Free resource provides links to key teaching aids

Recently the U.S. Department of Education launched a new and improved version of the much acclaimed web site, Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE). The new site makes it easier for users to find teaching and learning resources by offering, for the first time, a list of 500 educational topics and a redesigned home page. FREE provides educators with lesson plans, primary documents, science visualizations, math challenges, literary works, paintings, music manuscripts and many other vital classroom resources. The tool also combines important educational elements culled from the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, National Science Foundation, NASA, National Archives and other federal agencies. By integrating these important agencies and resources, FREE is able to provide comprehensive lesson plans. For example, one such plan helps teachers integrate 100 of the most important documents in U.S. history into class by providing a timeline covering the milestone documents along with in-depth descriptions.

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Report: Teacher ed programs employ technology

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that initial licensure teacher education programs were oriented toward preparing future teachers to use educational technology. The report notes that a large majority of institutions somewhat or strongly agreed that graduates of their programs possessed the skills and experience necessary to integrate technology into instruction. Nevertheless, the same institutions reported a variety of barriers that impeded the efforts to prepare teacher candidates to use educational technology, both within coursework and in the field. When focusing on the barriers candidates faced when pairing instruction with technology in the field, institutions reported that competing classroom priorities, available infrastructure within schools, a lack of training or skill and unwillingness on the part of supervising teachers were the biggest obstacles.

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New research lab advances educational gaming

A new research lab at the prestigious Parsons design school in New York City aims to develop video games with a conscience—called “serious games”—and study whether playing them can be a force for social good.

The games, which aim to educate, would be used to train and teach students, public officials, and professionals in various fields.

The U.S. military, for example, trains with games that model terrorist attacks, school hostage crises, and natural disasters. And digital games, such as SimSchool and the STAR Classroom Simulator, also are used to train some school teachers and administrators.

Director Colleen Macklin hopes research at Parsons The New School of Design’s PETLab, launched Dec. 12 and made up of students and faculty, will make serious games like these more mainstream.

“Our goal is really to create intersections between game design, social issues, and learning,” she said.

PETLab, one of the first such efforts in the country, will create models of new types of games or interactive designs that address social issues. It also will research whether playing the games helps effect positive social change.

It is funded by a $450,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation as part of the foundation’s study of how digital technologies are changing the way people learn and socialize.

Lab researchers hope to create more games such as the popular “Ayiti: The Cost of Life,” developed by the nonprofit Global Kids and tech company GameLab, in which players manage life for a virtual family of five in rural Haiti. The object of the game is to make spending decisions—saving money vs. throwing a party vs. buying food—that keep the family healthy.

PETLab has partnered with Games for Change, a nonprofit group that supports serious game designers and provides a forum for designers to show off their work.

“We’re planting seeds for the next generation of game makers,” said Suzanne Seggerman, founder of Games for Change. “How amazing would it be to have Fast Food Nation or An Inconvenient Truth as a video game, where players can actually learn how to make their environment better through the game?”

So far, the lab is working with Microsoft Corp., studying whether the software maker’s Xbox game-development tool could be modified to create socially conscious games.

PETLab will work with the Microsoft toolkit XNA Express to create a curriculum through which universities nationwide can use the Xbox platform to make public-interest games. Currently, 150 universities reportedly use the Xbox/XNA game development platform for introductory instruction in the computer sciences.

PETLab will develop a prototype and test a curriculum emphasizing aspects of game design and digital literacy, as well as create a series of games around real-world issues as part of a “Game Designer Kit,” officials say. This will be made available as open-source material for other universities to adopt and expand.

The lab also is working with the social arm of MTV’s web site, think.MTV.com, which offers information on the environment, sexual health, and immigration. And it is designing tutorials on creating games for young people.

Links:

Parsons The New School of Design

Games for Change

Global Kids

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Charter Schools Program

The purpose of the CSP is to increase national understandingof the charter school model and to expand the number of high-quality charterschools available to students across the nation by providing financial assistance for the planning, program design, andinitial implementation of charter schools, and to evaluate the effects ofcharter schools, including their effects on students, student academicachievement, staff, and parents.

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All-USA Teacher Team

USATODAY seeks 20 teachers, both individuals and instructional teams, to honor asrepresentatives of all outstanding teachers.

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Freida J. Riley Teacher Award

This award will be presented to a teacher who works with aphysical disability, teaches in an especially challenging educationalenvironment, or has performed a heroic act by making an exceptional, personalor physical sacrifice on behalf of students.

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2008 National Peace Essay Contest

In the belief that questions about peace, justice, freedom,and security are vital to civic education, the United States Institute of Peace established the National Peace Essay Contest to expand educational opportunities for America’syouth.

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Cliff Weiss Memorial Essay Contest

The Association for Career and Technical Education sponsorsan essay contest in the memory of former ACTE Senior Director ofCommunications, Cliff Weiss (1951-2004). Cliff shared his gift for writing andwith it, enhanced everything that was done at ACTE. The purpose of this contestis to recognize CTE students who share the same passion and talents. One entryin each category, secondary and postsecondary, will be selected to receive anaward of $250.

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AAUW Community Action Grants

Community Action Grants provideseed money to individual women, AAUW branches, and AAUW state organizations, aswell as local community-based nonprofit organizations for innovative programsor non-degree research projects that promote education and equity for women andgirls. Applicants must be U.S.citizens or permanent residents.

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The 2008 Purpose Prize

In 2006 Civic Ventures launched a major initiative investingin a new generation of social innovators — individuals in the second half oflife who are marshalling their accumulated experience to tackle some of America’smost urgent issues. The Purpose Prize celebrates and supports outstandingindividuals 60 or older who are already producing significant social innovationand accomplishing work of great importance.

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