Tennessee Valley schools to get free weather alerts

Former WAAY-TV meteorologist Brad Huffines might no longer be on the air alerting people to approaching storms, but he’s dedicated his life to getting the word out about dangerous weather events via WeatherCall Enterprise, a national weather alert software system, reports the Huntsville Times—and WeatherCall now is being offered free of charge to all school systems in the local station’s coverage area in North Alabama and southern Tennessee, compliments of WAAY and its sponsor, Virginia College.

“There will never be a charge to schools for WeatherCall,” said Huffines, during a school safety session at Madison City Schools. “It will go into effect as soon as they sign up.”

Huffines, who also works with FEMA on weather preparedness issues, said some 400 schools, public and private, throughout 11 counties across the WAAY-TV coverage area are being offered the opportunity to sign up for the alerts. The system calls up to three designated phone numbers to alert school administrators about impending storms that will only affect their respective schools, not countywide, he said.

To read the full story, click here.


Education leaders share ‘Five Things I’ve Learned’ on new Pearson Foundation website

The Pearson Foundation has announced a new online project that aims to share the insights of education leaders whose efforts are improving outcomes for students. “Five Things I’ve Learned” chronicles personal lessons learned from decades of real-world experience, sharing proven practice and wisdom about learning, teaching, and helping others, the organization says.

Launched with the lessons from 54 contributors, the website will add new voices each week, with the goal of extending the dialogue about what is working for students, teachers, and the school systems and community organizations that support them.

The first set of contributors features the perspectives of public leaders such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is now chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education; education association veterans, such as AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech and ISTE CEO Don Knezek; and education innovators such as Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth professor of learning technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

“Five Things I’ve Learned represents a milestone for the Pearson Foundation,” said Pearson Foundation President and CEO Mark Nieker. “I hope that, over time, Five Things I’ve Learned will collect more and more of the best new ideas in education.”



Ravitch: Pennsylvania’s cyber-school expansion ‘unbelievable’

Pennsylvania just approved four new cyber-charter schools, bringing the number of online charter schools in the state to 17, writes noted education historian Diane Ravitch on her blog—and given what the research says about the efficacy of cyber schools in that state, she calls this news “unbelievable.”

“We constantly hear lectures from ‘reformers’ about data-driven decision-making and focusing only on results,” she writes. “They like to say ‘it’s for the children.’ … [But] the existing cyber-charters in Pennsylvania have been evaluated and found to have disastrous results. The data say they are failures.”

A Stanford study reviewed the academic performance in Pennsylvania’s charter schools and found virtual-school students started out with higher test scores than their counterparts in regular charters—but ended up with learning gains that were “significantly worse” than kids in traditional charters and public schools, on average.

“When we see what is happening in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and other ‘reform’ states, anyone can see that ‘the children’ will certainly not be the beneficiaries of these decisions,” Ravitch writes. “The data are clear. It’s all about the profits.”

To read the full blog post, click here.


How to encourage young women to consider STEM majors

For Alicia Abella, the path to becoming a leading female STEM professional started in a high school computer science class in the 1980s, reports U.S. News. Learning basic programming skills piqued her interest, and she began considering the potential proliferation of computers and the many career possibilities a degree in the sciences could open for her.

Years later, after earning a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a Ph.D. from Columbia, Abella is now the executive director of technical research at AT&T Labs and a vocal spokesperson about the potential for other women to find similar success in a STEM field. Abella spoke with U.S. News about the challenges of inclusivity in STEM fields, and how the effort to get more women involved might take a multifaceted approach to be successful.

“One of the things that we can do … is really to expose these young girls and young women to role models who are in the field to make them recognize that, in fact, you don’t have to really fit [the] stereotype,” she said. “I [often] hear … how we need to make math and science more fun and exciting for students, and while I agree that’s true … we don’t want to fool [young women] into thinking it’s all fun and games. It is a hard field to go into, but we want to get them to recognize it’s worth putting in that hard work and effort, because the rewards are so great.”

To read the full story, click here.


Tech solution connects eMailing teachers with texting students

ConnectYard, a company that integrates text messaging, social media, eMail, and other communication tools on a single platform, has announced a new partnership with Florida Virtual School (FLVS), reports the Brevard Times. The partnership aims to enhance student performance and retention by enabling more rapid and efficient communication and collaboration.

Today, text messaging and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are high school students’ communication tools of choice. But because educators tend to rely on eMail and learning management system tools to communicate, the popularity of social media and texting among younger people has caused a communication gap between teachers, school administrators, and students. With the ConnectYard solution, FLVS students, teachers, and administrators will be able to communicate on the platforms they prefer to use.

FLVS and its teachers will not be required to “friend” or “follow” students on Facebook or Twitter, or vice versa; instead, ConnectYard enables schools, students, and teachers to send and receive messages seamlessly on their preferred platform, which can speed message receipt and response times and create a more cohesive, connected learning environment, the company says…

To read the full story, click here.


High-tech gloves translate sign language into speech

Four Ukrainian tech whizzes have done the seemingly impossible, TIME reports: They’ve given a voice to the voiceless. Calling themselves QuadSquad, they created a product called “Enable Talk”—gloves that translate sign language into spoken words, giving a voice to the 40 million people who live every day with speech and hearing impairments.

QuadSquad invented their sensory gloves as part of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, nabbing this year’s top prize for their innovation. The tech tournament challenges young scientists to create something that takes on one of “the world’s toughest problems.” Although it might sound like simply an international science fair, that baking soda and vinegar volcano definitely won’t cut it.

Most of the projects focused on the environment or healthcare. But QuadSquad tackled a much more basic problem: communication. The Enable Talk gloves work by translating the gestures of the user’s hands through a text-to-talk engine connected to a smart phone. The runners-up also deserve commendation: A team from Japan created a software program featuring lights that “talk to each other,” saving energy by dimming lights when they aren’t being used; and the third-place team from Portugal made a shopping cart capable of following disabled customers through a grocery store.

Read the full story here.


New program prepares educators for blended learning

Upon completing the course, educators should be well versed in designing, presenting, and assessing lessons in both an online and a blended learning environment.

Many brick-and-mortar schools want to incorporate more online instruction—but how should teachers prepare for the newly popular blended classroom? An update to a national certification program for educators promises to help them teach in a blended learning environment.

Leading Edge Certification (LEC)—an alliance of education agencies, nonprofit organizations, and universities—has updated its educational technology course, now renamed the Online and Blended Teacher Certification program.

In a shift from its previous focus solely on online learning, the eight- to 10-week course—which debuted last year—now includes both online and blended learning topics in each of its eight modules. Upon completion of the course, which follows iNACOL’s national standards for high-quality online teaching, educators should be well versed in designing, presenting, and assessing lessons in both an online and a blended learning environment.

Mike Lawrence, founding chair of LEC, said school leaders have expressed a strong preference for blended learning over pure online learning, according to preliminary results of the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) e-Learning census administered this spring.

“Traditional schools want to take advantage of existing facilities. [Moving to blended learning] is a much easier step than, ‘What, I’m never going to meet these kids?’” said Lawrence.

For more news about professional development, see:

New venture connects U.S. teachers online

School groups craft seven-part plan for improving teaching

Seven standards for effective professional development

Each module of the course, usually covered in one week, requires educators to read a digital textbook, which includes embedded quizzes and other formative assessments. Educators prepare one or two assignments based on their reading: If the lesson was on accessibility, for example, one assignment might be to create a sample of accessible content.

Throughout the week, instructors post probing questions on the course discussion board, provide feedback on assignments, and hold virtual office hours on a platform such as Skype or Google Hangouts.

At the end of the instructional week, educators submit a longer, culminating project that goes in their digital portfolio. For the accessibility unit, students might create their own ADA-compliant videos complete with headings and captions.

After eight weeks of instruction, participants submit to their instructors a final portfolio and reflection based on the webpage-creator Google Sites. If the portfolio meets the program’s standards, the instructor awards the educator LEC certification.

LEC previewed the new course curriculum at the annual Computer-Using Educators (CUE) conference March 15-17. The program designers gave instructors of the original curriculum a period to review and make recommendations about the new content, and then revised the course in time for an early April launch, said Greg Ottinger, chairman of LEC’s Online and Blended Certification Committee.


Venture capital funding for ed tech at ‘unprecedented’ levels, expected to rise

Ed-tech innovators received investment capital 127 times in 2011.

Big-money investors poured more money into educational technology companies in 2011 than during the heady dot-com days of the late-1990s, according to a national market analysis that credits investor knowledge, in part, for the funding boom.

After a slump in investment capital during the mid and late 2000s, companies focusing on classroom technologies—including social media-centric solutions—are benefiting from a never-before-seen influx of funding from private investors and investment firms.

In a report released this week, “Fall of the Wall: Capital Flows to Education Innovation,” GSV Advisors, which assists education entrepreneurs and tracks investments in educational companies and products, documented a steady rise in investment that peaked last year.

Educational technology innovators received investment capital 127 times in 2011, according to GSV, well above the 106 education companies that were funded in 1999, when investors rushed to technology startups during the dot-com boom that created an economic bubble that popped in 2000.

Read the full story on eCampus News.