$100,000 from Able Information Technologies to eight Arizona schools

Able Information Technologies has completed a contest to reward Arizona schools for their exemplary use of technology to improve education. The contest, which awarded $100,000 worth of prizes to eight winning schools, was a collaboration of Able, the Arizona Technology Council, the Arizona Technology in Education Alliance, and the Greater Arizona eLearning Association.

L.W. Cross Middle School in Tucson took first place for its use of technology in a cross-curricular course taught between eighth-grade English and social studies classrooms. Emily Gray Junior High School in Tucson took second place for using virtual literature circles to help extend classroom reading. Maricopa Wells Middle School took third place for its Mini-Cities program, which taught vertex-edge graphing to eighth-graders. All three winners received computers and scholarships for graduate-level education classes. Five honorable mention winners also received audiovisual equipment and graduate scholarships.


$300,000 in middle school scholarships and grants from Raytheon

Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., celebrated Math Awareness Month in April by awarding $1,000 scholarships to 150 middle school students and matching grants to the students’ schools. The scholarships can be used toward a math, science, or technology camp or program this summer.

The awards are part of Raytheon’s MathMovesU program, an initiative designed to engage middle school students in math and science through a variety of programs, including contests, live events, scholarships, tutoring programs, and more. Each year, Raytheon awards $1 million in scholarships and grants through MathMovesU.

"Raytheon is delighted to recognize these students with scholarships for making math a priority," said Raytheon Chairman and CEO William H. Swanson. "It is our hope that these scholarships, coupled with the support of family and teachers, will encourage these students to continue their passion for math for many more years to come."

The 150 scholarship recipients were chosen from a pool of 1,662 middle school students who created multimedia presentations that illustrated the importance of math in their daily lives and answered the question: "How does math put the action in your passion?" Submissions were judged independently by Scholarship America.


$550,000 from Toyota to 82 science teachers nationwide

Toyota Motor Sales USA has announced $550,000 in Toyota TAPESTRY grants to 82 teachers in grades K-12 nationwide for their outstanding science project proposals. The winners were chosen from nearly 600 applications.

Of the $550,000 granted, 50 teachers will receive large grants of up to $10,000 each, and 32 will receive mini-grants of up to $2,500 each. Toyota has awarded more than $8.5 million to 1,064 teams of teachers throughout the program’s 19-year history.

Judges choose proposals that stand out for their creativity, risk-taking, and originality in three areas: environmental science, physical science, and integrating literacy and science. This year’s winning projects explore topics ranging from testing hydroponic gardening techniques to reenacting the first trans-Atlantic flight.

"Toyota TAPESTRY large and mini-grants provide the means for excellent teachers to take their instruction into the 21st century," said Jenna Hallman, a 2007 TAPESTRY winner and this year’s South Carolina Teacher of the Year.  "We know our students will be using technology someday that is yet to be invented as they solve problems that don’t yet exist. The TAPESTRY program afforded my team the opportunity to purchase incredible amounts of materials and arrange for experiences that allow us to help them prepare for that future."

Toyota TAPESTRY is open to elementary, middle, and high school science teachers in the United States and its territories. Teachers may apply individually or in teams. Applications are submitted online and are due in January each year.


$600,000 from the National Governors Association to improve low-performing schools

The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices has awarded grants of $150,000 to Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Mississippi to support the development of a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving chronically low-performing schools.

"This project will help state leaders address the root causes and underlying conditions in the most chronically low-performing schools," said Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center’s Education Division.

The "State Strategies to Improve Chronically Low-Performing Schools" initiative will help states enact policies that change the operating conditions–such as staffing and budgetary authority–of low-performing schools and build capacity for comprehensive, state-led turnaround efforts. The grants were made possible with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Prudential Foundation.


Allow plenty of time for writing federal grant proposals

One question I’m frequently asked during my grant-writing workshops is, "Just how long does it take to write a federal grant proposal?" My response is usually 60 to 90 days, depending on the grant guidance. This response frequently results in shock and surprise from people who have never written a federal proposal before.
Why does it take so long to write one of these grant proposals? Understanding that each grant might adhere to the same basic structure but will also include some differences, and that people work at different speeds, let me share with you some general information that will illustrate why the process is typically longer for federal grants than for most other grant applications.
Narrative. Typically, the narrative page limits for federal grants are in the 15- to 25-page range, often single-spaced. Writing 25 pages is an arduous task, no matter what the topic is! Addressing each section of an RFP in your proposal is critical and might require additional research to find information.

Budgets. Many federal grants cover a three- to five-year time period, and you’ll have to submit budgets for each year with your proposal. It probably will require some research and assistance from your finance department to find out how much the costs in particular line items might change over a three- to five-year time period. For example, if you’re including salaries and benefits of employees or contractors who will contribute to your grant project, you’ll need to work with your finance department and possibly your human resources department to find out if these salaries and benefits will increase each year, and by what percentage.

Resumes. You might be asked to include resumes for all pertinent staff people who will be working on the grant-funded project. Some people keep their resumes up to date, but unfortunately, many do not! It is best to keep resumes in standard formats and keep them relatively brief (one to three pages), and make sure you give people enough notice to prepare their resumes for inclusion with your proposal.

Letters of commitment. If your project involves collaborative partners, you might be asked to include signed letters of commitment (or memorandums of understanding) from those partners. These documents usually specify the responsibilities of the partners and describe their contributions–either programmatic or financial–to the project. Just like resumes, these are items that should be requested early in the proposal process, so partners have enough time to sign them. Remember, also, that some organizations might require approval from their board of directors before participating in a project and signing a letter or memorandum–and if the board meets monthly, they’ll need at least 30 days’ notice to provide this document.

Additional documents. Over the years, I have looked at the guidance for many federal grants–and they have asked for a variety of additional documents to be included with an application. Some examples include maps of areas that the proposed project will cover, district strategic plans, charts of demographic information for all proposed project partners, and organizational charts for proposed projects. In some cases, these additional documents might already exist, so it might be easy to include them with your application. If they don’t already exist, however, this is just one more item to add to your "to do" list when putting together a federal grant application.

My recommendation to all grant writers is to leave as much time as possible to work on a federal grant proposal. If you finish it earlier than expected, you can always submit it well before the deadline–and start working on your next grant!


Making content ‘king’ is Vermont’s crowning achievement in ed-tech integration

As educational technology moves steadily into the 21st century, we’re seeing positive shifts occurring in how Vermont teachers and school leaders think about technology and learning. Educators have become more tech savvy and more cognizant of the ways technology best helps instruction, and offering more mobile access to technology has become a growing trend in our schools. Along with this "mobility influx," there has been a concerted effort at both the state and local levels to tie specific content areas and technology together more closely. Vermont’s VTcite and the 21st Century Classrooms project have helped spur this effort.

For many years, Vermont’s ed-tech initiatives have tried to involve more classroom teachers. Not just the "tech-savvy" ones, but also those who might have an interest in technology tools, but who haven’t found a connection to their particular content area. This has been a challenging problem. Teachers are limited in the amount of time they have to spend outside of the classroom, so any professional development directed at them must be relevant and provide an immediate impact on their instructional practices. Time and again, the same faces were attending our integration-focused conferences, taking advantage of opportunities that focused on technology. Vermont needed a way to involve more teachers who represented multiple core content areas.

The path that led to the present incarnation of the VTcite/21st Century Classrooms initiative was not smooth, but over time, the mission of the project has become fine-tuned. The path we’ve laid out in the last year has the potential to make a significant impact in many of our core instructional areas and boost statewide efforts at school-wide technology integration. 

In 2006, some conversations among a small group of state leaders led to the development and formation of the Vermont Commons for Information Technology Educators, or VTcite. Funded with Title II, Part D competitive dollars and driven by language in the 2004-07 state technology plan, which called for a "clearinghouse of resources," this "commons" initially was intended for technology integration specialists who work with teachers to find and share exemplary units and lessons that integrate technology. It has since morphed into a rich forum for many discussions and opportunities to share content and Web 2.0 tools, as well as ways students can be more fruitfully engaged in learning and professional development that touches a range of best practices for all teachers. 

The first "cohort" of this program was drawn together in the summer of 2006. This group of 30 educators from around the state set the basis for developing lessons with exemplary ed-tech integration, as well as forums, resources, and a simple system for evaluating and rating items posted for educators. That first summer, with the use of Drupal, an open-source online content management system, vtcite.org was developed and housed at the University of Vermont.

An online course very successfully brought this cohort group to some common understandings around ed-tech leadership, best practices, and assessment tools. At that point, though, there were some questions in the minds of the participants: Who was this work ultimately for? Who did we want accessing, and contributing to, this content–teachers, or just technology leaders?

To make a significant impact, we decided the effort should reach teachers in math, social studies, science, art, language arts, and so on. During the 2007-08 school year, some of the founders of the original project met again and explored ways to foster technology within these various content areas. One of the keys was drawing in state-level support and leadership in the content areas. Another important key was to drive the work with a variety of best practices that could touch upon all academic areas. These included student-centered learning, differentiated instruction (DI), "understanding by design" (UBD) principles, and the inclusion of Web 2.0 tools.

To draw in content-area specialists, we tapped the Standards and Assessments team of the Vermont Department of Education. The inclusion of this group provided content leadership models for the teams who would lead the initiative. Finally, the provision of a variety of technology tools as incentives really solidified the buy-in and commitment that individuals would need to make the program a success.

Ed Barry, technology coordinator for the Milton Public Schools in northwest Vermont, and Sandy Lathem, a leader in the University of Vermont’s Education Technology program, came together to develop and lead this initiative under the guise of Vermont’s ISTE affiliate, Vita-Learn. Paul Irish, director of technology for the Burlington Public Schools (and Vita-Learn board president), brought the resources of his district to help organize the initiative. In the spring of 2008, plans were laid, and the first meetings of a new group of educators from around the state commenced. 

The difference this time was twofold; teams from schools were required to participate, and each team had to include a science educator, a social studies educator, and–to support the group–a technology integrationist. The integrationist did not have to be officially titled in this position; in some cases, it was an educator who was simply more comfortable with the integration of technology. These individuals might have had some formal ed-tech training, but often they were simply risk takers, willing to try something new and to support others in doing the same. 

These teams of three were given a plethora of tools and resources they could use to learn about many of the Web 2.0 tools available for their classroom use. iPod touches, Flip cameras, and handheld portable recording devices for doing podcasts were some of the tools made available to participants. A small library of relevant books included Carol Ann Tomlinson’s and Jay McTighe’s Integrating DI and UBD and the ISTE book, Reinventing Project-Based Learning. Beyond that, graduate credit and free room and board at Champlain College in Burlington (the summer institute site) were included. To top it off, a stipend of $500 covered participants’ incidentals. 

Instruction at the summer institute was intensive and lauded by the participants. Differentiated instruction was a day-long focus, UBD principles were woven throughout, project-based learning was encouraged and fostered, and 21st-century skills were the basis for all the final work that participants contributed.

Teachers were tasked with creating lessons, units of study, presenting uses of Web 2.0 tools to their peers, and developing a strong content-focused unit that integrated technology. The final products are available to all Vermont teachers via vtcite.org and the Vermont Riverdeep Learning Village, an online portal for state educators. The first group of teams embarked on this experience in the summer of 2008. The experience was intense and challenging. But when they returned to their schools in the fall, they started applying what they had learned.

"I’ve been collaborating with teachers on wikis, podcasts, videos, and digital stories," one participant said. "I’m way behind with anything that has to do with books or paper in my library, as well as everything in my personal life, but I am leaving work each day with a huge smile on my face when I think of our school’s baby steps toward a ‘virtual’ revolution in teaching practice."

Although what we’ve attempted in Vermont is not earth-shattering in terms of technology integration, it did bring about a shift in thinking. Whereas before we focused on ways to bring teachers to technology integration workshops, often where a range of content areas and grade levels were represented, this idea focuses on specific content areas and allows for the added benefit of teachers being involved in cohorts with like-minded teachers from their content areas.

The other tremendous benefit of this approach is that it has enhanced the connection between the Vermont Department of Education and the field. Content specialists are working with and understanding how technology can change practices in the classroom. These changes have had a significant impact and have led to a second and third round of this program. The overall goal is to populate Vermont regions (and ultimately schools) with content experts who are well-versed in best practices for using technology to support learning in their content areas. The engagement of students, the advent of student-centered learning concepts, the inclusion of Web 2.0 tools, and the excitement generated by the teachers all indicate the early success of this growing movement.

All of this work is taking place in conjunction with a statewide focus on shifting the culture of education. Our "Transformation of Education" initiative is looking at ways to foster system-wide changes in our thinking about learning and teaching. A shift toward education that takes into account the way students ultimately learn best is at the root of the work. Student-centered learning, flexible learning environments, and engaging community partners are just some of the components of this shift. The work involved in the VTcite/21st Century Classrooms project has a solid foundation in the area of student-centered learning. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this change is to end with a quote from a VTcite instructor:
"It’s exciting to be a part of a project in which teachers, state-level content specialists, and the course instructors are so closely working together to design learning environments aligned with the needs of students in the 21st century. This blend of best practices, with a focus on student-centered learning and assessment and supported by Web 2.0 tools and 21st-century thinking, brings out the best in all of us."

Peter Drescher is the educational technology coordinator for the Vermont Department of Education.




‘Awareness…is improving’

To learn more about how pre-service programs are preparing future teachers for the rigors of the 21st-century classroom, we spoke with Sharon P. Robinson, president and chief executive of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which represents about 800 public and private teacher-education programs.

Q: What is your assessment of how well pre-service programs are preparing future K-12 teachers to teach with technology?

A: I’m aware that pre-service programs are now doing more follow-up work to survey their graduates and those who hire their graduates. One of the questions has to do with the graduates’ comfort level in dealing with technology in classrooms and the ability to use and integrate technology. Every survey I’m aware of has found that those responses have been getting increasingly more positive over the past four years. So I would say that the awareness of the colleges of education of the need to support their candidates in developing mastery in the use of state of the art technology is improving.

Q: Is technology finding its way into all aspects of the pre-service curriculum, or at this point is it mostly its own specific course of study?

A: I’m not going to say the technology is absolutely ubiquitous as an instructional tool [in schools of education], but it is highly integrated into all the administrative functions associated with learning, from communication to record-keeping, research, and analysis of student data. That transition has been made. There’s absolutely no going back. On the instructional side, there isn’t a new classroom being built or a remodeling project that doesn’t include an installation of interactive whiteboards in the colleges, universities, and other education schools. So we’re seeing, at the universities, all the things the pre-service teachers would expect to find in the arenas of practice. But the innovation is being driven by the demands of the field.

Q: What are the gaps in 21st-century teacher education that still need to be addressed?

A: One is in the area of assessment. We need to upgrade that. We’re trying to keep our ear to ground for changes being discussed in K-12 to make sure the teacher education community is making accommodations for those changes in real time. We’re not going to wait until folks are banging on the door. There’s a real symbiotic relationship going on between what’s happening with K-12 and what’s happening in teacher education.

Q: What teacher education schools are doing a good job of addressing the need for technology training in particular?

A: Off the top of my head: Bank Street College in New York, Salisbury State in Maryland, the University of Virginia, Colorado State University, Old Dominion. I was just at the University of Texas in Arlington, and these teacher educators and researchers from various disciplines are using interactive whiteboards like it’s no big thing. They use these tools now as part of what they do. There’s also George Mason, the College of William and Mary, Hunter College, Iowa State. It’s pretty widespread. You can find some really amazing things happening where the university is working with the K-12 school to support the instruction of the students and the candidates, so that they really bring a much richer learning process to both parties. Schools of education are making sure teacher candidates are developed in whatever the state of the art is, as it is made known to them. 


A closer look at FSC’s SMART Integration Project

Here’s a closer look at the Four-Week Intensive SMART Integration Pre-service Teacher Training Model in use by Jennifer Brown King at the Educational Technology Center at Florida Southern College.

Week 1, Introduction to the SMART Board and the SMART Notebook 10 software

Pre-service teachers are taught to set up the board and computer, use the pen tray, orient the board, and understand fingertip touch. They also learn how to customize the Floating Toolbar and write, clear, capture, and save ink notes. Each student demonstrates his or her ability to perform all of these tasks. The students are then introduced to the Notebook 10 software’s layout, tools, and commands and must create six pages of classroom content. Students will finish this week prepared to create a mini-lesson on a topic and grade level of their choosing.

Week 2, Engagement: Using SMART tools to stimulate the engaged learning of students

Pre-service teachers learn to use the SMART Document Camera to capture images and function as a teaching tool. They also learn to use Bright Ideas and create a concept map for some aspect of their content.
Week 3, Interaction: Maximizing interactivity by incorporating SMART interactive strategies

Pre-service teachers demonstrate six interactive strategies in their lesson, using such tools as the SMART Pen, Creative Pen, and Shapes Pen.

Week 4, Assessment: Determining student mastery of content using the SMART Response System

Pre-service teachers create a five- to 10-item test, discuss data, and use the data to make decisions about content mastery.
For the remaining weeks in the semester, pre-service teachers use other technology tools–such as PowerPoint or Word–and integrate them with the SMART tools to develop projects. The teachers demonstrate writing, clearing, capturing, and saving ink notes on the whiteboard while teaching with these tools.


Samsung 850DX cameras for K-12 teachers

Samsung Techwin America’s Electronic Imaging Division is inviting K-12 teachers who plan to use cameras in their classrooms to apply to win one of 50 Samsung 850DX cameras. The cameras are worth $899.


$3,000 for elementary and middle school principals

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the MetLife Foundation are providing grants to help support elementary and middle-level principals in their work to foster and encourage strong school-community relationships. The goal is to support principals to develop programs committed to heightening community leadership, communication, ownership and involvement in the school with the goal of improving achievement for all students.