T+L speakers challenge educators

The National School Boards Association’s 20th annual Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference featured two different speakers with different points of view, but each hit upon a common theme: The need for today’s students to learn high-level skills has never been greater.

Speaking on the opening day of this educational technology conference in Dallas Nov. 8, celebrated futurist, author, and inventor Ray Kurzweil talked about the huge impact that rapid advancements in technology are having on education.

The power of technology is increasing at an exponential rate, Kurzweil said–and this phenomenal rate of change has important implications for schools.

“The first industrial revolution extended our physical reach; we’re now expanding our mental reach,” he said. Such rapid advancements in technology are taking away many low-skilled jobs, he added–but they’re adding highly skilled jobs in their place. And that makes education more important for this current generation of students than for any others in our history.

On Day Two of the conference, economist Clyde Prestowitz sounded a similar note, albeit from a different perspective.

Prestowitz, a former advisor to the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Reagan administration who now heads up a leading economic think tank, addressed the rising tide of globalization and its implications for today’s students.

Prestowitz warned that China’s economy, which is growing at a rate of 10 percent a year, soon will exceed that of the United States.

“The world our kids, and your students, are going into will be completely different,” he said. “Our kids will have to come up with new ways to live, new ways to be competitive. … Our kids are going to have to be better than in the past, and they’re going to have to know more about the world than we did.”

How to reinvent teaching and learning to prepare students for these challenges–and ensure they have the high-level skills they’ll need for success–was the focus of the three-day conference, which brought nearly 2,000 educators, administrators, and school board members to the Dallas Convention Center. NSBA Associate Executive Director Susan P. Merry pegged total attendance, including vendors and others, at approximately 3,000.

Through dozens of concurrent sessions, conference attendees had the opportunity to learn about the latest technology trends and best practices at school districts nationwide. They also could tour an exhibit hall with more than 240 companies showcasing their solutions.

To highlight some of these ed-tech best practices, NSBA honored several educators and school systems by bestowing awards. In the opening general session, for instance, NSBA recognized the Kyrene Elementary School District in Tempe, Ariz., as one of its three “Salute Districts” this year. The awards are given to districts that effectively use technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Kyrene, which has 18,000 students in grades K-8, was selected for its Kyrene Teaches with Technology Project (KTTP), an innovative curriculum project that uses technology to foster a collaborative, team-based approach to instruction within each grade level.

Each KTTP classroom is supplied with five wireless laptops and a projection system. This model takes the concept of the mini-lab and leverages it with a grade-level, team-based teaching approach to create new possibilities, as laptops flow seamlessly to where they are most needed at any given time, district officials say.

KTTP is “a curriculum project, not a technology project,” said the narrator of a short film about the project that was shown to T+L attendees.

One of the keys to the project’s success is that district leaders started with the question of what students need for learning–and then designed an environment around these needs, instead of the other way around. Another key to its success is that teachers can draw upon the support of a “technology mentor” to help them integrate the laptops into instruction.

“What has made KTTP very successful for teachers is that we get to work together as a grade-level team, and we have a mentor,” said first-grade teacher Carla Fisher. “This support group has meant that many of us who would never have taken the risk of using technology on our own have not only been successful, but have become just as enthusiastic as out students about learning with technology.”

The other Salute Districts, which were honored later during the conference, were Virginia’s Loudoun County Public Schools and Indiana’s Kokomo-Center Township Consolidated Schools.

In addition to its Salute Districts, NSBA also recognized 20 up-and-coming ed-tech leaders as part of a new awards program called “20 to Watch,” which the organization created in honor of the 20th anniversary of its T+L Conference.

Editor’s note: For more information about the “20 to Watch” winners, as well as session reviews and video coverage of the keynote speeches of Kurzweil and Prestowitz, visit eSN’s T+L Conference Information Center: http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic.

News from the T+L exhibit hall

A free online workshop on blogging, a new program that helps students become digital storytellers, and a statewide implementation of textbook management software in South Carolina were among the highlights of the news coming out of the exhibit hall at the T+L Conference in Dallas. Here’s a quick roundup…

Hardware and peripherals

Dell Inc. has released a new printer for use in businesses and schools. The Dell Multifunction Color Laser 3115cn, the company’s first laser multi-function device, reportedly combines fast color printing speeds, stand-alone and network color scanning, walk-up copying, and stand-alone fax capabilities into a single unit. With a starting price of $899 and print speeds of up to 31 pages per minute (ppm) in black and white and up to 17 ppm in color (actual print speed will vary with use, Dell says), this all-in-one device is the fastest color multi-function laser printer under $1,000 available today, according to the company. http://www.dell.com Fourier Systems demonstrated the latest version of its Nova5000, a one-to-one learning appliance for schools the company says “fills the gap between laptops and handheld solutions.” Built on the Windows CE operating system, the Nova5000 provides basic word-processing functionality, eMail access, and internet connectivity bundled in a rugged device designed specifically for use in unpredictable classroom environments. Schools can purchase the devices with or without detachable keyboards and protective carrying cases. Just recently updated, the latest high-end models come equipped with a variety of software bundles that schools can choose from based on their needs. Bundles include special software packages for teaching science, including physics and chemistry. The devices also can be used in conjunction with the company’s line of data loggers and data probes for collecting and analyzing scientific data in classroom labs. Though the Nova5000 is not a fully functional laptop, the company says its ability to conduct basic internet searches, send and receive eMail, and perform standard word-processing functions makes it a cost-effective alternative for schools looking to save money while preserving function on large-scale, one-to-one technology rollouts. Pricing varies, depending on the software bundles, hardware, accessories, and packages chosen. http://www.fourier-sys.com

Instructional solutions

ComFit Learning Systems demonstrated its CommunicationFitness web-based grammar and literacy program. The company says its combination of best-practice teaching methodologies and online resources for students serves to improve language instruction in schools in two ways. First, new teaching resources enhance the ability of instructors to zero in on individual students’ weaknesses. Second, self-paced drill-and-practice exercises enable students to hone their language skills without pressure from classmates. Other resources include a range of standards-based instructional activities covering everything from the basics of grammar, usage, vocabulary, spelling, and sentence structure to the finer points of higher-level persuasion; a drill-down assessment feature that measures individual students’ proficiency in eight language skill sets; a suite of learning management tools designed to help teachers more easily integrate grammar-related lessons; and an array of customizable options that include rubrics, templates, and sample practice tests used to simulate SAT, ACT, and statewide competency exams. http://www.comfit.com

Discovery Education showcased its ever-expanding line of web-based education products. These solutions now include the unitedstreaming video-on-demand service; Discovery Health Connection, a web-based tool kit for teachers to integrate health and life-skills lessons into traditional learning activities; Discovery Science Connection, an online supplemental science resource for middle school teachers that blends interactive content with formative assessments; ThinkLink Learning, a new formative assessment product that helps teachers improve learning and predicts how students will perform on standardized tests; Discovery One Place, a digital resource management tool that gives educators a single repository to store and access all of their online digital learning resources; and Cosmeo, an online homework help resource that gives students access to a library of video and learning content, including math tutorials and news articles, from the comfort of their homes. Company executives say students can use Cosmeo to study for tests, review key subjects, and deepen their understanding of the curriculum. http://education.discovery.com

HOSTS Learning showcased the success stories of districts using its Mentoring and Intervention solution, a customizable learning and assessment program that helps educators target instruction by tracking students’ individual strengths and weaknesses. For example, at the Natomas Unified School District in a high-growth sector of Sacramento, Calif., district superintendent Steve Farrar had a problem: As many as 57 of his students had failed to pass California’s new statewide high school exit exam. He knew that, despite having passing grades, these students–most of whom hailed from disadvantaged backgrounds–would not be allowed to graduate unless they improved their scores on the state’s exit exam. Using HOSTS Learning’s tracking and assessment tool, Farrar directed his educators to gauge students’ proficiency on certain skill sets. Armed with that information, educators then were able to use the data, which HOSTS tied into the school’s resource database, to locate learning resources that addressed the needs of each student in the program. Once these resources were located, struggling students were enrolled in after-school mentoring programs designed to help them get back on track. Using the HOSTS program, Farrar said, his team of after-school mentors was able to create an individualized learning plan for each student. After just a few months in the program, he said, 25 students retook the exit exam and passed, with all 57 students showing significant gains. So successful was the program in its first year that Farrar said he’s now working with local business leaders and other stakeholders to expand the HOSTS intervention initiative across the entire school system, making the program accessible to all students, not just those struggling to pass the state’s exit exam. http://www.hosts.com

Learning.com, a provider of web-based assessments designed to measure students’ technology proficiency, announced that more than 1 million K-8 students in Texas now are using the company’s online EasyTech instructional solution to help them master digital literacy. Looking to ensure that students meet the requirements set forth under the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Technology Applications standards, several Texas districts reportedly have adopted EasyTech, an online program that facilitates the integration of technology into core subject areas such as math, science, language arts, and social studies. Combined with Learning.com’s new TechLiteracy Assessment tool, an online tool designed to gauge how effectively students are using technology, schools can better prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century by equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in a technology-laden workforce, company executives say. http://www.learning.com

Acting on the notion that educational video games can have a positive impact on student learning, the makers of the Japanese animation cartoon and video-game series Pokemon have created the Pokemon Learning League, an interactive online learning program targeted at students in grades 3-6. Guided by an advisory board consisting of both higher-ed and K-12 experts, the program provides supplemental lessons to help reinforce topics in science, math, language arts, and life skills. Based on the theory “watch, try, and apply,” each lesson takes a scaffolded approach to learning, using a cast of multicultural Pokemon characters to shepherd students through various subject matter. A study released Nov. 8 stated that fifth-grade students and teachers piloting the program in four states found the Pokemon Learning League to be an effective supplemental program and credited it with boosting learning outcomes in participating schools. The current preview version of the product offers a sampling of its content to demonstrate how the product can be effective in helping students learn. Additional content is added to the site on a weekly basis. Educators, students, and parents can use the site free of charge until Dec. 31. After that, the program reportedly will move to a paid subscription model. http://www.pokemonlearningleague.com

Fresh from its first Global Education Technology Summit in Calgary, SMART Technologies, maker of the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, was on hand to share the knowledge and stories gleaned from education leaders representing the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Italy, Mexico, Australia, the United States, and other countries. T+L Conference attendees who stopped by the SMART booth also had the chance to learn best practices from SMART Exemplary Educator Renee Marts. A seventh-grade science teacher at Durham Middle School in Lewisville, Texas, Marts reportedly has used the SMART Board to boost student interaction in her classes and improve students’ scores on standardized tests. Though the company didn’t announce any new products at the show, it is said to be gearing up for a major product rollout at the upcoming Florida Educational Technology Conference in Orlando Jan. 24-27. http://smarttech.com

Texas Instruments touted the use of its TI-Navigator graphing calculator solution, calling it an effective tool for getting students to learn–and talk about–mathematics. The company provided evidence of Navigator’s success by way of an expanding pilot project in the 34,000-student Richardson Independent School District (RISD) in Texas. Administrators say at-risk middle school students participating in the intervention demonstrated a 33-percent increase in statewide standardized test scores in mathematics compared with the previous year. Use of the Navigator system, which enables teachers to deliver targeted, on-the-spot assessments and drill-and-practice exercises, was critical in boosting scores and raising the interest level of this previously low-performing subset of students, administrators say. RISD officials reportedly are looking at ways to expand the program, now in a limited number of schools, across the entire district. http://education.ti.com

VideoCraft Workshop, a maker of software programs designed to improve students’ video editing skills, demonstrated the Start Editing Now Classroom Workshop Edition, a new piece of software intended to help students become better digital storytellers. Through this DVD program, students create movies from a series of pre-recorded clips, deciding when and how to edit certain shots, how to frame their story, and how to use video to bring their presentations to life. Apart from a series of interactive video-editing lessons, the product also contains structured lesson plans, enrichment activities, and other resources for integrating video-based activities into daily activities. The product is a complement to Start Editing Now, a consumer-based version that aims to teach novice filmmakers the nuances of effective film and video editing. Said Bill Davis, founder of VideoCraft Workshop, “We are filling an immense void for media instructors in secondary schools, technical colleges, and universities and their students, who are looking for more than just another how to use digital cameras or editing software’ solution.” Rather than just teach students how to use and operate the equipment, Davis says, his company’s product encourages students to think creatively about the footage they capture and to use higher-level thinking skills to communicate effectively through evolving visual media. The Start Editing Now Classroom Workshop Edition sells for $129.95; site-license discounts also are available. http://www.videocraftworkshop.com

School and data management

Central Xchange, a start-up web services firm, demonstrated Sub-IT, an online service for districts to manage and track their use of substitute teachers. Teachers who need to find a substitute can call in and report the day, or days, they require off. Once their requests have been recorded, this automated system–which includes personal profiles of every teacher and substitute teacher in the district–immediately begins to match the most qualified substitutes available to fill these vacancies. Substitutes can respond to the system by phone or eMail. Once a qualified substitute responds, the company sends this response to the school, and the first qualified sub to accept the offer gets the placement. The company says its product provides a logical, efficient, and cost-effective way for schools to manage their substitute teachers, freeing up building administrators to focus on more important tasks. Other features include a notes section where classroom teachers can leave instructions, notes about particular students, and lesson plans for substitutes to access online; a reporting tool that allows districts to monitor and track individual teacher absences and placements; an expanded communication system that allows teachers to compose mass voice-mail messages to parents in the event of an extended absence; and the ability for teachers and districts to set preferences specifying certain placement criteria. Sub-IT pricing starts at $3.60 per teacher, per month, or districts can choose to pay an annual fee of $36 per teacher. http://www.centralxchange.com

As the federal No Child Left Behind Act continues to drive the need for effective data management in schools, Excelsior Software highlighted the latest evolution of its Pinnacle Analytics product (formerly called District Data Analyzer). Through the program, educators and administrators are able to tap into different data streams, taking stock of everything from student performance on standardized tests to enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, and how English as a Second Language students are performing compared with the general student population, among other variables. The goal, according to Excelsior, is to provide a single point of access for educators to view and evaluate the data necessary to make sound instructional decisions. Realizing that educators aren’t statisticians, the company has designed a new and improved dashboard feature that allows users to view information in a variety of color-coded graphs and charts, enabling them to choose how this information is presented. http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com

Follett Software announced a statewide adoption of its Destiny Textbook Manager software throughout South Carolina. Using the program, South Carolina officials will centrally track every state-owned K-12 textbook throughout the state, a figure reportedly topping 2 million books. The South Carolina Department of Education is piloting the program in five districts this fall and will begin the process of implementing it in all of the state’s 1,150 schools starting this January, Follett said. The centralized system will be maintained on servers in the state education department’s office and will be distributed statewide via the web. The primary motivation behind the project is to ensure that all students have access to the textbooks they need, according to Jim White, the state’s manager of instructional materials. “While some districts in South Carolina are already using Destiny Textbook Manager, the state felt that a centralized implementation would make the program affordable for all districts,” he said. In addition to making Destiny Textbook Manager available to all schools via the web, the state also will provide every school with bar codes and a bar-code scanner to use in tracking state-owned books. South Carolina is also hoping to reap some savings by reducing the number of lost textbooks, according to White. “By state law, local districts are responsible for textbook loss and damage, and they bill students to recover their costs,” he said. “Although some schools have very good inventory systems in place, others don’t. We believe our new system will help all schools and districts keep better track of materials and recover fees when they’re due.” http://www.fsc.follett.com

Just5Clicks.net demonstrated a new web-based product designed to help schools better manage the data used in student assessment, the creation of school-wide improvement plans, and financial planning. Called SmartSlides, the product gives authorized administrators and classroom teachers access to data in all three categories. The company also showcased a new Interactive Progress Card for gauging individual student achievement and a tool called QuickScan, a web-based application that enables teachers to print standardized test questions directly to students’ answer sheets. http://www.just5clicks.com

Software Technology Inc. (STI), a provider of educational data management solutions, says it is helping schools tie the information gleaned from their student information systems into effective assessments, thus enabling teachers to chart a clearer path toward students’ academic success. By providing schools with better information and showing them ways to use this information to spur high-quality educational reforms, the company believes its solutions can play a critical role in helping schools meet federal requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress. Realizing that the majority of schools don’t have the resources necessary to train educators how to collect and use data effectively, the company also has launched a new consulting business to coach educators on the use of data as a tool for boosting student achievement. http://www.sti-k12.com

Professional development

Atomic Learning, a provider of web-based software training and support, announced the availability of a free blogging workshop, along with more than 700 other new online tutorials. The new blogging workshop, which includes more than 100 tutorials, is geared toward learners of all abilities, the company said. The workshop explains the difference between various kinds of blogs, introduces participants to some hosting solutions, and shows them how to set up their own blog using Blogger software. The blogging workshop will be available free of charge from the Atomic Learning web site through Feb. 1. In addition to the blogging workshop, Atomic Learning announced a new workshop on Computer Clean-Up and Internet Security, as well as more than 700 new tutorials on applications such as Clicker 5, Dreamweaver 8, Flash 8, Keynote 3, and Photoshop CS2. http://www.atomiclearning.com

PBS TeacherLine showcased an expanding line of web-based professional development courses designed to help teachers integrate technology effectively into their instruction. All TeacherLine courses–which encompass topics such as math, reading, science, instructional strategies, instructional technology, and curriculum mapping–now include suggestions for incorporating technology, differentiated instruction, and assessment into daily coursework. In addition to content-area courses, TeacherLine also offers the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Capstone Certificate Program, a series of research-based online training courses that enable teachers to demonstrate their mastery of ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers, or NETS-T. Aside from simply helping teachers hone their ed-tech skills, the initiative seeks to create a community of tech-savvy educators that participants can return to for advice long after they complete the program. http://teacherline.pbs.org/teacherline

eSchool News Staff

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