DEMO: Symantec previews child-protection software

Symantec at this week’s DEMO conference will showcase child-protection software that monitors children’s activities online as well as encourages children to be involved in setting the rules for safe and appropriate online behavior.

The Windows-based software, which Symantec is designing under the working name “Family Safety,” is meant to give parents a way to understand what their children are doing online, says Gerry Egan, Symantec’s director of product management for the advanced concepts division.

The software could tell parents, for instance, who among 100 buddies a child spends the most time with, Egan says. “The parent could get a message if a child adds a new buddy. The parent could be able to make the decision to add the name to the buddy list.”

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Report looks at schools’ success with Moodle

A new report from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) aims to introduce educators to Moodle, an open-source software program for managing courses online.

“While the Consortium for School Networking is vendor-neutral and tries to help inform technology decision-making in K-12 environments by focusing on the choices available, there are times when examining a specific product can be very helpful,” says the report, called “Moodle: An Open Learning Content Management System for Schools.”

“Such, we believe, is the case with Moodle. While this report is technically not vendor-specific (since Moodle is ‘open-source’ software, it does not require going through a commercial vendor), we believe that the widespread and often enthusiastic response to Moodle by K-12 institutions creates a need to briefly define what Moodle is, to [suggest] what it can do, and to give some specific examples of how it is being implemented.”

Moodle enables teachers to develop online curricula and lesson plans, administer assignments and quizzes, and participate in professional development activities from home. It also allows students to engage in lessons off-site if they have internet access, providing a valuable school-to-home connection that can maximize learning.

Moodle can help with basic functions such as classroom management, or more complex tasks such as complete eLearning or “blended instruction”–eLearning that extends into on-site classroom instruction. As of last fall, the report says, Moodle claimed to have more than 14 million users, with more than 35,000 sites in 195 countries. In the appendix, the report describes how Moodle is being implemented in five schools and school districts across the country.

For instance, Michigan’s East Grand Rapids Public Schools, which has about 2,800 students in five schools, has found varying uses for Moodle in the classroom.

The district’s networking and security manager, Jeff Crawford, started experimenting with Moodle a few years ago, placing it on a middle school server. That prompted a social studies teacher to begin using Moodle in all of her classes, using mobile laptop carts.

Crawford did a small Moodle pilot with eight teachers for two class periods a day and found the response positive. A middle-school science teacher developed a course for use at home, including webquests, quizzes, and other resources that accompanied classroom instruction.

Teachers started to use Moodle for individual problems as well. A speech teacher wanted to show her students how to turn in a series of speech drafts and outlines, and found she could create assignments with student drop boxes in an otherwise empty Moodle course.

Another teacher wanted to use the eBook version of a textbook for the whole class. The publisher required that the resource be made available only to the class that had purchased the book. The teacher used Moodle to “enroll” students in a course that used the eBook as a resource.

An art teacher found a way to use Moodle’s “forums” feature to build an art gallery for each of the course’s 192 students.

“[Moodle] has been successful because we have not set any benchmarks or goals. We kind of view it as a … multipurpose tool,” Crawford wrote. “It has done a lot of cool and creative things and provided solutions for teachers and students” where none might have otherwise been.

He added: “My advice [is], do not push your staff too hard to use Moodle. Let Moodle sell itself.”

Crawford recommends considering Moodle for specific uses, too, without necessarily implementing its full eLearning functionality.

“You don’t have to focus on Moodle as a classic online learning system. You can use just certain parts of the program,” he said.

The Moodle implementation study is the third in a series of reports from CoSN’s K-12 Open Technologies Initiative.

“This is an exciting time for schools to be looking at open technologies, especially as open-source software programs are becoming more and more attractive for implementation in schools,” said Steve Hargadon, project director.

“CoSN is releasing this report as part of our commitment to inform school chief technology officers about the emerging trends in open technologies, and to help their decision-making. Open-source software for eLearning is transforming how teachers are able to share interactive content, information, and feedback with students and their peers to enhance learning and maximize student achievement,” said Hargadon.

CoSN also has re-engineered its K-12 Open Technologies web site to provide a greater range of services to educational technology decision makers. In addition to the report on Moodle, two previous implementation studies, and other articles on open-source software and open technologies, the site will feature a regular blog on open technologies, along with an RSS feed for updates on trends and news.

Members of the CoSN K-12 Open Technologies advisory panel will contribute to the blog, and there also will be some special guest bloggers who will help kick off the site over the next few weeks, CoSN said.

“We want the K-12 Open Technologies web site to be the most informative and useful site on the web that addresses the use of open technologies in schools. To that end, we’ll soon be adding other features, including personal networking capabilities, hoping that we also can provide a significant opportunity for [school chief] technology officers to learn from each other,” Hargadon said.

Links:

Consortium for School Networking

Moodle: An Open Learning Content Management System for Schools

K-12 Open Technologies Initiative

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NSF grant to help NY colleges recruit minorities into STEM fields

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3 million over five years to an alliance of upstate New York colleges and universities to enroll and graduate more minority students from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree programs. In response to pressing local needs and national goals, the Upstate Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (ULSAMP) was formed to attract and maximize the potential of students from African-American, Latino American, and Native American (AALANA) populations. The ULSAMP program will achieve its goals through a two-pronged approach — implemented across the alliance — that includes enhancing recruitment of both first-time freshmen and transfer students, and by providing new opportunities to enhance the graduation rate of the targeted populations. Member institutions include Clarkson University, Cornell University, Monroe Community College, Onondaga Community College, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Syracuse University.

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Chicago students receive scholarships from Siemens Building Technologies

More than 300 students from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) received the gift of opportunity this holiday season when millions of scholarship dollars were announced at the annual CPS College Fair and Reception. CPS students with at least a 3.0 GPA and a 21 ACT score sat with their cheering families as representatives from 24 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) all over the United States announced full and partial scholarships on stage. The college fair and reception are a collaboration between CPS and Siemens Building Technologies. This is the fourth year the two organizations have worked together to host the scholarship reception. Both CPS and Siemens hope to provide local students with a chance to go to the college or university of their choice without the financial burden of private tuition and or out-of- state living expenses.

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Ten undergraduate students awarded $10,000 each from SAP

SAP America Inc. recently announced that 10 undergraduate students are recipients of its second-annual scholarship program, which helps discover and empower talented undergraduates who exhibit the capabilities of future business leaders. In conjunction with the SAP University Alliances program and SAP’s corporate citizenship program, the highly competitive scholarship encourages students to think innovatively and apply business technology concepts to solve industry challenges through research. By partnering with member universities, the SAP University Alliances program exposes students to a variety of higher-learning opportunities and encourages them to apply their knowledge of business technology to real-life scenarios. Designed for undergraduate students studying business, computer science, mathematics, or engineering, the scholarship program from SAP evaluates applicants based on their familiarity with and understanding of business technology. The application process is rigorous, with a personal research paper being the main component and highest weighted of the selection criteria. The paper must identify a current problem or issue relevant to enterprise resource planning (ERP) or other state-of-the-art business technology, and

thoroughly examine both the issue and its consequences, as well as propose practical recommendations to solve it. The following students received scholarships through the program: Nicole Smith, Ball State University; Greg Turcotte, California State University, Chico; Lora Atanasova, Drexel University; Matthews McGarity, Penn State

University; Scott Pudlewski, Rochester Institute of Technology; Arthur Cardillo, Villanova University; Kyle Raschen, Villanova University; Marie Chapman, Western Michigan University; Richard Pode, Western Michigan University; and Noah Pascarell, Widener University.

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University of New Hampshire forms partnership after receiving innovation grant

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) will be partnering with AmberWave Systems, after the two institutions were named as recipients of the "Granite State Technology Innovation Grant" by the New Hampshire Innovation Research Center (NHIRC). The NHIRC’s Granite State Technology Innovation Grant leverages an investment by the state with federal dollars from the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR program (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). The grant will help support the project "Cost Effective Nano-Patterning for Aspect Ratio Trapping Technology." Glen P. Miller, a professor in the department of chemistry and materials science program at UNH, will lead the grant project at the university. Miller also serves as the associate director of the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing at UNH. The project will allow him, as well as his students, to transition from cutting-edge research to real world applications.

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Grants for Solid Waste Management

The Foundation awards several grants each year for research or education in topics pertaining with any aspect of solid waste management. Project topics could deal with any aspect of the following, but are not limited to: waste generation rates and composition; waste minimization; collection and transport; sorting, recycling, and remanufacture; disposal options (e.g. landfilling or incineration); waste or energy recovery (e.g. composting, landfill gas to energy); innovations in collection and transportation equipment development; employee health and safety; and sustainability or resources.

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UK education group: keep the Wii out of PE class

Given the appeal of the Wii to children and the benefit of moving around, it’s not surprising to hear that the Wii was being integrated into the classroom as part of a physical education program in the United Kingdom. However, that integration has come under fire by education campaigners who claim that the Wii is merely a “gimmick” that is “pandering to the physically idle.”

Late last year, five schools in Worcestershire, England began to integrate an award-winning program that used the Nintendo Wii “to improve attitude, behavior and attendance in schools across the partnership.” The program specifically targeted children who missed out on physical education, as well as those who opted out of participating in after-school clubs.

“School Sport Partnerships across the country are doing some ground-breaking work to increase participation levels amongst young people which is vital as we work towards our target of offering all young people five hours of sport a week. We’re proud of the way Droitwich and Worcester City School Sport Partnership are engaging young people to do more sport,” Steve Grainger, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, told the Worcester News last December.

However, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, Nick Seaton, has openly criticized the plan to Channel 4 News. “It looks like another gimmick. It’s pandering to the views of the physically idle,” he said. “Pupils would be far better doing serious competitive sports and games than this sort of thing.”

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Virtual bridge spans gender gap in computer animation

The extra credit assignment in Robert Lonergan’s high school computer animation class boiled down to this: create an animated fight scene with three stick figures in a minimum of 100 frames.

Heather Francis, a sophomore at South Grand Prairie High School, shows a boy and girl standing near a car, a heart floating above them in the sky. Another girl approaches them because, as Heather put it, “It’s a love triangle.”

The girls in her scene find out the boy dated both of them at the same time. They think about fighting each other but instead decide to gang up on the guy.

“I thought I’d put a little story in mine,” said Heather, one of 12 girls in Mr. Lonergan’s class of 26 students.

Heather represents a still small but growing number of girls statewide who are enrolling in animation classes where students learn the basic tools for creating animated films and video games.

Men still dominate the growing field, but industry observers say women are making gains in part because of interest from the younger generation.

“We are seeing a small but definite increase in women entering both the artistic and engineering ranks at our studio out of undergraduate and graduate programs,” said John Tarnoff, head of show development at DreamWorks Animation.

He and others say such programs at the high school and college level are important to introduce students to new technology.

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Bush on NCLB: ‘Strengthen this good law’

Touting the success of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), President Bush urged Congress to “strengthen this good law” by increasing accountability, adding flexibility for states and districts, reducing the number of high school dropouts, and providing extra help for struggling schools.

“Six years ago, we came together to pass [NCLB], and today no one can deny its results,” Bush said in his State of the Union address Jan. 28. “Last year, fourth and eighth graders achieved the highest math scores on record. Reading scores are on the rise. And African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs.”

Congress is scheduled to renew the law, which determines how schools must focus their resources to ensure that all students are meeting grade-level standards by 2014, later this year. And while there is broad consensus on the changes mentioned above, another of Bush’s proposals—a scholarship program to help poor students attend private schools—is likely to meet with stiff opposition in Congress.

“To open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids,” the president said in his address to lawmakers. “We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential. Together, we have expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now, let’s apply that same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.”

Bush also addressed the nation’s competitiveness by calling for more funding for scientific research.

“To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow,” he said. “Last year, the Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask the Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.”

Yet, education and global competitiveness were minor themes in a 5,700-word speech that began by seeking to ease Americans’ fears about the economy and ended with talk about the war on terror.

With the specter of recession supplanting the Iraq war as the top U.S. concern, Bush acknowledged in his final State of the Union address that growth was slowing, but he insisted the country’s long-term economic fundamentals were sound. He prodded Congress to act quickly on a $150 billion economic stimulus package laid out last week and to resist the temptation to “load up” the plan with additional provisions.

Bush also urged Americans to be patient with the mission in Iraq almost five years after the U.S.-led invasion. He touted security gains in Iraq, which he ascribed to a troop buildup ordered last January, but gave no hint of any further troop reductions there, asserting that such decisions would depend on his commanders’ recommendations.

Calling on Iran to “come clean” on its nuclear program, Bush issued a stern warning to Tehran, which he had branded part of an “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union speech.

“Above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf,” he said.

Bush, a latecomer to the fight against global warming, also pledged $2 billion for a new international fund to promote clean energy technologies and combat climate change. And he addressed illegal immigration, saying it “must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals.”

Bush has faced international criticism for repeatedly rejecting caps on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the world’s biggest polluter.

Education groups reacted strongly to the president’s speech.

“Instead of rushing to renew a broken law with fatal flaws, we need to first engage in a thoughtful debate about what is best for our nation’s children. While the president agrees that changes need to made to the law, we need to overhaul—not tweak—the law to help every child succeed,” said the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) in a statement.

“The six years since passage of NCLB have demonstrated that neither Congress nor the president had the will to finance an expanded federal role in education. We must continually examine our public schools and make system-wide changes to ensure schools are teaching children the skills they need to compete in the rapidly changing global environment. These 21st-century skills include collaboration, ingenuity, problem solving, creativity, and more—none of which is tested under NCLB.”

AASA continued: “As part of retooling our schools to prepare all children to achieve at their highest levels, we need to find new ways to measure students’ progress. Rather than assessing students on a single test score as NCLB dictates, schools should be able to use multiple measures that more accurately reflect students’ individual growth and learning during the school year. In addition, schools need flexibility to meet the individual learning needs of students in special education and students with limited English proficiency.

“The devastating effects of poverty have a significant impact on student achievement. While schools systems currently work hard to address the effects of poverty, they cannot eliminate the causes of poverty. Federal efforts to improve student achievement should coordinate with other systems, such as health care, housing and judicial systems, to alleviate the fundamental inequities that perpetuate poverty.”

In response to Bush’s Pell Grants for Kids proposal, AASA had this to say:

“Every year, President Bush pushes for voucher programs under a new name in a new disguise. While the president has repeatedly failed to fully fund NCLB, he has pushed for voucher schemes that would siphon resources away from public schools—and the 90 percent of children in the United States who attend public schools—to pay for children who are often already in private school. Vouchers are a failed idea that has repeatedly been rejected by voters. In 10 different states, ballot initiatives to implement voucher programs have been placed before the public, and in every instance public aid for private schools has been rejected by a margin of two-to-one or greater.

“Rather than race to reauthorize NCLB or implement voucher programs that weaken our education system, the president and Congress need to build a new agenda for education that will help every child succeed.”

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing was even more blunt in its response to Bush’s address.

“President Bush’s diehard commitment to renewing the flawed No Child Left Behind law reflects a triumph of blind faith over classroom realities,” said Monty Neill, the group’s executive director. “The truth is that the pace of educational improvement across the country has slowed since NCLB passed, according to the federal government’s own National Assessment of Educational Progress. NCLB is forcing many schools to become test-prep factories. That has not improved school quality.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

White House

2008 State of the Union address

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