School officials Twittering cautiously to avoid violating open-records laws

Social networking sites present a record-keeping quandary for public agencies and officials who must follow Florida’s open government and public-records laws, reports the Naples Daily News. The laws demand that officials keep all correspondence regarding official business, allowing anyone to ask to view those communications at any time. But no real precedent exists for media such as Twitter and MySpace, Lee County School Board attorney Keith Martin said. The district established a Twitter profile in March at Twitter.com/LeeSchools, but Lee County Communications Director Joe Donzelli said the district’s foray into social networking will end there–at least for the time being. "If people start to communicate back and forth with elected officials … all of that information needed to be archived and kept," said Donzelli. "The problem is we have no control over Facebook and all of the other types of services like that. If they decided tomorrow to wipe out their databanks, all of that communication would be lost."

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Rendell: Science, math pros needed to teach school

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is asking the state Legislature to create a "fast track" into the teaching ranks for technology and engineering professionals, reports the Associated Press. Under Rendell’s proposal, candidates for the "residency certification" would have to complete an intensive, four-month training program on instructional strategies and child development. That approach bypasses the traditional two- or four-year certification path. Rendell says it will help fill teacher shortages and better prepare the students for fast-growing fields. Rendell says such a program could help Pennsylvania attract more money from the federal government’s stimulus program, which set aside $5 billion to reward states that pursue innovation in education…

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Digital games: Playing for learning and health

Video game researchers gathered June 23 to discuss ways gaming can help address the gaps in U.S. students’ educational performance, while also helping to improve their health.

The forum was held the day the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop released a report that specifies how increased national investment in research-based digital games can play a cost-effective and transformative role in children’s health and education.

"On an average day, children as young as eight spend as many hours engaged in media activity as they spend in school; three-quarters of American children play computer and video games," states the report, titled Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health.

The report, based on interviews with 24 experts, aims to offer a framework for using digital games to help children learn healthy behaviors, traditional skills such as reading and math, and 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, global learning, and programming design.

"America is falling behind as an economic leader in a globalized economy," said Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Cooney Center. "We’re not keeping pace, not doing what we need to do to propel children’s learning and development."

Levine said one-third of fourth graders cannot read at their grade level, and 50 percent of minority or low-income fourth graders are reading below grade level. He said children also face increasing health risks–including obesity, diabetes, and asthma–which he said lead to absenteeism.

"Poor health is linked to poor academic achievement," he said.

Technology education and innovation are now part of the national conversation, said Gary E. Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop.

"We need to grab this opportunity, or it will pass … and merge formal and informal education," he said, speaking of Sesame Workshop programs such as "Color Me Hungry"–a healthy eating game featuring Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster. "Children have an attraction to these games. We can make a difference in heath outcomes and reading outcomes."

Levine said hundreds of schools across the country have begun to use the popular game "Dance Dance Revolution," a mass-market game that gets children up and moving.

Social networking has increased the amount of gaming that is based on tapping into one’s friend base, said Alan Gershenfeld, founder and president of E-Line Ventures, a company that develops and produces digital entertainment that empowers, engages, and educates youth.

He said games like "Guitar Hero" also have presented opportunities to increase education.

"I only have anecdotal data, but I’ve heard that real guitar sales are spiking and guitar lessons are spiking. If the anecdotal data are true, that’s a real-world behavior change," he said, citing research that proves the benefits of music increase learning.

Although some information already is known about the positive effects of gaming on health and learning, Debra Lieberman, program director of Health Games Research, said much research still needs to be done to advance the quality and effectiveness of health-related games–both self-care games and games that promote healthy activity.

"We cannot ask a medical facility to buy and implement a game for health without showing the research that proves it’s effective," she said.

The Cooney Center outlined the following recommendations to inspire action across the media industry, government, philanthropy, and academia: utilize digital technologies through expanded research and development; support teaching and healthy delivery for the digital age; and modernize public media and engage the public.

Links:

Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health

"Color Me Hungry"

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Cheaper eBook reader challenges Kindle

With the popularity of electronic reading devices on the rise, and a handful of colleges set to pilot Amazon.com’s Kindle DX this fall, a new eBook reading device from New York-based Interead, called the COOL-ER, offers a less expensive alternative that its creator, Neil Jones, says educators could find appealing.

"I thought about what readers need from an eBook. The COOL-ER is 45 to 50 percent lighter than our closest competitors. So it’s light in [students’] hands," said Jones, founder and chief executive officer of Interead.

The COOL-ER weighs 6.3 ounces, is 8.6 millimeters thick, and comes in eight colors, such as sky blue, vivid violet, and cool pink. Jones said the freedom to choose the COOL-ER’s color could make the device more appealing to a child. He said school leaders could choose to provide COOL-ERs to their students in the school’s colors.

"The use of technology is a great stimulus to children, and it especially seems to have a big impact on boys. … Many 14-year-old boys think reading is uncool, and they start losing interest," he said.

The COOL-ER costs $249–that’s $240 less than the Kindle DX, $110 less than the Kindle 2, and $50 less than the Sony Reader, according to Interead. It uses e-Ink display technology, which replicates the experience of reading a book more faithfully than an LCD screen, although–as with the Kindle–its images cannot display in color.

Liz Pape, president and chief executive officer of Virtual High School (VHS), said her company recently began using an Advanced Placement biology textbook in eBook format and plans to expand the use of eBooks next school year.

Pape said she had no data on how VHS students were accessing their electronic texts, but having an affordable eBook reader could be helpful for students.

"Any time we can digitize resources for our students and make [them available] 24-7, it has a place in education," she said.

The COOL-ER can read any JPEG, PDF, or TXT document or any ePub-formatted eBook. It also supports eight languages, which could enable the device to aid in learning new languages.

"The operating system runs in eight languages, so this is the first time an eReader can be used in education in another language," Jones said. "So, for example, in the Hispanic community, a user can improve [his or her] English by using the operating system in Spanish and reading a book in both English and Spanish at the same time to help with learning."

Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in Massachusetts, said many of the complaints he’s heard about the COOL-ER center on the fact that it doesn’t have built-in wireless capability.

"In educational settings, though, the wireless piece actually isn’t an asset," Dawson wrote in a review of the COOL-ER for the technology web site ZDNet. "Since it supports PDF and the e-Pub standards, … getting content to kids actually becomes fairly easy. The anti-Kindle-ness of the whole thing, as well as the $249 price tag, suddenly starts making the COOL-ER a very tempting option."

Still, the emergence of netbooks, or low-cost laptops, is the "elephant in the room" for eBook reader devices, according to Dawson. For nearly the same price, "you can get a fully functioning computer that can also display eBooks in color," he explained.
 
Jones said Interead is in contact with schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain to see if they would like to test the COOL-ER as a study aid this fall.

The COOL-ER can store up to 700 books. A few classic texts, such as Pride and Prejudice and Don Quixote, come with the device.

Books can be purchased for the COOL-ER from any web site that offers eBooks, Jones said, and Interead also operates an eBook store of its own.

Links:

COOL-ER readers

COOL-ER books

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Education Change.org videos

William Farren, an advocate of education reform focusing on well-being and the elephant in the edu-living room called environmental stewardship, produced "Did You Ever Wonder?" as a response to "Did You Know?" Pairing these videos brings out fundamental questions about the purpose of education. Also, Wyntergrace Williams, daughter of Montel Williams, speaks out in favor of vegetarian school lunch options in a new television commercial.

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LSU-led Black Hole Simulation Wins First Prize at International Competition

A team of 13 LSU researchers and students, led by faculty at the LSU Center for Computation & Technology, or CCT, conducted a presentation and demonstration that won first prize at the SCALE 2009 challenge at CCGrid09, a premier conference for cluster and Grid computing. The SCALE 2009 competition, which took place in Shanghai, China, involved researchers demonstrating real-world problem solving using scalable computing, in which scientists use computer systems that can easily adapt, or scale up, to provide greater performance and computing power and give them greater capability to solve complex problems. The CCT-led demonstration showcased a scalable, interactive system to simulate and visualize black holes to study the physics of gravitational waves. This complex process involves many challenges that scientists are only now able to address with modern cyberinfrastructure, including scalable computing systems.

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Japan’s Robot Teacher

In May, students at a Japanese elementary school had a parallel experience when they came to class one day and found Saya, the face robot, sitting at the front of the room. Hiroshi Kobayashi, a mechanical engineering professor at the Tokyo University of Science, developed Saya in 2004 to be a university receptionist. Kobayashi said robots need humans, and Saya — who is operated via remote control by a human watching the teacher’s interactions through a camera — was created "just for fun."

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The Jewish Heritage Video Collection for the Classroom

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (www.sfjff.org) launched the largest and most comprehensive online resource for Jewish film in the world.  The New Media Initiative (backed by Steven Spielberg and Charles H. Revson Foundation) serves as the ultimate destination for film lovers and filmmakers alike, replicating the same successful models of curation, exhibition, education and community-building that the Festival has successfully offered since 1980, now brought to life online through a media-rich web resource.

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