson used a few hours of downtime the next morning to nap under a table in the editing room. “Now, I know I need to spend more time in pre-production,” he said.

Invaluable experience

In a break from the rigor of their responsibilities, the six students and their educational advisors were honored in an invitation-only ceremony at NECC June 29.

At the awards ceremony, the students received free video equipment and prizes worth more than $50,000 for themselves and their schools. The prizes, all donated by corporate sponsors, included:

  • Six copies of Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004;
  • Three copies of Macromedia Studio MX 2004 with Flash Professional;
  • Nine Avid Xpress Pro software packages;
  • Three 17-inch iMac G5 computers with SuperDrive;
  • Nine copies of Apple’s Production Suite Academic software; and
  • Cisco Systems is flying the winners to its corporate headquarters in San Jose, Calif., to show them its multimedia studio.

Even more valuable to the students than these generous prizes, however, was the experience they gained reporting on the conference.

“I came here primarily with editing skills, and I’ll leave with a lot more reporting and technical experience,” said SBHS’s Kelley. “I’m really excited that I now feel equipped with the tools to do more than just edit film.”

“What I found most impressive about this experience was the high expectations that [were] set for the students–and how [the program] provided the support for students to meet them. The PBS and Discovery crew treated the students as professional equals, and I think that made the kids rise to the occasion, giving them a real-life career experience in broadcast journalism,” Melillo said.

Jen Campbell of Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., said the SVDA program “gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my skills on a high-paced assignment.” (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

She concluded: “The kids seemed to thrive on, rather than tire from, the hard work. The realization that everyone had a skill to add to the group brought a camaraderie among the staff and students that was strong and certainly productive.”

Links:

NECC video coverage
http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/video.cfm

Discovery Education
http://www.discovery.com

Cisco Systems Inc.
http://www.cisco.com

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

Avid Technology Inc.
http://www.avid.com

Macromedia Inc.
http://www.macromedia.com

NEC Corp.
http://www.nec.com

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Special-needs boys’ mom urges district to spend more on tech

In a guest article for The Winchester Sun of Winchester, Ky., parent Joan Graves reports on local school administrators’ efforts to offer the best possible education for disabled and special-needs students. Graves, the mother of three special-needs students, discusses how she had initially misjudged the district’s commitment to helping her children and how technology is now playing a big role in her sons’ lives.

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Ill. district testing the online waters with registration program

The Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., reports that about 6 to 10 percent of District 211 parents who register students for the 2005-06 school year are taking advantage of the new online registration option offered by the district. The majority of parents are still using older methods (walk-in and U.S. mail), but the new parent access software is steadily growing in popularity. The district plans to widen its online efforts beyond registration and is considering an online gradebook that parents could access.

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