$50,000 from Dell Foundation for Connected Community grants

The Dell Foundation has awarded “Connected Community” grants to 25 organizations in four states – Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Carolina – where significant numbers of Dell employees live and work. The two-year, $50,000 grants support basic technology access for Dell’s neighbors, with emphasis on helping underserved children become competitive in the digital economy. For example, some grants provide internet access and computers for pre-school and after-school programs. Others include a mobile computer lab to enable children to use internet resources for their homework, and a web-based musical education program and chat rooms for schools to enhance learning opportunities.

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$500,000 from Broad Foundation to Boston Public Schools

The Broad Foundation announced that Boston Public Schools is the winner of the 2006 Broad Prize for Urban Education. The prize is an annual award that honors large urban school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps for poor and minority students. The money goes directly to graduating high school seniors for college scholarships. Boston Public Schools will receive $500,000 in college scholarships.

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Sharpie gives $10,000 to Signature Mom winner’s school

Sharpie has announced the winner of its 2006 Signature Mom contest. Kay Pugh, a teacher at Palmyra High School (Mo.), was chosen after her daughter, a teacher at the same school, wrote an essay describing Pugh’s commitment to family and teaching. Sharpie will donate $10,000 in school supplies and funds to Palmyra High School. The funds come from Sharpie’s annual Autographs for Education program, which seeks to collect one million signatures in exchange for $1 million in school supplies and funds, including college scholarships.

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Fairfax County, Va. schools receive language education grant

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) announced a $188,511 grant to the Fairfax County Public Schools to help more than 1,500 students learn the critical languages of Arabic and Chinese. Spellings and Davis highlighted President Bush’s National Security Language Initiative. Less than 1 percent of American high school students combined study Arabic Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, or Urdu, according to the State Department. “This grant will provide over 1,500 Fairfax County public school students with the opportunity to study Arabic and Chinese, two languages critical in the global marketplace,” Davis said. “Today’s students are competing worldwide for jobs, and knowledge of these languages can give them an additional edge over their 21st century competition.” The funding will help the county’s schools teach these languages in grades 1-6 and will help middle and high schools lacking these programs to offer virtual Chinese and Arabic courses.

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AAPT announces winners of physics photo contest

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and Lexmark announced the winners of the annual AAPT/Lexmark High School Photo Contest. Through the partnership, students’ educational experiences are enhanced through math and science. The contest challenges high school students across the world to submit a photo illustrating an interesting physics concept. They are required to take the photo themselves and include a written summary of the physics behind the photo. Students were able to submit in one of two categories: natural, which includes any situation that the student witnessed, or contrived, which involves any situation where objects were manipulated to produce the phenomena photographed. The photos were judged on quality and the accuracy of the physics in the accompanying explanation. Winners in the natural category are: Arina Autina of Treasure Valley Math and Science Center (Idaho), Eurydice Rice, from Boston University Academy (Mass.), and Nils Rocine, Tamalpais High School (Calif.). Winners in the contrived category are: Kevin Rosenquist West Chicago Community High School (Ill.), Matthew Claspill, Helias High School (Mo.), and Helen He, North Toronto Collegiate Institute (Toronto, Ontario, Canada).

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Schools receive free cultural arts programming

Bob’s Discount Furniture, a New England-based retailer, announced the winning schools of its “Celebrate the Arts Contest,” in which a full year’s worth of cultural arts programming will be planned and provided in each school by the retailer. The five winning schools are: Pleasant Valley Elementary School (Conn.), Collicot Schools (Mass.), Searsport Elementary School (Maine), St. Mary Academy (N.H.), and Memorial School (N.J.). The final entries were chosen randomly by a computer based upon the completed questionnaire responses. Representatives from the winning schools and from Bob’s Discount Furniture will choose the appropriate cultural arts programming, along with the dates and times in the coming weeks. The Bob’s Discount Furniture Charitable foundation supports nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, and the American Red Cross.

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Free online instruction for hospitalized kids

Long-term patients at three major children’s hospitals will have free access to online courses this year through the Virtual High School (VHS), a national nonprofit provider of virtual instruction.

VHS is giving as many as 50 course seats, as well as training, to each of the three hospitals as part of a pilot project worth an estimated $30,000. The organization’s goal is to expand the project to other hospitals nationwide beginning next year, so students who are injured or sick don’t fall behind in their education.

Receiving these first donations will be Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside, N.Y., and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a national program based in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of these hospitals already has educational facilities to provide instruction to children requiring long-term care, but "this is a way to extend [these programs’] reach beyond face-to-face instruction," said Liz Pape, CEO of the Virtual High School.

The idea for the donation came when Hackensack High School, a VHS customer, donated seats in its online courses to Hackensack University Medical Center. "When we saw that, we thought, ‘Why can’t we do more of that?’" Pape said. "Everybody has an image of someone who’s gone through a long-term illness. … We recognized the need for these kids to have a continuity of educational services."

David S. Gordon, coordinator of educational services for Hackensack University Medical Center’s Tomorrows Children’s Institute, explained the significance of VHS’s donation in an eMail message to eSchool News.

"At our center, all school-aged children are offered in-hospital tutoring by a state-certified teacher, and arrangements are made for home instructions when the child is well enough to be out of the hospital but not well enough to attend school on a regular basis," Gordon wrote. "However, finding high-quality, upper-level math and science tutors for young adults on home instruction is often difficult, and many students find in-home instruction an isolating experience. This opportunity with Virtual High School provides us with a potentially helpful solution to these problems."

The donation was announced at the Advancing Online Learning Conference in Danvers, Mass., Sept. 28. Hosted by VHS, the conference brought together national visionaries, educators from VHS member schools, and school leaders who are considering online learning to discuss what works in virtual instruction.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of VHS.

Keynote speaker Susan Patrick, former director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and now head of the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL), highlighted the phenomenal growth in virtual schooling over the past few years.

 

Patrick cited figures from ED’s National Center for Education Statistics that indicate at least 36 percent of K-12 school systems now have some kind of online instructional program–and twice this number (72 percent) have expressed plans to add or expand such a program.

Online learning programs are meeting the needs of students who are not being served by traditional instruction, Patrick said–including students whose schools do not offer the courses they’d like to take.

For example, about 40 percent of the nation’s high schools still do not offer any Advanced Placement (AP) courses, she noted. But through online learning, "we are creating new opportunities for these kids."

Patrick challenged educators at the conference to "fundamentally rethink" educational approaches to meet the needs of today’s generation of students. She concluded by telling the story of how, in the 1950s, the federal government invested millions of dollars in designing a faster steamship to transport goods overseas. Ten years later, the jet airplane had made this new steamship obsolete.

Asked Patrick: "Are we trying to redesign the steamship in education–or are we trying to design the jet planes or rockets of tomorrow?"

Links:

Virtual High School
http://www.govhs.org

Hackensack University Medical Center
http://www.humed.com

St. Mary’s Hospital for Children
http://www.stmaryskids.org

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
http://www.stjude.org

North American Council for Online Learning
http://www.nacol.org

 

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New standards aid in virtual instruction

The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) has issued two new guidance documents for helping policy makers and education leaders as they establish online learning programs.

“Standards for Quality Online Teaching,” a follow-up to the group’s 2003 report, “Essential Principals of High-Quality Online Teaching,” offers a checklist of sorts on what makes a great online teacher. And “Cost Guidelines for State Virtual Schools” gives various scenarios for starting a virtual school from the ground up.

The first of these reports contains a number of standards that SREB member states, or anyone else with an online learning program, can use to define and implement high-quality online teaching. Within these standards, SREB has defined the qualities that demonstrate they are being met.

According to the document, a high-quality online teacher should meet the teaching standards for his or her state; have appropriate academic credentials and the prerequisite technology skills to teach online; demonstrate the ability to incorporate strategies that encourage active learning and interaction; provide leadership in a manner that promotes regular student success; have experienced online learning from the perspective of the student; and understand and be responsive to students with special needs.

With these standards in place, SREB hopes more students will have the opportunity to take high-quality courses online–“[regardless] of where they live,” said Bill Thomas, the group’s director of educational technology.

Successfully teaching a course online requires special skills and considerations, Thomas said: “There are aspects of online teaching that are dramatically different than conventional classrooms. You could be a great physics teacher, but a horrible online physics teacher, if you aren’t able to manage your time or your students very well.”

In a conventional classroom, teachers are able to see the faces and reactions of students to what they are teaching. But in an online setting, the only feedback or cues teachers will receive are eMail or text messages. This can pose a significant challenge for teachers, because not all students are able to express themselves equally well through writing.

SREB’s guidance document aims to correct this by recommending that a high-quality online teacher should be able to provide an online syllabus detailing the terms of the class interaction for both teacher and students. Teachers also are expected to provide timely, constructive feedback to students about assignments and questions. In addition, they are expected to have a period of time set apart for students to be able to call them with any questions the students might have regarding the class.

Despite the need for special skills when teaching in an online setting, Thomas and others note that high-quality online teaching starts with high-quality teachers in general. If a teacher isn’t effective in a traditional classroom, he or she won’t be effective online, either.

“Providing high-quality teachers to all students, whether online or not, should be our mission,” said Susan Patrick, director of the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). “Students in low-income areas and rural areas should have equal access to high-quality teaching and courses, and we are expanding options for all students and leveling the playing field with virtual schools.” She said SREB’s report is “a valuable document for any institution looking at high school reform and moving to more rigorous teaching and learning.”

Many of those in the online learning community believe that having an experienced and highly qualified teacher is more important than having someone who is inexperienced in the classroom but who is proficient in technology.

“We don’t always look for teachers who have all the technical skills that are described as a necessary component of high-quality online teaching, because we feel that if we find great teachers, we can teach them the technological skills,” said Julie Young, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Virtual School. “Everything that’s listed as a standard in terms of technology is absolutely a necessary standard for a high-quality online program, but we want to find somebody who has the capacity and willingness to learn the technology.”

The number of online classrooms and virtual schools has increased significantly in the past few years. There are now more than 500,000 K-12 students taking online classes in each of the 50 states, according to the Peak Group.

SREB is a 16-member state organization founded in 1948 with the intention of helping government and education leaders work together to advance education and improve the social and economic life in the South.

SREB’s online teaching guide isn’t the only such document to assemble standards for high-quality online instruction. In November, the National Education Association (NEA) plans to release a similar guide of its own. NEA’s guide, compiled in conjunction with NACOL and the International Society for Technology in Education, will be unveiled at NACOL’s Virtual School Symposium in Plano, Texas, in November, Patrick said.

With additional reporting by Managing Editor Dennis Pierce.

Links:

Southern regional Education Board
http://www.sreb.org

North American Council for Online Learning
http://www.nacol.org

Florida Virtual School
http://www.flvs.net

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Global Action Awards

This award recognizes exceptional young leaders who have engaged in projects related to world hunger, health, human rights, education, etc. Projects must demonstrate innovation, cooperation, leadership, inspiration, and impact.

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Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program

The program supports projects to develop faculty and library leaders, to recruit and educate the next generation of librarians, to conduct research, to attract high school and college students to consider careers in libraries, to build institutional capacity in graduate schools of library and information science, and to assist in the professional development of librarians and library staff. See web site for categories of funding.

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