Top ed-tech news: March 2013

Here are some of the top ed-tech stories in the March 2013 issue of eSchool News.

Schools confront digital textbook challenges … Nanotechnology comes to an Illinois high school … Ed-tech consultant Alan November calls for a new approach to one-to-one computing: These are among the top ed-tech stories in the March 2013 issue of eSchool News.

The digital edition of our March issue is now available online. You can browse the full publication here, or click on any of the headlines below to read these highlights.

Schools confront digital textbook challenges

The federal Education Department has called for schools to use digital textbooks within the next five years, but what does that mean for school leaders?

For one thing, it means figuring out how to deal with a number of challenges, including—but not limited to—ensuring equitable access, overcoming budget constraints, choosing preferred device and textbook platforms, and building infrastructure and capability.

In Part 2 of our series on digital textbooks, we examine how a few forward-thinking districts are using these new instructional tools—while overcoming many hurdles in the process…

Robotics on the rise in schools

An explosion in the popularity of high school robotics teams suddenly has made it chic to be geek: Robotics team members are getting varsity letters and patches, being paraded before school assemblies like other sports stars, and seeing trophies in the same lobby display cases as their football, basketball, or baseball counterparts…

Aspiring teachers ill-prepared to use ed tech effectively

Students who are studying to become teachers use social media in their personal lives more frequently than in-service teachers do, and they want to use ed tech in their classrooms—but their teacher education programs aren’t fully preparing them to do this, according to a new report from Blackboard Inc. and Project Tomorrow…

U.S. honors digital learning

With an overwhelming 25,000 educators participating in Digital Learning Day on Feb. 6, ed-tech supporters used technology-based projects, lessons, and enthusiasm to mark what they called a perfect time to launch a national digital learning campaign…

Nanotechnology comes to an Illinois high school

Students at an Illinois high school will have an opportunity to study nanotechnology in a special lab featuring equipment that typically isn’t seen in high schools, local officials said…

Four steps to flipping the classroom

The flipped classroom, in which students watch a video explaining a particular lesson or topic at home and then come to school prepared to complete assignments related to that lesson or discuss the topic in class, is gaining ground. But how, exactly, can educators go about flipping the classroom?

Merely taking a lesson and flipping it won’t ensure success, said Shannon Holden, a middle and high school teacher and administrator in North Dakota, Texas, and Missouri for 20 years. During an edWeb webinar, Holden outlined four basic steps that educators can take to ensure that their flipped classroom experiments are successful and resonate with students…

How to engage girls with gaming

Many people associate video games and gaming with boys, but researchers have discovered that girls become just as engaged when playing interactive educational games featuring certain motivating elements…

Beyond one-to-one computing: Time for a new approach

Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement, ed-tech consultant Alan November argues. Unless clear goals across the curriculum are articulated at the outset, one-to-one computing becomes simply “spray and pray”…


Launching a district data warehousing project

A redesign of a school district’s information systems is always a challenge, but Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WSFCS) was further complicated by rapid growth, changing demographics and school choice. WSFCS is the fifth-largest system in North Carolina, with 80 schools and approximately 52,000 students and 8,000 teachers and administrators. The system gains about 500 students a year, so new schools are regularly being opened.

In a district with significant ethnic and socio-economic diversity, it is critical to have more than percentages and summaries of student achievement, but to know which students and teachers might need extra help. Distribution of students changes, sometimes markedly. Parents can choose from their neighborhood schools, another school in their zones, or from 15 magnet programs.

Despite dynamic growth and change, and faced with a hodgepodge of disparate data sources and ad hoc processes, WSFCS was able to create a unified information infrastructure that now delivers meaningful, interactive, visual reports to support data-driven decisions. How did we do it?

Redefining the information environment

Find and evaluate the current data sources.
Five years ago, the WSFCS director of accountability, superintendent and director of curriculum spent a year studying the district’s different data sources. The result was scary. The data was everywhere, fragmented and overlapping. They needed to pull all of it together.

(Next page: More steps and tips)


Using Data to Boost Student Engagement and Retention

 Identify at-risk students and intervene early with IBM SPSS Decision Management for Student Retention
Student attrition is a costly problem for many colleges and universities. According to a recent survey, only two-thirds of enrolled students are retained from their freshman to sophomore year. The loss of these students also means the loss of tuition revenue, higher costs for recruiting new students and a devalued school reputation as dropout rates rise. With IBM SPSS Decision Management for Student Retention, your institution’s administrators and faculty can reach out to students early, when they first show signs of at-risk behavior for dropping out. This solution identifies key variables that lead to success and failure, and helps guide administrators with data-driven recommendations that improve retention and keep students enrolled.


Lawmakers mull changing school bargaining law

The largest teachers union in Kansas is warning of a “war” on educators as the Republican-dominated Legislature considers a proposal that would narrow contract negotiations between teachers and public school districts, the Associated Press reports. The proposal, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, would reduce the number of issues that teachers’ groups could negotiate with local school boards. For example, teachers would still be able to negotiate such things as pay and sick leave, but no longer on how they are evaluated. Supporters of the legislation recently asked for suggestions from the union after a backlash and have slowed the measure’s progress, but they are still determined to reduce teachers’ bargaining rights, said Karen Godfrey, president of the 25,000-member Kansas National Education Association…

Click here for the full story


Opinion: Why the ‘learning pyramid’ is wrong

A lot of people believe that the “learning pyramid” that lists learning scenarios and average student retention rates is reliable, says the Washington Post. Here’s cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham to explain why it isn’t. Willingham is professor and director of graduate studies in psychology at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?” His newly published book is “When Can You Trust The Experts? How to tell good science from bad in education.” This appeared on his Science and Education blog

Click here for the full story


Apple will reportedly launch new iPad next month, iPad mini sequel possible as well

April may not be the cruelest month for iPad fans this year, BGR News reports. Unnamed sources have told iMore’s Rene Ritchie that Apple (AAPL) plans to release the next iPad as soon as this April, which will presumably include both the fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad and perhaps the second-generation iPad mini. Ritchie says that while he’s fairly confident that Apple will launch a redesigned version of the 9.7-inch iPad next month, he’s not as confident that Apple is yet ready to take the wraps off a Retina-equipped version of the iPad mini.

“Retina for the iPad mini, however, still doesn’t sound imminent,” Ritchie writes. “Apple is not going to release iPads that costs [sic] more or don’t get as good battery life as the current models. So, if the next iPad mini does end up getting slated for April, it could be a spec bump, or have something other than Retina as a differentiator…”

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12 year-old has higher IQ than Einstein, Hawking

Move over Albert Einstein, Neha Ramu has you beat, the Huffington Post reports. Ramu, 12, achieved the highest possible score of 162 on the Mensa IQ test, the Telegraph reports. To put it in perspective, that’s a higher IQ than Einstein, Bill Gates or Stephen Hawking, who are all believed to have a score around 160. The high score places Ramu, the daughter of Indian eye specialists in London, in the top 1 percent of intelligence ratings among people in the United Kingdom, according to Asian News International. Ramu’s parents told the Telegraph they didn’t realize their daughter was so gifted until she scored 280/280 on an entrance exam for Tiffin Girls‘, a high-achieving grammar school…

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Schools shift from textbooks to tablets

Discovery Education updated its digital textbooks to incorporate Superstorm Sandy within weeks of the storm making landfall.

Well before the cleanup from Superstorm Sandy was in full swing, students could read about the weather system that slammed the East Coast in their textbooks.

Welcome to the new digital bookcase, where traditional ink-and-paper textbooks have given way to iPads and book bags are getting lighter. Publishers update students’ books almost instantly with the latest events or research. Schools are increasingly looking to handheld tablets as a way to sustain students’ interest, reward their achievements and, in some cases, actually keep per-student costs down.

“We must use technology to empower teachers and improve the way students learn,” said Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chief who now leads News Corp.’s education tablet program. “At its best, education technology will change the face of education by helping teachers manage the classroom and personalize instruction.”

News Corp. officials planned to debut their Amplify tablet during a breakfast March 6 at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. Priced at $299, the 10-inch unit runs on a school’s wireless internet system and comes with software for teachers to watch each student’s activities, offer instant polls, and provide anonymous quizzes to gauge student understanding.

Orders placed by June 30 will be ready for the start of the school year in the fall, officials at Rupert Murdoch’s company said ahead of the official announcement, adding yet another platform for schools to consider.

Putting a device in every student’s hand is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. Some 2,000 schools already have partnered with Google to use its lightweight Chromebooks, which start at $199. Some 20 million students and teachers are already using them, company officials said.

And a study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that more than 40 percent of students or teachers use some sort of tablet in their Advanced Placement and National Writing Project classrooms.

“When you think about it, these are AP classes and National Writing Project classes, and four in 10 say they are using these devices,” said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “That’s six in 10 who aren’t using them. We still have a lot of room for growth.”

In coming years, growth seems to be the norm.

(Next page: A look at schools’ plans to adopt tablets—and some keys to success)


GOP budget plan includes no additional money for education

Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a budget plan that restores funding for defense and border security but adds no new funding for education, reports the Associated Press.

House Republicans on March 4 moved to ease a crunch in Pentagon readiness while limiting the pain felt by such agencies as the FBI and the Border Patrol from the across-the-board spending cuts that are just starting to take effect.

The effort is part of a huge spending measure that would fund day-to-day federal operations through September—and head off a potential government shutdown later this month.

The measure would leave in place automatic cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 7.8 percent to the Pentagon ordered by President Barack Obama on March 1 after months of battling over the budget. But the House Republicans’ legislation would award the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments their detailed 2013 budgets, giving those agencies more flexibility on where money is spent, while other agencies would be frozen at 2012 levels—and then bear the across-the-board cuts…

To read the full story, click here.