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Opening day at the School of the Future, bad batteries, and a Web 2.0 confab for educators. Plus: parent's attitudes toward cell phones in class.

But Will There Be Tchotchkes?

By Amy Poftak

Prepare to get geeky. This month ushers in the first-ever online convention to discuss Web 2.0 tools in K-12 education and beyond. K12 Online 2006 plans to offer daily presentations, fireside chats, and "parties" delivered via — what else? — Web 2.0 tools such as podcasts, blogs, wikis, and screencasts. "We've received proposals from North America and Bangladesh and know of others planning to submit proposals from India, the United Kingdom, and China," says conference co-organizer Darren Kuropatwa. The free digital confab will take place October 23-27 and October 30-November 3 and can be accessed at www.k12online conference.org. (To read more about Web 2.0 apps in K-12, see A Day in the Life of Web 2.0)

Total Recall

By Emilia Thiuri

Back to school was not a good time for laptop and laptop battery manufacturers. In mid-August, Dell recalled 4.1 million Sony lithium ion batteries. Almost two weeks later, Apple recalled 1.8 million batteries, and then in mid-September Toshiba recalled 340,000 Sony batteries. The Apple and Dell batteries can catch fire, or worse, explode; the Toshiba batteries have trouble charging. Schools using affected notebooks should check company Web sites for information about which batteries are affected and the exchange process. Apple and Dell advise powering affected notebooks with AC adapters until replacement batteries arrive. "The impact on the district was not of great significance," says Susan Holliday, director of education technology for the Capistrano Unified School District in California. Holliday says Dell and Apple have already sent replacement batteries for the district's affected machines.

Poll: Parents Support Student Cell Phones

By Laurie Sullivan, courtesy TechWeb

It caught Gail McManus off guard the first time a cellular phone rang in her 3rd-grade class at Iva Meairs Elementary School. The eight- and nine-year old students don't always follow the Garden Grove, California, school rule to turn off all cell phones and place them in their backpacks during class time.

"Yes, parents want their kids to have a cellular phone at school for emergencies," McManus says. "But for kids, it's become their life, a connection with friends. We get too many disturbances and distractions during class. Cell phones are one more."

After polling 1,000 U.S. parents online, a study released by ACE*COMM Corp. of Gaithersburg, Maryland, found 95 percent of parents would rather they remain in control of their child's cell-phone use rather than have the school set the rules, citing safety and scheduling concerns.

Ninety-nine percent of parents surveyed want communications to remain open during the day in case of an emergency. And 84 percent of parents want their child to have a cell phone during school hours in case of schedule changes.

Although parents want their children to have access to cell phones at school, they aren't blind to the distractions the devices can create in the classroom. According to the survey, 66 percent are concerned their children overuse text messaging or cell phones instead of focusing on school or homework.

Parents also worry their kids will use cell phones to cheat at school. Thirty-nine percent of parents who have boys are concerned about cheating on tests by text messaging or cell phone, compared with 31 percent of parents with girls.

Quote of the Month

"This wasn't about Microsoft money. This was about Microsoft smarts...they gave us their smart people, and their smart people helped us design this building, helped us manage the project, helped us design the classrooms, helped show us how to use technology not only to improve the operations of the school but to improve instruction, improve student learning, and to improve the connection between the classroom and the home."

— Paul Vallas, CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, speaking at the opening ceremonies of the city's new School of the Future (www.microsoft.com/education/schooloffuture.mspx) on September 7. The $63 million high-tech high is the culmination of three years of planning and development. The district paid for the construction of the school; Microsoft provided consulting and project management resources.

Schools Narrowing the Gap

By Amy Poftak

New data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests schools are one place where the digital divide isn't so pronounced. The study, which used 2003 population data to examine the computing habits of kids from nursery school through 12th grade, found stark differences between home and school technology access for certain groups. For example, 48 percent of Hispanic students, 46 percent of black students, and 43 percent of Native Americans use computers at home, compared to 79 percent of whites and 74 percent of Asians. At school, however, 80 percent of Hispanics, 82 percent of blacks, and 83 percent of Native Americans use computers — almost in line with their white (85 percent) and Asian (79 percent) peers. Not surprisingly, the study also found computer and Internet use divided along other lines, including family income, parental education, and household language.

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