21st-century skills movement grows

Illinois, Louisiana, and Nevada have become the latest states to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), a national effort to integrate 21st-century skills into teaching and learning to prepare students for a global, information-based economy.

P21 made the announcement at the end of a recent Cyber Summit, which ran online June 1-9. The summit featured a series of nine webinars that gave policy makers and educators a chance to collaborate, share ideas, and learn from their colleagues who have implemented 21st-century skills programs in their own states and school systems.

“We…wanted to reach out to the whole country and everyone who follows us, and let them participate in more than just a one-way conversation,” said P21 President Ken Kay.

The addition of three new states to the 21st-century skills movement brings the number of participating states to 13. (The others are Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.) Participants agree to update their standards and assessments to incorporate 21st-century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, global awareness, and financial literacy.

This fall, P21 plans to release a self-assessment tool for 21st-century skills, which Kay said he hopes will give school leaders valuable insight into how to teach these skills, based on feedback from stakeholders.

Partnerships that include educators, policy makers, and business leaders are crucial to the movement’s success, Kay added.

“You can’t really move into the 21st century without the cooperation of businesses and the states,” he said. “We’ve been modeling collaboration, but also modeling partnering.”

The virtual summit featured several speakers who highlighted the need to teach key 21st-century skills, and it focused on the best practices of participating states.

“There is a need for change in education,” said Paige Johnson, a P21 board member and worldwide manager for K-12 education at Intel Corp. P21 hopes to help educators as they try to address the needs of a knowledge-based economy, she added.

Students should learn core subjects within the context of 21st-century themes, Johnson said. Standards within the core subject areas should be reworked so they address what it means to be a critical thinker, problem solver, or collaborator within the standards.

Most local education systems are stable, Johnson said, and that’s good–but that also means dramatic reform can be met with resistance.

“We need to ensure that all students are critical thinkers and problem solvers, that students can take on complex problems, but [we also need to] get them more civically engaged, too, so they can work across cultures,” she said.

“Kids will be competing with kids in their own towns and states, but also with kids throughout the world,” said Kathy Hurley, senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Pearson School Companies and P21 vice-chair. “They won’t succeed unless they have these types of skills for their jobs: information literacy, critical thinking, and problem solving.”

Arizona recently completed a new long-range educational technology plan and revised its ed-tech standards. The state also established an education web portal, is trying to lower the cost of computing devices so more students have access to them, and is working toward better data systems in its schools–all of which contributes to the state’s “perfect storm” in education, said Cathy Poplin, Arizona’s deputy associate superintendent for educational technology.

State educators and officials worked for 15 months to rewrite Arizona’s educational technology plan and standards, and the 2009 Educational Technology Standards are aligned with the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Education Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S) and the P21 Framework.

“Our hope is that students have learning experiences that are engaging, involving, use critical thinking, and develop digital citizenship,” Poplin said. “You can’t have great student learning without the support of leadership.”


Google Maps snaps views from college campuses

A pedicab-like vehicle mounted with an 8-foot-high camera has been rolling around the pedestrian walkways of the University of Pennsylvania to collect panoramic images of the campus for Google Maps’ Street View feature, which gives users detailed, street-level views of map locations over the internet.

Officials say the photos of Penn’s tree-lined Locust Walk mall and other places will allow prospective students and their parents to get a good feel for the campus, give incoming students a way to map out the best route to their classes–and let alumni fondly remember their school days.

“We see this as an opportunity…for people to see as much of Penn as possible from their computer,” said Marie Witt, University of Pennsylvania vice president for business services. “Students can show their parents where they’re living, where the student union is, where their favorite classroom building is.”

Google Inc. has been using car-mounted cameras to prowl streets in the U.S. and around the world. The human-powered version prowling Penn’s campus allows coverage of pedestrian-only areas on college campuses, in public parks, and at theme parks, as well as along hiking and bicycling trails, as Google seeks to expand coverage of its maps.

The effort comes as Google faces complaints from many individuals and institutions that have been photographed around the world. Since launching in 2007, Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide.

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the industry news site Search Engine Land, called the new effort a good public relations move by Google.

“This is a nice way for them to say ‘Hey, look, Street View: It’s really warm and fuzzy,'” he said. “It’s not just about taking pictures of people’s houses. We can find these footpaths that people want to go on and walking areas, places people will like.”

The 250-pound vehicle, which resembles the pedicabs that carry tourists around Philadelphia and other cities, has the cyclist pumping the pedals up front, with the camera mounted on a tower in the back. On the rear is a red generator along with a large white chest that looks like it might dispense ice cream but actually contains the computer recording the digital images.

On June 19, the tricycle trundled through Penn’s quads enclosed by student housing buildings and along campus footpaths, drawing stares from students and employees.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Caitlin Hanrahan, 28, a nursing student. “This campus is really confusing … and when you try and explain to people how to get to the building, people get lost all the time. I think something like that, where you can see a picture of it and what you have to walk through to get there, would actually be really helpful.”

Lyndsey Hauck, 25, eating Chinese takeout on a bench in front of a green campus pond, dove for her cell phone to grab a picture as the tricycle apparatus swooped by, ignored by ducks and turtles even after it got stuck on the path and needed a slight push.


Movie editing software for Average Joe 2.0

A flashy movie editing program called Super LoiLoScope MARS has taken Japan by storm, with 20 million downloads, reports the New York Times — and its ease of use could have implications for U.S. students. The software comes from the six-person outfit LoiLo, and it’s aimed at people trying to edit movies for the first time. Users can edit their movies on the fly, without making tweaks and then waiting for the movie to render and reflect those changes. In another touch that could appeal to students, the company’s founders both worked at video game companies before starting LoiLo. Their video game experience seems to have carried over to the editing software, giving it a colorful look and a game-like feel. Instead of the sterile editing bars that are typical of most video editing software, there are cartoon-like icons for controlling things such as fading music in and out or tweaking the angle of a photo…

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Staples taps Facebook to help young customers give back

A new social marketing campaign from Staples aims not only to drive young people to stores, but also to help them lend a hand to poorer students, ClickZ reports – revealing the power of social networks as a force for good. The office and school supplies retailer has created a Do Something 101 Facebook page and an "Adopt a Pack " Facebook application where participants can tag friends, virtually "fill" a backpack with school supplies, and then go to a Staples store to buy the supplies they selected and have them donated to other students who are living in poverty. The target audience of the campaign is high school students and teens who might want to assist the 13 million children in the U.S. living in poverty. Although Staples and the national nonprofit organization DoSomething.org joined last year for a similar school supply drive, the partners decided this year’s effort would have social networking "at its core to drive participation and build buzz," according to a statement…

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Duncan to states: Don’t slash school funding

The Obama administration on June 18 warned states that it might withhold millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding if they use the money to plug budget holes instead of boosting aid for schools.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the threat in a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, but his words could have implications for Texas, Arizona, and several other states as well. Duncan’s letter also raises the stakes for the White House, which will come under intense pressure from Congress if Duncan does hold back some money.

In the letter, Duncan wrote he is displeased at a plan by Pennsylvania’s Republican-led Senate to reduce the share of the state budget for education while leaving its rainy-day surplus untouched. To do so "is a disservice to our children," Duncan wrote.

"Each state has an obligation to play its part in spurring today’s economy and protecting our children’s education," he wrote.

Duncan said the plan might hurt Pennsylvania’s chance to compete for a $5 billion competitive grant fund created by the stimulus law to reward states and school districts that adopt innovations Obama supports.

Rendell, a fellow Democrat, asked Duncan to weigh in.

The education secretary applied similar pressure to Tennessee lawmakers last month after Democrats there blocked a bill to let more kids into charter schools, even though President Barack Obama supports charter schools.

Duncan warned that Tennessee could lose out on extra stimulus dollars, and it appears to have worked: This week, Tennessee lawmakers revived the bill and put it on a fast track toward passage.

In Pennsylvania, the issue is over school spending, which takes up a huge share of most states’ budgets.

State Senate Republicans argue the economy is forcing states across the country to make up for budget cuts with federal stimulus dollars.

"We can only spend what we have, and the state should not increase taxes when so many hardworking families are already struggling to make ends meet," said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.

Rendell disagrees. "The state must make sure we do not simply use stimulus funds to cut state funding for schools," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said.

In Texas, Arizona, and many other states, state lawmakers are still arguing over school spending cuts and the use of stimulus dollars. Despite billions of dollars for education in the stimulus package, schools nationwide still face budget cuts, layoffs, and other hardships. (See "Schools suffer despite stimulus funding.")

Obama did not intend for state lawmakers simply to cut state education spending and replace it with stimulus dollars.

Congress made that tough to enforce, however; the stimulus law generally does not prohibit states from using some of the money to replace precious state aid for schools. The result is that school districts could wind up with no additional state aid even as local tax revenues plummet.

But Duncan does have leverage; he alone has control over the $5 billion "Race to the Top" incentive fund. And in some cases, he might be able to withhold some stimulus dollars that have been allocated for a particular state.


U.S. Department of Education


Minn. woman loses music-sharing retrial

In what should serve as another stark warning to students about the repercussions of illegally sharing music online, a replay of the nation’s first file-sharing case to go to trial has ended with the same result, finding a Minnesota woman to have violated music copyrights and ordering her to pay hefty damages to the recording industry.

A federal jury ruled June 17 that Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully violated the copyrights on 24 songs and awarded recording companies $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song.

Thomas-Rasset’s second trial actually turned out worse for her. When a different federal jury heard her case in 2007, it hit Thomas-Rasset with a $222,000 judgment.

The new trial was ordered after the judge in the case decided he had erred in giving jury instructions.

Thomas-Rasset sat glumly with her chin in hand as she heard the jury’s finding of willful copyright infringement, which increased the potential penalty. She raised her eyebrows in surprise when the jury’s penalty of $80,000 per song was read.

Outside the courtroom, she was resigned.

“There’s no way they’re ever going to get that,” said Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four from the central Minnesota city of Brainerd. “I’m a mom, limited means, so I’m not going to worry about it now.”

Her attorney, Kiwi Camara, said he was surprised by the size of the judgment. He said it suggested that jurors didn’t believe Thomas-Rasset’s denials of illegal file-sharing, and that they were angry with her.

Camara said he and his client hadn’t decided whether to appeal or pursue the Recording Industry Association of America’s settlement overtures.

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, said the industry remains willing to settle, but she refused to name a figure.

In closing arguments earlier in the day, attorneys for both sides disputed what the evidence showed.

An attorney for the recording industry, Tim Reynolds, said the “greater weight of the evidence” showed that Thomas-Rasset was responsible for the illegal file-sharing that took place on her computer. He urged jurors to hold her accountable to deter others from a practice he said has significantly harmed the people who bring music to everyone.

Defense attorney Joe Sibley said the music companies failed to prove allegations that Thomas-Rasset gave away songs by Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Journey, and others.

“Only Jammie Thomas’s computer was linked to illegal file-sharing on Kazaa,” Sibley said. “They couldn’t put a face behind the computer.”

Sibley urged jurors not to ruin Thomas-Rasset’s life with a debt she could never pay. Under federal law, the jury could have awarded up to $150,000 per song.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who heard the first lawsuit in 2007, ordered up a new trial after deciding he had erred in instructions to jurors.

For the retrial, Davis instructed the jurors that in order to find Thomas-Rasset infringed any copyrights, they had to determine that someone actually downloaded the songs. He said distribution needed to occur, though he didn’t explicitly define distribution. Before, Davis said simply making the songs available on the Kazaa file-sharing network was enough.

This case was the first of more than 30,000 similar lawsuits to make it all the way to trial. The vast majority of people targeted by the music industry had settled for about $3,500 each.

Another music-sharing trial soon to get under way concerns a Boston University graduate student who is being defended by Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson in a challenge to the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999, the basis for the RIAA’s claims. (See “Harvard law professor fires back at RIAA.”


Student sued for offering copyrighted text

A Mission College student is one of eight people facing accusations they illegally posted the newest handbook from the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons for downloading online through the popular document-sharing web site Scribd.

Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc., is seeking unspecified damages in three copyright-infringement lawsuits naming a total of eight defendants in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

More than 2,600 copes of "Player’s Handbook 2," released March 17 with a suggested retail price of $39.95 a copy, were downloaded from Scribd.com, and more than 4,200 copies were viewed online before the material was pulled from the document-sharing site at Wizards’ request, according to two of the lawsuits.

One of those cases, which names as defendants Thomas Patrick Nolan of Milton, Fla., and Stefan Osmena of the Philippines, is headed for mediation, according to a court filing.

Another case is against Mike Becker of Bartlesville, Okla., and Arthur Le of San Jose, Calif.

The third, filed against Krysztof Radzikowski of Poland and three people whose identities remain unknown, did not cite any numbers but asserted that unauthorized copies of that handbook and "Manual of the Planes," "Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead," and "Dungeon Delve," each retailing for $29.95, also were found on document-sharing web sites.

Tolena Thorburn, a Wizards spokeswoman, would not give the home towns or other personal or contact information for Osmena or Radzikowski.

Dungeons & Dragons handbooks sold online bear electronic watermarks that restrict use of the copyrighted material to a specific buyer or user.

Nolan, denying that he uploaded the handbook for public access or committed other wrongdoing, wrote personally to the court on May 20 that he lost his wallet with material showing his web site user names and passwords on a trip to Michigan in February.

"Any person who looked at my Scribd page could tell that I was an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and could use the page to post the file," he added.

Nolan, representing himself in the case, and Wizards have agreed to submit their dispute to mediation and to allow Osmena to be included in the mediation effort if he is formally served with the lawsuit by Dec. 4, according to the most recent filing.

According to the lawsuit against Becker, he was identified through investigation as "Humble Apostle," owner of another Scribd web page from which the handbook was viewed and downloaded by hundreds of people.

A micro-watermark indicated that the copy on the "Humble Apostle" site belonged to Le, who described himself in a letter to the court on May 11 as a 19-year-old unemployed student at Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif., whose parents recently were laid off.

Le acknowledged that he bought a copy of the handbook online but denied any association with Becker.

"I have made no profit off of this venture," he added. "I, however, deeply apologize for my actions and realize that I am in the wrong."


Students say using tech to cheat isn’t cheating

A new poll conducted by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media suggests that students are using cell phones and the internet to cheat on school exams. What’s surprising, however, is not just the alarming number of students who say they cheat, but also the number of students who think it’s OK to do so.

Common Sense Media commissioned the research and consulting firm Benenson Strategy Group to conduct a poll of teenagers and parents on the use of digital media for cheating in school.

The Benenson Strategy Group conducted a total of 1,013 nationally representative online interviews with students in grades 7-12, and 1,002 online interviews with parents of seventh through 12th-grade students, between May 28 and June 5. The surveys included 846 teens with cell phones and 839 parents of teens who have cell phones. Twenty-eight students and 27 parents also agreed to be interviewed more extensively.

According to the poll, more than a third of teens with cell phones (35 percent) admit to cheating at least once with them, and two-thirds of all teens (65 percent) say others in their school cheat with them.

Of the teens who admit to cheating with their cell phones, 26 percent say they store information on their phone to look at during a test, 25 percent text friends about answers during a test, 17 percent take pictures of the test to send to friends, and 20 percent search the internet for answers during tests using their phones.

Also, nearly half (48 percent) of teens with cell phones call or text their friends to warn them about pop quizzes.

What’s more, just over half of students polled (52 percent) admitted to some form of cheating involving the internet.

Twenty-one percent of students say they’ve downloaded a paper or report from the internet to turn in, while 50 percent have seen or heard about others doing this; 38 percent have copied text from web sites and turned it in as their own work, while 60 percent have seen or heard this; and 32 percent have searched for teachers’ manuals or publishers’ solutions to problems in textbooks they are currently using; while 47 percent have seen or heard this.

Even more concerning is that many students do not consider this behavior as cheating. Only about half of students polled admit that cell phone use during tests is a serious cheating offense, and just 16 percent say calling or texting friends to warn them of a pop quiz is cheating; instead, they believe they’re simply helping a friend.

Students who cheat using the internet generally view plagiarism as more serious an offense than other types of cheating, yet more than a third of teens (36 percent) said downloading a paper from the internet was not a serious offense, and 42 percent said coping text from web sites was a either a minor offense or not cheating at all.


Plano ISD to allow eavesdropping on eMails

Plano, Texas, public school employees sending eMail messages next school year might find someone else also receiving the messages, reports the Dallas Morning News: their boss. Under a policy the district’s school board approved this week, supervisors in Plano ISD now have authority to monitor eMails from staff members and students on district computers. Previously, such monitoring required prior approval from an administrator, possibly even from Superintendent Doug Otto. Monitoring is needed to ensure employees and students follow Plano school policies, district officials said. But some online privacy experts called the policy "drastic" and wondered if bosses would use their new authority to retaliate against employees. Plano officials say the policy wasn’t spurred by any events or misuse of the district’s eMail service. Rather, the Texas Association of School Boards merely recommended the policy change. Plano employees who violate the revised policy could lose internet access or face more severe disciplinary action…

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Grant-grabbing experience gets more tech into classrooms

When Benjamin Tasker Middle School teacher Selena Ward has an idea for a new class project, she spends a lot of time online — though she’s not researching lesson plans. Instead, she’s looking for a way to pay for the project, reports the Maryland Business Gazette. A technology teacher at the Bowie, Md., school, Ward likes to bring the most up-to-date gadgets and programs to her students. But because new technology never comes cheap, she’s taken to researching technology grants to bring new products into the classroom. In Ward’s technology integration class, which all students are required to take, she introduces students to web-based and software technology. With each new grant, she’s able to expand their lessons. To make quizzes more interactive, she was able to secure a grant from Turning Technologies for a classroom set of handheld clickers that allow students to submit test answers with the push of a button. This year, she also received a $600 grant from the Maryland Instructional Computers Coordinators Association to purchase four handheld video cameras and has begun to teach students how to write, shoot, and edit their own films…

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