Content filters a boon to repressive regimes

The New York Times reports that many Western companies are supplying internet filtering technologies to repressive regimes determined to control what citizens in their countries are able to see online. Human rights groups are alarmed by this trend, which includes efforts by major U.S. companies to help the Chinese government restrict internet usage. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Dell targeting another big Henrico contract

The Richmond Times-Dispatch of Richmond, Va., reports that Dell is hoping to add Henrico County’s middle-school laptop program to its current business with the district. Earlier this year, Dell began supplying laptops for Henrico County’s high school students, but the middle-schoolers still use Apple iBooks. However, Henrico’s contract with Apple is due to expire in June, and Dell is hoping to expand its relationship with the district.

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Sioux City joins NASA Explorer Schools

The Sioux City Journal of Sioux City, Iowa, reports that the local district has been added to the NASA Explorer School program, meaning that it will receive NASA funding to help boost its science and technology education. Five Sioux City teachers will be the district’s ambassadors to the program and will attend regular NASA workshops.

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Tech college reaches out to local high school

The Daily American of Somerset, Pa., reports that district officials in Windber have made a deal with the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport to encourage more students to take high school courses in industrial tool-making technology and computer aided drafting. Students who complete these courses will be allowed to apply to the College of Technology without having to submit an application fee. “Hopefully, this will open the doors for other articulation agreements with other schools,” said a local principal.

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2005 Schools of Distinction winners

Academic Achievement

  • El Magnet at Reagan Elementary School, Odessa, Texas
  • KIPP Gaston College Preparatory School, Gaston, N.C.

Collaboration (External)

  • John Stanford International School, Seattle, Wash.
  • Academy of Allied Health and Science, Neptune, N.J.

Leadership Excellence

  • Cordova Middle School, Phoenix
  • Northwest High School, Fort Worth, Texas

Literacy Achievement

  • Auburn Early Education Center, Auburn, Ala.
  • J.P. McConnell Middle School, Loganville, Ga.

Mathematics Achievement

  • Fullerton IV Elementary School, Roseburg, Ore.
  • Rocky River High School, Rocky River, Ohio

Professional Development Excellence

  • St. Raphael the Archangel School, Louisville, Ky.
  • Cresthill Middle School, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Science Achievement

  • Phelps Elementary School, Phelps, Ky.
  • West Hawaii Explorations Academy, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Teamwork (Internal)

  • Washington Elementary School, Kingsport, Tenn.
  • Middleton High School, Middleton, Md.

Technology Excellence

  • Lee Academy of World Studies and Technology, Tampa, Fla.
  • Advanced Technologies Academy, Las Vegas

Technology Innovation

  • Lincoln Avenue Academy, Lakeland, Fla.
  • Mabry Middle School, Marietta, Ga.

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Intel, Scholastic honor ed-tech achievement

Educators from 20 exemplary schools across the country–many of which employ technology in innovative ways to prepare students for 21st-century challenges–returned home to their districts this week with a combined $5 million in cash, equipment, and other prizes awarded to them during the annual Intel Corp. and Scholastic Inc. “Schools of Distinction” Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.

“It kind of reminds me a little of the Academy Awards,” said Terry Smithson, education strategist for Intel Corp. and co-emcee of the event, as he surveyed the smartly dressed crowd of educators, businesspeople, and politicians assembled at the historic Renaissance Mayflower Hotel on Oct. 6 to congratulate the winning schools.

Though there were no paparazzi waiting outside on the street, for the honored educators–many of whom receive little credit for the good work they do–the glitzy, black-tie affair was a long-overdue pat on the back for a job well done.

Chosen from a pool of 3,000 applicants from all over the nation, the 2005 winners were honored for employing bold and sometimes controversial learning strategies–all while managing to boost state test scores and better prepare learners for the challenges of the global economy.

From an outdoor school in Hawaii that sits atop a live volcano, to a vocational high school in Neptune, N.J., that encourages aspiring doctors and nurses to participate in virtual surgeries and make rounds at local hospitals, to a K-5 institution in Seattle that requires every student to learn a second language, this year’s winners were recognized not only for building innovative programs, but for uniting students, teachers, parents, and the community at large toward a common goal: creating a better future for the nation’s students.

“These schools have found innovative ways to achieve excellence in education,” said Brenda Musilli, director of education for Intel. “From a highly diverse set of circumstances, you find a common desire and ability to tackle challenges head on, continuously improve, and plan for the future. We hope these programs will inspire others.”

Scholastic Education president Margery Mayer and Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett pose with Schools of Distinction award winners from John Stanford International School in Seattle. Pictured left to right are Scholastic’s Mayer, Nani Castor-Peck, teacher, Karen Kodama, principal, Raj Manhas, superintendent, Hiromi Pingry, teacher, and Barrett. (Photo courtesy of Intel Corp.)
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Two schools–John Stanford International School (JSIS) in Seattle and The Academy of Allied Health and Science in Neptune, N.J.–took home highly coveted “Best of the Best” honors at this year’s event. The distinction landed each winner $25,000 in grant money, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware, software, training services, and other prizes from program partners.

When it comes to the global economy, perhaps nowhere are students more readily equipped to deal with the cross-section of culture and language that pervades the business world than at JSIS in Seattle.

With a diverse student population that is 41 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 7 percent African-American, this unique northwestern elementary school is dedicated to exposing its students–many of whom speak English as a second language–to a culturally diverse, increasingly bilingual society.

In the words of Principal Karen Kodama, “There’s a global focus to everything.”

Not only are JSIS students required to study a second language–either English, Spanish, or Japanese, depending on what their first language is–but teachers also use webcasts, videoconferencing, and other technologies to connect students to their counterparts in other parts of the world. Administrators even organize exchange programs that give students–and their parents–a chance to visit other countries, meet their international study partners, and learn about different cultures firsthand.

Kodama, who believes that understanding culture is an important first step in understanding language, says she encourages her teachers to speak to their students in a foreign language. In many cases, she says, whole classes are conducted entirely in a language other than English.

In fact, JSIS students spend half of the academic day learning math, science, and culture in their assigned foreign language. They spend the other half of the day focusing on reading, writing, and social studies in English. According to Kodama, JSIS students consistently score above district standards in reading and math, despite that many of these classes are taught in either Spanish or Japanese–not English. It’s an achievement Kodama and her staff credit to the high-order thinking and problem-solving skills inherent in learning a second language.

Of course, securing all the resources required for a full-scale international program isn’t easy. Knowing how difficult the task would be, JSIS forged a partnership with the University of Washington Language Learning Center to provide curriculum development support for the mandatory Spanish or Japanese language-immersion program, as well as bilingual student interns, tutors, and guidance from the International Faculty Council.

For the JSIS community, the highlight of the year comes during the International Business Breakfast, where students showcase their talents for local business leaders, parents, and other stakeholders who have a vested interest in seeing the program succeed.

At the Academy of Allied Health and Science, part of the Monmouth County Vocational School District in Neptune, N.J., aspiring medical students use videoconferencing tools to observe a surgeon as he conducts open-heart surgery and pose questions to doctors and patients as they make the rounds at a local hospital.

“We don’t have a longer school day,” said Principal Robert Cancro of his school’s unorthodox program, “but we pack a lot more into it.”

Through a partnership with the local University Medical Center, sophomores complete a six-week rotation in various health departments, while juniors complete grant applications and execute local community service projects. Administrators say affiliations with colleges enable students to earn up to 24 college credits in health and biology through coursework offered at the high school.

Other insights into health-related careers come from students’ participation in community and work programs that take them into a school for children with cerebral palsy and a senior citizens home, for example.

A technological marvel, the school contains 125 desktop computers and 78 laptops–not bad for an institution with just 279 students. Other state-of-the-art features include five individual science labs, a media arts center, and a fitness lab for those students interested in pursuing careers in physical therapy or health. Plus, every classroom has access to the school’s video-retrieval system for training and professional development, as well as a wide-area network with high-speed internet connectivity.

In a meeting with an eSchool News reporter, representatives from both schools talked about what it means to be a “School of Distinction” and said they hoped their successes would serve as a catalyst for other schools to begin to meet the challenges of a global society.

And flashy technology alone won’t cut it, they say.

While it’s important to think outside the box, the winners cautioned that educators also must realize no large-scale reform effort can succeed without the support of administrators, staff, and the community at large.

Educators from both schools said it’s important to empower students to take control of their own education. Teachers can serve as good shepherds, they said, but the only way to prepare students for the increasingly competitive 21st century is to equip them with the skills necessary to begin making tough decisions on their own–no matter what path they choose.

Members from both schools said they intend to use their prize money to continue building on the strength of their programs by investing in additional professional development resources and videoconferencing tools, among other potential projects.

“The winning schools are to be commended for their academic success and for producing students with a strong sense of public service,” said Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, who was on hand to help give out the awards.

Barrett, like Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, has been an outspoken voice for education reform in recent years, using evidence of declining graduation rates and the continued outsourcing of high-tech jobs overseas to make a case for widespread reform in the nation’s schools.

“Education can be transformed when government, educators, community, and industry work together to achieve a common goal,” he said. “By recognizing these excellent institutions, we hope other schools and classrooms will begin their own journey of transformation.”

“These outstanding schools demonstrate the importance of collaboration in expanding the educational resources and experiences that we can offer school children,” said Francie Alexander, chief academic officer for Scholastic. “This year’s ‘Best of the Best’ winners serve as excellent examples of how business and communities can work with schools to enhance academic opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders.”

But, as executives from both companies pointed out, picking just two schools worthy of the coveted “Best of the Best” distinction wasn’t easy.

With so many programs to choose from, even the winners seemed in awe of their competition.

“Everyone here really deserves this award,” said Tim McCorkell, assistant superintendent for the Monmouth County Vocational School District, in accepting the award for Allied Health.

In all, 20 K-12 schools received 2005 Schools of Distinction awards (for a complete list of the winners, click here). Two winners–one elementary and one secondary school–were selected in each of 10 different categories: Academic Achievement, External Collaboration, Leadership Excellence, Literacy Achievement, Mathematics Achievement, Professional Development Excellence, Science Achievement, Internal Teamwork, Technology Excellence, and Technology Innovation.

Educators at the Lee Academy of World Studies and Technology–a large K-5 school in Tampa, Fla., that won a Technology Excellence Award–were honored for creating an environment where technology is woven into every facet of teaching and learning. From ubiquitous mobile computer labs, to a music technology lab where students play, record, and produce their own music, to the closed-circuit television network that enables students to film and distribute daily news broadcasts, educators at this unique elementary school say there is no limit to what technology can help students achieve.

“Thirteen years ago, when we began, technology was fairly new,” said Principal Mamie Buzzetti. “Now, it’s so common.” Still, she says, the school’s and the community’s interest in technology continues to grow.

At Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Ga., which received an award for technology innovation, students produce movies for an annual film festival. Despite limited access to technology, students in Mabry have worked with awarding-winning producers at Georgia Public Television and the Discovery Channel, among other high-profile media outlets, to write scripts, create visual interpretations, and hone their skills.

“There was very little technology when I first came to Mabry,” reported Principal Tim Tyson, who believes schools can be more effective when they concentrate more on how they use technology and less on how much technology they have.

“We have to stop underestimating kids,” he said. “The wrong questions is, ‘Should kids have laptops?’ The right question is, ‘What should kids be doing with laptops?'”

Representatives from each winning institution were on hand to accept a $10,000 cash grant from the Intel Foundation, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hardware, software, professional development, and other prizes courtesy of the event’s co-sponsors, which included high-tech heavyweights Agilix Labs Inc., Blackboard Inc., Dell Inc., eInstruction, Films Media Group, Futurekids, Gateway, Microsoft Corp., Pitsco, Riverdeep, SAS, Scantron, Schoolnet, and SMART Technologies.

One representative for each school also will receive free registration to the upcoming T+L² Conference hosted by the National School Boards Association in Denver, Oct. 26-28.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2006 Intel and Scholastic Schools of Distinction awards. Applications are available at www.schoolsofdistinction.com.

Related item:

Complete list of winners
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5908

Links:

Intel Corp.
http://www.intel.com

Scholastic Inc.
http://www.scholastic.com/

Schools of Distinction web site
http://www.schoolsofdistinction.com/

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Fla. district giving laptops to third-graders

The St. Petersburg Times reports that two local elementary schools are participating in a pilot program to give wireless laptops to third-graders. As many as 110 kids at the schools will be taking home their own laptops for the rest of the year. They will continue to use the laptops for the next two years, while district officials monitor their progress with the technology. If the pilot program is a success, it will help schools make the case for giving laptops to all students. Administrators believe that the wireless laptops will lead to better attendance and a decrease in disciplinary problems.

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Teachers’ web pages a hit with N.H. parents

The Portsmouth Herald of Portsmouth, N.H., reports on the boom in teacher web sites at local schools. One high school technology coordinator explains the phenomenon by saying “it relieves parents from having to chase their kids for homework assignments and kids today turn to the internet as a primary source of information.” The practice has become so popular that within a few weeks, all teachers in the district will have to post homework assignments online using a program called Homework Now.

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Resource helps build information literacy

Teachers and library media specialists searching for new and innovative ways to educate their students about effective research practices now have a new online tool at their disposal: S.O.S. (Situations, Outcomes, Strategies) for Information Literacy.

Launched Oct. 7 at the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference in Pittsburgh, this Syracuse University program–made public now for the first time–is a free multimedia resource for K-8 teachers and media specialists who want their students to learn more, and become excited, about research.

During their own research for the program, project directors Ruth Small and Marilyn Arnone of the Center for Digital Education at Syracuse University focused in part on how to relieve the anxiety that children often have when beginning research projects.

“We asked how we can teach children in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them, yet still teaches them to evaluate sources or understand search engines,” Small said.

The pair’s research indicated that educators often have a difficult time finding lesson plans and motivational instructional methods that address information literacy skills and that they struggle to find plans relating these skills to classroom assignments and research projects in particular.

Information literacy–the ability to locate, organize, evaluate, manage, and use information–is critical for today’s learners, researchers say. These skills lay the groundwork for success in every student’s life.

The S.O.S. project is “a solution to an age-old problem,” said Julie Walker, executive director of AASL. “We talk a lot about integrating content and skills, whether those skills are information gathering or technology, but many people have a difficult time doing that.”

The project includes an online resource page where educators can view lessons plans, video clips, and other teaching materials submitted by teachers and library media specialists. Curriculum-integrated lesson plans and teaching ideas are linked to real-world examples of solid teaching, most notably focusing on collaborative efforts between classroom teachers and library media specialists, Small said. So far, about 150 educators have contributed at least one lesson plan.

The video clips feature educators “in action” or “reflecting” on successful teaching episodes, and these clips are continuously assembled and reviewed by members of the target audience, Small said.

In addition, a Virtual Training page provides educators with hints and ideas to help them develop motivational information-literacy lesson plans of their own, and it shows educators how to use the S.O.S. online submission software to share their lesson plans with others.

Teachers can upload and tag digital photos or other materials that help support their lesson plans, and they can create and submit digital videos that show the lesson. Teachers and library media specialists are encouraged to contribute lesson plans, support materials, and media to help build the S.O.S. teaching database. The Virtual Training page will continue to evolve throughout the next few years as contributions grow, organizers say.

By linking lesson plans and teaching ideas to real-world, multimedia examples, S.O.S. helps educators teach these topic areas in exciting ways, Walker said.

“People can not only see the lesson itself, but they can also look at it, and that removes another barrier to effective planning,” she said. “It’s a confidence builder for teachers and school library media specialists. I’m sure they’ll come forward with more lessons, and they’ll keep submitting and building. It addresses a common concern.”

The “S.O.S.” in the project title (Situations, Outcomes, Strategies) stands for much more than a call to action to improve information literacy instruction. “Situations” stands for the grade level or curriculum area being taught, “Outcomes” stands for information skills to be learned, and “Strategies” stands for teaching ideas or specific techniques to achieve the desired outcome, according to the S.O.S. web site. Educators can input their situation and desired outcomes, and the system will suggest possible motivational teaching strategies when a “strategy” search is used.

Syracuse University recently received a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to expand the S.O.S. project to grades 9-12, and also to create a higher-education version. That expansion began Oct. 1.

S.O.S. for Information Literacy is a project of the Center for Digital Literacy at Syracuse University and the IMLS, in collaboration with AASL. The S.O.S. Advisory Board consists of college faculty members, pre-service graduate students, practicing teachers, library media specialists, and consultants.

“It’s a pretty unique resource,” Walker said.

Links:

S.O.S. for Information Literacy
http://www.informationliteracy.org/training/Home.htm

American Association of School Librarians
http://www.ala.org/ala/aasl/aaslindex.htm

Syracuse University’s Center for Digital Literacy
http://digital-literacy.syr.edu

Institute of Museum and Library Services
http://www.imls.gov

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Huckabee fires back at Ark. superintendents

Arkansas News Bureau reports that Gov. Mike Huckabee is considering a proposal that would make school superintendents official state employees and another proposal that would cut the total number of Arkansas superintendents to 75 (one for each county). Huckabee was upset by the state’s superintendents a recent condemnation of the state’s education funding plan, and he suggested that any superintendents unhappy with the amount money coming into their district should first consider reducing their own salaries.

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