Nintendo DS teaches English to Japanese kids

The Nintendo DS isn’t just fun and games anymore for English-language students at Tokyo’s Joshi Gakuen all-girls junior high school. The portable video game console is now being used as a key teaching tool, breaking with traditional Japanese academic methods.

A giggly class of 32 seventh-graders used plastic pens to spell words such as "hamburger" and "cola" on the touch-panel screen–the key feature of the hit gaming console–following an electronic voice from the machine.

It’s a sort of high-tech spelling bee. When the students got the spelling right, the word "good" popped up on the screen, and they went on to the next exercise. The first five students to complete the drills were awarded colorful stickers.

"It’s fun," said Chigusa Matsumoto, 12, who zipped through the drills to get her sticker. "You can study while you have fun."

Like many other Japanese youngsters, she has the DS at home and plays DS games such as "Mario Kart" and "Animal Crossing." But she insisted her favorite was her English class software.

The drills, which the school began using earlier this year, are the first linked to a widely used Japanese public-school textbook series, according to Yasuhiro Yamamoto, manager at software maker Paon Corp., which made the DS English program.

"This is quite revolutionary for a Japanese schoolroom," he said.

Japanese education has long been infamous for failing to develop English conversation skills and instead focusing on rote memorization and grammar.

The DS boasts a series of brain teasers and puzzle games designed to improve math and other academic skills, as part of a larger effort at Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. to appeal to newcomers, older people, and women. For example, Nintendo’s Brain Age software challenges users to solve simple math problems, recite piano songs, and test their memory skills in the classic game "Concentration."

Other game makers also have designed educational programs for the Nintendo DS. Supersonic Software offers a spelling program, and GBX Interactive sells educational titles made by Tomy Corp. for practicing reading, spelling, and math.

But there are no similar curriculum-based titles available for the DS yet in the United States, although some publishers–such as PLATO Learning–offer curriculum software for the Sony PlayStation Portable.

The Nintendo DS–which features a dual screen, microphone, and voice-recognition technology and sells for less than $150–is being used in a handful of Japanese schools on a trial basis. At the Joshi Gakuen all-girls school, the device was part of a course that included video of an American ordering at a fast-food restaurant, as well as audio of the dialogue that the students listened to on headphones and repeated.

"Two hamburgers and two colas, please," they chanted together.

"Very good. Good job," exclaimed teacher Motoko Okubo, who seemed to have little to do but cheer the students on, as they switched from one gadget to another.

Okubo acknowledged she has never before seen the kind of enthusiastic concentration the DS classes have inspired in her students.

Principal Tsuneo Saneyoshi said that views about the initiative were mixed among teachers who are more accustomed to keeping games and other distractions out of classrooms, not welcoming them.

The school is getting 40 DS machines and free software for agreeing to be part of a test in a real classroom.

"Some teachers aren’t quite convinced this is good," Saneyoshi said, adding that the verdict is still out on the educational value of DS.

The school’s vice principal, Junko Tatsumi, was won over.

"There was no opposition from the parents," she said. "It wasn’t that difficult a decision for us. We thought it was a great idea."


Nintendo DS



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NECC 2007 Highlights

More than 18,000 educators, technology coordinators, policy makers, and administrators are expected to attend this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), which runs June 29-July 2, 2008, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Highlights from NECC 2007 in Atlanta, GA.

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You won’t have to campaign hard to get students to use this interactive learning tool

A free online computer game from Cable in the Classroom lets students experience the pressure cooker of a presidential campaign, requiring players to manage campaign money, lobby interest groups, and make gut-wrenching decisions when scandal threatens their bid for the White House. First created during the 2004 campaign season, “eLECTIONS” was refined and reintroduced this year. Players can run for president as a Democrat, Republican, or third-party candidate and can choose their platform issues, ranging from taxes to national defense to education. Each player moves through a game board that includes pitfalls such as small-scale family or campaign scandals. As the 2008 presidential race heats up this summer and fall, the site’s creators say eLECTIONS could be a valuable tool to help students understand the events driving the campaign. “eLECTIONS is an excellent resource for teachers and students who are trying to understand the events and decisions that shape voter contests,” said Joanne Wheeler, vice president for education at C-SPAN.


New group wants to make broadband a national priority

FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein joined tech policy pundits, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists on June 24 to launch a new initiative aimed at making broadband a priority in the United States, CNET reports. The main purpose of the group, which calls itself, is to help organize public support for a national broadband policy. Prominent figures in the tech world, including Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vinton Cerf, as well as law professors Larry Lessig of Stanford and Tim Wu of Columbia, are also members of the group. Adelstein, one of two Democratic commissioners on the FCC, has been a big proponent of a national broadband policy for some time and says he’s been frustrated with the current administration’s lack of focus on broadband. But he said he hopes this initiative will help provide a forum to allow the public’s voice to be heard in Washington. "We need to mobilize the public to make broadband an issue in D.C., so that broadband penetration and pricing rises to the top of the agenda," Adelstein said. "It’s important for us to make sure that the public’s interests are served. We’ve already heard a lot from the cable and phone companies." Broadband advocates have long complained that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in its ability to offer high-speed internet service at affordable prices to all of its citizens…

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Star Wars creator pushes free internet service for schools

George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars franchise and head of a nonprofit group designed to encourage innovation in schools, called on lawmakers June 24 to create a free, "third internet" that would be used solely for educational use, PC Magazine reports. "As we move into the future, most everything’s going to end up wireless and as it ends up wireless, [the government is] going to be auctioning off bandwidth," Lucas told the House Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on telecommunications and the internet. "As you auction this off, why don’t you just hold some back for schools and libraries?" Lucas appeared at a hearing about the federal Universal Service Fund (USF), which is intended to provide all Americans with access to telecommunications service. Though providing technology services to underserved areas of the country is a laudable goal, USF funding has been a point of contention for years. The program is currently funded by surcharges on interstate telecom services, which show up on consumers’ landline and cell phone bills. Broadband providers, however, do not pay into the fund, which telecom providers claim is unfair given that some of the USF funds go to provide internet service to schools and libraries under the E-rate program. A number of bills have been introduced to combat the problem, from Rep. Joe Barton’s more market-based approach to other bills that would broaden the base of USF contributors. "I believe that the eventual goal should be to make these connections free for all schools and libraries," Lucas said. "I think that possibly an educational internet, a third internet that is only for education and that is not charged and that the carriers cannot charge would be a rather simple way to solve the problem." Lucas acknowledged that his "goal is ambitious" but said it was as "important as free public schools and libraries themselves."

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Laptops help keep migrant workers’ kids in school

A Florida town is giving laptop computers to the children of migrant farmers in an effort to boost their education, National Public Radio reports. Immokalee, Fla., is the largest center for migrant farm workers on the East Coast. Juan Medina, a former agricultural worker, worked the fields with his family, planting onions in west Texas and picking tomatoes in Homestead, Fla. Medina now works for the Florida Department of Education, trying to help the children of migrant workers deal with the challenges of migrant life. He is part of a town effort to help the children in school. His new tool is free laptops…

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Technology: It’s where the jobs are

A new survey out this week from AeA, the group formerly known as the American Electronics Association, reports that jobs in the technology industry are growing at a healthy clip, with higher-than-average pay, BusinessWeek reports. The organization’s Cybercities 2008 survey says that 51 cities added high-technology jobs in 2006, the most recent year for which data were available. The survey tracks new jobs related to the creation of tech products, including fields such as chip manufacturing and software engineering. It is the AeA’s first such survey since 2000, which was taken before the crash of the tech bubble that created so many jobs in the late 1990s. And while slowing economic conditions have dulled the pace of growth since the 2006 data were collected, AeA researcher Matthew Kazmierczak says it’s far from turning south. The AeA’s findings jibe with what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says on the subject of technology jobs: More than 850,000 IT jobs will be added during the 10-year period ending in 2016, which would be a rise of 24 percent. Add all the jobs that will replace retiring workers, and the total increase could be a tidy 1.6 million…

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SETDA urges schools to boost bandwidth

Despite significant gains in high-speed connectivity among schools in the last decade, most schools’ broadband access is still not sufficient to accommodate current and future technology needs, according to a report released this month by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

High-speed internet access is vital for U.S. education and global competitiveness, and ensuring broadband access for all students has become a critical national issue, SETDA says in its report, titled "High-Speed Broadband Access for All Kids: Breaking Through the Barriers."

Schools need high-speed broadband access to create rigorous, technology-infused learning environments, and students need affordable, high-speed broadband access at home to extend learning opportunities outside the classroom, the reports says. Yet, the connection speeds of schools and homes aren’t keeping pace with demands.

Although national statistics boast of 98-percent connectivity among U.S. schools, internet access for many of these schools is often limited and occurs at low speeds. For instance, the report says, "a school is considered ‘connected’ when it only has one computer dedicated to administrators’ use for eMail purposes."

Speed is important, the report says, "because it determines what applications and functionality [are] possible through the internet connection. …[Insufficient bandwidth] cannot accommodate many technology applications that have been found to save money and improve teacher effectiveness, such as high-definition video conferencing and online learning. The constraints that inadequate broadband connections pose are vast when considering the trend toward online high-stakes testing, database management, school web presence and communication with parents, collaborative research projects, and video streaming."

In fact, the report says, between 2003 and 2008 "the average size of a web page has grown 233 percent, and the number of objects on the average web page has doubled."

"Planning and implementing for this growth is critical for our education system," said Mary Ann Wolf, SETDA’s executive director. "We now have data that show how technology makes a significant impact on student achievement in all subject areas and grade levels. … High-speed broadband [access] is essential to making change happen."

To provide a technology-rich learning environment for the next 2-3 years, SETDA recommends an external connection to the internet service provider of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) for every 1,000 students and staff members, and internal wide-area network connections between schools of at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff members.

Over the next 5-7 years, the group recommends an external internet connection of 100 Mpbs for every 1,000 students and staff members and internal wide-area network connections of at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) per 1,000 students and staff members.

High-speed broadband access is similar to a utility, the report says–it’s essential for operations. That’s why states and school districts should leverage E-rate discounts and other federal, state, and local funding resources to pay for this access, the report urges–and districts should partner with others in their state or community, as well as negotiate on-demand fee structures with broadband providers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently updated its definition of "basic broadband" from 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) in one direction to between 768 Kpbs and 1.5 Mbps. But even this definition falls short, SETDA says.

"Broadband speed at this definition is still much too slow to facilitate a robust, interactive learning environment necessary to improve student achievement and create tomorrow’s innovators," the report states.

SETDA and industry leaders maintain that the definition of broadband needs to be increased significantly over the next few years, and that the definition of high-speed broadband should be at least 10 Mbps by 2010. Others in the industry support the creation of big broadband networks of at least 100 Mbps–and some countries already have established connectivity goals of 100 Mbps.

Schools’ broadband speeds are falling behind even the speeds of average households, the report warns. SETDA has observed that most schools use a T1 connection to the internet, providing speeds of up to 1.54 Mbps–whereas cable operators are providing broadband service at 5 Mbps to many U.S. households, according to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

"Simply having connectivity is not enough: Without measurable upgrades in bandwidth to allow for greater speeds–or even to maintain current speeds as demand grows–teachers and students will be severely limited in the technology applications they can utilize," the report says.

The report cites examples of districts that have leveraged the E-rate and creative partnerships to build robust broadband networks, such as the Charles County Public Schools in Maryland, the Orange County Public Schools in Florida, and California’s Lemon Grove School District.

SETDA recommends that districts undertake a coordinated planning effort with state and local governments, community organizations, and/or the private sector; develop a long-term technology plan that specifically addresses their high-speed broadband requirements; and obtain stakeholder commitment to realizing these goals.

Greater broadband access also is on the minds of other leading ed-tech advocacy groups.



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The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently launched a new Broadband Knowledge Center, an online repository developed to help educators better understand their bandwidth needs, as well as the potential that broadband brings to the classroom.

The resource includes a number of articles and reports, including a survey conducted by The Greaves Group and The Hayes Connection of several hundred school district chief technology officers regarding their projected bandwidth needs over the next five years.

That report, "America’s Digital Schools," identified a "bandwidth crisis" and highlighted the need for schools to plan ahead and budget wisely for their needs to prevent slow bandwidth in the future. (See "Researchers identify key ed-tech trends.")

"The topic of a bandwidth crisis is difficult to discuss, because we have had some progress; we have heard dire predictions before that have not come true, the technical aspects are not transparent and can be difficult to articulate, and there are competing points of view and interest," said Christopher Brown, senior vice president of research at Pearson Education and co-chair of CoSN’s Broadband Task Force.

"Still, we seem finally to be in a position to realize the promise of technological convergence, and yet we are observing bandwidth bottlenecks at many schools that are frankly inhibiting the possibilities for our students."

"It is critical that we begin addressing the crisis now, as it only has the potential to worsen in the future," said Jeanne Hayes, president of The Hayes Connection and co-chair of CoSN’s Broadband Task Force. "There is a real opportunity here to bring attention to this important infrastructure issue facing our schools and to uncover solutions that can be put into action. Bandwidth is an essential component of 21st-century teaching and learning, and we must find ways to build momentum, not slow it down."


"High-Speed Broadband Access for All Kids: Breaking through the Barriers"

CoSN’s Broadband Knowledge Center


Technology leaders favor online ID card over passwords

Microsoft, Google, and PayPal, a unit of eBay, are among the founders of an industry organization that hopes to solve the problem of password overload among computer users, the New York Times reports. The Information Card Foundation is an effort to create a single, industry-wide approach to managing identity online that promises to reduce the use of passwords and create a system that is less vulnerable to fraud. "There is such a market requirement to solve this problem," said Paul Trevithick, chairman of the new group and chief executive of Parity, an identity-protection technology company in Needham, Mass., that is developing what it calls an i-card. The foundation, which also includes Equifax, Novell, Oracle, and nine industry analysts and technology leaders, will try to set open standards for the technology industry. The idea is to bring the concept of an identity card, like a driver’s license, to the online world. Rather than logging on to sites with user IDs and passwords, people will gain access to sites using a secure digital identity that is overseen by a third party. The user controls the information in a secure place and transmits only the data that is necessary to access a web site…

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Model classroom to offer technology lessons for educators

Texas’ Hallsville Independent School District has a new classroom, but it won’t be used by students, the Longville News-Journal reports: Instead, the classroom will be a model for teachers and administrators nationwide on how to integrate technology into lessons. The classroom is Apple’s second model classroom in the nation. It is designed from education research by Stanford University, and it encourages student collaboration. The district, which also has been working with Apple on another project, installed the classroom this month. District Technology Director Mike Stanfield said the classroom would illustrate how technology can be woven into subject lessons to improve learning for a multimedia-savvy generation. The classroom has 20 student desks, each with a wireless computer notebook. Workstations for various tasks circle the room. One station is intended for internet research. Another station is designed to aid multimedia production, letting students integrate video and audio into class projects and presentations. "Most schools don’t have these tools," Stanfield said. Tim Brittain, district business manager, said equipping and furnishing the classroom cost about $70,000, which came out of the budgeted technology fund. He said the district received significant discounts from Apple for equipment purchases. Apple spokesman Todd Wilder said working with the school district was a way to introduce new technology to the area, and the company hopes the classroom will be seen by a large number of educators in the region…

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