Computer simulation helps young children learn conflict-resolution skills

A computer game designed to teach non-violence and conflict resolution skills to young children has found a home with Curriki, the nonprofit collection of open online curricular materials available for downloading free of charge. The computer game, called "Cool School: Where Peace Rules," features animated school characters in situations that ask children ages 5-7 to select an action for resolving a potential conflict, such as others crowding in line, refusing to share, or treating playmates disrespectfully. Developed by the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in cooperation with child development programs at the University of Maryland, the University of Southern California, and the University of North Texas, Cool School was tested at school locations in Illinois. The game is designed to teach children about conflict resolution in a lively, fun, entertaining, and developmentally appropriate context.

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Study: Public schools just as good as private schools

LiveScience reports that students in public schools have math scores that are just as good as, if not better than, those of students in private schools, according to a new national study. The research focused on 9,791 kindergarten through fifth-grade students across several years. "These data provide strong, longitudinal evidence that public schools are at least as effective as private schools in boosting student achievement," said researcher Christopher Lubienski of the University of Illinois. Combined with other, yet-unpublished studies of the same data, which produced similar findings, "we think this effectively ends the debate about whether private schools are more effective than publics," said Lubienski, whose research has dealt with all aspects of alternative education…

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Microsoft to add multitouch interface to Windows 7

In an interesting but perhaps unsurprising move, Microsoft plans to add multitouch interface to Windows 7, CNET reports. Corporate Vice President Julie Larson-Green demonstrated the multitouch technology at the Wall Street Journal’s "D: All Things Digital" conference, painting with several fingers at the same time to show how it can process not just touch, but multiple simultaneous input. "It’s much faster to do certain tasks than using a mouse," Larson-Green said. She also showed how users can rotate images by pinching and rotating them, much like Microsoft’s Surface or Apple’s iPhone.
Microsoft had previously hinted that the touch gestures would find their way into Windows. In an interesting twist, though, the new technology will work with existing touch screens, Microsoft said. The company showed it running on an existing Dell laptop…

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South Dakota lawmakers upset over school laptop dollars

Key South Dakota state lawmakers are upset that Gov. Mike Rounds extended a controversial plan to put laptop computers in schools after the Legislature decided earlier this year not to pay for the program, the Argus Leader reports. The Rounds administration announced last week that it would use $770,000 left over from a settlement with Citibank to expand the Classroom Connections initiative to 15 more schools. But administration officials in January–during the Education Department’s budget hearing–said the Citibank fund was out of money. Now, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle want to know how money is shifting around. They also are disturbed by the appearance that the governor is ignoring the will of the Legislature…

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N.Y. judge says Dell misled customers

A New York judge concluded May 27 that Dell Inc. engaged in repeated false and deceptive advertising of its promotional credit financing and warranties, the Associated Press reports. State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi ordered the computer retailer to more clearly disclose that most customers don’t qualify for free financing or get "next day" repair service. "It appears likely that there are many more New York consumers who are entitled to restitution who are not included in the complaints," Teresi wrote.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued Dell last year. Teresi gave him until Dec. 1 to identify all consumer claims for third-party repairs, new computers, or higher interest payments than they would have paid otherwise. "For too long at Dell, the promise of customer service was a bait and switch that left thousands of people paying for essentially no service at all," Cuomo said. "This decision sends an important message that all corporations will be held accountable for the promises they make to consumers."

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Amazon cuts Kindle eBook reader price by $40

Online retailer Amazon.com has nipped $40 from the price of its Kindle eBook reader, the Associated Press reports. The $399 Kindle launched last November and sold out in hours. Amazon sorted out its supply chain and manufacturing problems, and the device was back on sale in April. Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said May 27 that the company’s cost of manufacturing the Kindle dropped as it increased the number of units produced. The Kindle’s new $359 list price is still higher than Sony Corp.’s competing eBook reader, which retails for $299…

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Microsoft to nix book-scanning operations

Educators and librarians are wondering what the impact will be of Microsoft’s disclosure that it is abandoning its effort to scan the contents of libraries and make these items searchable online. The move might be a sign the software giant is getting choosier about the fights it will pick with Google Inc.

The world’s largest software maker is under pressure to show it has a coherent strategy for turning around its unprofitable online business after its bid for Yahoo Inc.–last valued at $47.5 billion–collapsed earlier this month.

Digitizing books and archiving academic journals no longer fits with the company’s plan for its search operation, wrote Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft’s search and advertising group, in a May 23 blog post.

Microsoft will take down two separate sites for searching the contents of books and academic journals this week, and its Live Search function will direct web surfers looking for books to non-Microsoft sites, the company said.

Nadella said Microsoft will focus on "verticals with high commercial intent."

"We believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer, and content partner," Nadella wrote.

At an advertising confab at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters last week, he demonstrated a new system that rewards customers with cash rebates for using Live Search to find and buy items on advertisers’ sites.

Microsoft entered the book-scanning business in 2005 by contributing material to the Open Content Alliance, an industry group conceived by the Internet Archive and Yahoo. In 2006, it unveiled its competing MSN book search site. (See "Google’s book scanning faces competition.")

Unlike Google, whose decision to scan books still protected under copyright law has provoked multiple lawsuits (see "Authors: Google infringing on copyrights"), Microsoft stuck to scanning books with the permission of publishers or that were firmly in the public domain.

The company said it will give publishers digital copies of the 750,000 books and 80 million journal articles it has amassed.

Yale University is among those who had contracted with Microsoft to have the contents of its library system scanned. Alice Prochaska, Yale’s librarian, said the university would explore "a number of options" to continue the library’s mass digitization, but she was not sure which direction Yale would choose. 

"The library has an expert team working on our current digitization project, and we will be exploring ways to continue their work in the wake of Microsoft’s decision to withdraw," Prochaska said in an eMail message to eSchool News.

Prochaska said she could not discuss the cost of digitizing the library’s contents, but she added that 26,000 of the library’s 100,000 books were scanned during Yale’s brief partnership with Microsoft. She said Yale will keep the material that already has been scanned.

Microsoft’s search engine is a distant third behind Google’s and Yahoo’s in terms of the number of queries performed each month, despite the company’s many attempts to emulate Google’s innovative search features and create some of its own.

Microsoft as much as said its search strategy wasn’t working when it offered in February to buy Yahoo to boost its search and advertising. Talks between the companies collapsed because Yahoo executives sought more money.

The company’s ceding of the book-search segment to Google and the Yahoo-led Open Content Alliance could signal that Microsoft has a new search strategy and is ready to jettison its unsuccessful me-too efforts.

However, the software maker has not given up on combining its search operations with Yahoo’s. As of this writing, the two companies were said to be talking about a more limited deal.

Links:

Microsoft Live Search

Google Book Search

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Japan urges limiting kids’ cell phones

Japanese youngsters are getting so addicted to internet-linking cell phones that the government is starting a program warning parents and schools to limit their use among children, the Associated Press reports. The government is worried about how elementary and junior high school students are getting sucked into cyberspace crimes, spending long hours exchanging mobile eMail, and suffering other negative effects of cell phone overuse, Masaharu Kuba, a government official overseeing the initiative, said May 27. "Japanese parents are giving cell phones to their children without giving it enough thought," he said. "In Japan, cell phones have become an expensive toy." The recommendations have been submitted from an education reform panel to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s administration and were approved this week. The panel is also asking Japanese makers to develop cell phones with only the talking function and GPS, or global positioning system, a satellite-navigation feature that can help ensure a child’s safety. About a third of Japanese sixth graders have cell phones, while 60 percent of ninth graders have them, according to the education ministry…

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Browsers are a battleground once again

Browser developer Mozilla will soon release Firefox 3.0, which will feature a few tricks that could change the way people organize and find the web sites they visit most frequently, the New York Times reports. Not to be outdone, Microsoft recently took the wraps off the first public test version of the latest edition of Internet Explorer, which is used by about 75 percent of all computer owners, according to Net Applications, a market share tracking firm. The finished version of Internet Explorer 8 could be released by the end of the year and is expected to have additional features. Even Apple, which once politely kept its Safari browser within the confines of its own devices, is making a somewhat controversial push to get it onto the computers of people who use Windows PCs. In other words, the browser war–the skirmish that landed Microsoft in antitrust trouble in the ’90s–is heating up again…

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Technology used to thwart exam cheats

Great Britain’s exam administrators are employing an armory of James Bond-style gadgets to crack down on teenagers cheating in their A-level exams this summer, the Guardian reports. The Edexcel exam board’s hi-tech approach, including electronic tagging of question papers, deterred cheating pupils last year. As the exam season looms, the board is gearing up to introduce yet more gizmos worthy of James Bond’s tech-savvy Q. Schools’ names will be invisibly written within single letters of exam papers using "microtext," effectively watermarking them to prove they are genuine because the microtext cannot be photocopied. This also would also allow exam papers to be traced back to schools in the event of a security breach. And in moves more reminiscent of the "transponders" attached to track key targets in the counter-terrorism drama 24, the bags in which exam papers are sent to schools will be fitted with radio tags. Bosses will be able to scan exam papers remotely to make sure they have not been tampered with…

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