Public-private partnership transforms school bus into mobile learning lab

Melanie Agnew, an instructional coach at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, stands next to the Verizon Wireless Mobile Learning Lab.

With nearly 500,000 school buses transporting students daily in this country, one in particular stands out at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. Instead of the familiar vehicle emblazoned with bright yellow paint, this one is wrapped in bold graphics showing enthusiastic students using wireless devices to reflect what actually goes on inside this unique vehicle, known as the Mobile Learning Lab. It’s a retrofitted school bus equipped with its own generator, air conditioner, wireless 4G LTE internet connectivity, on-board tutors, and individual workstations with tablet computers and docking stations.

Eager students like Carl Harper, who just graduated from Calvin Coolidge High School, have been piling into what we’ve come to call our very own “Magic School Bus” when it pulls up every Wednesday in the school’s parking lot. Harper and about 70 of his classmates worked for the better part of the school year on board the vehicle alongside tutors from nearby Howard University on essays for their college applications and scholarship nominations.

Made possible through a partnership with Verizon Wireless and Samsung, this bus brings cutting-edge wireless technology to underserved communities in D.C. and Maryland to help students become 21st century learners. As educators, we strive to provide our students with the best educational opportunities, but we don’t always have much-needed resources. The idea of providing our students with consistent access to the latest tablets running on 4G LTE technology, and the software and apps that go along with these, is very exciting for us and for them.

Through this initiative, students receive individualized help with writing admissions essays and scholarship applications that will distinguish them within the increasingly competitive field of the college-bound. These tablets are key to helping students navigate the challenging college application process. Rather than having a stack of paper documents that can be lost or misplaced easily, all drafts and the information used to create them are stored digitally on the tablet, accessed remotely and quickly, and eMailed for review by the tutors for immediate feedback, eliminating the burden of a traditional and, at times, outdated paper method.

Howard University tutors pair up with students on board the bus each week, using 4G LTE tablets to help the students research and review examples of good college essays online, brainstorm ideas for their personal statements, and draft their own documents electronically. Working with the tutors has really instilled a culture that encourages all of our students to believe that college is attainable. The tutors are excellent role models and mentors for our students, helping them become less anxious about college and more comfortable with goal setting. It’s very empowering for our kids to develop relationships with real-life college students so they can envision themselves in that role.


Are kids all that techno-smart? Maybe not

Millennials, like most people, mainly use technology as a tool for communication.

The Millennial Generation was born and raised in the digital world. Whether they are checking their Facebook status or running a business on the go, this constantly connected generation has earned the reputation of being the most tech savvy ever. But are they really?

“What we are seeing today is a certain amount of familiarity for the millennial generation around using technology. Whether it is a mobile phone, a tablet or computer, or also doing things with television, video recordings, gaming, there is a particular set of skills that they have developed,” says Akhtar Badshah, senior director of Global Community Affairs at Microsoft Corp. “However, we also know that just because you’ve had familiarity with the use of a device, it may not necessarily lead to proficiency in the use of technology where youth are effectively using technology to better their lives through a job, start something, or undertake further studies.”

Being connected

Whether it is texting, Facebook, or Skype, millennials, like most people, mainly use technology as a tool for communication.

Gabe Griffith, a junior at Penn State, remembers playing games on the computer at age 3. He has had technology available to him throughout his education. In addition to using his computer, cell phone, iPod, and video game system almost daily, he uses the internet every day for communication and schoolwork.

Despite all this, he says, “My definition of tech savvy is someone who is really good with computers. I would say I’m not very tech savvy.”

Griffith learned about databases and basic web page design in high school. He also learned how to type proficiently in elementary school.

“I’m not a computer major, so I don’t really need a lot more,” he says. If anything, Griffith says he would have liked to learn more about programming, adding that most of what he has learned about computers, such as troubleshooting, he learned from his father or through YouTube videos.


Paul Ryan on education policy: vouchers, for-profit colleges, local control

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)talks a lot about scaling back the reach of the federal government, but back in 2001, he voted in favor of No Child Left Behind, the signature education program of the George W. Bush administration that gave unprecedented power to the U.S. Education Department to tell states and districts what they had to do to get federal funds, the Washington Post reports. Ryan, who presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney just tapped to be his vice presidential running mate, has obviously changed his mind…

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Eight problems with Common Core Standards

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” was published March 1, 1987, the Washington Post reports. So it was probably in March of that year when, sitting at a dining room table in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, my host — a publishing executive, friend, and fellow West Virginian — said he’d just bought the book. He hadn’t read it yet, but wondered how Hirsch’s list of 5,000 things he thought every American should know differed from a list we Appalachians might write…

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How to protect your social network accounts from hackers

If you haven’t read about Wired reporter Mat Honan’s ordeal at the hands of malicious hackers, take some time and read it now, PC World reports. (I’ll wait.) His story about how a passel of juvenile hackers managed to get into his Apple account and wipe all the data off his iPhone, iPad, and Mac– as well as hijack his Google, Twitter, and Amazon accounts – should be required reading for anyone who uses those services, and especially those of us who’ve blithely linked our social media accounts together using the same eMail address. Honan didn’t do anything to tick those hackers off. He was targeted simply because they coveted his @mat Twitter handle. Which means that the same thing could happen to you or me just as easily, and we wouldn’t know we’d been jobbed until far too late…

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FTC finalizes privacy settlement with Facebook

The Federal Trade Commission voted August 10 to finalize its settlement with Facebook, resolving charges that the social network exposed details about users’ lives without getting the required legal consent, the Associated Press reports. Facebook Inc. agreed to submit to government audits of its privacy practices every other year for the next two decades. The company also committed to getting explicit approval from users before changing the types of content it makes public. The settlement, announced in November, is similar to agreements the FTC reached separately with Google Inc. and Myspace…

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The coming wireless spectrum apocalypse and how it hits you

C Spire Wireless, a small, southern wireless provider formerly known as Cellular South, has an ambitious plan to build a fast, 4G LTE network to reach its 900,000 customers, CNET reports. To do it, C Spire bought $192 million worth of 700 MHz wireless spectrum, which is considered some of the most valuable wireless spectrum that’s still available because it can travel long distances and penetrate obstacles. But there’s a problem. C Spire claims it hasn’t been able to use this spectrum and hasn’t been able to deploy its 4G network…

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Anatomy of a school construction project

Glen Allen High School, Henrico County’s newest school building, opened in September 2010.

(Editor’s note: This article marks the debut of a new section in eSchool News, called Building Excellence, that will provide news and information to help school and district leaders as they plan, design, construct, and equip leading-edge facilities.)

Before a ribbon is sliced by comically oversized scissors, before a brick is laid or an architect is chosen, before voters approve funding for a sparkling new school building, there is only a plan.

The doors to a new school are thrown open by students, parents, and teachers many years after economic and population growth call for more classrooms in a city, town, or county. Researchers and planners use a district’s public relations apparatus to start talks with residents, myriad public forums are held, committees are formed, reports are issued, school boundaries are rearranged, architectural firms are interviewed, and finally, sometimes after five years, construction begins.

Two or three years after the first piece of sod is laid, the school opens.

Even in the nation’s slumping economy, while local and state government budgets are cut to the bone, U.S. schools and colleges are expected to spend $74 billion on renovation and construction in 2012 and $85 billion in 2013, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau projections.

Spending on school construction and renovation has dipped since the economic downturn that began in 2008, and there is some concern among superintendents that school construction funds for projects over the next decade will come with—at the very least—nominal tax increases that must be approved by a majority of voters.

That’s why officials are determined to keep the public involved and to avoid the kind of top-down approach that could alienate neighbors, parents, school board members, and state legislators.

School division officials, local planners, and other decision makers from Henrico County Public Schools, a district of 48,000 students in 71 schools north of Richmond, Va., recently guided eSchool News editors through the construction of Glen Allen High School, the county’s newest school building, which opened in September 2010.

In the process, they shared the lessons they have learned from completing many such construction projects—and the secrets of their success.

“It was really an incredibly complex and participatory process on behalf of a lot of people before it ever even got to the school board,” Henrico County Superintendent Patrick Russo said of the long process to plan and fund Glen Allen High School, now home to 1,100 students and 80 staff members. “People would be surprised by what goes into it.”


BrightLink Interactive Projectors Overview


EPSON BrightLink® Interactive Projectors un-tether teachers and make it seamless to move from computer, to document camera, to DVD, to simple on-board annotation and back again. That makes class time prime time for learning.


Can bad teachers get better? Harvard study says yes, in math

The question of what to do with bad teachers has stymied America’s education system of late, sparking chaotic protests in state capitals and vitriolic debate in a recent congressional hearing, the Huffington Post reports. It has also stoked the movement known as ‘education reform,’ which has zeroed in on teacher quality by urging school districts to sort the star teachers from the duds, and reward or punish them accordingly. The idea is that America’s schools would be able to increase their students’ test scores if only they had better teachers. Since 2007, this wave of education reformers — in particular Democrats for Education Reform, a group backed by President Barack Obama and hedge fund donors — has clashed with teachers unions in their pursuit of making the field of education as discerning in its personnel choices as, say, that of finance. Good teachers should be promoted and retained, reformers contend, instead of being treated like identical pieces on an assembly line, who are rewarded with tenure for their staying power or seniority. But what to do with the underperformers?  Different states have answered this question differently, with some instituting evaluation systems that give teachers who rank low on test scores and in classroom observations a probationary period of a few years to improve before booting them from the profession…

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