$456,000 for health-based scientific research

The Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Competition for original student research is designed to inspire talented students to investigate the many behavioral, biological, environmental, and social factors that affect health and, based upon this knowledge, to identify ways to improve the health of the public. The YES Competition awards up to 120 college scholarships each year to high school juniors and seniors who conduct outstanding research projects that apply epidemiological methods of analysis to a health-related issue. Epidemiologists seek answers to why some people get sick and others don’t. In other words, epidemiology is the science of exploring patterns of disease, illness and injury within populations, with the goal of developing methods for prevention, control and treatment to improve health. The basic skills required by epidemiology – framing the right question, collecting relevant information and analyzing it to answer the question – are skills that will help students succeed in any area of future work.

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Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grants

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation awards mini-grants of up to $350 to public libraries and public school libraries to support programming that encourages literacy and creativity in children.

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Tons of prizes and savings for educators

Big Lots is sponsoring a summer sweepstakes for teachers across the nation. Between July 7 and August 10, teachers can register online or in their local Big Lots store to win one of more than 120 prizes. The sweepstakes also kicks off one of Big Lots’ newest online communities, The Teachers’ Lounge. While registering online, teachers can join this new program and have a chance to preview upcoming promotions and receive special savings.

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India opts out of $100 laptop project

Vnunet.com reports that the government of India has decided to opt out of plans to purchase laptop computers being developed by the $100 laptop project. Claiming the program is “pedagogically suspect,” India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development claims that “there are no proven benefits of providing all children with their own notebook computers.” Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee added that: “it might actually be detrimental to the growth of the creative and analytical abilities of the child.” Officials also cited the unpredictability of the timeline of the program as a deterrent to buy into the project…

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Gotta catch ’em all!

Pokemon, a video role-playing game created by the Japanese game designer Satoshi Tajiri for Nintendo Inc., is now finding its way into U.S. classrooms in the form of a supplemental educational game for students.

Based on the popular and long-running franchise, Pokemon Learning League is a web-based suite of interactive lessons in language arts, math, science, and life skills for students in grades 3-6.

Characters from the Pokemon series, animated in the bug-eyed, hip-hop-infused tradition of Japanese Manga, take part in storylines that teach lessons aligned with state and national standards. Pokemon USA Inc., the distributor of the brand outside Japan, says the components of the Learning League are developed by education writers and producers and are evaluated by an advisory board of elementary educators and ed-tech professionals.

The game is delivered via a three-step, “scaffolded” process in which students are first introduced to educational concepts as they watch a short segment featuring the Pokemon characters. Students then are presented with a problem for which they must collaborate to reach a solution. After that, they must apply what they have learned to interactive challenges.

There are more than 150 different species of creature, or Pokemon, in the Pokemon World. Players in the game–students, who are referred to as Pokemon trainers–are charged with teaching the creatures and helping them evolve to battle villains. Each player, or team of players, receives points based on how well he or she carries out the various strategies. The trainers work with adult mentor characters who guide them through the process of evolving their Pokemon, teaching the creatures right from wrong and helping them to hone the skills that will best exploit each creature’s inherent traits in battle.

The company says the characters in the Pokemon World demonstrate “pro-social” behaviors and are meant to emphasize important social values such as teamwork, friendship, skill building, and being a good student.

Yves Saada, vice president of interactive media for Pokemon USA, said the Pokemon Learning League evolved from the recommendations of parents, many of whom believe in the inherent educational value of Pokemon content.

“Parents will often tell me their kids learned to count and read from the Pokemon trading-card game,” Saada said. “The Learning League mixes the animation from the TV show and develops the content according to standards. It is web-based, meant for supplemental use in schools, in virtual schools, and on home networks.”

So, what’s the secret to the brand’s success with kids?

“What we’re really focusing on is creating a product that kids will like,” says Saada. “Once kids like it, teachers will. … [In the] Pokemon video games, users compete to get a badge of honor, for example, a badge of geometry. Kids are coming back every day to the site, play with it, learning with it. Almost organically, teachers will be drawn to the product, once we have demonstrated that it is very efficient.”

Unlike some other commercial franchises that have failed to integrate successfully into the classroom, Saada said, the Pokemon game was developed with education in mind.

“We started with the standards, then tried to see how the back stories met the standards,” Saada said. “It’s a supplemental resource to reinforce the content in the classroom. We want to reinforce what the teacher teaches in the classroom.”

Heather Miller, an education consultant who worked with Pokemon in developing the program, gave an example of how a lesson on the mathematical concept of probability is taught through a Learning League narrative.

“[The Pokemon character] Pikachu has been kidnapped by the evil Team Rocket. [Pokemon main character] Ash Ketchum and his friends must save Pikachu, but Team Rocket has set traps,” Miller explained. “The heroes want to get through to Pikachu without falling into a trap. Ash can ask questions through a mentor in the game. Those questions include, ‘Where were [the villains who kidnapped Pikachu] before? Where might they be now?’ In other words, questions concerning probability.”

In such a case, the digital Pokemon mentors would supply students with graphs and expressions of numerical fractions, interpreted as ratios. These mini-lessons then would be followed by activities.

“It is a scaffolded, very structured exercise,” Miller explained. “In order to work through it, the student must be able to read the expression of probability through circle graphs.”

In the third and final part of the exercise, Miller said, students engage in a group activity involving probability that will enable their Pokemon heroes to save Pikachu.

“Students are producing, not just analyzing and interpreting. They are actually being given information, and they then have to produce a probability graph to show that they understand probability,” Miller said. “Students, parents, and teachers are able to check through the web site and see how each kid has done on each video as she or he progresses through the lesson.”

One key feature of the Pokemon Learning League, which Miller calls “very valuable,” is its assessment functionality, which uses interactive videos for review.

“Many of the kids taking part in pilots said it’s better than the textbook,” Miller said, though she cautions the Pokemon game is intended to be used only as a supplementary resource–and not as a replacement for standard curricula.

“Once [students have] learned [a concept] through every other means, the Pokemon resource offers extension exercises to bring the concept home,” she said. “It is great for an extended-day classroom period, and each exercise can be done in around 15 minutes.”

Pokemon USA is making the site available to educators free of charge through Jan. 1, 2007. At that point, the company will offer schools a per-building subscription structure, with a per-household subscription structure for consumers.

Links:

Pokemon Learning League
http://www.pokemonlearningleague.com

Pokemon USA Inc.
http://www.pokemon.com

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DOPA bill passes House

An online issue of The Library Journal reports on the House of Representatives July 27 passage of the Deleting Online Predators Act, otherwise known as DOPA. The bill, which requires schools to extend filtering to some social networking web sites as a condition of federal eRate funds, is intended to help keep students from bumping into online predators while at school. But critics such as the American Library Association contend the legislation is overly broad, and will prohibit schools from making effective use of the internet as an educational vehicle. The Senate still must approve the bill.

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School’s cell-phone search policy on hold

Boston.com reports that a new policy put forth by Framingham, Mass. school officials has been put on hold. The policy would allow administrators to look for information on student cell phones during searches for drugs and other contraband. The policy was originally slated to begin in the fall, and will now need school committee approval. Framingham High School Principal Matt Welch likens the policy to searching through student notebooks when trying to find the source of graffiti on campus. The American Civil Liberties Union objected to the policy, claiming officials were “acting more like police than administrators.” …

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School sues over Wikipedia posting

A parochial high school in Omaha, Neb., has filed a lawsuit over comments introduced during the editing of a posting on Wikipedia, the online, publicly compiled encyclopedia.

Administrators at VJ and Angela Skutt Catholic High School take a dim view of these and other lines about the school:

“It’s [sic] tuition is ridiculously high, too. Not to mention you get an awful education there. They put more emphasis on sports than they do education. No wonder almost all kids there are complete idiots.”

That opinion showed up in June on www.wikipedia.org. And Skutt officials say there have been three other objectionable entries since February. They include sharp criticism of Skutt Principal Patrick Slattery, obscene language, and a note about drug use by students.

The offending entries since have been removed from the site.

Since Wikipedia debuted in 2001, it has grown to two and a half million entries in 10 languages.

Thousands of changes are made every hour to Wikipedia items, and contributors are charged with editing themselves and others. All viewers need do to change an entry is click “edit this page” and do so.

Skutt officials can’t tell who posted the entries they’ve zeroed in on, so the Douglas County, Neb., District Court suit names a John and Jane Doe.

The internet addresses belong to Cox Communications, and a spokeswoman said the company intends to comply with a subpoena for the names of the posters.

Whether the Skutt lawsuit will prevail is uncertain, because the complaint involves the inherent conflict between free speech and damaging opinion in the usually anonymous realm of cyberspace.

“The law is a mixed bag right now,” said John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “I can understand how anybody feels pain, but it’s still a very difficult row to hoe.”

Seigenthaler, a one-time administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy, complained in an op-ed piece published in USA Today last November that a biography of him on Wikipedia claimed he had been suspected in the assassinations of the former attorney general and his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

Seigenthaler said it took about four months to get the erroneous information about him removed.

The Skutt lawsuit says the school has suffered general damages that would be determined at trial.

“These particular edits were really harmful and mean-spirited,” said Patrick Flood, a lawyer for Skutt.

Once Skutt officials find out who posted the entries and why, they will proceed accordingly, he said.

Federal law protects online service providers.

“They are just the vehicle” for other people’s information, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “Basically, the more control you have [over the information], the more risk you have.”

On its site, Wikipedia tells users that “it is a valuable resource and provides a good reference point.” But, it says, “unfamiliar information should be checked before relying upon it.”

Inappropriate comments often are removed, said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in an eMail interview with the Omaha World-Herald newspaper.

He said such postings are rare, however, and he wondered why Skutt officials hadn’t contacted him directly.

As of press time, the Wikipedia entry for Skutt Catholic High School contained the following note: “Due to previous vandalism, editing of this article by anonymous or newly registered users is disabled … Such users may discuss changes, request unprotection, or create an account.”

Links:

VJ and Angela Skutt Catholic High School
http://www.skuttcatholic.com

Skutt’s Wikipedia listing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skutt_Catholic_High_School

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Wyo. online school faces hurdles

CasperStarTribune.net reports that plans for an online school in the Campbell County School District in Wyoming have been halted for the time being because state officials said the school would not qualify for funding. Assistant Superintendent Ed Weber feels this is just a temporary setback and is “hoping we can still make it work.” The virtual school would supplement or replace home schooling for K-6 students. These students would take up to seven classes online with the involvement of certified instructors and parents filling the role instructional assistants. However, Mary Kay Hill of the Wyoming Board of Education says that there is a lot of work to be done before the state grants approval for any virtual school in the state…

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Opinion: All eMail should be treated equally

In a column for the St. Petersburg Times, Howard Troxler opines that government eMail inboxes should provide equal access to all. Last fall, there was a dispute over scheduling religious holidays in Hillsborough County. During the dispute, the Hillsborough County School Board received a flood of eMails from the Florida Family Association, who had set up a web site for users to contact the school board. With eMails flooding in at the rate of one every few seconds, the school board thought it was under some kind of attack, and ordered all eMails from that address blocked. After determining the next day that the eMails were in fact legitimate, the block was ordered to be removed. The problem is that it took another full day for the block to be lifted–a development that the board claims was a mistake. David Caton, leader of the Florida Family Association disagrees with this claim, and feels his group was unfairly denied access to contact the school board, thus denying him and his organization the right to petition the government for redress. Given this scenario, Troxler argues that while no one has an inherent right to eMail the government. However, once the government does accept eMails from one group, it cannot subsequently selectively allow or block communications from specific groups…

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