Providence is top city in contest of ideas

When Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, R.I., got wind of a lucrative contest among mayors over ideas for improving their cities, his mind turned immediately to children, the New York Times reports. A product of Head Start and later Harvard University, Mr. Taveras had been longing to do something for children whose parents could not afford preschool. His idea, using some spiffy technology to track the number of words that children 5 and under are exposed to each day, won his city first place and $5 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, which oversaw the contest. Four other cities — Houston, Chicago, Santa Monica, Calif., and Philadelphia — were whittled down from more than 300 that competed for the innovation grants at a time when most American cities are struggling to pay for existing programs to improve life there, let alone establish new ones. Those cities will get $1 million to get their new projects going. “As cities are seeing cutbacks,” Mr. Taveras said, “it’s critically important to create innovation.”

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Apple’s iPad to fall behind Android as tablet war grows

Shipments of tablets running Google Inc’s Android will overtake the iPad this year for the first time, research house IDC predicted on Tuesday, as Apple Inc cedes more mobile market share to hard-charging rivals around the globe, Reuters reports. A growing variety of smaller and cheaper Android tablets from Google to Amazon.com Inc will catch on this year with more consumers and chip away at Apple’s dominance since the first iPad launched in 2010, International Data Corp said. iPad and iPhone shipments are expected to keep growing at enviable rates, but arch-rival Samsung Electronics and others have hurt Apple with a combination of savvy marketing, greater variety and rapid technology adoption. On Thursday, Samsung takes the wraps off the fourth generation of its flagship Galaxy, the smartphone that helped the South Korean giant knock the iPhone off its top ranking for part of last year…

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Seven facts about K-12 ed-tech leaders

Ed-tech leaders still face tough budget constraints.

School district technology leaders aren’t too optimistic that their ed-tech budgets will increase over the next year, and funding remains among the top challenges that face ed-tech leaders, according to the Consortium for School Networking’s first annual K-12 IT Leadership Survey, released at CoSN’s annual conference in San Diego.

CoSN hopes the results will help K-12 decision-makers better evaluate how technology can affect teaching and learning.

“This first-ever, annual survey identifies key challenges faced by school district IT leaders and provides key baseline data around where we are with technology leadership in school systems today. The data will measure our progress toward making technology an integral component of 21st-century teaching and learning,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive.

Here are seven key findings from the survey:

Eighty percent of school district IT leaders predict flat or declining ed-tech budgets.

While respondents’ ed-tech budgets ranged from less than $100,000 to more than $1 million, the survey notes, four out of five respondents said their ed-tech budgets will remain the same, or will be even tighter, in the near future.

When asked to name their top three priorities for the 2012-13 school year, K-12 technology leaders identified Bring Your Own Device programs, assessment readiness, and broadband access.

This focus on assessment readiness is a reflection of the Common Core State Standards and its use of online assessments in 2014. Research has revealed that many school districts do not yet have the bandwidth to support online testing for students.

Budget and resource limitations, changing the culture of teaching, and breaking down district-wide barriers are ed-tech leaders’ biggest challenges.

“IT leaders did not identify any of the traditional business and administrative initiatives (like payroll or HR) among their most pressing challenges, reflecting the move in IT to a focus on the learning environment,” according to the report.

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Ed-tech leaders brace for online testing

Having so many students taking online exams at the same time will cause a huge strain on school networks, ed-tech leaders fear.

What keeps ed-tech leaders up at night? Making sure their schools are prepared to roll out high-stakes testing to students online by the 2014-15 school year is a chief concern, said panelists during a March 11 session at the Consortium for School Networking’s 2013 national conference in San Diego.

Two multi-state consortia, the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, are developing next-generation assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and students in more than 40 states will take the tests online beginning in 2014.

But having so many students taking online exams at the same time will cause a huge strain on school networks, ed-tech leaders fear.

Alabama is unique in that it supports the Common Core standards but does not belong to either PARCC or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said Donna Williamson, technology director for the Mountain Brook City Board of Education. Instead, the state is developing its own high-stakes test to be given online.

What Williamson fears most are the “unknown and unintended consequences” of moving forward with online testing at such a huge scale, she told conference attendees. She added: “We’ve never tried to test this many students online at once before.”

Her district has a 10-gigabit network backbone, but she’s still concerned. Once the students’ test responses leave the district, “there are so many things I can’t control,” she noted.

Jason Mooneyham, executive director of education programs for computer manufacturer Lenovo, said the good news is that “the race to high-stakes online testing has led to more investment in school networks.” But this shift is happening so quickly that it’s causing a huge challenge for ed-tech leaders, he added.

School district CTOs should carefully “test the testing. Test the bandwidth,” Mooneyham advised.

Bandwidth and other infrastructure challenges aren’t the only concerns that ed-tech leaders have about online testing.

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More teens use smart phones to get online

One in four youths ages 12 to 17 say they get online mostly through mobile devices.

Keep computers in a common area so you can monitor what your kids are doing: It’s a long-standing directive for online safety—but one that’s quickly becoming moot as more young people have mobile devices, often with internet access.

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 78 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 now have cell phones. Nearly half of those are smart phones, a share that’s increasing steadily—and that’s having a big effect on how, and where, many young people are accessing the web.

The survey, released March 13, finds that one in four young people say they are “cell-mostly” internet users, a percentage that increases to about half when the phone is a smart phone.

In comparison, just 15 percent of adults said they access the internet mostly by cell phone.

“It’s just part of life now,” says Donald Conkey, a high school sophomore in Wilmette, Ill., just north of Chicago, who is among the many teens who have smart phones. “Everyone’s about the same now when it comes to their phones—they’re on them a lot.”

He and other teens say that if you add up all the time they spend using apps and searching for info, texting, and downloading music and videos, they’re on their phones for at least a couple hours each day—and that time is only increasing, they say.

“The occasional day where my phone isn’t charged or I leave it behind, it feels almost as though I’m naked in public,” says Michael Weller, a senior at New Trier High School, where Conkey also attends. “I really need to have that connection and that attachment to my phone all the time.”

According to the survey, older teen girls, ages 14 to 17, were among the most likely to say their phones were the primary way they access the web. And while young people in low-income households were still somewhat less likely to use the internet, those who had phones were just as likely—and in some cases, more likely—to use their cell phones as the main way they access the web.

It means that, as this young generation of “mobile surfers” grows and comes of age, the way corporations do business and marketers advertise will only continue to evolve, as will the way mobile devices are monitored.

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Discovery Ed expands Techbooks to include math

Math Techbooks offers interactivity to boost student engagement.

Discovery Education has announced that it will expand its digital textbook series to include mathematics.  The Math Techbook is the latest addition to the company’s Techbook line, which now includes K-12 science and middle school social studies offerings.

In response to input from educators across the country, Discovery Education’s first Math Techbooks, launching in 2014, will address middle and high school mathematics subjects with six specific courses: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math, and Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry for high school.

Built in conjunction with a team of experts, including educators, students, and technologists, Discovery Education Math Techbook will provide students interactive, engaging learning experiences that help support their procedural skills, fluency, understanding of theoretical mathematics concepts and ability to solve real-world problems.

“Mooresville students have been using the Discovery Education Techbook series and have seen great results.  It has brought instruction alive for our teachers and increased students’ engagement and interest,” said Mooresville Graded School District’s Superintendent and the American Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year, Mark Edwards.

(Next page: More details on the Techbook series)

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Student class project leads to minimum wage jump

If anyone deserves an A+ this week it’s Marisela Castro, a daughter of farmworkers who turned her Social Action class project at San Jose State University into a campaign to increase the local minimum wage, the Associated Press reports. On Monday her activism paid off, as 70,000 workers in San Jose enjoyed the nation’s single largest minimum-wage increase, a 25 percent raise from $8 to $10 an hour, amounting to a $4,000 annual bump in pay for a full time worker to $22,080.

“I never doubted for a minute we could make this happen,” said Castro, 28, who grew up in agriculture-rich Gilroy, where her parents and at times Castro picked garlic, lettuce and other vegetables in nearby fields.

While putting herself through college in 2011, Castro worked at an after-school program with low-income children who slipped snacks into their backpacks because there wasn’t enough food at home. Meanwhile in her sociology classes she was reading about how a minimum wage job leaves workers — especially those in one of the wealthiest regions of the country — in severe poverty…

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Tableau Software: Analytics for everyone, now free for students and teachers

Tableau Software recently announced that it would begin giving away its Tableau Desktop analytics software, says Christopher Dawson for ZDNet Education. Having spent some time with the tool, I can say that this could mark a turning point in the way students think about data. My masters degree has been languishing for years. I’ve completed all of the coursework and only needed to write a thesis. I just couldn’t manage to prioritize it over writing jobs that actually paid me. And then Tableau Software reached out to me a couple weeks ago about their new initiative to help students and teachers begin using their desktop analytics product for free and, in turn, learn about big data hands on. Suddenly, I had a project I couldn’t resist. A student’s and teacher’s guide to data analytics using Tableau with public datasets…

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Texas district creates school SWAT team

A Texas school district has assembled a SWAT team to bolster school safety, local NBC affiliate KVEO reports. The decision comes after the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Huffington Post reports. Following the Connecticut massacre, the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District dispatched police officers to all its elementary schools in order to strengthen security. Though the project, dubbed Operation Safeguard, was suspended in January after Edinburg CISD police chief Rick Perez announced schools were safe, the district decided to put together a special SWAT — Special Weapons And Tactics — unit to prepare for potential future threats. According to school officials, the district’s proximity to the United States-Mexico border was also a factor in the decision, ABC affiliate KRGV reports…

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Watch: School goes makeup-free for one day

How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? According to a student-made video by the teens at Plano Senior High School in Texas, girls from the school take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to get ready for school in the morning, the Huffington Post reports. However, when male students were interviewed, they said it only took them between 10 and 25 minutes. This discovery inspired them to create “Operation Beautiful,” a school-wide initiative encouraging PSHS students to go makeup-free for 24 hours on Friday. For students Madeline Milby, Binna Kim and Monica Plenger, the goal was to focus on their inner-beauty and encourage girls to cut down on the hours they spend putting on makeup and doing their hair.

“I think there’s pressure for girls to look a certain way, to meet a standard. The standard is being pushed through media and magazines and everything,” Milby told ABC News. “I’m really hoping it’ll make the girls at school feel more comfortable and see that they’re beautiful without makeup and they don’t need to use makeup to cover up themselves.”

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