School district, Verizon collaborate to incorporate cell phones into curriculum

Mobile phones have long been treated as contraband in classrooms, but this school year, hundreds of fifth- and sixth-graders in Toms River, N.J., will carry smart phones into their classrooms to fulfill a new academic requirement, NJ.com reports. The project, the first of its kind in New Jersey, incorporates the phones into the curriculum in the state’s fourth-largest school district and could radically revamp the way students learn. “This is a great alternative to traditional pen and pencil work and promotes better critical thinking skills,” said Vicki Rhein, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Bay Elementary School who participated in the pilot program. “We’re finding that students are more engaged and even requesting to delve deeper into topics.” The program, which started with 100 students, will now reach 1,000. The collaboration among Toms River Regional Schools, Verizon Wireless, and GoKnow! Inc., which develops educational software for mobile devices, makes Toms River the largest district in the country to use cell phones as mobile learning devices. Using the phones, students will be able to conduct research, write reports, download books, and draw or animate projects. Their instructors can develop lesson plans that meet the students’ need. The devices cannot make or receive calls and do not have texting capability…

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Feds probing claims of bias against Arizona’s non-native English speaking teachers

The federal government is investigating whether a new Arizona policy discriminates against teachers who are not native English speakers, reports the Arizona Republic. The state’s education department for years has been monitoring the English fluency of teachers who instruct English learners, but in April it began instructing districts to fire teachers who weren’t proficient in the language. The probe was launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education. “I’m sure they’re going to find everything is fine,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. “Teachers who are teaching English need to be fluent in English, and if kids can understand what they’re saying, it’s not an issue.” The probe centers on a push by state officials to get tough on teachers who lack basic English skills or whose grammar is considered so poor that it could detract from children’s ability to learn. Critics of the state’s policy have said that it could eliminate talented teachers who have a positive influence on students struggling to learn English—and that criticisms of teachers often are based on minor grammatical errors. Some believe the Arizona Department of Education has singled out Latino teachers when it has audited classes taught by bilingual teachers, criticizing them for their pronunciation, grammar, and not speaking English well…

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Microelectrodes translate brain waves into words

In a first step toward helping severely paralyzed people communicate more easily, Utah researchers have shown that it is possible to translate recorded brain waves into words, using a grid of electrodes placed directly on the brain, reports the Los Angeles Times. Although they have only done it with one person and individual words can only be identified with accuracy in tests 50 percent of the time, the study provides a ray of hope for people who can now communicate only by blinking, or wiggling a fingertip. “This is quite a simple technology … based on devices that have been used in humans for 50 years now,” said bioengineer Bradley Greger of the University of Utah, the lead author of a Sept. 7 report in the Journal of Neuroengineering. “We’re pretty hopeful that, with a better design, we’ll be able to decode more words and, in two or three years, get approval for a real feasibility trial in paralyzed patients.” The technology could benefit people who have been paralyzed by stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or trauma and are “locked in”—aware but unable to communicate except, perhaps, by blinking an eyelid or arduously moving a cursor to pick out letters or words from a list…

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Hathaway Brown discovers the power of media literacy for students in the 21st century

girlsoncomputerToday, globalized media has the potential power to replace parents and schools as socializing agents for children. Media literacy instruction helps students “filter” media messages through accepted community norms, and prepares them to evaluate risks, make wise choices, define their own ethical principles, and participate as members of a democratic society.

Critical thinking skills are the central tools through which to acquire and apply content knowledge in the disciplines.  With its inquiry-based and process-oriented pedagogy, media literacy offers a systematic framework for acquiring new knowledge across all disciplines.  Media literacy helps students acquire the critical thinking skills they need to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with the powerful images, words, and sounds through which much information is delivered in the 21st century.

Hathaway Brown School (HB) was undergoing a quiet but very real crisis.  As the Upper School’s media literacy teacher, Terry Dubow, said: “We’re a girls’ school that was founded with the motto ‘We learn not for school but for life.’  But we came to the realization that we were not doing nearly enough to prepare our students for their lives as young women.  Nothing shocking had happened.  Instead we noticed that too often our work was not always as powerful as the work done by the average producer of the average reality show.  We found that entirely unacceptable.”

Dubow, who has taught media literacy courses to seniors at Hathaway Brown since 2001, consulted with other staff  to recommend an expansion of the school’s existing media literacy program.  In listening to the group’s observations over a number of meetings, HB Head Bill Christ realized that while media literacy had not been part of the core curriculum at any time in the past, it was now an essential skill.

“Just as the printing press revolutionized medieval Europe, an explosion of information is transforming our society now, and global media are at the center of these changes.  Our students are receiving an exponentially increasing number of messages across all media channels, and they urgently need media literacy skills to sensitively read what they’re seeing and hearing today,” he said.

HB administrators and staff set to work on an expanded curriculum with at least two objectives in mind.  HB Associate Head Sue Sadler and many other staff members were concerned about the effects of media messages which emphasize unrealistic feminine body images and role models, and in the early stages of planning decided to design the entire curriculum around the theme of  “Women in Media” as a means for empowering all girls in the school.

“Our students need to gain critical perspective on the mediated culture they inhabit.  In acquiring media literacy skills, they’ll have powerful tools at their disposal that can help them form an image of themselves as competent individuals who have important contributions to make to the world they will live in,” Sadler said.

Fostering students’ critical thinking skills was also a priority.  Dubow noted that the school’s “basic premise is not that media is bad, but that media is relentless, and there is a purpose and a sender behind every message that we see.”  School leaders hoped to design a program in which students could analyze and create media messages in developmentally appropriate ways.

In the fall of 2008 Sadler and her colleagues contacted the Center for Media Literacy (CML) in Los Angeles for assistance with teacher professional development.  Sadler was particularly interested in the uniform teaching methodology contained within CML’s instructional framework.  Sadler wanted to place the framework at the center of the school’s professional development efforts, with the intention of maintaining consistent support for the systematic integration of media literacy instruction into the curriculum of the entire school.

“The CML framework, with its Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions, was designed precisely for this purpose.  Together they provide curriculum developers with a useable structure that can be applied to any subject and open up a manageable pathway to 21st century skills,” said Tessa Jolls, CML’s president.

Promising results

Working within the CML framework, Hathaway Brown designed engaging, innovative curricula.  For example, fifth grade curricula focused on the social construction of popularity.  What is it?  Who gets it?  At what cost?  Fifth graders debated the issue while reading The Secret Language of Girls, which explores the forces that drive what’s “in.”

In addition to working with the book, students drew on their own experiences with teen magazines and television to investigate  the relationship between consumerism and popularity, and traced the impact these have on their personal relationships.  “These experiences really opened the girls’ eyes and minds to the way media influences their everyday lives,” said fifth grade teacher Frannie Foltz.  “I was impressed with their interest in the topic, as many of them came to class the following week with articles, advertisements, and other media resources for us to analyze.”

Hathaway Brown made a preliminary quantitative assessment of the curriculum’s effectiveness by administering a school-wide pre-post test (with some questions simplified to accommodate reading levels) through Survey Monkey, an online survey program.  Post-test responses to the true/false statement, “Media messages affect me,” were among the most encouraging.  In the center’s experience with media literacy implementations worldwide, students who have not received media literacy training almost universally believe that media do not affect their decision making and perceptions.  “True” responses to the statement increased by 9.8 percent among primary school students, and seventh grade students made an even larger gain, at 12.1 percent.

Implementation background

After consulting with Jolls, Sadler and her colleagues arrived at a train-the-trainer strategy for professional development.  Key faculty volunteers were identified to provide leadership and facilitation for the school-wide effort, and the implementation of the work was “seeded” through these volunteers and other faculty who stepped forward during the course of the implementation.

In December 2008, Jolls trained  twenty volunteer facilitators in basic use of the Five Key Questions of Media, contextualizing them for teachers with sample hands-on activities. In January 2009, the entire faculty had a second training with Jolls.  Volunteer facilitators led several activity sessions for colleagues.

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New grant program seeks solutions to toughest classroom challenges

Educators are invited to share ideas for solving classroom challenges, with the chance to win grants to implement their ideas.

Educators are invited to share ideas for solving classroom challenges, with the chance to win grants to implement their ideas.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has partnered with the nation’s largest teachers union and its charitable foundation to launch a grant program encouraging public school educators to identify and solve K-12 education’s most pressing classroom challenges.

The new “Challenge to Innovate” (C2i) program leverages ED’s Open Innovation Portal to solicit ideas in a process known as “crowdsourcing,” in which officials tap the collective wisdom of a large group of people through the power of the internet.

“Smart innovation will help dramatically accelerate achievement and attainment,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Without it, we will surely fall short of our goals to prepare all of America’s students for success in the global economy.”

In the new partnership, ED’s Open Innovation Portal will host the C2i program, a three-phase challenge from the National Education Association’s NEA Foundation.

The first phase of the challenge, from Sept. 7 through Oct. 19, asks educators to share their most pressing classroom challenges that can be solved with $500 or less. The five ideas with the most online votes, as judged by the Open Innovation Portal community, each will receive $1,000 from the NEA Foundation.

In the second phase, from Nov. 16 through Jan. 14, educators will post their best solutions to the winning challenges. Up to 10 of these proposed solutions each will receive a $2,500 grant from the NEA Foundation for the teachers who suggested these ideas to implement the solutions in their schools.

In the final phase of the program, from Jan. 17 through Feb. 4, the NEA Foundation will select and post up to three top solutions to receive a $5,000 planning grant and technical support. These winning solutions also will be posted on the Donors Choose web site, where teachers nationwide will be invited to submit requests to receive up to $500 to help implement the ideas. The NEA Foundation, in partnership with citizen philanthropists from the Donors Choose community, will provide funding for teachers to implement and test the innovative solutions.

Educators can take part in the C2i program by joining ED’s Open Innovation Portal community. Once they register for the portal (which is free of charge), they can post, review, comment, and vote on the most pressing classroom challenges and their solutions.

C2i “is a powerful tool for educators with three components,” said NEA Foundation President Harriet Sanford. “First, it is a social network for educators to trade opinions and information. Second, it is an open invitation for public school educators to share the issues that keep them up at night and the solutions they believe will make a difference. Third, C2i is a challenge to educators to formalize those ideas and be considered for funding and implementation.”

ED, the NEA Foundation, and Donors Choose are using the innovation portal to collect ideas from teachers as part of a new government-wide initiative to solicit ideas for solving the nation’s challenges from ordinary citizens. Another component of this initiative, Challenge.gov, is a new online site where “entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough national problems, large and small,” federal officials say.

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Students object to attendance-taking technology

Student ID cards are required at many buildings on NAU's campus.

Student ID cards are required at many buildings on NAU's campus.

Officials at Northern Arizona University are reminding students that faculty members have the choice to use new electronic scanners that track attendance at the campus’s largest lecture halls, but some students continue their vocal opposition to the technology as the fall semester gets underway.

The Flagstaff, Ariz., university will use “proximity card readers” in freshmen and sophomore classrooms that hold more than 50 students, where calling attendance would eat into valuable class time for instructors.

The scanners would require students to swipe their campus identification cards and create an electronic record that they attended class that day.

Some student protest has remained vocal as the new school year begins. A Facebook group called “NAU Against Proximity Cards” has attracted more than 1,600 members, and campus political groups have excoriated university decision makers for using more than $80,000 in federal stimulus money to create the attendance-tracking program.

Read the full story on eCampus News.

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Keep after-school events safe

School Resource Officer_2311The start of a new high school football season is a reason to celebrate–but it also is a time for administrators to be on guard against those who find the games an excuse for criminal behavior. And it’s not just football that can lead to security problems on campus. The same can be true for dances, concerts, and other after-school activities. Fortunately, there are some steps that can help control a situation before it gets out of hand…

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Job forecasts point to importance of higher education

Not until 2014 or later is the nation expected to have regained all, or nearly all, the 8.4 million jobs lost to the recession.

Not until 2014 or later is the nation expected to have regained all, or nearly all, the 8.4 million jobs lost to the recession.

Whenever companies start hiring freely again, job seekers with specialized skills and education will have plenty of good opportunities. Others will face a choice: Take a job with low pay—or none at all.

Job creation likely will remain weak for months or even years. But once employers do step up hiring, some economists expect job openings to fall mainly into two categories of roughly equal numbers:

• Professional fields with higher pay. Think lawyers, research scientists, and software engineers.

• Lower-skill and lower-paying jobs, like home health care aides and store clerks.

And those in between? Their outlook is bleaker. Economists foresee fewer moderately paid factory supervisors, postal workers, and office administrators.

That’s the sobering message American workers face as they celebrate Labor Day at a time of high unemployment, scant hiring, and a widespread loss of job security. Not until 2014 or later is the nation expected to have regained all, or nearly all, the 8.4 million jobs lost to the recession. Millions of lost jobs in real estate, for example, aren’t likely to be restored this decade, if ever.

On Sept. 3, the government said the August unemployment rate ticked up to 9.6 percent. Not enough jobs were created to absorb the growing number of people seeking work. The unemployment rate has exceeded 9 percent for 16 months, the longest such stretch in nearly 30 years.

Even when the job market picks up, many people will be left behind. The threat stems, in part, from the economy’s continuing shift from one driven by manufacturing to one fueled by service industries.

Pay for future service-sector jobs will tend to vary from very high to very low. At the same time, the number of middle-income service-sector jobs will shrink, according to government projections. Any job that can be automated or outsourced overseas is likely to continue to decline.

The service sector’s growth could also magnify the nation’s income inequality, with more people either affluent or financially squeezed. The nation isn’t educating enough people for the higher-skilled service-sector jobs of the future, economists warn.

“There will be jobs,” says Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist. “The big question is what they are going to pay, and what kind of lives they will allow people to lead? This will be a big issue for how broad a middle class we are going to have.”

On one point there’s broad agreement: Of 8 million-plus jobs lost to the recession—in fields like manufacturing, real estate, and financial services—many, perhaps most, aren’t coming back.

In their place will be jobs in health care, information technology, and statistical analysis. Some of the new positions will require complex skills or higher education. Others won’t—but they won’t pay very much, either.

“Our occupational structure is really becoming bifurcated,” says Richard Florida, a professor at University of Toronto. “We’re becoming more of a divided nation by the work we do.”

By 2018, the government forecasts a net total of 15.3 million new jobs. If that proves true, unemployment would drop far closer to a historical norm of 5 percent.

Nearly all the new jobs will be in the service sector, the Labor Department says. The nation’s 78 million baby boomers will need more health care services as they age, for example. Demand for medical jobs will rise. And innovations in high technology and alternative energy are likely to spur growth in occupations that don’t yet exist.

Hiring can’t come fast enough for the 14.9 million unemployed Americans. Counting part-time employees who would prefer full-time jobs, plus out-of-work people who have stopped looking for jobs, the number of “underemployed” is 26.2 million.

Manufacturing has shed 2 million jobs since the recession began. Construction has lost 1.9 million, financial services 651,000.

But the biggest factor has been the bust in real estate. The vanished jobs range from construction workers and furniture makers to loan officers, appraisers, and material suppliers. Moody’s Analytics estimates the total number of housing-related jobs lost at 2.4 million. When you include commercial real estate, the number is far higher.

On top of real estate-related job losses, manufacturing is likely to keep shedding jobs, sending lower-skilled work overseas. Millions who worked in those fields will need to find jobs in higher-skilled or lower-paying occupations.

“The big fear is the country is simply not preparing workers for the kind of skills that the country is going to need,” says Gautam Godhwani, CEO of SimplyHired.com, which tracks job listings.

Sectors likely to grow fastest, according to economists and government projections, are:

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After nearly a decade, laptops changed learning in Henrico County

Henrico County, Va., is entering the 10th year of its novel program to provide a laptop computer to every middle and high school student. Now ubiquitous, the laptops have become central to Henrico’s instructional curriculum—and school officials say their use has expanded the possibilities for learning, engaged students in the learning process, and prepared them better for college and the workforce, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “You cannot have a 21st-century learning environment that doesn’t have technology,” said Christopher Corallo, executive director of Organizational Development, Quality and Innovation, which oversees Henrico’s instructional technology. County officials, teachers, and students proclaim the one-to-one laptop program a success. They say it provides an opportunity to experience education beyond paper, pen, and textbook. But school officials also are quick to say they do not see a clear connection between the laptops and improvements in Standards of Learning test scores and note that the program’s goals are not solely about improving achievement. “When the initiative started out, it was to close the digital divide, give kids who may not have access to technology access. I think that’s been done,” Corallo said. “It was also to provide extra resources, so that students would be able to pass SOL tests. Beyond the regular textbooks, they could download digital resources. I think that has been done.”

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iPad competitors lining up

Starting this fall and stretching into early next year, big-name gadget and PC makers are readying their own touch-screen tablets to compete with Apple’s iPad, CNET reports. The big players in the developing tablet race will be familiar: They’re many of the same people who are tussling for consumers’ dollars and attention in the smart-phone realm. As with smart phones, choosing a touch-screen tablet will mean deciding between different operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Palm’s WebOS, Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, and Microsoft’s Windows 7—except, in some instances, without having to decide on a wireless carrier. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is emerging as a top rival to the iPad. Just officially unveiled at IFA Berlin, it’s an Android-based touch-screen tablet. At 7 inches, it’s smaller than the 9.7 inch iPad, and it’s also lighter. The specs include Android 2.2, Flash 10.1, 16GB or 32GB of memory, GPS, and a gyroscope, accelerometer, and a 3.2-megapixel camera, with autofocus and a flash. The biggest difference between the Galaxy Tab and the iPad is that you can buy the device only through a carrier—meaning there’s also a phone in the Galaxy Tab. The Toshiba Folio also debuted at IFA as an Android tablet. As with the iPad, you don’t have to buy it through a wireless carrier, but you do have the option for Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G. There’s a 10.1-inch multitouch screen, an Nvidia Tegra processor, stereo speakers, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, two USB ports, an SD card slot, an HDMI connector for sending video to other screens, Bluetooth communications, and 16GB of memory. Like the Galaxy Tab, it comes with Adobe Flash 10.1 and Android 2.2. Other iPad competitors include the Dell Streak, the HP Slate, and a rumored tablet from Research in Motion, called the Blackpad…

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