Apple unveils interactive textbooks, revamped iTunes U

The iBooks 2 app is available for free.

Apple might make the heavy backpack an endangered species.

There won’t be much students can’t do with a few taps and swipes of their Apple iPads after the tech giant’s introduction of iBooks 2–a book store that now includes interactive textbooks–and an iTunes University app that could create a comprehensive school experience inside the popular computer tablet.

Apple officials confirmed Jan. 19 weeklong speculation that the company would jump into the textbook market during a press event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, where Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, introduced the next iteration of the iBooks app, which for the first time will offer textbooks that start at $14.99 or less for high school students.

The iBooks 2 app is available for free in Apple’s Apps Store. Pricing for college textbooks wasn’t immediately available. Apple’s iBooks 2 will be stocked by publishing giants Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, which make up 90 percent of the U.S. textbook market.

Textbooks available on the iPad through the iBooks 2 app will have interactive photos, videos, and diagrams, along with 3D images that can be manipulated and rotated with a touch of the screen. Students can highlight sections of a digital book with the swipe of a finger and create digital index cards inside the book without leaving their current page.

Authors of iBooks 2 textbooks can continually update their content. Students, once they’ve purchased the digital book for their iPad, can view the updated versions with no charge, and can keep the book in their library indefinitely.

“It’s certainly something we’ve been dreaming about for a couple years,” said Bill Rankin, director of educational innovation at Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Texas, one of higher education’s most prominent users of Apple products. “It’s equivalent to the democratization that happened under Gutenberg. Digitized books are much different than digital books. [Apple] isn’t just offering digitized versions of print material. This is a new generation media object.”

The Apple announcement also introduced educators and textbook publishers to a free authoring tool for anyone who wants to create a textbook.

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Study: Junk food doesn’t cause obesity in middle schools

A new study of nearly 20,000 middle schoolers has found that kids who attend schools that sell junk food such as soda and doughnuts do not gain more weight than students who attend schools where that type of food isn’t available, the Lookout reports. The study, published in this month’s issue of Sociology of Education, contradicts earlier research with smaller sample sizes that showed the availability of junk food correlated with rates of childhood obesity. The new study’s author, Pennsylvania State Professor Jennifer Hook, said in a statement that the results surprised her. Hook hypothesizes that kids don’t actually have that much time to eat at school, so their out-of-school eating habits are a more important factor in determining their weight. “Children’s environments at home and in their communities may provide so many opportunities to eat unhealthy foods that competitive food sales in schools have little influence on children’s weight,” she writes. Eating habits are set very early, so efforts to encourage healthy food choices should start before middle school, Hook adds…

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Retired D.C. teacher says he was thrown out of ed data summit

A retired D.C. teacher who has written critically about Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee said security guards escorted him out of an education data summit where the two were speaking on Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. Guy Brandenburg, who writes the GFBrandenburg’s Blog (which is subtitled “Just a blog by a guy who’s a retired math teacher”) describes in a post how he attended the National Data Summit in Washington D.C. — for which he had signed up to attend — and started handing out a pamphlet he wrote criticizing data-driven school reform. The summit, which started on Wednesday and starred Duncan and Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor, is part of the Data Quality Campaign, a national effort to promote data-driven education reform…

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Obama education reforms advance as Congress falters

President Barack Obama’s administration is moving ahead in reforming U.S. education without the help of the Congress, and will soon announce which states can opt out of the national education law known as “No Child Left Behind,” Reuters reports. There are two bills currently in Congress to re-authorize the decade-old law that radically changed U.S. public schools.

“I don’t think either one of those is going to move forward anytime soon, but I think the waiver process that we’re doing now is going to be the only game in town,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a meeting of U.S. mayors in the U.S. capital.

“We hope to say ‘yes’ to the first set of waivers in the next couple of weeks, probably by the end of the month. We’ll just do this on a rolling basis,” he added…

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Learn how to recognize and help depressed students

One fifth of females between the ages of 14 and 17 reported feeling severely depressed at some point, according to a recent Department of Education report, and there are many factors of high school life that can lead to such feelings. Teachers, who often see these factors firsthand in classrooms and hallways, should know how to interpret the signs of their students’ depression, U.S. News reports. The Department of Education report shows that 21 percent of high school females reported having a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) at one point in their lifetime, which it defines as a “period of at least two weeks when a person experiences a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, plus at least four additional symptoms of depression (such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and feelings of self-worth.)” Only 10 percent of males in the same age bracket, the report states, have experienced one of these episodes…

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5 insanely thin and light laptops that are coming soon

There’s a whole new wave of gadgets right around the corner that you might not have even known you needed—until now, of course. Meet the ultrabook, a class of super-slim, considerably powerful notebook computers that are cut from the same cloth as Apple’s MacBook Air, Y! Tech reports. “Ultrabook” might not be a word you’ve heard before, but the idea is meant to inspire a category of laptop that is nearly as mobile as a tablet, but that doesn’t sacrifice power for portability — the ultimate pitfall of the netbook. Ultrabooks are on the way, but choosing between them won’t be easy. Assuming you don’t take the Mac route and opt for Apple’s own offering, the members of this tidal wave of featherweight computers running Windows will share most of their features in common by definition. In fact, the term “ultrabook” is a trademarked term, owned by Intel. To qualify as an ultrabook, a notebook computer should hover around the $1,000 mark, be no more than .8″ thick, weigh less than 3.1 lb., and boast a respectable battery life and an efficient solid-state drive (SSD) rather than a traditional mechanical harddrive…

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Student inspires classmates through anti-bullying posts on lockers

Sayings such as “Have a nice day” or “Keep smiling” often go unnoticed or unappreciated in our busy lives. But Samantha Bremmer, an eighth-grade student at Mill Creek Middle School, is using the messages to bring positive energy back into the classroom, DexterPatch reports. While most of her friends were enjoying a much-needed winter break from classes, Samantha – with fellow eighth-grader Ashley Sobczak helping her in the end complete the project – spent her time personally writing 820 messages on Post-it Notes to put on students’ lockers. Samantha, who attached the notes to lockers throughout the school earlier this month, said the idea came after she watched numerous videos focused on anti-bullying…

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Colleges join Wikipedia in SOPA blackout protests

A key U.S. senator withdrew his support for SOPA Jan. 18.

Syracuse University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) joined several of the web’s most visited sites, including Wikipedia, in a partial blackout to speak out against pending anti-piracy legislation that critics say could curtail internet freedom in the U.S.

Visitors to the homepages of MIT’s admissions office and Syracuse University’s School of Information – known as the iSchool – Jan. 18 were confronted with information about the House of Representative’s Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), both of which have received bipartisan support as a way to curb online piracy.

Many in higher education have said in recent weeks that SOPA could have a long lasting impact on college and university websites.

If those sites are suspected of being complicit in sharing copyrighted information, the government would have legal authority to shut down the site.

Such a move would hit online students hardest, educators said, because they often log into vital course information through the school’s official web portal.

An MIT admissions official said the university would have to shut down entire portions of its website if SOPA becomes law.

Read the full story on eCampus News

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AASA 2012: Facing some of education’s toughest challenges

AASA 2012: "Big Conversations, Big Solutions."

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) will launch its annual Conference on Education on Feb. 16 in Houston, Texas.

This year’s conference will focus on “Big Conversations, Big Solutions,” as attendees focus on issues such as budget shortfalls, student achievement, and collaboration.

Conference breakout sessions are organized into different focus zones to help attendees make the most out of the conference.

Focus zones include:

  • Board/Superintendent Issues – Maybe you are new to the job, new to a district, an aspiring superintendent, or a veteran educator who works with a board of education. This year’s programming will feature panels of your colleagues discussing board/superintendent issues and ways for you to deal with the myriad of issues that come across your desk every day. Learn how to build a great relationship, communicate effectively and deal with problems so there is a win-win solution for everyone.
  • Management – Has the economy put a damper on innovations in your school or school system? Learn cost-effective solutions for surviving these turbulent times. Also hear about hot topics such as national standards, effective leadership techniques, using technology for data-driven results, social networking, and current technologies that can improve student achievement.
  • Executive Leadership – The leaders of the future require extensive background knowledge and professional development in all aspects of executive leadership. Whether you are a principal, cabinet member, or head of a school system, effective leadership skills are necessary to transform public education. Learn how to build effective teams, use a systems-thinking approach for change, and understand what succession planning really means and how school-level organization increases student achievement.
  • Student Achievement – Students of today must be prepared for a global society through innovative instructional practices, curriculum and technology. Sessions will include the hot topics of today coupled with practical application strategies to help school system leaders deal with unions, and pay-for-performance issues, observations and evaluations as they strive to improve student achievement.

Jamie Vollmer, president of Vollmer, Inc., will deliver the opening keynote on Feb. 16 and will focus on building public support for public schools. AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech will interview Vollmer on why schools can’t do it alone.

On Feb. 17, Rick DuFour, a former superintendent and educational author and consultant, will describe the specific strategies high performing districts are using to raise student achievement by developing the capacity of staff throughout the district to function as professional learning communities.

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will address academic leadership and creating a climate of success for all students on Feb. 18.

And on Feb. 19, Dr. Robert Ballard, oceanographer and deep sea explorer, will guide attendees through “education through exploration.” Dr. Ballard will share his visionary leadership in creating The JASON Project, a STEM model for the country, while running the most significant oceanographic exploration effort in the country.

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