News and Trends(23)

from Technology & Learning

What's New

The SPARK Science Learning System PASCO Scientific ($299, available fall 2008)

The SPARK Science Learning System wants to put the whole lab in students' hands—from data collection to teacher assessment. The device combines PASCO probeware with a Linux mobile operating system that will run more than 60 pre-installed SPARKlabs, standards-based science curricula guides. The high-resolution screen will show results in multiple formats at the same time. The rugged and simple device is ready for outdoor use with minimal training.

In its fifth annual survey of more than 367,000 educators and students, Project Tomorrow found a growing "digital disconnect" between what role technology should play in the classroom and how well schools are preparing students for the workplace. While 66 percent of school administrators think their schools are "doing a good job preparing students for the jobs and careers of the future," more than 40 percent of middle and high school students said teachers actually limit their use of technology. In addition, 45 percent of middle and high school students indicated that tools meant to protect them, such as firewalls and filters, actually inhibit their learning.

The Consortium for School Networking's latest initiative is designed to help superintendents build their knowledge and skills to become more effective, visionary technology leaders. "Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent" will provide superintendents with the latest tools and resources to understand the transformative role of education technology and jumpstart an in-depth discussion about the common educational issues superintendents face and how technology can address those issues. To support the initiative, the Pearson Foundation and CoSN developed a four- minute video that presents superintendents' personal thoughts about their own roles as catalysts for 21st-century learning.

Virginia is the first state to mandate Internet safety classes at all grade levels. The concerns about the increased levels of threat children face as they surf the Net—from inappropriate contact via e-mail, phishing scams, and the potential dangers of social networking sites. While Virginia is the only state to require online safety education, Texas and Illinois have passed Internet safety education laws and several other states have passed anti-cyberbullying measures.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded more than $1.8 million to the Indiana University School of Education to expand the immersive learning environment Quest Atlantis. Quest Atlantis is a National Science Foundation-funded learning and teaching project that uses a 3-D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9 to 12, in educational tasks. Currently more than 4,500 registered users from five continents use Quest Atlantis in formal school environments as well as in after-school settings.

The Software & Information Industry Association launched its Vision K–20 Initiative last month, which is designed to serve as a guide for educational institutions to implement technology district- and campus-wide. To achieve its vision for K–20 education, SIIA has laid out a number of goals for the education community to reach within 3–5 years, including wide use of 21st-century tools, mastering differentiated learning options and resources to close achievement gaps, employing technologybased assessment tools, and using technology to enable the enterprise. For more information, go to

Cell Division

To ban or not to ban? Some districts keep mobile phones from school grounds. Others write curricula for them.

Since January, a high school in Craik, Saskatchewan, has instituted a pilot project to make phones a part of the curriculum. So far, students have been using the phones' calendar and alarm functions for class, and texting responses to questions teachers pose about books they have been studying. The program's effectiveness will be evaluated this summer.

Correlieu Secondary School in Quesnel, British Columbia, has banned phones in response to a flurry of schoolyard fights recorded by cell phone cameras, which were then posted to YouTube. The Quesnel School Board is considering the measure that every school have a policy on "electronically posting material on the Web or transmitting material by cell phones that threatens, demeans, or bullies another student, staff member or the school."

Three middle schools and three charter schools in Brooklyn, New York, started a pilot program in direct opposition of New York City's public schools' cell-phone ban. The schools gave 2,500 free cell phones to students, preloaded with 130 minutes of talk time. Students will be rewarded with additional minutes in return for good behavior, attendance, homework, and test scores. Teachers, meanwhile, can send text messages to students to remind them of assignments or upcoming exams. The $2 million program was funded by private donors through the Fund for Public Schools.

In Florida's Hernando County, 27 students recently had the results of their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests invalidated for violating a state ban on cell phones and electronic devices during testing that went into effect last fall. Students will also face school discipline for ignoring the rule.

Even people driving by schools are feeling the heat. Several Texas districts, including those in Dallas, Duncanville, Highland Park, University Park, and Flower Mound, have approved measures to issue citations to drivers specifically using handheld cell phones in school zones. In West University Place, Texas, the ban has been extended to hands-free phones as well.


Made in Japan

Can cell phones, Game Boys, and other personal devices actually make people smarter? Is there really a role these small, ubiquitous, and flexible machines can play in the classroom?

The Japanese seem to think so. Game manufacturer Nintendo first pioneered what is known as the "brain fitness software market" in 2005 with titles like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy. Based on the research of Ryuta Kawashima, a neuroscientist at Tohoku University, the theory behind the games is that daily puzzle practice helps adults strengthen and maintain their mental abilities.

The Nintendo DS is a natural device for this sort of brain game. Students can take this handheld console almost anywhere and fit a little gametime into their busy days. With dual screens that can accommodate left- and right-handers, a microphone for speech recognition, and handwriting capabilities, the DS lets players use multiple senses to solve the puzzles.

A typical starting exercise is a Stroop Test—which presents conflicting inputs to test reaction times. For example, the player might see the word "red" in blue type and have to speak the correct word into the microphone. The game measures the response time to judge how a player is improving over time at handling the conflicting messages.

Brain Age has sold more than 11.7 million copies worldwide. Its success led to a slew of other education products. This past January, Benesse Corp released an 18-title series for middle school students that covers Japanese, math, English, science, and social studies. The software is linked to most of the major textbooks used in the market. For example, a relevant English workbook page can be presented on the DS screen, saving the student the grief of lugging the text around and providing contextually relevant practice as needed. Textbook publisher Yamakawa Shuppansha in partnership with Namco Bandai Games has also begun to publish several titles that deal with Japanese and world history.

Lee Wilson

WEB 2.0


New online applications like MIT's Exhibit are making it easier to create useful, interactive, graphical models when teaching (

According to project author and MIT student David Huynh, Exhibit was created to provide a way for people to graphically display sets of data without having to know any real programming skills. Any student or teacher with a basic knowledge of HTML can take a spreadsheet full of information and easily turn it into an interactive online exhibit that can sort and display the data graphically.

When loaded in Exhibit, the details in a set of data can be viewed in many different layouts, including timelines, maps, and tables. Exhibit makes it very easy to search for or select specific details from each set of data. Several great examples of the power of the Exhibit software can be seen on the MIT Simile Project's Web site.

Teachers and students can get started right away with Exhibit by copying and pasting code from the tutorials that are found on the Web site. A GUI-based interface for creating Exhibits is also being developed.

Chad Criswell

The Next Dimension

Searching for education application in the virtual world.

The earliest baby boomer remembers donning funny glasses to watch 3-D movies in the '50s or visiting Disneyland to see a holographically generated Abraham Lincoln deliver his Gettysburg Address. Computer games are equally familiar to us. Who hasn't played the virtual version of solitaire? And no doubt you've dabbled with simulations from Oregon Trail to SimCity, and the avant-garde is already exploring EVE Online and Second Life.

What's new is the merging of these technologies to make possible new kinds of collaboration—even in education.

"Interesting things are happening now," says Michael Roberts, a researcher at Palo Alto Research Center. "We're just seeing the merging of the Web 2.0 social networks with virtual environments. People are actually building things together in a social sense."

Before, people playing online games would enter and experience environments constructed by specialists. "Now," says Roberts, "people are building the environments themselves. Lots of people are present and constructing, placing objects, moving things around, building buildings." It is, as they say, a whole new ballgame.

Business has already entered this new environment. For example, IBM has a sales center in Second Life and Toyota markets heavily in virtual worlds frequented by young people. Sun Microsystems is building its own collaborative world in which employees can do all the same things they might do in the office, from working together on projects to chatting at the water cooler.

"The cost is very high right now, even with the so-called free ones," says Roberts. "If you want to produce the assets and code to run these things, it is very expensive. But I think we'll see an expansion of free or low-cost environments, and the cost of creating your own will come down with time."

And as the cost comes down, the chances grow that virtual worlds will work in education. NASA, in fact, announced plans recently to create a virtual world for students that would enable them to do all sorts of things from tinkering with reactions in living cells to practicing operating and repairing expensive equipment to experiencing microgravity.

PARC's Roberts sees all sorts of educational applications. Elementary school students might examine or create objects in playful settings. Middle and high school students might create all sorts of examples of concepts in physics and math.

Collaborative virtual worlds afford students the opportunity to look inside things and see how they work. "It's a counterpoint to the consumer culture that just wants to sell you a new thing," Roberts says. "You buy it and it does what it does, and there is no way to repurpose it. Part of our job is to create things that do come apart and are programmable in some way. For example, you could never take apart a nanotechnology device in a real world, but you could in a virtual world."

By Michael Simkins

Michael Simkins is co-director of the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership at Santa Cruz County Office of Education.


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Old School

T&L's 10th-anniversary edition in September 1990 heralded a big announcement. News editors reported that IBM was introducing two new cutting-edge desktop models for both the home and education markets. The PS/1 and PS/2 sported some hefty stats:

  • 512k or 1 megabyte of standard RAM memory
  • 30-megabyte fixed disk hard drive
  • standard 2400-baud modem

T&L also pointed out another innovative feature. "To ensure that the PS/1 is usable as soon as it is taken out of the box, IBM has included several special software programs in ROM. As a result, the computer can be booted without a system disk: As soon as the user turns on the machine, the screen displays a user- friendly, point-and-click menu that makes it easy to run various application programs." If only Vista were that easy!

Get that Grant

©Miroslav Georgijevic/

Five steps you can take this summer to find the money for your classroom.

As summer approaches, teachers often have more time to plan activities and look for ways to fund them. What can you do during the summer months to get ready for new grant opportunities?

Create a toolkit.
If at first you don't probably tell your students to keep trying, but do you practice what you preach? Vacation is a good time to create a grant toolkit. Your toolkit will include a basic proposal refined and polished (reviewed by friends), a list of target grants, and a calendar of deadlines.

Schedule research time.
So many resources, so little time. The Internet is filled with grant listings, workshops, guides, and people who can help with grant writing and research. The amount of information can be overwhelming. If you schedule some time and set a few goals, you can narrow your research more quickly and focus on what will help get funding for your classroom.

Set your own deadlines.
Many foundations offer ongoing grant giving programs with rolling deadlines or no deadlines. They often fall below the radar without a pending date to apply. When you discover one of these programs, set your own deadline during the summer and be sure to apply.

Work together.
Exciting projects that require team teaching often don't happen because of a lack of planning during the busy school year. If you and your colleagues have a great idea, schedule time during the summer to make a plan for the next year. Working together on researching and writing grants makes the process more fun, more creative, and often more successful.

Subscribe to a grants bulletin.
When the year gets started again, it's easy to lose track of the deadlines for the best grants. There are many grants bulletins and alerts that can help. Find one that has the most relevant grants and sign up.

—Karen Greenwood Henke Karen Greenwood Henke runs Grant Wrangler, a grants and awards listing service for teachers.

Free Money
Contests, grants, and other ways to get the bucks.

Math and science teachers of grades K–12 are encouraged to apply for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Prizes for up to 108 national awardees include a $10,000 award and a paid trip for two to Washington, DC. Deadline: May 1, 2008

CDW-G "Win A Wireless Lab" Sweepstakes will award five grand-prize wireless labs valued at more than $50,000 each. Each lab includes 20 laptop or notebook computers, an interactive whiteboard, mobile cart, projector, printer, wireless access points, portable document camera, digital camcorder, digital camera, and a $5,000 Discovery Education digital media grant. In addition, there will be five interactive whiteboard contest drawings, one per month through May 2008, and more than 20 additional secondary prizes. Deadline: May 1, 2008

Students in grades 9–12 (ages 14–19) are encouraged to apply for the Adobe School Innovation Awards. This year's theme is "My Community—My Planet—My 21st Century" and students should submit entries in three categories: Web Design and Development, Film and Video, and Graphic and Print Design. Category winners will receive $1,500, a Lenovo laptop, and a copy of Creative Suite 3 Master Collection. The grand-prize winner will be invited to attend NECC, including airfare and hotel accommodations. Deadline: May 12, 2008

Young people (ages 13–22) may be nominated for a Brower Youth Award in the fields of environmental and social justice advocacy. Earth Island Institute established the Brower Youth Awards to honor founder and legendary activist David R. Brower. Six winners each receive a $3,000 cash award and other prizes. Deadline: May 15, 2008