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As web sites like Cramster and SparkNotes are transforming the way undergraduates study, some are questioning whether they encourage cheating and undermine learning, reports the New York Times. On Course Hero, for example, students can type in a college name and course number to unearth the previous semester’s particle physics final exam or find examples of research papers on, say, the causes of World War I. "There are professors who don’t change their questions from semester to semester, and one of the things that this raises is how problematic that is," said Teddi Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity, which is part of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University. "Part of what’s valuable about homework is that it gives you a safe space to practice and struggle." But defenders of the web sites–including some professors–say teachers should not be recycling exams and that students who simply copy homework solutions hurt themselves at exam time. "As faculty, we need to be better educated about what the possibilities are, and the truth is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle," said David A. Sachs, an associate dean in the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University. "If Cramster and all these companies disappeared tomorrow, you could still do a Google search and find what you’re looking for in five minutes."

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Assistant principal is first NYC swine flu death

A school assistant principal who was sick for several days with swine flu on May 17 became the city’s first death linked to the virus and the nation’s sixth.

Mitchell Wiener, who worked at an intermediate school in Queens, died the evening of May 17, Flushing Hospital Medical Center spokesman Andrew Rubin said. Wiener, who had been hospitalized and on a ventilator, had been sick with the virus for nearly a week before his school was closed on May 14. Complications besides the virus likely played a part in his death, Rubin said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the death of Wiener, who was 55 and had taught for decades, “is a loss for our schools and our city.”

“He was a well-liked and devoted educator,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

Wiener was hired as a substitute teacher in March 1978, then as a mathematics teacher, working in that position until 2007. Since then, Wiener had been employed as an assistant principal at I.S. 238, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Intermediate School, in the Hollis neighborhood.

Besides Wiener, no one else in New York City has become seriously ill from the virus. As of May 17, health officials had reported five other deaths in the U.S.: three in Texas, one in Washington state and one in Arizona.

Most people sickened from the swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, have complained of mild, seasonal flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and fatigue.

The city’s first outbreak of swine flu occurred three weeks ago, when about 700 students and 300 other people associated with a Catholic high school in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak. The school was closed.

Five more city schools were to close May 18 because of concern for swine flu, bringing the total to 11, including Wiener’s.

City health officials announced that four Queens public schools and one Catholic school would close for up to five school days. Three of the public schools are in the same building in Flushing. Each school had students with flu-like illness last week.

The latest school closings will affect nearly 3,000 students. Schools will be providing curriculum material online, and parents will be able to pick up materials at schools and other locations, schools Chancellor Joel Klein said.

There were no documented cases of swine flu at any of the schools, said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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House approves $6.4B for green schools

The U.S. House of Representatives on May 14 passed a multiyear school construction bill with the ambitious goals of producing hundreds of thousands of jobs, reducing energy consumption, and creating healthier, cleaner environments for the nation’s school children.

Opponents, almost all Republicans, objected to the cost associated with the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act. The cost would be $6.4 billion in the first year, with similar outlays approved over the next five years.

It passed 275-155 and now goes to the Senate, which did not act after the House passed similar legislation last year.

The situation has changed this year. While then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto the measure, objecting to a costly new school construction program, President Barack Obama has made school improvement projects an element of his economic stimulus initiative.

"It will give much-needed money to our schools struggling with huge budget deficits and deteriorating facilities, while encouraging energy efficency and creating jobs for Americans that cannot be shipped overseas," said Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., sponsor of the legislation.

The bill would provide states with money to make grants and low-interest loans so school districts could build, modernize, and repair facilities to make them healthier, safer, and more energy-efficient. The funds would be allotted under a formula based on a district’s share of students from low-income families, but the bill guarantees that every district that receives federal money for low-income students will get at least $5,000.

Supporters spoke of the difficulties of trying to learn in buildings with poor lighting, bad air quality, leaking roofs, and ill-functioning furnaces.

"Thirty-two million children in our country attend schools which are reportedly having environmental problems with their facilities that affect students’ health and their learning," said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

A majority of the funds–rising to 100 percent by 2015–would have to be used for projects that meet green standards for construction materials and energy sources. Those include the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System and Energy Star.

The measure also approves a separate $600 million over six years for public schools in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

"It costs too much, it borrows too much, and it controls too much," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., asked whether the nation can "afford to add another education program that is going to be underfunded." The federal government is already failing to meet its obligations to pay for the Title I program for disadvantaged students and the IDEA program for the disabled, he said.

Among the amendments approved were items that would make reducing asthma a guideline for green schools and that would allow funds to be used for playground equipment, physical education facilities, greenhouses, and gardens.

The economic stimulus package enacted in February included more than $100 billion for education, with half of that going to states to offset budget cuts. Of that amount, states could use $9 billion for other priorities, including school modernization.

The 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act is H.R. 2187.

Link:

Congress

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New search tool gives pause to some

A new search tool that is set to launch formally May 18 allows users to input queries and receive answers to fact-based questions. If it works as advertised, the web site, called WolframAlpha, could be another useful tool for students and researchers — though some educators say they are skeptical about the search tool.

WolframAlpha comes from Stephen Wolfram, 49, a British-born physics prodigy who earned a Caltech Ph.D. at age 20 and won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" at 21. The site computes the answers to queries using the collection of data the company, Wolfram Research Inc., has collected.

"Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed … that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer. But it didn’t work out that way. Computers have been able to do many remarkable and unexpected things. But not that," he wrote on his WolframAlpha blog March 5. "I’d always thought, though, that eventually it should be possible. And a few years ago, I realized that I was finally in a position to try to do it."

Champaign, Ill.-based Wolfram Research develops the advanced math and analysis software Mathematica, and because the software includes data that have been "curated"–found and verified–by more than 100 Wolfram employees, over the years the company has built a wide knowledge base. Now, WolframAlpha lets the wider world have a crack at it–something that gives pause to some in education.

Unlike search engines that deliver links that match keywords in your query, WolframAlpha is more of a black box. If you have it perform a calculation, it gives you an answer, along with a small link for "source information." Open that and you’ll generally be told the data were "curated" by Wolfram Research.

Gina Miller, vice president and director of customer engagement for Colman Brohan Davis Inc., said she is having trouble deciding how she and her clients should handle the emergence of WolframAlpha. Coleman Brohan Davis is a strategic marketing firm in Chicago that serves national and international higher-education companies.

"I am waffling between umbrage that someone thought this was a good idea, bemusement that I haven’t heard an outcry from the government or education associations on the subject, [and] resignation that education is going the way of ‘know where to look it up so you can copy it’ versus learn the concepts so you can figure it out," she said.

Read the full story at eCampus News

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New search tool gives pause to some

A new search tool that is set to launch formally May 18 allows users to input queries and receive answers to fact-based questions. If it works as advertised, the web site, called WolframAlpha, could be another useful tool for students and researchers — though some educators say they are skeptical about the search tool.

WolframAlpha comes from Stephen Wolfram, 49, a British-born physics prodigy who earned a Caltech Ph.D. at age 20 and won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" at 21. The site computes the answers to queries using the collection of data the company, Wolfram Research Inc., has collected.

"Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed … that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer. But it didn’t work out that way. Computers have been able to do many remarkable and unexpected things. But not that," he wrote on his WolframAlpha blog March 5. "I’d always thought, though, that eventually it should be possible. And a few years ago, I realized that I was finally in a position to try to do it."

Champaign, Ill.-based Wolfram Research develops the advanced math and analysis software Mathematica, and because the software includes data that have been "curated"–found and verified–by more than 100 Wolfram employees, over the years the company has built a wide knowledge base. Now, WolframAlpha lets the wider world have a crack at it–something that gives pause to some in education.

Unlike search engines that deliver links that match keywords in your query, WolframAlpha is more of a black box. If you have it perform a calculation, it gives you an answer, along with a small link for "source information." Open that and you’ll generally be told the data were "curated" by Wolfram Research.

Gina Miller, vice president and director of customer engagement for Colman Brohan Davis Inc., said she is having trouble deciding how she and her clients should handle the emergence of WolframAlpha. Coleman Brohan Davis is a strategic marketing firm in Chicago that serves national and international higher-education companies.

"I am waffling between umbrage that someone thought this was a good idea, bemusement that I haven’t heard an outcry from the government or education associations on the subject, [and] resignation that education is going the way of ‘know where to look it up so you can copy it’ versus learn the concepts so you can figure it out," she said.

She added that she and her clients are "discussing how curriculum–particularly homework–can be developed that will assure that concepts are mastered. The current process of learn-apply-test will need to be challenged and reshaped."

Ray Schroeder, director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning and the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield, expressed a similar concern.

"I think it’s possible that students may get less of the context and more of the content of returns," he said, adding that it’s still early to pass judgment on the web tool. "There are numerous alternative search engines out there that go beyond Google and Yahoo. So this will just add to those alternative search engines. I don’t think it will revolutionize searches, but I’ll reserve final judgment until after it’s launched."

WolframAlpha tells students what the answer to their query is–without making them comb through links as a search engine would. It also will graphically illustrate answers when merited. So if a student needs to know if Spain or Canada has a bigger gross domestic product and queries "GDP Spain Canada," he or she would see a chart indicating that Spain’s economy was smaller than Canada’s most of the time since 1970 and recently pulled ahead.

The tool also can show the odds of lottery games in any state. By tapping birth stats and mortality data, it estimates there are 2.8 million people named William alive in the United States today.

While the site simply gives a user the information he or she is seeking, it does suggest ways to track down similar information from other sources, including government statistics, proprietary databases, almanacs, and the collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia, which caused a similar stir when it first appeared on the web.

Spelman College Professor of Biology Mark Maloney said educators have had to wrestle with sites like WolframAlpha since students started using the internet.

"There’s a fear that students don’t know the difference between a reliable site and one that’s not reliable," he said, adding that while Wikipedia began as a site that educators were wary of, it is beginning to be accepted by some in academia.

"It tends to be reliable [especially in science fields], because the posts seem to be made by scientists in the field. So I imagine that with this new site, if it generates a lot of hits and is a place where students are going to go, we’ll run into the same thing we did with Wikipedia. There will be that initial skepticism until it’s been tested."

For now, Miller says she and her higher-education companies are thinking about what WolframAlpha will mean for education in the future.

"We are talking about the eventuality of a profusion of mobile [applications] that will
duplicate–and even eclipse–the calculation functions of WolframAlpha. We are anticipating that online testing systems used by high schools and colleges will need to move quickly to evolve. Adding a type of proctoring spyware to report on open applications won’t address the issue. Timed responses per question may inhibit cheating, but won’t eliminate it," she said.

"But mostly we are talking about how we can embrace technology like this to empower scholarship achievement, rather than look at it as a competitive threat that undermines educational quality," she added.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Link:

WolframAlpha

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House approves $6.4 billion for green schools

The House on Thursday passed a multiyear school construction bill with the ambitious goals of producing hundreds of thousands of jobs, reducing energy consumption and creating healthier, cleaner environments for the nation’s schoolchildren, reports the Associated Press.
Opponents, almost all Republicans, objected to the cost associated with the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act. The cost would be $6.4 billion in the first year with similar outlays approved over the next five years. It passed 275-155, and now goes to the Senate, which did not act after the House passed similar legislation last year.
The situation has changed this year. While then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto the measure, objecting to a costly new school construction program, President Barack Obama made school improvement projects an element of his economic stimulus initiative. The bill would provide states with money to make grants and low interest loans so school districts could build, modernize and repair facilities to make them healthier, safer and more energy-efficient. The funds would be allotted under a formula based on a district’s share of students from low-income families, but the bill guarantees that every district that receives federal money for low-income students will get at least $5,000…

Click here for the full story

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8th Graders’ Exam Is Delayed

According to the New York Time, the College Board said Thursday that it was putting off the unveiling of a new standardized test intended to help eighth graders prepare for rigorous high school courses and college. It cited school districts’ tight finances as the cause of the delay.
The exam had drawn sharp criticism from organizations like FairTest, a nonprofit that seeks to diminish the role of standardized tests like the SAT. The College Board, which also oversees the SAT, announced last fall that it would begin offering the test, known as ReadiStep, this fall. It had described it as being for assessment and instructional purposes only, and not for any college admissions purpose…

Click here for the full story

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iSchools lift hopes in NYC

A series of theme-based high schools are springing up across New York City, based on a model that has been open for only a year but already is drawing rave reviews. Called the iSchool, this model school blends innovative technology with project-based curriculum modules–and its early success could have national implications.

In an open commons area on the fifth floor of SoHo’s Chelsea High School, where the iSchool is based, students gather proudly by their projects.

“Hi, would you like to come and see what we’re doing here at our school?” says one girl, dressed in a skirt and heels for her big day.

Over by a glazed brick wall are three high-end computer monitors, each displaying a unique project the students have decided to highlight to members of the press, parents, and New York City Department of Education (DOE) officials.

Above the taxi horns and other sounds of a busy city morning that drift in from the open windows, Bria Jojo Lewis, a ninth grader at the iSchool, gushes about her group’s 9-11 project.

“To help spread the word about the National September 11th Memorial and Museum, we talked to students from around the world and here in the U.S. about their perspectives on what happened here in New York. We used technology like video conferencing, eMail, and social networking,” she says.

“As part of the project, we each typed out an interview we thought was interesting, and then we acted out the personal account while being videotaped,” chimes in Lewis’ friend Maite Gonzalez, also a ninth grader at the iSchool. “In one interview we talked to this Australian girl about how she thought terrorism is just a part of life, so I found that interesting.”

“And another student we talked to from Pakistan said he sees what happened on 9-11 differently, because he feels his people are victims, too, in a lot of ways,” adds iSchool freshman Tristan King. “This is a work in progress, and it’s taken a semester, but soon we’re going to use video editing software to edit these enactments down and then post them on different outlets. The National 9-11 Museum is also going to use [our project] as part of its exhibit.”

“But there are more projects–you wanna see?” says Lewis.

It’s not just the sheer enthusiasm of the students that signals iSchool must be doing something right; it’s also the fact that Chelsea High School–which just eight months ago received an “F” from the city DOE–is now seeing amazing results, thanks to the opening of the iSchool in September.

Last year, Joel Klein, chancellor of the city’s schools, decided he wanted to open seven selective public schools in New York City, and one was the iSchool, which would focus on technology and innovation.

With the help of Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report and a well-known philanthropist, and Cisco Systems, the iSchool was created.

How it works

The iSchool opened with 100 ninth graders and is a four-year high school. Five percent of students are in special education, 67 percent are Title 1 students, and students come from all five boroughs.

As part of the citywide high school choice process, iSchool students must average 85 or above in all major subjects, have a good record of punctuality and attendance, and complete the iSchool’s online admissions process.

The iSchool is based on what it calls learning modules. These modules are interdisciplinary, project-based, and focus on real-world issues, or what co-principal Alisa Berger calls “Big Ideas,” that bridge the divide between the high school experience and the real world.

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