Program uses smart phones to increase math scores


K-Nect students are more likely to achieve proficiency in Algebra and Algebra II then other students says the report.

K-Nect students are more likely to achieve proficiency in Algebra and Algebra II than other students, says the report.

Two years ago, public high schools in North Carolina began an education technology pilot to determine whether smart phones, in conjunction with curriculum resources, could be leveraged to increase student math comprehension. Now, teachers are saying that not only have math test scores increased, but student achievement has increased in other subject areas as well.

The program, called Project K-Nect, was designed to create a supplemental resource for secondary at-risk students to focus on increasing their math skills with the help of mobile smart phones. Ninth graders in several public schools in North Carolina received smart phones to access supplemental Algebra I content aligned with their teachers’ lesson plans and course objectives. The phones and service are free of charge to the students and their schools, thanks to a grant provided by Qualcomm as part of its Wireless Reach initiative.

Student smart phones have 24/7 internet access, which students can use at home or at school, and they have full access to both the K-Nect curriculum, as well as features such as instant messaging (IM), video and chat capabilities, and calculators.

“Everyone thought this program might just last a semester,” said Suzette Kliewer, a math teacher at Southwest High School, one of two high schools in Onslow County, N.C., participating in K-Nect, “but it’s lasted for three [school] years now. It’s been approved for this upcoming year, too.”

Project Tomorrow, a national education nonprofit organization that provides consulting and research support to school districts, government agencies, and businesses about key trends in education, was asked by Digital Millennial Consulting (developer of K-Nect) to assess the program’s efficacy.

Project Tomorrow released a report of its findings earlier this month. The report presents the views of 78 students and four teachers who participated in the program between August 2009 and January 2010.

Project Tomorrow found that by using smart phones as part of the program, students are more successful on their North Carolina End of Course assessments, along with many other positive effects. Data were collected through on-site classroom observations, focus groups with students (pre- and post-semester), interviews with teachers (pre- and post-semester), and interviews with principals and technology coordinators.

K-Nect students are “more likely to achieve proficiency in Algebra and Algebra II than [other] students in their school, district, or state,” says the report.


Apple: Free cases to alleviate iPhone 4 problems

Apple Inc. will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone to alleviate the so-called “death grip” problem in which holding the phone with a bare hand can muffle the wireless signal, reports the Associated Press. Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the giveaway July 16 during a news conference at the company’s headquarters, even as the company denied that the iPhone 4 has an antenna problem that needs fixing. The more than 3 million people who have already bought the iPhone 4 and new buyers through Sept. 30 will all be eligible. People who already purchased the $29 “Bumper” cases will be refunded. Jobs began the event by saying, “We’re not perfect,” but was quick to point out that no cell phone is perfect. He played a video showing competing smart phones, including a BlackBerry from Research in Motion Ltd., losing signal strength when held in certain ways. Phones usually have an antenna inside the body. In designing the iPhone 4, Apple took a gamble on a new design, using parts of the phone’s outer casing as the antenna. That saved space inside the tightly packed body of the phone, but means that covering a spot on the lower left edge of the case blocks wireless signal. Consumer Reports magazine said covering the spot with a case or even a piece of duct tape alleviates the problem. It refused to give the iPhone 4 its “recommended” stamp of approval for this reason, and it had called on Apple to compensate buyers…

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Microsoft and NASA team up On 3-D space images

WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft’s galactic version of Google Earth, has been steadily increasing its fidelity ever since it launched in 2008, TechNewsDaily reports. Now, thanks to a new collaboration with NASA, WorldWide Telescope has produced the most detailed spherical image of the heavens to date, along with a new 3-D, true color map of the surface of Mars. As part of the new user experience in the WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft is also announcing a first of its kind: a high-resolution spherical TeraPixel sky map now available to viewers within the virtual telescope. The sky map is the largest and highest-quality spherical image of the sky currently available and was created from data provided by the Digitized Sky Survey, a collection of thousands of images taken over a period of 50 years by two ground-based survey telescopes. When those images are combined and processed, the TeraPixel image provides a complete, spherical, panoramic rendering of the night skies that, if displayed at full size, would require 50,000 high-definition televisions to view. The new high-quality image will give scientists with the ability to navigate through space dynamically to make their own discoveries…

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Bye-bye batteries: Radio waves as a low-power source

Matt Reynolds, an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Duke University, wears other hats, too–including that of co-founder of two companies, reports the New York Times. These days, his interest is in a real hat now in prototype: a hard hat with a tiny microprocessor and beeper that sound a warning when dangerous equipment is nearby on a construction site. What’s unusual, however, is that the hat’s beeper and microprocessor work without batteries. They use so little power that they can harvest all they need from radio waves in the air. The waves come from wireless network transmitters on backhoes and bulldozers, installed to keep track of their locations. The microprocessor monitors the strength and direction of the radio signal from the construction equipment to determine if the hat’s wearer is too close. Reynolds designed this low-power hat, called the SmartHat, with Jochen Teizer, an assistant professor in the school of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech. They are among several people devising devices and systems that consume so little power that it can be drawn from ambient radio waves, reducing or even eliminating the need for batteries. Their work has been funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

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Facebook to hit 500 million users, but meteoric rise has come with growing pains

Facebook is expected to say this week that it has reached 500 million users, making it the biggest information network on the internet in a meteoric rise that has connected the world into an online statehood of status updates, fan pages, and picture exchanges, the Washington Post reports. In its six-year history, the site has become ritualized in our daily lives. It has even attracted the unwilling who join for fear of being cut out of the social fabric. It has connected old friends and family. It has helped make and break political campaigns and careers. It has turned many of us into daily communicators of one-line missives on the profound and mundane. And it has tested the limits of what we care to share and keep private. The sheer impact and size of the Facebook universe has captured the attention of federal regulators and lawmakers who are struggling to protect consumers and their privacy as they flock to this and other sites like Twitter. The privately held company that still thinks of itself as a startup is also learning how to handle the new responsibilities that its massive trove of information about its half billion users brings…

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Technology a key tool in writing instruction

Teachers use software including MY Access! to help their students improve their writing.

Teachers are using software such as Vantage Learning’s MY Access! to help their students improve their writing.

While there are still many obstacles facing teachers in implementing technology, teachers play a critical role in driving the use of technology to teach writing, says a recent report by the National Writing Project (NWP) and the College Board.

In the report, “Writing, Learning, and Leading in the Digital Age,” nine teachers—selected for their commitment to excellence and for a diverse set of disciplines, locations, kinds of schools, and student populations they represent—were observed by a writer for one day and then interviewed.

“The best way to make the case for technology and writing was to show how technology is being used,” said Alan Heaps, vice president for advocacy at the College Board.

The report found that the use of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, and comics-creating software can heighten students’ engagement and enhance their writing and thinking skills in all grade levels and across all subjects.

“The experience of these nine teachers reminds us of the central role they play in true education reform. It’s teachers who are the technology drivers, seeking out digital tools, learning them, testing them, and finally implementing them successfully in their classrooms,” said Sharon J. Washington, executive director of NWP.

The College Board and NWP recommend that three things be done to meet the challenges of teaching and learning in the digital age at all levels of education, said NWP co-director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl.

First, every student needs one-on-one access to computers or mobile technology in classrooms.

“Technology can’t have an impact on children if they don’t have access,” Eidman-Aadahl said.

Second, every teacher needs professional development in the effective use of digital tools for teaching and learning, including the use of digital tools to promote writing. Teachers need an opportunity to use technology themselves so they can share what they learn with the students, she said.

Finally, all schools and districts need a comprehensive technology policy to ensure that the necessary infrastructure, technical support, and resources are available for teaching and learning.

“The idea of just putting in a computer is a huge failure unless [schools] have a computer policy for teaching technology in the schools,” Heaps said.

Eidman-Aadahl urged teachers to rethink what writing is. She said writing is not just text anymore—something echoed by Joel Malley, a teacher who was profiled in the report.

“We are preparing kids for a different world—a world where they need to know how to tell compelling stories. And the types of stories that are compelling these days are not just print stories,” said Malley, an English teacher from Cheektowaga High School in New York who also uses video to engage his students.

“When kids make a video about something, they know it a lot better than if they were writing a research paper … When it is more real, they are more engaged; they are more motivated, but they also try harder.”

Students also must have an opportunity to write about real issues and for a real audience outside of their classroom. They should be able to get responses from other students in and out of the classroom, and to collaborate on writing projects. All of these things, Eidman-Aadahl said, can be done by using the internet.


Five ways to make smart ed-tech investments


School leaders are looking for strategic ways to get the most out of their investments.

School leaders are looking for strategic ways to get the most out of their investments.


As you consider how to spend your remaining stimulus money—and whatever other funds you might have available this year—keep in mind that the money might represent the last best chance you’ll have to make a one-time investment that can have a long-term impact on your schools.

But beware of investments that can’t be sustained once the money runs dry. Say you purchase smart phones for staff members, for instance. While the idea of having staff constantly connected might seem like a good investment, what happens when monthly service charges won’t be covered by a funding surplus? Will you be able to afford these on your own in a time of tight budgets?

Many school leaders are realizing that long-term investments, such as in education technology infrastructure or “green” initiatives, will garner the most return on investment—both fiscally and in terms of student achievement.

In talking with school leaders around the country, we’ve come up with five tips for how to spend the remaining stimulus money while getting the best bang for your buck.

1. Upgrade and overhaul.

Now is the time to give your school or district a technology facelift, experts say.

“Think systemically,” says the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “Look toward the future in terms of planning the infrastructure you’ll need for the next 10 years.”

Debra Zamparelli, director of curriculum and instruction for Middlesex Borough schools in New Jersey, said her district used American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to upgrade its technology infrastructure: Each of the schools became a wireless environment, which cost approximately $182,000.

“Also, we purchased six to eight netbooks for each of our elementary reading classrooms and provided them with a web-based software program that creates an individualized education plan for each child and tailors instruction and pace to the needs of the individual,” she said. “This program is available to the children at school and also at home. We have also used the funds to continue to equip each of our classrooms with our Technology Package, which consists of an LCD [projector], an ENO interactive whiteboard [from PolyVision], and an ELMO document camera.”

Zamparelli bought 75 netbooks for approximately $22,500. The software cost appromimately $20,000, and the projectors and whiteboards cost about $80,000.

“We wanted to purchase items that support our district goals,” she explained. “We wanted to focus on student engagement and achievement, which we believe is accomplished through the use of technology. We also wanted to focus on individual needs and different learning styles. The software package also provides us with a connection to home. It [was] important for us to use this money to purchase things we feel will benefit our educational system and that we would probably not be able to afford with local funds.”

For schools that are already equipped with wireless access and classroom technologies, the stimulus marks an opportunity to purchase their own fiber connections, said Walter L. Fox, executive director of information technology at Richland County School District One in South Carolina.

“Today, we need much more bandwidth than we can afford to purchase through leasing,” said Fox. “Many school districts have purchased their own fiber, and this has eliminated long-term lease costs. The district would then only have to pay for a maintenance contract for the fiber or simply pay for repairs.”

2. Get smarter in using data.

Data management systems can provide school leaders with critical information that leads to better overall performance. They can also “drive continuous improvement efforts focused on improving achievement in Title I schools,” says the U.S. Department of Education.

New Jersey’s Ridgewood Village Public School District decided to use its ARRA funds to implement Skyward’s Student Management Suite.

“One of the provisions in the bill was designed to help schools improve their assessment and analysis of student performance, and that was exactly what we needed,” said Superintendent Daniel Fishbein.

Ridgewood was able to fund 100 percent of the project using stimulus money, Fishbein said, because the project met two key criteria: It was a single, integrated project, and the primary focus of the system is to enable schools to improve their assessment and analysis of student performance.

“If we did not have that stimulus money, with the types of cuts that we sustained, there’s no way we would have been able to fund this critical project,” he said.

Ridgewood has been working with Skyward over the past year to implement the system, which it plans to fully deploy this fall. “We were already able to leverage part of the system to manage course requests this spring, and by this summer parents will have full access to the family portal,” said Fishbein. “New Jersey school districts just lost all state aid for the upcoming school year. So our need to drive efficiency and productivity with as few resources as possible will be more critical than ever.”


Where to find more money this year

Schools have more than $15 billion in formula-based stimulus funding left to be spent.

Schools have more than $15 billion in formula-based stimulus funding left to be spent.

Although the state budget outlook appears grim for 2010-11, there are a few possible sources of federal money that can help.

One is the remains of the stimulus package. Even though this windfall is running out, there was at least $15 billion in formula-based money left to be spent on education as of press time, according to the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Schools have until Sept. 30, 2011, to spend the rest of the money—and by making smart, one-time investments with the potential to have a lasting impact, schools with unspent funds could use this money to help them ride out the recession.

ED must obligate the remaining stimulus funds by Sept. 30, 2010—including awards for Race to the Top (RTTT), Investing in Innovation (I3), and phase two of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF), said a department spokesman.

Grantees under ED’s formula programs, including SFSF, Title I, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), have until Sept. 30, 2011, to make spending commitments with those funds. They will have an additional three months after that deadline to “pay the bills,” provided states have paperwork proving that the expenses are tied to the approved programming, according to ED.

Although schools have slightly more than a year to spend the funds, 57.9 percent of participants in a recent ED webinar said they are at least somewhat worried about spending their district’s stimulus dollars by the deadline. The webinar aimed to help states identify valuable ways to spend their stimulus money.

Stimulus money is still available, but it is finite—so schools must make “smart, sustainable investments,” said Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services at ED, during the webinar. (For advice on how to spend the money, see “Five ways to make smart ed-tech investments.”)

As of July 7, budget accounts on ED’s site indicated that states had $7.4 billion left in IDEA funding and about $7.8 billion in Title I funds, including School Improvement Grants. A June 30 ED report showed that, of the $645 million awarded to states for Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) stimulus funding, roughly $495 million remained.

That adds up to $15.7 billion in formula-based funding left to be spent. This number doesn’t include unspent SFSF monies, which are intended to help save jobs—the figures for which weren’t available as of press time. It also doesn’t include another $4 billion in competitive grants that ED had not announced as of press time: $3.4 billion in RTTT funding and another $650 million in I3 funds.

Federal officials are hoping that schools see the availability of stimulus funds as a good sign.

“Last year was a challenging one, and the pressure … will continue in 2010 through 2011,” said Cathy Solomon, a special assistant in ED’s Office of the Deputy Secretary, during the department’s webinar. “The good news for 2010 is [that] significant [EETT], Title I, and IDEA funds are still available for use through the school year.”

Another potential source of money is a supplementary spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1—but as of press time the fate of that bill was very much up in the air.

School districts would get $10 billion in additional funding to help them avoid laying off teachers, and college students would get $5 billion more in Pell Grant money to account for a shortfall in that program, under the bill. But the additional funding would come at a cost to other programs, including $600 million in cuts to broadband stimulus funding and $800 million in cuts to school-reform initiatives.

The changes are part of an $80 billion war spending bill needed to pay for President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. As of press time, the bill was awaiting action in the Senate, where Senate Republicans were threatening a filibuster because of the non-war additions.

The president has promised to veto the bill over its proposed cuts to his school-reform initiatives, including $100 million in charter school funding, $200 million in Teacher Incentive Fund money, and $500 million from RTTT.

“We do not believe that taking money out of that important investment makes any sense at all,” said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, referring to RTTT in particular. “The president’s been clear with Congress that that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The rebuke marks an unusually public clash between the White House and President Obama’s top Democratic allies in the House, including Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House appropriations committee, who introduced the education jobs provision.

The House late last year approved similar legislation to help save education jobs, but it stalled in the Senate.


Report: Teens using ‘digital drugs’ to get high

According to Oklahoma News 9, kids around the country are getting high on the internet, thanks to MP3s that allegedly induce a state of ecstasy, Wired reports. And it could be a gateway drug leading teens to real-world narcotics—at least, that’s what some officials believe about a phenomenon called “i-dosing,” which involves finding an online dealer who can hook you up with “digital drugs” that get you high through your headphones. And officials are taking it seriously. “Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about, and it can lead them to other places,” Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward told News 9. I-dosing involves donning headphones and listening to “music”—largely a droning noise—which the sites peddling the sounds promise will get you high. Teens are listening to such tracks as “Gates of Hades,” which is available on YouTube for free. Those who want to get addicted to the “drugs” can purchase tracks that purportedly will bring about the same effects of marijuana, cocaine, opium, and peyote. While street drugs rarely come with instruction manuals, potential digital drug users are advised to buy a 40-page guide so that they learn how to properly get high on MP3s. Oklahoma’s Mustang Public School district isn’t taking the threat lightly, and sent out a letter to parents warning them of the new craze. The educators have gone so far as to ban iPods at school, in hopes of preventing honor students from becoming cyber-drug fiends, News 9 reports…

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Using computers to teach children with no teachers

A 10-year experiment that started with Indian slum children being given access to computers has produced a new concept for education, reports the BBC. Professor Sugata Mitra first introduced children in a Delhi slum to computers in 1999. He has watched the children teach themselves—and others—how to use the machines and gather information. Follow-up experiments suggest children around the world can learn complex tasks quickly with little supervision. “I think we have stumbled across a self-organizing system with learning as an emergent behavior,” he told the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Global conference. Mitra’s work began when he was working for a software company and decided to embed a computer in the wall of his office in Delhi that was facing a slum. “The children barely went to school, they didn’t know any English, they had never seen a computer before, and they didn’t know what the internet was.” To his surprise, the children quickly figured out how to use the computers and access the internet. He has repeated the experiment in many more places with similar results, observing children teaching each other how to use the computer and picking up new skills. One group in Rajasthan, he said, learned how to record and play music on the computer within four hours of it arriving in their village. In Cambodia, he left a simple math game for children to play with. “No child would play with it inside the classroom. If you leave it on the pavement and all the adults go away then they will show off to one another about what they can do,” Mitra said…

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