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Week of: April 28, 2008 What's New The SPARK Science Learning System PASCO Scientific ($299, available fall 2008) wants to put the whole lab in students' hands—from data collection to teacher assessment. The device combines PASCO probeware with a Linux mobile
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Week of: April 28, 2008

  • What's New
    The SPARK Science Learning System PASCO Scientific ($299, available fall 2008) 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.
  • Web 2.0
    Check out Exhibit, the latest in online applications that make it easy and fun to create interactive, graphical models.
  • The Next Dimension
    No doubt you've dabbled with simulations like SimCity, played a computer game or two, and even remember donning funny glasses to watch 3-D movies. What's new is the merging of these technologies to make possible new kinds of collaboration—even in education.
  • The Age of Assessment
    Incorporating technology tools into your formative assessment process provides additional opportunities for providing students with feedback.
  • What's New
    Web 2.0 learning platform Kidthing, which serves children, parents, and teachers, has announced a content distribution partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises that will bring enhanced digital versions of all Seuss books to the kidthing platform. In addition, a line of interactive learning activities and games will be created using Kidthing's proprietary technologies. Find titles in the site's online store and download them on kidthing's free, digital media player. This spring, Kidthing and Dr. Seuss Enterprises offer teachers and classrooms a digital read-along version of The Lorax as part of the National Educational Association's Read Across America program.

What's New

Windows Server 2008 is the most recent release of Microsoft's server line of operating systems and is the successor to Windows Server 2003. Like Vista, it is built on the Windows NT 6.0 kernel. It automatically comes with most of the technical, security, management, and administrative features new to Windows Vista. The most notable feature is a new variation of installation called Server Core, where no Windows Explorer shell is installed, and all configuration and maintenance is done through CLI windows or by remote connection via Microsoft Management Console. The new server also offers self-healing NTFS and dynamic hardware partitioning.

AVerMediaTechnologies, Inc., a provider of digital multimedia and presentation technology, has released its CP300 Interactive Portable Document Camera. With its network-sharing capability through Local Area Networks, the camera now allows multiple classrooms or even the entire school to view and share live lessons and demonstrations such as science lab dissections. Camera features, including annotation, image capture, video recording, and zoom, can be controlled by each classroom accessing the demonstration on the net work. The new FlexArm design with a patented camera head-locking mechanism increases portability while adding stability to the camera head. Other design improvements include enhanced image quality.

Linksys introduces a dual-band wireless-N Gigabit router WRT600N that lets you connect to the network without wires and comes with a built-in four-port full-duplex 10/100/1000 switch to connect your wired-Ethernet devices together at up to gigabit speeds. The router lets you easily add storage space onto your network-or plug in a USB flash disk for easy access to portable data files. The built-in media server streams music, video, and photos from any compatible media adapter. The router operates in both the 2.4- and 5-gigahertz radio bands simultaneously, effectively doubling your wireless bandwidth. Other features include industrial-strength encryption capabilities and a powerful SP1 firewall.

Panasonic has two new LCD projectors designed for cost-effective, fixed installations. Ideal for small to medium classrooms, the new PT-F200U and PT-F200NTU projectors provide long-lasting brightness and features that reduce installation and maintenance costs. The PT-F200NTU model also sports built-in wireless and wired network capability. Both projectors come equipped with Closed Caption capability to meet the needs of the hearing-impaired and to facilitate Assistive Listening Device compliance. Both models also offer a host of standard features, including direct power off, rear-access for easy lamp replacement, numerous connection terminals, and an easy-to-use remote control with a built-in laser pointer.

Web 2.0: Check out Exhibit, the latest in online applications that make it easy and fun to create interactive, graphical models.

New online applications like MIT's Exhibit are making it easier to create useful, interactive, graphical models when teaching (http://simile.mit.edu/exhibit).

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.

The Age of Assessment

A look at how technology use in formative assessments improves feedback and reporting opportunities.

Once teachers have identified and shared the standards with students, instructed them via meaningful learning experiences, monitored their progress, and diagnosed learning strengths and gaps, they are ready to give feedback and report on student growth. This formative feedback directly helps students improve their performance.

Feedback

Wikis

Using a wiki, students can learn from peers who share their success strategies. For example, as high school English students encounter problems in writing a contrast essay, they can post a quick message on a wiki such as PBwiki. As other students encounter the same learning roadblock, they can go to the wiki to see their classmates' suggestions. They then receive feedback from their peers who typically word the solutions in very student-friendly language.

Online course management

Teachers can transform an online quiz into a formative assessment by creating an explanation for each correct answer in the ProProfs, Blackboard, or HotChalk course management systems. After elementary math students take a quiz, they immediately see the correct answer and the explanation for that correct answer. Teachers' comments may include more than just a quick rule or phrase; they may provide concept maps, specific textbook references, an interactive Internet site, or a Web-based iMovie. Explanations and supporting resources provide concrete formative suggestions for students' improvement, not generic comments like "Read chapter 5."

iMovies

Teachers and students can create iMovie demonstrations of proficient learning for feedback. A middle school science teacher watches one group of students successfully set up a lab. He asks if they can set it up again and explain each step as he records them. When he observes students in other groups who are less than proficient in setting up this particular lab, he asks them to watch the iMovie demonstration to learn how to set it up correctly.

Podcasts

Often a teacher does not have time to give feedback to each student during class. However, as a high school art teacher looks over the students' paintings, she can digitally record her feedback as she thinks aloud about each student's work. Then she posts the podcasts to the district's server and lets the individual students know the podcast's Web address so that they can each listen to her feedback.

Online rubrics

If a teacher wants to provide written feedback on her students' work, she can use rubrics, checklists, or rating scales. She can take a generic online rubric such as one from TeAchnology, and then modify the rubric to create a formative assessment rubric for her high school science "Save the planet" project. She will make sure this assessment tool describes the learning in such a way that the students will know how to improve. General scoring statements such as "Explains well" do not help the less-than-proficient learners improve; she needs to specify what "Explains well" means.

Wikis for diagnostic feedback

A teacher can provide more varied feedback to students for particular learning goals if he has created an online bank of the various learning gaps that students show in a standards-based goal. This depository can be a wiki such as Class Blogmeister or a folder on the school's server. When a teacher includes not only the learning gaps but also the precise formative strategies that will help the students to overcome them, this online wiki bank becomes a powerful formative assessment. The middle school social studies teacher looks at a student's digital work on analyzing historical documents; diagnoses a particular learning gap; refers to his online wiki; inserts constructive comments into the student's work; and returns the work to the student.

Reporting

Progress history

A teacher may give many assessments, and the students may see these as individual ratings rather than specific signs of progress. Along with a student's present rating on a particular standard, the teacher can record past scores for the same standard, so students can see their progress and feel more motivated to try harder.

Spreadsheets record growth

A teacher can keep track of her students' progress on a weekly basis by using an Excel spreadsheet. She can have a spreadsheet section for each standard; that section will be divided into the various learning goals within that standard. The spreadsheet will include various assessments on each learning goal. For example, the students' names can go down the spreadsheet while the various assessments-by-learning goals can go across. A middle school English teacher may have five assessments for Standard 1.1 that she labels with the month of each assessment. As she gives these assessments, she makes sure that each one focuses on a specific learning goal. Later, she can easily print out the progress of any student.

Standards-based homework

Students want to know their progress on a regular basis. Many online programs such as Blackboard or SnapGrades offer access to both students and their parents. A high school math teacher provides more than just the students' homework and test scores by labeling each class activity with a standard and learning goal. Instead seeing Homework 9/12–80, they can see Standard 1.2–9/12–80. These grades reveal how well the student is progressing in each standard.

Benchmark assessments

Students may be taking benchmark assessments as frequently as five or six times a year; their teacher receives a listing of the proficient and learning gap areas for each student. CTB/McGraw-Hill's Acuity is a suite of diagnostic and predictive benchmark assessments designed to show student growth toward state standards and performance indicators in English/Language Arts and math for grades 3–8.

Ultimately, through the use of technology, teachers gain many tools that help them give students formative feedback and report on their progress. These students grasp that their teachers sincerely want them to succeed and are empowered with strategies to become successful learners.

Harry Grover Tuttle, EdD, is a consultant.

What's New

Chicago-based nonprofit Innovations for Learning has developed the Teachermate computer, a handheld device designed for grades K–2 that costs $50. Innovations for Learning will give one Teachermate to first-grade classrooms throughout each of the Chicago Public School system's 500 elementary schools in the next two years courtesy of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Innovations for Learning wants to give students an easier, more efficient way to use computers to learn reading and math. The minicomputers are 4 inches wide and 3 inches tall, with a 2.5-inch color screen, 500MBs of internal memory, and a battery life of four hours—and rugged enough to withstand a 5-year-old's use.

Phoenix Wi-Fi radio from Com One, a subsidiary of Baracoda—a company that specializes in Bluetooth wireless technology—allows your classroom to tune in to thousands of Web radio stations worldwide without tying up a computer. The Phoenix includes built-in stereo speakers and battery.

Planar Systems, Inc., has announced a partnership with Wyse Technology to deliver the next generation of integrated thin client network displays. Designed for applications where space constraints, data centralization, and security are concerns, the Planar ND1750 and 1950 are ideal for computer labs at schools and universities. Users save desk space and decrease installation time by using one power supply and integrating the monitor with the Wyse Thin OS. The Planar ND line is backed by a three-year warranty and 90 days of software upgrades.

ePals, Inc., an online international learning community, is providing the first educational applications dedicated to cre ating a safe online environment on the Intel-powered Classmate PC, formerly known as Eduwise. Applications will include the ePals' Global Learning Community, SchoolMail, and SchoolBlog. The Classmate PC is an affordable, fully functional laptop designed to support collaborative learning environments for students in emerging markets. Students and teachers can join the ePals' interactive classroom community by selecting the ePals icon on the PC's desktop. They can then access protected e-mail, blogs, tra n slation tools, evidencebased curricula and experience authentic, collaborative learning. ePals connects more than 350,000 teachers from 200 countries and territories around the world.

NetSupport, a provider of desktop management solutions, has released its latest version of NetSupport Manager remote control software. Version 10.3 offers significant improvements in the areas of security, scripting, and multi-monitor support, allowing users to deliver hands-on remote support or interactive training. Enhanced features include coexistence with Remote Desktop and smart-card support. NetSupport Manager supports all Windows platforms from Windows 95 on, Mac OS, Solaris, PPC, Win CE, and Windows Mobile platforms. A fully functional 30-day trial copy can be downloaded from www.netsupportmanager.com.

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