News and Trends(2)

Video Game Backlash?

By: Mark Smith

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill passed by the California State Legislature in September aimed at curbing the rental and sale of violent video games to minors.

Assembly Bill 1179 levies $1,000 fines to companies that rent or sell video games that depict "heinous" and "depraved" depictions of violence. Congressional leaders such as Sen. Hillary Clinton have spoken out against violent games in the past year, and U.S. Rep. Joe Baca of California introduced legislation in July that would direct the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the industry's ratings system.

Bill MacKenty, an educator in Martha's Vineyard, writes extensively about video games in the classroom on his blog ( Although he is a harsh critic of violent video games, MacKenty worries that such high-profile legislation could have a negative effect on efforts to integrate legitimate games into the classroom.

"There is a meaningful place for games in education," MacKenty writes. "This legislation certainly doesn't help comfort parents that games are useful learning tools."

James Paul Gee, who leads the Games and Professional Practice Simulations program at the University of Wisconsin, argues that games-even violent ones-are not inherently bad or good.

"Any learning, whether it's books, a movie, or a game, can lead to bad or good results depending on the environment in which it's [played], not the game itself," said Gee in an interview with T&L sibling publication Game Developer. "It's not the game that leads you to violence or even that leads you to good effects-it's the context."

IBM's New Retirement Plan

By: Amy Poftak

IBM's recent announcement that it would help its employees become teachers reflects the convergence of two major trends: a dearth of qualified math and science teachers across the country and the pressures facing organizations with a raft of employees approaching retirement age. The company's Transition to Teaching program, which will train 100 participants to start, seeks to address these concerns by reimbursing employees $15,000 for tuition and stipends and letting them take courses while still working at the company. "Many of our experienced employees have math and science backgrounds and have made it clear that when they are ready to leave IBM they aren't ready to stop contributing," said IBM president Stanley Litow in a statement.

Wireless on the Rise

By: Amy Poftak

A recent Market Data Retrieval survey confirms that wireless networks in schools are becoming more the rule than the exception. According to MDR's K-12 Technology Review 2004-2005 report, 45 percent of schools use wireless networks, compared to 10 percent in 2001. The survey uncovered growth across all school types but noted that senior high schools (54 percent) have higher wireless adoption rates than elementary schools (40 percent).

Quotation of the Month

"Impossible at MIT is a code word for 'do it.'" — Nicholas Negroponte, in his keynote speech at the Technology Review's Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT this September.

Blog Watch

"Each morning I give my kids approximately 20 minutes of silent reading time in class, but they usually have the option of blogging during this time if they can manage to get a sign-up space on one of our classroom computers." — Remote Access;

"I think we are long past due for the creation of teaching positions that come with more responsibility and higher pay and yet are not administrative positions. Too many good teachers become bad administrators because it's the only place to go after 15 years of teaching... and lord knows, most of us newer teachers could benefit from someone more experienced providing support and modeling." — Ms. Frizzle;

"The more we set technology apart from the rest of school life by making all sorts of special rules about it, the more marginalized technology becomes with respect to the curriculum and the more likely it is that students will view the rules as yet another reason that school is irrelevant. Does your high school ban iPods or other MP3 players from the hallways during passing time? I know of some that do. Have you walked down the sidewalk of a major metropolitan area lately? Those aren't cotton balls in everyone's ears." — The Savvy Technologist;

The $100 Laptop

By: Amy Poftak

MIT is one step closer to rolling out the mother of all laptop programs. At the school's recent Emerging Technologies Conference, MIT Media Lab chairman Nicholas Negroponte made public details about its One Laptop Per Child nonprofit initiative (, a gargantuan effort to put computers in the hands of 15 million children in the developing world. The star of Negroponte's speech was the $100 laptop that's going to make it all possible. Among the notable features of the Linux-based machine are a 500 MHz processor, Wi-Fi and cell phone connectivity, and a windup hand crank that serves as a backup power source. The laptops will be sold in large volume to ministries of education in developing countries who adopt a "One Laptop per Child" policy, and here at home, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has proposed snapping up the laptops for his state's middle and high school students in 2007. Look for a prototype to be ready this month, with mass production starting in late 2006.

Beyond BASIC

By: Alexander Wolfe, TechWeb News

Microsoft has signed on to promote a new programming language intended to replace BASIC as the first step students take toward learning how to write code.

The Kid's Programming Language (, or KPL, was developed under the direction of Jonah Stagner and his colleagues, ex-Microsoft program manager Jon Schwartz and former NCR engineer Walt Morrison. The three run the software consultancy firm Morrison-Schwartz.

"One of the things we realized is that we all learned programming on some flavor of BASIC when we started. You're not going to learn how to program in BASIC anymore," said Morrison. "We wanted something that isn't 20 years old; modern technology that uses an integrated development environment, so we can take our kids and move them directly from this to the .NET environment." [Morrison was speaking figuratively; BASIC was originally devised in the early 1960s at Dartmouth.]

Along with English, versions of KPL are available in German, Swedish, Polish, and Romanian.

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