Up to $4.8 million for early childhood educator training

The ECEPD program aims to enhance the school readiness of young children, particularly disadvantaged young children, and to prevent them from encountering difficulties once they enter school, by improving the knowledge and skills of early childhood educators who work in communities that have high concentrations of children living in poverty. Projects funded under ECEPD must provide high-quality, sustained, and intensive professional development for these early childhood educators in how to provide developmentally appropriate school-readiness services for preschool-age children that are based on the best available research on early childhood pedagogy and on child development and learning. For these grants, increased emphasis is being placed on the quality of program evaluations for the proposed projects.

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$2 million to help fund advanced learning technologies research

The Advanced Learning Technologies (ALT) program supports learning technologies research that enables radical improvements in learning through innovative computer and information technologies and advances research in computer science, information technology, learning, and cognitive science through the unique challenges posed by learning environments and learning technology platforms. Integrative research approaches that build across disciplines and establish tight linkages among theory, experiment, and design are strongly encouraged. Technology goals may include systems for tutoring or assessment, modeling and sensing of cognitive or emotional states, context awareness, natural language interfaces, collaboration, and knowledge management. Non-traditional goals that redefine the roles of technology in learning are encouraged.

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Federal grant site vexes Mac users

Federal government officials say they have devised a workaround solution to a compatibility problem that reportedly has kept users of computers running Apple’s Macintosh operating system (OS) from employing a government web site that serves as the central hub for those seeking federal grants, including U.S. Department of Education-issued monies.

According to reports by the Washington Post, the Associated Press (AP), and other news outlets, the electronic forms for would-be applicants on the Grants.gov web site aren’t Mac-compatible, causing enormous frustration for those using Macintosh computers.

In response to these reports, government officials say there are ways around the problem. They also say they are working on a permanent solution they hope will be in place this fall.

But school officials and other Mac users who frequently apply for federal grants say the problem is indicative of a larger divide between federal government agencies, which largely use computers running Microsoft’s Windows OS, and the needs of schools–many of which continue to rely on Macintosh machines.

The idea behind the recently formed Grants.gov site is to streamline the process of applying for federal grants by phasing out the need for paper-based applications and replacing them with electronic ones. It also serves as a resource point for the 26 federal grant-making agencies that award more than $400 billion in grants each year. “Frustration kind of goes through the roof,” Mark Tumeo, vice provost for research and dean of the college of graduate studies at Cleveland State University, told AP when reached about the compatibility problem.

Tumeo said about 30 percent of the systems used by his university’s scientists and others are Macintosh computers. He estimated several hundred grant applications submitted by his university were affected by the glitch, which was first reported by the Post. The technology used on the site was provided by a little-known developer of electronic submissions software called PureEdge Solutions Inc., owned by IBM.

Though the web site, which is maintained by officials in the Department of Health and Human Services, currently does not feature a native application for Macintosh users, John Etcheverry, deputy program manager for Grants.gov, said his agency is working with IBM to develop a platform-independent viewer that officials hope to make available for downloading free of charge by schools and other applicants by November.

In the interim, he said, there are a number of workaround solutions available to non-Windows applicants looking to use the automated system. Though a native application for Mac users still is in the works, he said, “I don’t think that anybody is entirely precluded or prohibited from submitting a grant” simply because they are using a Macintosh-based machine.

One solution, he said, is for schools and other applicants using Macintosh computers to invest in some form of PC-emulation software. The Grants.gov web site features information about a solution called Virtual PC from Microsoft. The cost: $129.

Realizing Mac users might object to paying for software to access a solution PC users can obtain for free, Grants.gov also has partnered with the National Institutes of Health to develop a workaround using a Citrix Server Client.

According to information on the Grants.gov web site, “a Citrix server connection allows non-Windows users to remotely launch a Windows session on their own machines by using the free Citrix client application.”

While connected to the server, non-Windows users can develop their grant applications using the automated forms. All non-Windows users will need to download and install the free Citrix client application to work on the grant for which they are applying, according to information on the site.

As a third alternative, Etcheverry said, some schools and universities are developing their own electronic applications for use with the system. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, has developed an application for filling out and submitting federal grant forms online, which it licenses to other institutions–again, for an additional cost.

Some familiar with the federal grant-seeking process say this isn’t the first time the federal government has addressed the needs of PC users up front while treating Mac users as an afterthought.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Deborah Ward, a Pennsylvania-based professional grant writer and a columnist for eSchool News. “I see the same thing here in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s like the government folks, because they use PCs, don’t think about the Mac users.”

Ward, who prepares grant applications for a variety of clients, including schools, says she has run into instances where forms made for PC-based computers are not accessible to Macintosh users. Often Ward, who uses a Mac, says she gets around the problem simply by switching to a PC and continuing the process. But schools don’t always have that luxury, she said.

Elaine Wrenn, a Macintosh user and technology coordinator for the Echo Horizon School in Culver City, Calif., said she hasn’t tried using the federal grant site but has run into similar compatibility issues when trying to submit essential forms for the eRate, the $2.5 billion-a-year federal program that provides discounts on telecommunications services and internet access to the nation’s schools.

“I have not dealt with the government grant site, but I do have problems completing all my eRate forms from a Mac,” she wrote in an eMail message to eSchool News. “I can go through the entire interview process, but when it goes to create the PDF of the final form, none of the blanks are filled out.”

To get around the problem, Wrenn says, her school keeps a single PC on hand to help her submit the forms.

“We happen to have one lone PC in our school that I must seek out just for this purpose,” she wrote. “Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have any PCs at our school, so I would have really been up a creek. Luckily, at the time, the forms were still filled out in longhand.”

Despite the confusion, Etcheverry said, the goal over the next two or three years is to move the entire federal grant application process online.

That transition is already well under way.

In 2004, during the first year of the Grants.gov program, federal agencies received a total of 1,200 applications online, he said. Last year, that number jumped to more than 16,000. This year, he said, the agency is on pace to receive as many as 45,000 online grant applications.

“It really is the way of the future when it comes to grants,” Etcheverry said. Macintosh users say it’s a future in which their needs should be considered, too.

Links:

Grants.gov
http://www.grants.gov

Mac support using Citrix Server
http://www.grants.gov/MacSupport

National Institutes of Health
http://www.nih.gov/

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Student fights taped, published online

NBC10.com reports that another example of misapplied technology has gotten students into trouble. Four children in South Jersey, aged 11-13, have been charged with disorderly conduct after videotaping a fistfight and posting it on MySpace.com. Police believe that the children involved were willing participants…

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Colorado school aims to expand grid computing

Network World reports that Colorado State University established phase 1 of the Colorado Grid Computing Initiative in 2004, and is now looking to expand the program. The initiative used grant money as well as technology from Sun, the Department of Homeland Security, and others. The first project to use the grid was an animal tracking project. In phase 2, CSU would teach other Colorado institutions how to use the grid. Phase 3 would involve getting other grids donated to other schools, so the overall grid could be expanded.

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Microsoft to add to BlackBerry’s woes

USA Today reports that Microsoft has won the backing of several major cellular networks for a new generation of cell phones that will send mobile email from an accessory of the executive to standard-issue for the rank-and-file. The partnerships, which include Vodafone and Cingular, could spell trouble for BlackBerry and other smaller email technologies.

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Good words for evolution

The New York Times reports that on the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin, ministers at churches nationwide preached against undermining the theory of evolution. These ministers asserted that the so-called opposition that many Christians claim exists between faith and science is simply false.

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Attitudes of parents and teachers about homework

Note: Due to rounding, not all totals equal 100 percent

The AP-AOL Learning Services poll on public attitudes of 1,085 parents and 810 teachers about homework was conducted online Jan. 13-23 by Knowledge Networks. Members of the Knowledge Networks internet panel were recruited by telephone polling methods, and panelists who are not online were provided with internet access.

Parents’ views on homework

Thinking about the amount of homework expected of your child, do you feel the amount of homework assigned is usually …

Too much, 19 percent
About right, 57 percent
Too little, 23 percent
No answer, 1 percent

Where does your child go for help with homework? Check all that apply. … (Results will total more than 100 percent)

Parent, 86 percent
Grandparent, 8 percent
Brothers or sisters, 22 percent
Other relatives, 8 percent
Teacher, 36 percent
Friends, 23 percent
Tutor, 6 percent
Internet, 25 percent
Librarian, 4 percent
Other, 4 percent

And thinking about the amount of time you spend helping your child with homework, do you feel it is usually …

Too much, 16 percent
About right, 57 percent
Too little, 27 percent
No answer, 1 percent

About how much time does your child spend on homework on a typical day?

90 minutes on average

And about how much time do you spend helping your child with homework on a typical day?

41 minutes on average

In general, how difficult is it for you to find the time to help your child with homework?

Very difficult, 9 percent
Somewhat difficult, 26 percent
Not too difficult, 35 percent
Not at all difficult, 29 percent
No answer, 1 percent

How often do you have difficulty helping your child with homework because the subject matter is challenging?

Very often, 10 percent
Somewhat often, 19 percent
Not too often, 39 percent
Not at all often, 31 percent
No answer, 1 percent

How would you rate the resources available to you as a parent to help you help your child with homework?

Very good, 23 percent
Good, 51 percent
Poor, 19 percent
Very poor, 5 percent
No answer, 2 percent

How often does your child turn to the internet for help with homework?

Very often, 9 percent
Somewhat often, 21 percent
Not too often, 36 percent
Not at all often, 33 percent
No answer, 1 percent

How often do YOU turn to the internet to help your child with homework?

Very often, 6 percent
Somewhat often, 15 percent
Not too often, 33 percent
Not at all often, 44 percent
No answer, 2 percent

How would you rate the homework-help resources available to your child on the internet?

Very good, 19 percent
Good, 63 percent
Poor, 8 percent
Very poor, 3 percent
No answer, 7 percent

If you had to choose, with which subject would you say your child needs the most help when it comes to completing homework? (X indicates no response)

Mathematics, 40 percent
Biology, 3 percent
Chemistry, 2 percent
Physics, 2 percent
English, 14 percent
Writing, 15 percent
Music, X percent
History, 6 percent
Government, 2 percent
Geography, 3 percent
Art, X percent
Other, 12 percent
No answer, 2 percent

Who would you say is more knowledgeable about the learning resources available on the internet, you or your child?

I am, 57 percent
My child is, 41 percent
No answer, 2 percent

Teachers’ views on homework

Thinking about the amount of homework expected of students at your school, do you feel the amount of homework assigned is usually …

Too much, 12 percent
About right, 63 percent
Too little, 25 percent
No answer, 1 percent

Has a parent or student ever asked you to change a grade, when such a grade change was not deserved?

Yes, 46 percent
No, 54 percent

In general, how would you rate the amount of time most parents spend helping their children with homework? Would you say they typically spend …

Too much time, 5 percent
About the right amount of time, 8 percent
Not enough time, 87 percent

How would you rate the resources available to parents to help their children with homework?

Very good, 15 percent
Good, 51 percent
Poor, 30 percent
Very poor, 4 percent

To the best of your knowledge, how often do your students turn to the internet for help with their homework?

Very often, 12 percent
Somewhat often, 32 percent
Not too often, 41 percent
Not at all often, 14 percent
No answer, 1 percent

When children turn to the internet for help with their homework, is that mostly a good thing or mostly a bad thing?

Mostly good, 82 percent
Mostly bad, 17 percent
No answer, 1 percent

How would you rate the homework-help resources available to children on the internet?

Very good, 15 percent
Good, 66 percent
Poor, 17 percent
Very poor, 1 percent
No answer, 2 percent

If you had to choose, with which subject would you say children need the most help when it comes to completing homework?

Mathematics, 67 percent
Biology, 1 percent
Chemistry, 3 percent
Physics, 2 percent
English, 7 percent
Music, X percent
History, 5 percent
Government, 1 percent
Geography, 1 percent
Art, X percent
Writing, 11 percent
Other, 3 percent
No answer, 1 percent

Who would you say is more knowledgeable about the learning resources available on the internet, you or your students?

I am, 73 percent
My students, 26 percent
No answer, 1 percent

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Survey: Parents need help online

Parents and teachers agree: The resources available on the internet to help students with their homework generally are good, according to a survey commissioned by the Associated Press (AP) and America Online (AOL). But a much larger percentage of teachers than parents say they are more knowledgeable than the children under their care when it comes to the kinds of educational resources available on the web–suggesting schools could do a better job helping parents find high-quality homework help online.

And that’s important, given the percentage of parents responding to the survey who said their children turn to them for help with homework (86 percent). When asked where their children go for homework help, parents cited the internet (25 percent) as their No. 3 response, behind parents and teachers (36 percent) and ahead of friends (23 percent) and siblings (22 percent).

The AP-AOL Learning Services Poll measured the attitudes of parents and teachers on a variety of educational issues and found the two groups have some sharply different views about what goes on in school.

One thing they both agree on is how useful the internet can be as a source for homework help. Eighty-two percent of parents, and 81 percent of teachers, rated the resources available online to help students with their homework as either good or very good.

But the two groups differed in their assessment of their own internet skills, compared with the skills of the children under their care. Seventy-three percent of teachers said they know more than their students about the learning tools available on the internet. On this topic, 57 of parents said they know more than their kids–and only 21 percent said they use the internet at least “somewhat often” to help their children with homework.

From discipline to standardized tests to the quality of high schools, parents and teachers disagree on other basic aspects of education, too, the poll found. They come together, though, on the need to hire and keep good teachers.

Parents and teachers literally see children differently. The setting at home is often not at all like the one at school, where kids hang out in groups and social pressures climb.

In the poll, for example, less than half of parents say student discipline is a serious concern at school. Teachers, however, scoff at that–two in three say children’s misbehavior is a major problem.

During her 14 years of teaching, Carol-Sue Nix says she has watched discipline problems trickle down from the fifth grade to pre-kindergarten. A parent-teacher conference usually follows.

“Some parents will work with us. If you talk to them, you see a change in the child,” said Nix, who teaches second grade in Tuscaloosa, Ala. And the rest of the parents? “They say, ‘We’ll deal with it,'” Nix laments, “and nothing changes.”

The survey also found:

  • 71 percent of teachers say class work and homework are the best measures of academic success; 63 percent of parents say the same. A minority of both groups favored test scores.

  • 79 percent of teachers say high schools do a good job in preparing students for college. A smaller but still strong majority of parents–67 percent–agree.

  • On testing, the poll found teachers are much more likely than parents to say standardized exams get too much emphasis. Yet most parents and teachers agree testing has weakened the ability of educators to give individual attention to students.

    Dottie Hungerford is one of those parents.

    “I don’t see where the testing is going to come in handy for 90 percent of students down the line,” said Hungerford, a truck loader from Syracuse, N.Y. “For science-minded kids taking English tests, I don’t think they care where the period goes when you are up in space.”

    Speaking of English, teachers cite it as the one subject students should study more in school. Parents disagree, but not by much. They put English second, behind math.

    What troubles Jason Cleveland, a 34-year-old teacher in East Troy, Wis., are the students who show no interest in learning. “How do you motivate somebody like that?” Cleveland said. “They are kids who, for whatever reasons, don’t see a connection for themselves.”

    This is where things can get sticky, as parenting and teaching overlap.

    In the poll, 43 percent of parents say low expectations of students is a serious problem; 54 percent of teachers say the same, including almost two in three teachers in high school.

    So who sets the expectations?

    Parents look to teachers to challenge and reward their kids. Teachers look to parents to instill manners, respect, and motivation. Sounds like a natural partnership. Not always.

    “I hear these parents saying, ‘Well, my children aren’t doing very well, so you must not be a very good teacher,'” said Mike Randall, 48, who teaches abstinence-based health courses in Montgomery County, Ind. “Wrong. Sorry. It’s more like, ‘If your child would follow the curriculum, open the book, and apply himself, you would see how good this could all be.'”

    In Columbus, Ga., custodian Billy Hicks still thinks about the teacher who didn’t get along with his 16-year-old son. “The teacher is there to teach and help the child,” he said, “not show animosity toward an individual student.”

    Even grading can be grating.

    Nearly half (46 percent) of teachers say a parent or student has asked them to change a grade even if it wasn’t deserved. It happened about eight years ago to Steven Weisman, who teaches social studies in the suburbs of Chicago.

    He sent a note home about one boy’s sagging grades. When the student eventually failed, the parents asked Weisman to change the grade. Turns out the boy had intercepted the warning sent home, which got him in double trouble. Now Weisman makes parents sign a receipt.

    Educators can take heart in knowing that parents do, ultimately, appreciate the teacher’s value.

    The poll asked about overcrowding, discipline, low expectations of students, violence and gangs, poor building conditions, and availability of sports facilities. Yet the problem that ranked highest for parents and teachers alike was getting and keeping good teachers.

    The AP-AOL Learning Services Poll of 1,085 parents and 810 teachers of children in kindergarten through 12th grade was conducted online Jan. 13-23 by Knowledge Networks after respondents initially were contacted by using traditional telephone polling. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for parents, 3.5 points for teachers.

    Links:

    America Online
    http://www.aol.com

    Knowledge Networks
    http://www.knowledgenetworks.com

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    Kids hover around technology

    Pantagraph.com reports that at the SIT conference, kids demonstrated the hovercraft they built with the help of Heartland Community College instructors and volunteers. The kids used shop vacuums, wood, and shower curtains to build the floating vehicles. Students will take their hovercraft to their respective schools to be used in teaching math, technology and recreation.

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