A plan to bridge the technology gap

Improving the equity between the well-off and less well-off students is one of the goals of a proposed technology plan for the Greenville, N.Y., Central School District, the Catskill Daily Mail reports. A key goal of the 20-page plan is "to assure that teachers, administrators, students, and families have equitable access to high-speed connectivity and up-to-date hardware and software," said technology director Scott Gardiner at the June 9 meeting of the school board. "Obviously, we’re not expecting the district to provide this right away, but we don’t even have a good handle on computer access across our district. This is a first step, to try to get a gauge on that. We know there’s disparity out there in the district; we know that some students don’t even have a computer, some have dial-up, some have high-speed internet. We don’t have a good handle on numbers, and we would like to try to get a more concrete detail on that." Gardiner described this goal as "kind of a new way of thinking about technology."

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Teachers: Give us better tech training, support

After more than decade of investment in school technology, educators say they still don’t feel adequately prepared to integrate instructional software into their classrooms and aren’t getting the technical support they need to fully impact student achievement, according to a joint study by the nation’s two largest teacher unions.

Released June 10 by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the study–called Access, Adequacy, and Equity in Education Technology–examines the state of educational technology resources and support in public schools across the country, as reported by classroom teachers and instructional assistants.

Although they often have access to computers and the internet in their classrooms, many teachers don’t feel adequately prepared to use technology to enhance their lessons, the report suggests. What’s more, many teachers in urban schools say they have insufficient or outdated equipment and software.

“Teachers and students should have the same level of technology in schools that is being used outside of schools. How can we expect our teachers to provide kids with the education they need to join today’s high-tech workforce without the necessary equipment and training?” asked NEA President Reg Weaver.

The report shows that most educators use technology for administrative tasks, but substantially fewer use it for instruction. Although most educators believe that technology is essential to teaching and learning, they are less likely to use technology when the technology is outdated and has not been maintained.  Educators also say they would like better support and technical assistance for using both software and hardware, especially in urban schools.

“When you see the overall condition of many of our schools and the support they receive, it is really not surprising that so many schools are lagging in technology,” said AFT President Edward J. McElroy. “This is just one more indicator that policy makers need to set a much higher value on supporting our public schools and our students.”

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Feds try to revive 10-year-old web porn law

Government lawyers tried on June 10 to revive a 1998 law designed to keep online pornography from children, amid objections that it is significantly outdated and blocks too much legal speech while having no effect on content posted from overseas.

 

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges hearing the case questioned the law’s effectiveness, given estimates that half of all online porn is posted overseas, beyond the reach of U.S. law.

 

And free-speech groups say the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) misses the mark today, because it does not cover chat rooms, YouTube, and other interactive sites that have emerged in the last decade.

 

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Salon.com and other sites that challenged the law, argue that internet filters–which block 95 percent of the offensive content and can be set to match a child’s age or a parent’s judgment–are the best approach to shielding kids from online pornography.

 

But only half of all families use them, Justice Department lawyer Charles Scarborough countered.

 

"If there is nothing that works perfectly here, why not go with the thing that least offends the Constitution?" Judge Thomas L. Ambro asked.

 

Scarborough argued that the nation needs "a belt-and-suspenders approach" to the complex problem.

 

The three-judge panel did not indicate when it would rule. Last year, a federal judge who held a month-long trial on the law deemed it an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment.

 

The Justice Department is hoping to overturn that ruling. The law has never been enforced, because sexual health sites, Salon.com, and other web publishers sued and won a temporary injunction that the U.S. Supreme Court later upheld.

 

The law would make it a crime for web publishers to let children access material deemed "harmful to minors" by "contemporary community standards." The sites would be expected to require a credit card number or other proof of age. Penalties include a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

 

ACLU lawyer Chris Hansen said the government was trying to override the role of parents and educators, who deploy various ways to monitor their children’s computer use. He said the law could make criminals of many people who use the internet for legitimate, often health-related reasons–such as those who operate web sites about gynecology or safe sex.

 

"I’m not here to say COPA’s perfect. But filters aren’t perfect, either," Scarborough argued.

 

Another federal law, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), requires schools and libraries receiving federal funding for computers and internet access to use "technology protection measures" such as filtering software to shield kids from harmful material online.

 

CIPA, which took effect in 2001, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. Although filtering software can block access to some constitutionally protected material, CIPA passes muster because adults in charge can disable the technology whenever they deem appropriate, the court ruled.

 

Links:

 

3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

 

American Civil Liberties Union

 

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Safeguarding School Data resource center. It seems like you can’t go a whole week lately without hearing about some major data security breach that has made national headlines. For businesses, these data leaks are bad enough—but for schools, they can be especially costly, as network security breaches can put schools in violation of several federal laws intended to protect students’ privacy. Go to: Safeguarding School Data

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Apple aims for the masses with a cheaper iPhone

Apple Inc. has introduced a new, cheaper iPhone model that navigates the internet more quickly, as well as a range of new applications and services, the New York Times reports. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said the new iPhone 3G, to be available in the United States through AT&T beginning on July 11, will sell for $199 for the 8-gigabyte model and $299 for a 16-gigabyte model. He said the biggest barrier to people buying the phone had been price. Analysts and industry executives said they believed the lower prices would bring in new consumers who had been put off by its $399 price. "The price is clearly correct," said Mike McGuire, a research vice president at market research firm Gartner Inc. As widely anticipated, the phone will run on so-called 3G wireless networks that allow much faster internet connections than the original iPhone. Sleeker than the original, the new iPhone also will have built-in Global Positioning System capability to allow location-based services, and it will have a longer battery life in some cases–five hours for talking on the 3G network and 24 hours for playing music on the phone…

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HP targets wider market with new touch-screen PCs

Hewlett-Packard, the world’s biggest computer maker, launched a new generation of touch-screen PCs designed to lift user-friendly computing out of its expensive niche and bring it to a wider market, Reuters reports. The TouchSmart All-in-One allows users to work with photos, music, video, the internet, and television by tapping or swiping the screen, and it will be priced at $1,299, HP said at the launch in Berlin on June 10. HP’s announcement came a day after Apple announced a new version of its groundbreaking iPhone, the original version of which brought touch screens to public attention and sparked a host of imitators.
An HP spokesman denied that the company was following Apple, pointing out that HP had been developing touch technology for some time. But analyst Crawford del Prete of research firm IDC said: "I don’t think Apple’s impact can be underestimated."

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New social-networking web site enhances education

The San Jose Mercury News reports on FreshBrain, a social-networking web site created to enhance the education of youth in the areas of business and technology through interactive experiences. Because FreshBrain is a nonprofit organization, the web site service is available to users free of charge. The web site, www.freshbrain.org, gives youth ages 13-18 the chance to explore and create through activities and projects, such as changing the image of the Mona Lisa by putting a new face on it, creating a video game, or social networking to start a small business. Students can learn to create a web site or design a computer game or mash-up. They can learn the inner workings of software programming, graphic design, and more. Each of these areas includes contests with prizes such as an iPod and T-Mobile phones. Also, the web site tallies how active users are, in case teachers and parents would like to keep track…

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PS3 components used to build world’s fastest computer

A supercomputer with components originally developed for Sony’s PlayStation video-game console has become the world’s fastest computer, CIO Today reports. IBM said the computer, nicknamed Roadrunner, can process more than 1,000 trillion calculations per second, known as a petaflop. Built for the Energy Department’s Los Alamos lab with off-the-shelf components, Roadrunner is named for the state bird of New Mexico and will be used to monitor the U.S. nuclear-weapons stockpile. Roadrunner cost $133 million and is twice as fast as IBM’s Blue Gene system, which had been considered the world’s most powerful. Along with nearly 7,000 dual-core processors from Advanced Micro Devices, the Roadrunner also has almost 13,000 improved Cell microprocessors originally developed by IBM, Toshiba, and Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 3. "Roadrunner tells us about what will happen in the next decade," said Horst Simon, associate laboratory director for computer science at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "Technology is coming from the consumer electronics market, and the innovation is happening first in terms of cell phones and embedded electronics."

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2008-09 school enrollment expected to set a record

The Washington Post reports that public school enrollment across the country will hit a record high this year with just under 50 million students, and the student population is becoming more diverse in large part because of growth in the Latino population, a new federal report says. Nationwide, about 20 percent of students were Hispanic in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available for ethnic groups, up from 11 percent in the late 1980s. Overall, about 43 percent of the nation’s students are minorities, according to the Condition of Education, a congressionally mandated annual look at enrollment and performance trends in schools and colleges. Educators and activists, pointing to the shifting demographics, say it is becoming urgent to find ways to boost achievement of minority and low-income students, who often lag behind white and middle- to upper-income peers…

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Technology brings ‘new P.E.’ to schools

Physical education teachers are trading in their traditional equipment for heart-rate monitors and video games that encourage running, jumping, and stretching. Taken together, these two trends are transforming P.E. classes across the country and are spurring school officials to vie for millions in grants.

More than 10,000 schools across the country reportedly use heart-rate monitors—wristwatches that calculate a student’s heartbeat and heart rate target zone—that make it easier for teachers to track student performance. And a growing number of schools are embracing a new phenomenon known as "exergaming," encouraging students to exercise using video games such as Nintendo’s new Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), in which players mimic dance moves on the screen, requiring constant movement.
 
Advocates of this trend say integrating gaming into gym classes—replacing the monotony of jumping rope or running laps—could increase participation among all students, rather than the sliver of "jocks" in every class. This could help stem the alarming increase in childhood obesity in the United States, experts say, where 16 percent of people ages six to 19 are overweight or obese. That number has more than tripled since 1980, according to health watchdog groups.

"It’s motivating for students, it’s intriguing to them, it really captures people’s attention, and it gives you a vehicle for talking about healthy lifestyles and consistent physical activity patterns," said Fran Cleland, president of the National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE), one of the country’s most prominent physical education organizations. "It allows you to do that in a more mechanized way."

Last year, many West Virginia schools bought Dance Dance Revolution games to encourage activity among children who have proven reluctant or unwilling to participate in ordinary team sports, said Susan Promislo, a spokeswoman for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an organization that includes Health Games Research. West Virginia, one of about 10 states that use DDR in gym classes, was a sensible choice for new P.E. technology, Promislo said. The state has one of the highest obesity rates in the country.

"Kids [who] would not otherwise play sports or get off the sidelines in gym class are finding DDR to be a fun, appealing option that gets them burning calories without feeling like they’re exercising," Promislo said.

Cleland, whose Virginia-based organization reportedly represents 16,000 educators, said bringing video-game technology to gym classes could be the next step in what experts call the "new physical education." Teachers said this could include Nintendo’s Wii Fit, a brand-new game that encourages workouts on a small balance board that gamers stand on. Players receive instructions from the screen and mimic the stretching and muscle-building exercises.

Denise Kaigler, vice president of corporate affairs for Nintendo of America, said the company was aware of five New York City middle schools that will use Wii Fit in the coming year, but because the system was introduced to the market only a few weeks ago, "we do not have any way to estimate how many [schools] are using it."

Wii Fit’s tracking feature, which shows the progress made by players using the system, could make it a valuable tool for school P.E. classes. But, although it might add to students’ daily physical education curriculum, teachers should not consider the gaming system equivalent to traditional exercise.

"It should be considered a supplement to, not a replacement for, the individual’s normal fitness regimen," Kaigler said in an eMail message to eSchool News. "Users can use Wii Fit vigorously or for just a light workout, depending on their level of fitness."

Teaching a generation of students who grew up with video games, Cleland said, will require gym teachers to ditch dodge balls and kick balls for more advanced equipment—which can be pricey. Fortunately, a number of new grant programs can help. And, as school officials apply for grants that bring in thousands for physical education classes, Cleland said, principals and superintendents will begin to equate those classes to traditional courses such as science, math, and English. 

"Anything that can add legitimacy to physical education is worth the effort," she said, adding: "I think it brings physical education to the forefront, and people pay attention to it as administrators."

In March, EnergyNow!, a fitness technology organization, unveiled a round of physical education grants to schools in Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Each school was eligible to receive more than $12,000, which could be used to purchase assessment technology such as heart-rate monitors and provide training for physical education teachers who aren’t familiar with the latest in P.E. advancements. EnergyNow! is run by Polar USA, a manufacturing company that makes heart-rate monitors reportedly used in 10,000 schools across the country.

The Brevard County, Fla., school district last year received a three-year, $1.2 million grant for P.E. technology from the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, a federal program that issues grants every year. At Melbourne High School in Brevard, heart-rate monitors have allowed students to watch their heart rates rise and fall as they walk, jog, or sprint. The immediate feedback, teachers said, was an incentive for children who wanted to see the results of their work right away.

"It’s nice for them to see where they are and where they can go … and it’s good for them to see their improvements," said Brenda Sadowski, a physical education teacher at Melbourne High for six years. "It doesn’t have to be explained to them. They can look at it and understand where they are and where they need to go."

The monitors come with computer software that lets teachers track students’ progress in organized charts. Instead of jotting down the number of laps a student ran, the software tracks increases and decreases in students’ flexibility, muscle endurance, and heart rate. When parents inquire how their child is faring in P.E. class, Sadowski said the software’s hard evidence—detailed graphs and charts—makes parent-teacher conferences more productive.

"Now, I have documentation that’s not subjective, but much more objective," she said.

Jeff Padovan, president of Polar USA, said the company has received several letters from parents of students who were alerted of an irregular heartbeat only after Polar’s monitors were used in P.E. classes. Along with the heart-rate monitors’ health function, the devices and the accompanying software also give teachers a long-term table of student progress.

"All the record keeping is there," Padovan said. "It’s really the first time that gym class can be quantified."

Sadowski said some students were concerned when they couldn’t reach their target heart-rate zones as easily as they could at the beginning of the academic year. She said that created the chance to give a lesson on heart- and muscle-recovery rates and how they improve after consistent exercise over weeks or months.

Before heart-rate monitors became a staple of gym class at Melbourne High School, Sadowski said some students gave a half-hearted effort—sometimes even less—during running or jogging classes. But with the monitors’ hard numbers showing how hard they tried during each class, those students have begun to run stride for stride with their classmates.

"The kids who were able to kind of cheat through P.E. before, it makes them more accountable," said Sadowski, who recently was named the Southern District Teacher of the Year by NASPE. "It puts them at the same level as everyone else."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Games Research program will commit $8.25 million to research and application of interactive games that facilitate physical activity. Promislo said officials with the program will study ways people interact with and respond to exercise technology, which could give educators a better understanding of what will be most effective in middle and high school gym classes. The research will include context-sensitive programs that use sensors, interactive televisions, virtual environments, electronic toys, and dance pads similar to the devices used for DDR or the Wii Fit system.

The University of California at San Diego announced last month that its Department of Family and Preventative Medicine won a $198,000 grant from Robert Wood Johnson to explore how video games could improve health. Gregory Norman, the university’s lead investigator on exergaming research, said the UC San Diego team would examine how exergames could trump the appeal of video games that keep children on the couch, providing a workout only for their thumbs.

"We want to know what aspects about exergames, under what conditions, can capture an adolescent’s attention, particularly in an environment where there are a lot of alternative sedentary things to do, such as watch TV, play non-active video games, or sit at the computer," Norman said.

Links:

Health Games Research

National Association of Sport and Physical Education

EnergyNow!

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