Interesting Articles

March 6
Amazon’s E-Book Service
I don't mean to turn this column into All E-Books, All the Time. But Amazon pulled a nice one-two P.R. punch. Two weeks ago, it released its Kindle 2 electronic book reader, and announced that its catalog of electronic books had hit 240,000 titles. You can download them wirelessly to the Kindle, via the Sprint cellular network, whenever it suits your fancy.
And then yesterday, Amazon announced that you can buy and read all these books on an iPhone or an iPod Touch--without even owning a Kindle. Clever.
What makes the Kindle successful is the effortlessness of it. One-click book buying. Forty-five-second book downloading. One-click book reading. Amazon tore down every last barrier, minimizing the number of steps at every turn. The convenience is amazing.
So if they're going to bring those e-books to the iPhone, it had better be darned simple. And, sure enough, it is.

Kindle App
Kindle App
There's absolutely nothing to it. You download the Kindle reader software to your iPhone or Touch (it's free from the App Store). You open it. You enter your Amazon name and password, one time. And there they are, in the Archived folder: every book you've ever bought from Amazon's e-book store, either on the Kindle or your Mac or PC.
Tap one to download and start reading it. Flick your finger across the touch screen to turn pages. Tap the "Aa" button to change type size (five different sizes are available). The service even remembers where you stopped reading in each book when you switch from, say, iPhone to Kindle and back again.
At this point, only *books* are available on the iPhone/Touch--not newspapers, magazines or blogs. You can't buy new books right in the Kindle app, either; you have to switch to Safari, the iPhone/Touch Web browser, to shop for books.
Online, people seem very happy with this streamlined, satisfying reader software. Oh, there are plenty of items on the wish list: landscape-orientation reading, built-in dictionary, choice of fonts, annotations (the iPhone/Touch shows the annotations you've made on the Kindle, but you can't make new ones) and so on. (And it probably goes without saying that the iPhone version of the reader can't read text out loud to you, as the Kindle can with certain books.)
But for its free, 1.0 version, Amazon was smart to focus on the basics: making the thing idiot-proof, fast and solid. I'm not sure you'd really want to read the great American novel on a three-inch screen, but at least you can kill a few 15-minute standing-in-line sessions by picking up your Kindle book where you left off.
Or not. The true brilliance of Amazon's move is that you no longer need a Kindle anymore to read current bestsellers in e-book form. Amazon, like thousands of businesses before it (see also: iTunes store, console games), has shifted into selling the razor blades, not the razors. Those $10 downloadable books--800K software files, with no physical material costs, shipping costs or warehousing costs--are surely where the profit is.
In other words, Amazon, having ignited new interest in the whole e-book concept with its $360 Kindle reader, is already steering itself from hardware back to software, to e-books as a service, to the skills where it already excels.

February 27

Video Killed the Video Store

By Ryan Singel

The Blockbuster is dead, long live the blockbuster.
At least that's what the technology omens are saying.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Blockbuster Video, whose shares are trading below $1, is seeking advice on how to file for bankruptcy. Blockbuster counters it's only trying to get help to restructure its debt.
No matter. The days of tromping to the video store to find the night's entertainment are past. Now the question is only how long will it be until walking to the mailbox to get a DVD is considered antiquarian.
Driving or walking to the video store to bring home less than a gig of data — data that may or may not even be in stock — just doesn't make much sense anymore.
At least not when compared to Netflix's easy ordering system, its recommendation engine, lack of late fees, deeper inventory and clever use of the Postal Service to have movies delivered quickly.
Blockbuster tried to keep up, with an innovative mail rental plan that let people trade in movies at the store as well, but the plan turned out to be too complicated and too late.
But even the notion of even leaving the room to get a movie, doesn't make sense if you have a fat internet connection and the willingness to explore some legal and less-legal ways to download movies to a computer.
Note that also on Tuesday, cable provider Comcast announced that it was rolling out "wideband" in the San Francisco Bay Area (including a 50 Mbps downstream offering for $140 a month) and doubled the download speed of its current basic plus service to 12 Mbps down for free. That marks the 10th urban area in the United States that the cable operator is offering real broadband.
Think YouTube, Hulu, NetFlix's streaming movies, iTunes and Amazon overpriced rentals on demand, as well as dozens of others striving — yet again — to find a way to stream Hollywood video across the internet.
On Wednesday, ZillionTV announced that by the end of the year it will sell a $50 internet-connected set-top box that will stream HD and standard movies and premium TV, letting people choose to pay for entertainment or watch ad-supported shows.
No one has created a popular computer-in-the-living room solution yet — which makes DVDs still very practical, but that's just details. Some company — or several — will and then the notion of leaving the house to get a movie to watch will seem as quaint as writing a check at the grocery store.
The only question is what will become of all those old Blockbuster video stores and their signature blue awnings? My money is on an innovative pizza delivery company with a blue logo to start up and take over where the DVD business died.
Because at least so far, the internet has not yet figured out how to deliver a pizza better than a brick-oven pizza place can.
Photo: RocketRaccoon/Flickr

February 20

Web 2.0 Finally Takes on Textbooks

  • By Trent Batson
  • 02/18/09
Web 2.0 is essentially about a new way to create knowledge in human culture. We are a decade into this revolution of distributed, aggregated, and synthesized wisdom. Still, textbooks, written in the old pre-packaged way are sold by the millions. And, their cost increases each year by three times the cost of living increase. These two factors, new ways to create and keep creating knowledge, and over-the-top prices, have led to the stirrings of a revolution in how students have access to textbooks.

The revolution is not about digitizing existing print textbooks. Publishers charge as much for eBooks as for print books. The revolution, instead, is getting authors to write specifically for a company publishing textbooks online that have a new business model more akin to typical Web 2.0 sites: They include ads on some of the pages of the online book (like BookBoon, or the online version is free but the print version is not (like FlatWorld, In other words, in these two cases and in many other cases of free online textbooks, the content is free but it is embedded in the market space of Web 2.0 where ordering additional features or responding to ads is a click away. And therefore, revenue is a click away. This model is how business is done today. Now, even textbook publishing may join the new century.

external image 020090218Textbook%20RevolutionLG.ashxRecognizing this trend, students themselves formed Textbook Revolution ( From this site, students can download free textbooks from places like BookBoon and others. TBR is engaging students to recruit faculty adopters of free online textbooks; it is trying to create a bigger push from students for faculty to use the free textbook option. It is an aggregation and advocacy site aimed at changing the basic business model of textbook publishing. (Image used with permission from Textbook Revolution.)

Bookboon, one of the main sites that TBR depends on, provides free eBooks for students in PDF format. They say "our textbooks are legal and written exclusively for Bookboon. They are financed by a few in-book ads." There is an ad every three pages or so. These eBooks can be printed, a big plus since publishers' eBooks cannot be. Bookboon is run by the Danish company Ventus Publishing ApS.

Another aspect of this revolution goes beyond the new business model and adopts the Web 2.0 model of knowledge building. FlatWorldKnowledge announced earlier this month that "30 US universities and colleges have agreed to offer its online textbook products in trial programs this spring. Teachers of marketing, economics, and other business courses are among those offering the online textbooks that are written by leading academics and authors. The trial is an expansion from a 15-school test in the fall." ( The interesting part is what faculty can do with the online textbook: They can modify it and include those modifications in the next edition. "Students will then get their professor's customized version, whether they use the free online version or purchase print or other options." (PRNewswire:

"Flat World fits my needs for my class by providing content from a first-class author at an affordable price and flexible formats for students," said Dr. Marc Weinberger, Professor of Marketing in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Flat World's business model has the potential to be a truly disruptive entry into the traditional publishing world." (PRNewswire)

The biggest leap into Web 2.0 culture for textbooks, however, is Wikibooks ( Wikibooks is like Wikipedia in that it provides a way to generate the wisdom of crowds around a book that is written in a traditional manner. Here we find the realization of the Xanadu concept, publish first and generate corollary knowledge second. Wikibooks is almost six years old so it already offers a substantial library.

For free supplementary scholarly materials, try Google Scholar ( Searches in Google Scholar are sequestered from the thousands of irrelevant sites you'd find with a standard Google search, so you see only sites that are appropriate to a scholarly search. You will find entire academic books, and a broad array of articles, some of which are out of print.

Textbook publishing is deeply entrenched, familiar, and valuable. But the costs have grown beyond the ability of students to buy textbooks. Faculty say "students don't read the assignments" and students say, "I didn't buy the book in the first place."

But, contracts are in place, campus bookstores provide revenue to the institutions, prestige attaches to a publication with a prestigious publisher, enormous editing expertise resides with the publishers, and a multi-billion dollar business doesn't disappear (...oops, in this year, it may). And, reading online, while much easier now with better resolution and students more accustomed to reading online, still lacks some of the benefits of reading a hardcopy book.

Since the monolithic publishing empire is so entrenched and the very tiny new online textbook publishing ventures may take years to catch on, what can be done now?

By using Web 2.0 revenue opportunities, such as the ads in BookBoon or selling extras such as podcast segments from the book or the full color version, pricing for any one student can become flexible: free for some, regular retail for others, or above retail for still others who opt for additional features.

Publishers need to move quickly to the flexible option so all students can afford textbooks and class materials. Too many students are simply not buying textbooks or are going deeper into debt to do so. For their part, faculty need to look at the various options, especially the option to write their own textbook or modify an existing one online. The market for textbook writers is opening and allowing more authors in. This is an opportune time to write your own book. Students need to keep pushing faculty members to adopt free online textbooks instead of unaffordable print versions.

And just think, some textbooks--Wikibooks--will be embellished with the thoughts and experiences and critiques of others. A lost feature from the days of handmade and hand-printed books, marginalia, is back.

About the Author
Trent Batson, Ph.D. has served as an English professor, director of academic computing, and has been an IT leader since the mid-1980s. He is currently Co-Lead for the Web2ePortfolio Initiatve (W2eP), a Senior Associate with the TLT Group, and Editor of Campus Technology's Web 2.0 e-newsletter.

February 13 I saw him speak once and if you get a chance, get one of his books.

Fertile minds need feeding

Are schools stifling creativity? Ken Robinson tells Jessica Shepherd why learning should be good for the soul
Sir Ken Robinson
Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson: 'Most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests'. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
'Now Sats have gone, what do they expect us to teach?" a teacher asked in an internet chatroom the day the national tests for 14-year-olds were scrapped. She was not alone. While staffrooms across the country cracked open the bubbly on 14 October last year, several teachers confessed that they were lost for what to do with their year 9s - short of going through practice exam papers.
Sir Ken Robinson isn't surprised. A government-commissioned inquiry he chaired in 1998 found that a prescriptive education system was stifling the creativity of teachers and their pupils.
Eleven years on and things have only got worse, the former professor of arts education at the University of Warwick argues in his new book, The Element. Our approaches to education are "stifling some of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the increasingly demanding world of the 21st century - the powers of creative thinking", he says.
"All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think," he says. "Most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests ... Education is the system that's supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn."
Robinson, who now earns his living as a speaker on creativity, does not blame the teachers. "It's the system - it's too linear," he says. Schools are obsessed with rigid timetables, for starters. "If you live in a world where every lesson is 40 minutes, you immediately interrupt the flow of creativity," he says. "We need to eliminate the existing hierarchy of subjects. Elevating some disciplines over others only reinforces outmoded assumptions of industrialism and offends the principle of diversity. The arts, sciences, humanities, physical education, languages and maths all have equal and central contributions to make to a student's education."
Dynamic curriculum
In fact, the entire notion of "subjects" needs to be questioned, he says. "The idea of separate subjects that have nothing in common offends the principle of dynamism. School systems should base their curriculum not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines ... which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary."
In December, the Rose review, the biggest inquiry into primary schooling in a generation, also recommended moving away from the idea of subjects. Sir Jim Rose said a "bloated" curriculum was leaving children with shallow knowledge and understanding. The review proposed half a dozen cross-curricular themes instead: understanding English, communication and languages; mathematical understanding; science and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding physical education and wellbeing; and understanding the arts and design.
Robinson believes the curriculum should be much more personalised. "Learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple-choice tests." And why are we so fixated by age groups, he asks. Let a 10-year-old learn with their younger and older peers.
We put too high a premium on knowing the "single right answer", Robinson claims. But he says he is not in principle opposed to standardised tests, such as Sats. Used in the right way, they can provide essential data to support and improve education. The problem comes when these tests become more than simply a tool of education and turn into the focus of it, he argues.
All of this prevents the next generation finding its "element". This is "the place where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together". The "element" is essential to our wellbeing, our ultimate success and the effectiveness of our education system, he says.
He suggests the education system needs to be not just reformed, but transformed - and urgently. In times of economic crisis, we need to think more creatively than ever, he says. "Just about everywhere, the problems are getting worse."
Hang on a moment, says Dr Pamela Burnard, a senior lecturer in education at the University of Cambridge. She is concerned that Robinson may be characterising the notion of creativity "from a particular cultural perspective".
She argues that the UK is actually doing very well in this field. "Creativity is centrally important to educational debates in the UK," she says. "We have witnessed considerable initiatives aiming to put creativity into the curriculum."
These include Creative Partnerships, the government's programme to develop creative learning across England, which was started in 2002. It is about to be relaunched as an independent organisation called Creativity, Culture and Education and will invest £100m between 2009 and 2011 in cultural and creative learning. There has already been £150m spent on creative programmes for 1,500 primary and secondary schools in the past seven years. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has written extensively on creativity and the concept has now been included in the primary national strategy.
"There has been a raft of initiatives over the last five years in the UK," Burnard says, "while the money spent on creative learning in the US has been reduced. We in the UK are world leaders in creativity in teaching and learning. It's unfair to denigrate the initiatives of countries like the UK who are pushing forward new ideas on schooling and creativity."
There are, of course, some fantastic examples of creativity in UK schools already. Grange primary school, in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, set up its own town, Grangeton, seven years ago. The then headteacher, Richard Gerver, said he wanted children to be learning to do things rather than learning simply for the sake of exams. The fictional town has its own craft shop, cafe, radio and TV stations, and newspaper.
In Scotland, students at Caol primary school near Fort William set up their own art studio, which they ran as a business. They raised funds to buy art materials and employed a professional artist to work with them.
Creativity in the classroom
But on the whole, despite all the money, initiatives and trendsetting, the concept of creativity is still not filtering down into the classroom, says Teresa Cremin, professor of education at the Open University and an expert on creativity in primary schools.
She believes many teachers still think being creative means they have to be flamboyant and extrovert. While many schools are creative, many others pay lip service to the creativity agenda, she argues.
This might mean a day off the curriculum to do "the arts" after pupils have sat tests. It's a myth to call this creative learning, she says. Creativity must be embedded into everyday teaching and learning. "Many schools haven't got a handle on the language of creativity and are reticent about teaching more creatively," she says. "They are worried they won't achieve standards in other things."
She agrees with much of Robinson's argument. "If you have a school system which rewards conformity and avoids risk-taking, then youngsters will be unable to cope with the world unfolding before them."
Anna Craft, a professor of education at the University of Exeter and a government adviser on creativity, says: "There is an enormous willingness to embrace creativity in the classroom, but an increasing lethargy in the system too." Robinson is right, she says; it's not that we need to "tweak the recipe - we need a new recipe".
Bringing this about might take a mass protest of pupils walking out of school because it's just too irrelevant, she says. But in the end change has got to happen and, she says, Robinson's book can "do nothing but good in getting the debate loud and clear".
• The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica, published by Penguin

Interview: Ken Robinson

This article was first published on at 00.01 GMT on Tuesday 10 February 2009. It appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday 10 February 2009 on p5 of the Education news & features section. It was last updated at 00.04 GMT on Tuesday 10 February 2009.

Guardian Jobs
Guardian Jobs

February 6
So Many iPhone Apps, So Little Time
Who was it who wrote, in March 2008, just after Apple announced its intention to create an online app store for the iPhone, "You're witnessing the birth of a third major computer platform: Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone"?
Oh, right--that was me.
Anyway, there are now 15,000 programs available on the App Store, and so many more are flooding in that Apple's army of screeners can't even keep up. I keep meaning to write a thoughtful, thorough roundup of the very best of these amazing programs, but every day that I don't do it, the job becomes more daunting. (But don't worry. I'll get around to it.)

For the moment, let's use a single program as a case study. It's one of the most magical programs I've ever seen for the iPhone, and probably for any computer. It's Ocarina, named after the ancient clay wind instrument.
Once you install and open this program, your iPhone's screen displays four colored circles of different sizes. These are the "holes" that you cover with your fingers, as you would the holes on a flute. Then you blow into the microphone hole at the bottom of the iPhone, and presto: the haunting, expressive, beautiful sound of a wind instrument comes from the iPhone speaker.
Different combinations of fingers on those four "holes" produce the different notes of the scale. (You can change the key in Preferences--no doubt a first on a cellphone.) Tilting the phone up or down controls the vibrato.
Ocarina has become a mega-hit. YouTube videos show people playing their favorite songs on this thing with amazing skill. (The "Stairway to Heaven" arrangement, featuring four people playing their iPhones in harmony, is especially memorable.) The software company's Web site,, even includes sheet-music pages that show you how to play well-known songs on Ocarina.
Ocarina takes advantages of the iPhone's microphone, speaker, touch screen, graphics and tilt sensor. Incredibly, though, it also exploits the iPhone's Internet connection and GPS, as well.
If you tap the little globe at the bottom of the screen, the screen changes. Now you see a map of the world--and you start hearing the Ocarina performance of one person, in one city (indicated by animated sound waves on the map), who's playing the thing *right now*. Sometimes it's the halting fumbles of a rank beginner; sometimes it's a lovely melody played by someone who's got the hang of it. You can hit a Next button to tune in to another stranger, and another, all around the world.
It's a brain-frying experience to know that you're listening to someone else playing Ocarina, right now, in real time, somewhere else on the planet. (And then you realize that someone, somewhere might be listening to *you*!)
The best part of this story isn't just that someone has turned a cellphone, for crying out loud, into a musical instrument with fantastic expressive potential. It's that hundreds of thousands of people have bought this program in just a few months--for $1 apiece.
Apple, which runs the store, keeps 30 percent of each sale. Even so, Ocarina demonstrates that a programmer can make a staggering amount of money from the iPhone store. It's a crazy new software model that I don't remember seeing anywhere else. It's not a boxed software program for $600, or even a shareware program you download for $25. It's a buck a copy.
The beauty here is that at these prices, there's very little risk in trying something out. How many software programs have you bought for your Mac or PC? Two? Four? Well, the average iPhone owner may wind up installing 10, 20 or 30 programs. In all, according to Apple, iPhone owners have downloaded 500 million copies of these programs. Half a billion--since last July.
There's a lot of gloom in the tech industry (and every industry, for that matter). But even when the economy is crashing down around us, there's still amazing power in a single good idea. And the one on display here--pricing software so low that millions of people buy it without batting an eye--is turning a few clever programmers into millionaires.

January 29

Cheating Goes Digital

New tools, new sites, make classroom dishonesty harder to squash.

by Tamar Snyder January 21, 2009

illustration of a boy cheating with an mp3 player
illustration of a boy cheating with an mp3 player

Credit: Hugh D'Andrade
Cheating in the classroom is as old as the classroom itself. But teachers need to wise up to their students' technological savvy. Peeking over their shoulders to glimpse responses on a classmate's papers and coughing in tune with answers are old school. Today's students are cheating by programming answers into their graphing calculators and beaming them to friends, texting answers to exam questions -- or sending images of the answers -- and recording cheat sheets and playing them back on their iPods during exams.
YouTube, predictably, has morphed into a mecca of cheating tips and tricks. A popular video features a teenager explaining in painstaking detail how to scan the label from a Coke bottle and replace the ingredients list with a cheat sheet using photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. The video has been viewed more than 44,000 times.
A ten-minute YouTube video titled How to Cheat in School (since taken down by the poster, "selfmadebillionaire") featured a teen cheating guru explaining the keys to becoming a good cheater in a gospel-like tone. "The first step . . . is to get to know your professors," he said, as jazzy, almost hypnotic music blared in the background. "You can get longer extensions for your papers; he'll grade easier on your tests." Other tips included hiding cheat sheets inside water-bottle labels or a baseball cap.
Steve Goffner, a high school math teacher in New York City, caught one student who had copied answers on his math Regents Exam from friends' text messages. "He did the entire multiple-choice section in pencil, most likely took his cell phone to the bathroom, wrote the answers on the back of his hand, went back to his desk, changed all thirty answers, and got thirty out of thirty right," Goffner says. "How do you like that?"
In a 2006 poll conducted by the Josephson Institute's Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth [1], 60 percent of the 35,000 high school students polled admitted to cheating during a test at school within the past twelve months, and 35 percent of students said they'd cheated two or more times.
Why do students cheat? Because it's easy and fewer than 10 percent are caught, according to Ann Lathrop and Kathleen Foss, National Education Association members and authors of //Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era: A Wake-Up Call// [2]. Students' attitudes, they say, have changed from "Don't cheat" to "Don't get caught."
So, what's an alert teacher to do? First off, empower yourself by visiting // [3], a Web site created by Robert Bramucci, vice chancellor of technology and learning services for southern California's South Orange Community College District. There, in the Halls of Justice [4] section, Bramucci has compiled hundreds of common cheating techniques prevalent across the Web.
Some education experts, such as Howard Seeman, author of //Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems: A Classroom Management Handbook// [5], recommend that teachers do away with multiple-choice and true/false questions in favor of short essay responses. And some schools are cutting to the root of the problem by incorporating ethical and moral teachings into the curriculum.
"When you see others cheating around you, most reasons given not to -- 'You're only cheating yourself' -- seem very lame," says Michael Laser, author of //Cheater// [6], a novel about a smart high school student who gets sucked into a ring of high tech cheaters. "It comes down to a matter of integrity and self-respect." Teachers need to convey that message early on in the education process, Laser adds, by asking students, "What kind of person do you want to be?"
Tamar Snyder, a contributing writer for Edutopia, specializes in education, personal finance, and careers.

Source URL:

January 22
The Future of Display Technologies
At the Consumer Electronics Show a couple weeks ago, I hosted a panel on future display technologies. There were five panelists--executives from Sharp, 3M, Corning, E-Ink and Mitsubishi.
Frankly, I didn't choose the topic or the panelists, and I wasn't completely convinced that this session would be, you know, a laff riot.
But these guys turned out to be compelling and entertaining speakers, and every single one of them obeyed my request to avoid jargon and buzzwords.

Anyway, some takeaways:

  • O.L.E.D. is pronounced, by insiders, "OH-led." (I've been saying "O.L.E.D." all this time.)
  • O.L.E.D. stands for organic light-emitting diode. It's responsible for the shockingly fantastic picture on the $2,500, 11-inch Sony XEL-1. (You can read my review of it from last year at
  • Yet despite all the fawning by the press (including me), O.L.E.D. is still years away from catching up to plasma or LCD. Corning's Pete Bocko guessed that decently sized (32-inch), reasonably priced O.L.E.D. TV screens won't reach the market until 2012 at the earliest; they're just too difficult to mass-produce at this point.
  • Meantime, Bruce Tripido, my Sharp panelist, maintained that LCD is only 50 percent evolved. That's right: even though LCD has made enormous strides, even though most of its traditional drawbacks have been eliminated, it's still reaching only half its potential in picture quality and other attributes. The other panelists concurred that LCD's continued improvements will make those tiny, expensive O.L.E.D. screens an even tougher sell in the marketplace.
  • E-Ink is the company that makes those extremely low-power, non-illuminated, grayscale displays on the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and special newsstand editions of the December Esquire magazine. Sri Peruvemba made apt comparisons with the "living newspapers" featured in the "Harry Potter" movies, and showed a video of a color version of this technology working in the company's lab. So far, the color is pretty faded-looking, but they're working on it. Oddly (to me), the company still has no real competitors. Every e-book reader on the market uses E-Ink exclusively.
  • Those pocket pico projectors were everywhere at C.E.S. You can hook up your iPod to watch movies on a much bigger personal "screen," or load up your PowerPoint slides for instant presentations anywhere you can find a wall.
After the panel, Steven Webster of 3M gave me a little demo of 3M's original pico projector side-by-side with its new, second-generation one. All I can say is, we have a lot to look forward to. The color on the second-gen projector was twice as vibrant and rich.
(Incidentally, another showgoer was carrying around a working prototype of a cellphone with pico projector built right in. It was a bit bulkier than a regular cellphone, of course, but give it time.)
  • Frank DeMartin of Mitsubishi described laser-based projection TV screens, such as (no surprise) Mitsubishi's own LaserVue series. They reproduce a much larger range of color than plasma or LCD can, the brightness blows away even LCD, and blacks are super-black. (The reviews online back up these claims.) To top it off, laser TV's use about a quarter as much power as plasma or LCD.
So why isn't everyone getting laser? First, because they're very expensive--Mistubishi's first one, the L65A90, goes for $7,000. Second, they're still projection TV sets, about 10 inches deep, so you can't exactly hang one on the wall.
But give it time. If there's one phrase that could summarize every panelist's report, that'd be it: "Just you wait!"

January 15

hould Educators Be Concerned About Web 3.0?

  • By Trent Batson
  • 01/21/09
Even Web 2.0 is a confusing mass of capabilities, yet already people are talking about Web 3.0. Where are we in all of this? What's important for educators to know?

Technology definitions for Web 2.0 may not convey a clear picture of the significance of '2.0' for educators. Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web, says there is no such thing as Web 2.0 because 2.0 capabilities were anticipated in Web 1.0, and that would mean what we're referring to as Web 2.0 should be called simply 'the Web.' But, in fact, from a cultural perspective, Web 2.0 has been a major event. In this century, the original Web matured and many new technologies became more widely and easily available, with much more accessible user interfaces.

The social Web is very, very different for users in higher education than the display Web of the 1990s. Here are some examples:

1. In truth, now, almost anyone can build a Web page and personalize the design and add content. Even some updating features can be automated, which reduces the task of making your page look constantly current.

2. Almost anyone can build a social site, which is usually just a template-based Web page with functions like a blog, groups, broadcasts, importing from other social sites, member profiles, and dozens more.

3. Facebook has created a schmooze space not just for the general public but, interestingly, for academics. I can read that one academic friend is amazed by snowfall in Seattle, of all places, and another academic friend is stuck in Newark Airport.

4. Immersive environments like Second Life and Wonderland allow us to re-clothe our virtual selves and lead a, well, second life.

5. E-mail accounts are available just about anywhere for free, and you keep your e-mail on the Web where it will be universally available.

6. We can collaborate on documents at Google Docs so that all collaborators can keep up with changes no matter where they are.

7. I can Skype with friends in Australia on New Years Eve (New Years Day for them) and see them in tee shirts sweating on a deck in the middle of their summer vacation. (A bit disconcerting).

8. We expect that no matter where we go we can find a WiFi spot, or at least use our iPhone to stay in touch.

9. We know we can see a video of our granddaughter on You Tube just seconds after the video was taken.

We have all become Webizens. Just a year ago in this newsletter I was writing about Web 2.0 with the sense that many readers would have no idea what it was. But now defining it culturally, as I am doing, is like describing coffee shops or the movies. We have been enculturated, or, better said, we have enculturated Web 2.0 technologies in just the past one or two years. Web 2.0 was the cultural tipping point for acceptance of the Web.

Now that we find ourselves here in this strange undiscovered land, what do we do? How can academics push these wonderful new technologies in useful ways? Most significant for academia is the move toward the Semantic Web, the Web that is explored not by chance character-string hits but by the meaning we put into our search terms. Browsers will look for pre-organized or tagged information that fits the meaning we seem to be looking for.

The pre-organized option depends on us creating ontologies, or collections, of information ahead of time and then maintaining those ontologies over time. The tagged option means that we use technology to normalize tags so people can select tags for new information that is being added to the Web. The tags would be considered good because the wisdom of the crowd says they are. (In practice, when you go to add a tag, you see tagging options that other people have used.) Good tagging can also lead to successful semantic searches. My guess is that tagging is already becoming the default choice, not ontologies. Ontologies take a lot of work, naturally, and perhaps only large, well-staffed organizations will maintain ontologies.

Students should start to learn not just how to search for stuff "out there" (by developing good research skills), but also know how to pre-classify their own stuff before it goes out there--so it can be added to the culture's store of knowledge. These are two discrete skills that are the survival tools of Web 3.0--and for 2.0 as well, since tagging is already an option. Students tagging their own work is a fascinating way for them to reflect on the core meaning of what they've just created. But this is a skill that needs to be taught in most cases.

Web 3.0 is the scholarly Web just as 2.0 is the social Web. And, in my view, what has been called 3.0 is really a refinement of 2.0 and so should be called Web 2.1. Higher education was blind-sided by 2.0, but it can really take the lead on 2.1.

About the Author
Trent Batson, Ph.D. has served as an English professor, director of academic computing, and has been an IT leader since the mid-1980s. He is currently Co-Lead for the Web2ePortfolio Initiatve (W2eP), a Senior Associate with the TLT Group, and Editor of Campus Technology's Web 2.0 e-newsletter.

January 8
Most Textbooks Should Just Stay On the Shelf
By Jay Mathews
Monday, December 15, 2008; B02
Most people think textbooks are important. Schools that don't have all of theirs might find themselves accused of dereliction of duty. The Washington Post, for instance, was aghast last year that several thousand D.C. schoolbooks hadn't yet left the warehouse when classes began.
My colleague Michael Alison Chandler underlined this in her story two weeks ago about an effort by some Virginia teachers to break the $8 billion-a-year textbook industry's tight grip on science instruction, which often stops abruptly about the time Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity in 1905.
The fact that such obsolescence is tolerated shows how much faith we put in textbooks. So does our acceptance of the difficulty most students have reading through a standard textbook without falling asleep. Reid Saaris, founder of the D.C.-based Equal Opportunity Schools Organization, remembers teaching 12th-grade history in Beaufort, S.C., with a particularly tedious required text. The few seniors who chose his class usually did so for inappropriate reasons. One year, five boys showed up, gave Saaris disappointed looks and said they had enrolled only "because of the hot lady who was supposed to be teaching the class."
"Obviously, there is a lot of money in textbooks, because the publishers push them hard," said Mark Dodge, a physics teacher at the H-B Woodlawn program, a public high school in Arlington County. He doesn't like the fact that every seven years or so the textbook salespeople start promoting a new version. "A teacher who relies heavily on a textbook has to entirely revamp his or her course when a new adoption occurs," he said. "It really takes two or three years to do that well. By the time you really get it polished, you begin closing in on a new adoption cycle. I think most experienced teachers go through that trap once and then move away from heavy dependence on textbooks."
Mike Grill, a history teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington, said his textbooks keep his lessons aligned with the Advanced Placement curriculum, but he adds primary source documents, journal articles and other original materials as often as he can. "It's no secret that most students loathe their textbooks, so I've learned that the more textbook breaks I provide, the easier it is for them to come back to the textbook and get something out of the textbook reading," Grill said.
In the classrooms I visit, it is often a good sign that the textbooks are stacked on a corner bookshelf or window sill, gathering dust. The best teachers have an ongoing conversation with their class, calling on every student, challenging sloth, praising fresh ideas, moving the group beyond the text, which covers only the state's or the school's curricular requirements. "In some instances, I have completely avoided using the textbooks because they presented information in such small, bite-sized chunks that it was actually confusing for the students," said Toby Harkleroad, who taught social studies theology at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville and is now principal of St. Camillus School in Silver Spring.
My favorite teacher, Al Ladendorff of Hillsdale High in San Mateo, Calif., used our U.S. history text like a bull's-eye on a firing range. He had us identify factual distortions and analytical flaws in the thick tome the state had chosen for us. I never got over the realization that textbooks, presented as revealed truth all those years in school up until then, sometimes had as many mistakes and wrong-headed assumptions as my own term papers.
Textbooks still make good dictionaries, with glossaries at the back. They also reassure parents, who don't get to see teachers in action but are comforted, in a perverse way, that their kids' schoolbooks seem just as dry and predictable as theirs were. But like the newspapers that have been my life, textbooks are creeping slowly toward obsolescence. Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, said his companies are moving into "Web sites, podcasts, electronic books, software, courseware, online tutoring tips, educational games, video products" and many other ways to learn.
Big books have failed to hold the attention of teenagers leafing through the pages with music blasting in their earbuds and text messages filling their cellphone screens. Facts and ideas, in my experience, are more likely to sink in if introduced in group exercises, exploiting the adolescent urge to belong. Teachers have their classes organize book clubs, recreate the Constitutional Convention, raise animals, write and perform plays, publish online magazines.
The Virginia teachers in Chandler's story are leaping beyond the textbook industry by writing their own chapters in biophysics, nanotechnology and other emerging fields and posting them online. They will be optional, free supplements to hardbound books.
If teachers can write their own textbooks, why not students? It would make a fine group project, with each kid doing a chapter. Debate the fine points, put them on the Web and pass them around, irresistible preparation for the final exam. Then we might not worry so much if the 800-page doorstops don't show up on time next year.

December 21
Educational Leadership
Educational Leadership

external image 109023.jpg
December 2008/January 2009
December 2008/January 2009 | Volume 66 | Number 4
Data: Now What? Pages 12-17
The New Stupid
Frederick M. Hess
Educators have made great strides in using data. But danger lies ahead for those who misunderstand what data can and can't do.

A decade ago, it was disconcertingly easy to find education leaders who dismissed student achievement data and systematic research as having only limited utility when it came to improving schools or school systems. Today, we have come full circle. It is hard to attend an education conference or read an education magazine without encountering broad claims for data-based decision making and research-based practice.
Yet these phrases can too readily morph into convenient buzzwords that obscure rather than clarify. Indeed, I fear that both "data-based decision making" and "research-based practice" can stand in for careful thought, serve as dressed-up rationales for the same old fads, or be used to justify incoherent proposals. Because few educators today are inclined to denounce data, there has been an unfortunate tendency to embrace glib new solutions rather than ask the simple question, What exactly does it mean to use data or research to inform decisions?

What the New Stupid Looks Like

Today's enthusiastic embrace of data has waltzed us directly from a petulant resistance to performance measures to a reflexive and unsophisticated reliance on a few simple metrics—namely, graduation rates, expenditures, and the reading and math test scores of students in grades 3 through 8. The result has been a nifty pirouette from one troubling mind-set to another; with nary a misstep, we have pivoted from the "old stupid" to the "new stupid." The new stupid has three key elements.

1. Using Data in Half-Baked Ways

I first encountered the inclination to energetically misuse data a few years ago, while giving a presentation to a group of aspiring superintendents. They were passionate, eager to make data-driven decisions and employ research, and committed to leaving no child behind. We had clearly left the old stupid in the rearview mirror. New grounds for concern emerged, however, as we discussed value-added assessment and teacher assignments.
The group had recently read a research brief high-lighting the effect of teachers on student achievement as well as the inequitable distribution of teachers within districts, with higher-income, higher-performing schools getting the pick of the litter. The aspirants were fired up and ready to put this knowledge to use. To a roomful of nods, one declared, "Day one, we're going to start identifying those high value-added teachers and moving them to the schools that aren't making AYP."
Now, although I was generally sympathetic to the premise, the certainty of the stance provoked me to ask a series of questions: Can we be confident that teachers who are effective in their current classrooms would be equally effective elsewhere? What effect would shifting teachers to different schools have on the likelihood that teachers would remain in the district? Are the measures in question good proxies for teacher quality? What steps might either encourage teachers to accept reassignment or improve recruiting for underserved schools?
My concern was not that the would-be superintendents lacked firm answers to these questions—that's natural even for veteran big-district superintendents who are able to lean on research and assessment departments. It was that they seemingly regarded such questions as distractions. One aspirant perfectly captured the mind-set when she said, "We need to act. We've got children who need help, and we know which teachers can help them."
At that moment, I glumly envisioned a new generation of superintendents shuffling teachers among schools—perhaps paying bonuses to do so—becoming frustrated at the disappointing results, puzzling over the departure of highly rated teachers, and wondering what had gone wrong. This is what it must have been like to listen to eager stock analysts explain in 1998 why some hot new Internet start-up was a sure thing while dismissing questions about strategy and execution as evidence that the stodgy questioners "just didn't get it."
Then as now, the key is not to retreat from data but to truly embrace the data by asking hard questions, considering organizational realities, and contemplating unintended consequences. Absent sensible restraint, it is not difficult to envision a raft of poor judgments governing staffing, operations, and instruction—all in the name of "data-driven decision making."

2. Translating Research Simplistically

For two decades, advocates of class-size reduction have referenced the findings from the Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) project, a class-size experiment conducted in Tennessee in the late 1980s. Researchers found significant achievement gains for students in small kindergarten classes and additional gains in 1st grade, especially for black students. The results seemed to validate a crowd-pleasing reform and were famously embraced in California, where in 1996 legislators adopted a program to reduce class sizes that cost nearly $800 million in its first year and billions in its first decade. The dollars ultimately yielded disappointing results, however, with the only major evaluation (a joint American Institutes for Research and RAND study1 ) finding no effect on student achievement.
What happened? Policymakers ignored nuance and context. California encouraged districts to place students in classes of no more than 20—but that class size was substantially larger than those for which STAR found benefits. Moreover, STAR was a pilot program serving a limited population, which minimized the need for new teachers. California's statewide effort created a voracious appetite for new educators, diluting teacher quality and encouraging well-off districts to strip-mine teachers from less affluent communities. The moral is that even policies or practices informed by rigorous research can prove ineffective if the translation is clumsy or ill considered.
When it comes to "research-based practice," the most vexing problem may be the failure to recognize the limits of what even rigorous scientific research can tell us. For instance, when testing new medical treatments, randomized field trials are the research design of choice because they can help establish cause and effect. Efforts to adopt this model in schooling, however, have been plagued by a flawed understanding of just how the model works in medicine and how it translates to education. The randomized field trial model, in which drugs or therapies are administered to individual patients under explicit protocols, is enormously helpful when recommending interventions for particular medical conditions. But it is far less useful when determining how much to pay nurses or how to hold hospitals accountable.
In education, curricular and pedagogical interventions can indeed be investigated through randomized field trials, with results that can serve as the basis for prescriptive practice. Even in these cases, however, there is a tendency for educators to be cavalier about the elements and execution of research-based practice. When medical research finds a certain drug regimen to be effective, doctors do not casually tinker with the formula. Yet, in areas like reading instruction, districts and schools routinely alter the sequencing and elements of a curriculum, while still touting their practices as research based.
Meanwhile, when it comes to policy, officials must make tough decisions about governance, management, and compensation that cannot be examined under controlled conditions and for which it is difficult to glean conclusive evidence. Although research can shed light on how policies play out and how context matters, studies of particular merit-pay or school-choice plans are unlikely to answer whether such policies "work"—largely because the particulars of each plan will prove crucial.

3. Giving Short Shrift to Management Data

School and district leaders have embraced student achievement data but have paid scant attention to collecting or using data that are more relevant to improving the performance of schools and school systems. The result is "data-driven" systems in which leaders give short shrift to the operations, hiring, and financial practices that are the backbone of any well-run organization and that are crucial to supporting educators.
Existing achievement data are of limited utility for management purposes. State tests tend to provide results that are too coarse to offer more than a snapshot of student and school performance, and few district data systems link student achievement metrics to teachers, practices, or programs in a way that can help determine what is working. More significant, successful public and private organizations monitor their operations extensively and intensively. FedEx and UPS know at any given time where millions of packages are across the United States and around the globe. Yet few districts know how long it takes to respond to a teaching applicant, how frequently teachers use formative assessments, or how rapidly school requests for supplies are processed and fulfilled.
For all of our attention to testing and assessment, student achievement measures are largely irrelevant to judging the performance of many school district employees. It simply does not make sense to evaluate the performance of a payroll processor or human resources recruiter—or even a foreign language instructor—primarily on the basis of reading and math test scores for grades 3 through 8.
Just as hospitals employ large numbers of administrative and clinical personnel to support doctors and the military employs accountants, cooks, and lawyers to support its combat personnel, so schools have a "long tail" of support staff charged with ensuring that educators have the tools they need to be effective. Just as it makes more sense to judge the quality of army chefs on the quality of their kitchens and cuisines rather than on the outcome of combat operations, so it is more sensible to focus on how well district employees perform their prescribed tasks than on less direct measures of job performance. The tendency to casually focus on student achievement, especially given the testing system's heavy emphasis on reading and math, allows a large number of employees to either be excused from results-driven accountability or be held accountable for activities over which they have no control. This undermines a performance mindset and promises to eventually erode confidence in management.
Ultimately, student achievement data alone only yield a "black box." They illustrate how students are faring but do not enable an organization to diagnose problems or manage improvement. It is as if a CEO's management dashboard consisted of only one item—the company stock's price.
Data-driven management should not simply identify effective teachers or struggling students but should also help render schools and school systems more supportive of effective teaching and learning. Doing so requires tracking an array of indicators, such as how long it takes books and materials to be shipped to classrooms, whether schools provide students with accurate and appropriate schedules in a timely fashion, how quickly assessment data are returned to schools, and how often the data are used. A system in which leaders possess that kind of data is far better equipped to boost school performance than one in which leaders have a pallette of achievement data and little else.

Steering Clear of the New Stupid

If you see warning signs of the new stupid, what should you do? There are at least four keys to avoiding the new stupid.
First, educators should be wary of allowing data or research to substitute for good judgment. When presented with persuasive findings or promising new programs, it is still vital to ask the simple questions: What are the presumed benefits of adopting this program or reform? What are the costs? How confident are we that the promised results are replicable? What contextual factors might complicate projections? Data-driven decision making does not simply require good data; it also requires good decisions.
Second, schools must actively seek out the kind of data they need as well as the achievement data external stakeholders need. Despite quantum leaps in state assessment systems and continuing investment in longitudinal data systems, school and district leaders are a long way from having the data they require. Creating the conditions for high-performing schools and systems requires operational metrics beyond student achievement. In practice, there is a rarely acknowledged tension between collecting data with an eye toward external accountability (measurement of performance) and doing so for internal management (measurement for performance).
The data most useful to parents and policymakers focus on how well students and schools are doing; this is the kind of data required by No Child Left Behind and collected by state accountability systems. Although enormously useful, these assessments have also exacerbated a tendency of school and district leaders to focus on the data they have rather than on the data they need.
Current conditions call to mind the parable of the drunken man crawling under the streetlight while searching for his keys. A Good Samaritan stops to help; after minutes of searching, she finally asks, "Are you sure you dropped your keys here?" The man looks up and gestures toward the other end of the street, saying, "No, I dropped them down there—but the light's better over here." We must take care that the ready availability of data on reading and math scores for grades 3 through 8 or on high school graduation rates—all of which provide useful information—do not become streetlights that distract more than they illuminate.
Third, we must understand the limitations of research as well as its uses. Especially when crafting policy, we should not expect research to dictate outcomes but should instead ensure that decisions are informed by the facts and insights that science can provide. Researchers can upend conventional wisdom, examine design features, and help gauge the effect of proposed measures. But education leaders should not expect research to ultimately resolve thorny policy disputes over school choice or teacher pay any more than medical research has ended contentious debates over health insurance or tort reform.
Finally, school systems should reward education leaders and administrators for pursuing more efficient ways to deliver services. Indeed, superintendents who use data to eliminate personnel or programs—even if these superintendents are successful and vindicated by the results—are often more likely to ignite political conflict than to reap professional rewards. So long as leaders are revered only for their success at consensus building and gathering stakeholder input, moving from the rhetorical embrace of data to truly data-driven decision making will remain an elusive goal in many communities. This is especially true given state and federal statutes, salary schedules, and established policies that restrict the ability to redeploy resources and that make aggressive efforts to act on data and research exhausting and contentious. The result is a chicken-and-egg conundrum, where officials have limited incentive to track managerial data given their limited ability to use it, yet the resulting vacuum makes it more difficult to argue that flexibility will be used in informed and appropriate ways.
Research and data are powerful tools. Used thoughtfully, they are dynamic levers for improving schools and schooling. In this new era, educators stand to benefit enormously from advances in research and data systems. Let us take care that hubris, faddism, or untamed enthusiasm do not render these gifts more hindrance than help.


1 Bohrnstedt, G. W., & Stecher, B. M. (2002). What we have learned about class size reduction in California. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Available:

Frederick M. Hess is Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; He is editor of When Research Matters (Harvard Education Press, 2008) and author of Common Sense School Reform (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

December 14

Film Lab Gives ABC’s a New D: Digital Literacy

external image 05burns1.600.jpg
Students in a program at the Jacob Burns Film Center making a documentary over the summer.

By TIM ARANGOPublished: December 4, 2008
In late September, a bit of Hollywood plopped down in Pleasantville, N.Y., red carpet and flashbulbs included.
external image 05burns0.190.jpg Alan Zale for The New York Times
The center’s Media Arts Lab in Pleasantville, N.Y., which opens on Friday, will serve as an audiovisual department for schools.

Alighting from vans and school buses, 7-, 8- and 9-year-old children strutted into the lobby of a quaint storefront theater, as parents and teachers snapped pictures.
The event was to showcase the animated films the children had produced during a summer program, one part of an expanding education operation that emanates from the nonprofit Jacob Burns Film Center in Westchester County, and now includes nearly 85 percent of the county’s school districts.
The goal is no less than redefining education in the digital age, a tough task at a time when anything considered an extra is very likely to come under budget scrutiny. Nevertheless, on Friday, the film center will open its new Media Arts Lab, a $15 million, 27,000-square-foot plant crammed with digital studios just down the road from the main theater. It is like a giant audiovisual department for the nearby schools.
And it is starting to reach into other sorts of institutions.
The Westchester County jail, in nearby Valhalla, is a temporary home to men who probably have more pressing issues than learning how to produce videos for YouTube. The same goes for those living in a nearby homeless shelter.
But instructors regularly visit the jail and the shelter to teach a curriculum of “digital literacy.”
The idea is this: In an increasingly visual world, and one in which anyone with a laptop, Web connection and camera can be a producer of media, children (and the occasional prisoner) need to understand how what they see and watch is created as much as plain old reading, writing and arithmetic.
“This is very much about economics, it’s about competitiveness in this country,” said Stephen Apkon, who founded the center in 2000. When the center opened, Mr. Apkon said that “there was a sense of gee, this is a nice extra.”
He added: “But Johnny needs to learn to read and write. That was the challenge. The challenge now is to deal with the demand for it.”
So what started as a charming idea to refurbish a theater and turn it in to a community cinema house, has morphed into a big educational program whose tentacles have reached as far away as Caracas, Venezuela, where the center’s staff has trained teachers to run their own programs.
It also has some big Hollywood names involved, like Ron Howard and George Lucas. (Janet Maslin, a critic for The New York Times, is the president of the board of directors.)
“Without knowing how to approach it, I’ve been interested in the idea of creative outreach programs to kids,” said Mr. Howard, a board member of the film center whose latest film, “Frost/Nixon,” opens on Friday. “I’m more excited about the problem-solving skills and exercising young people’s creativity. Creativity doesn’t just exist in a handful of geniuses — it’s a muscle everyone can exercise.”
Mr. Apkon, 47, a former investment banker with a pedigree in that world (Harvard Business School, Goldman Sachs), said he was drawn to digital literacy from watching his children.
“I saw a real disconnect between the classroom and the world they were growing up in,” he said.
He also drew on his own education, remembering the AV cart that would arrive in his classroom and the video his teacher would play.
“The discussion was never how that work was crafted to manipulate,” he said. “I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, but in how to tell a story.”
The center, which has an annual budget of $5 million, charges a fee to wealthy public school districts and private schools, but its programs are free in poorer schools. Mr. Apkon said that 55 percent of the students who participate do so at no charge. The filmmaking and animation programs incorporate math and science, and teachers say the students’ writing invariably improves.
“We have to communicate not just with words, but visually,” said Tara Gorman, a fourth-grade teacher at Casimir Pulaski School in Yonkers, which participates in the film center programs free.
In today’s media environment, she said, “Kids are really dictating what they see.”
Andrew Keen, a social critic and author of “Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy,” offers a cautionary note on such efforts. Digital literacy, he said, should be defined as teaching children to be skeptical about sources of information online.
“If digital literacy means just putting your movies on the Internet, we’re in danger of creating an illiterate society,” Mr. Keen said. “That’s just self-expression using digital tools.”
Robb Moss, who teaches filmmaking at Harvard University and has consulted with the Jacob Burns Center, said that without the skills to view media critically, “you are less of a good citizen, and less able to defend yourself against the powers of advertising and political persuasion.”
Mr. Apkon said the center’s aim is not to create tomorrow’s Hollywood filmmakers, even if some of the children who were on the red carpet in September harbor such ambitions.
“We are not a vocational program,” Mr. Apkon said. “We are not geared to the kid who wants to become the next Steven Spielberg. Regardless of profession, these are skills you need to learn.”

November 21
external image 20081111-CB-CuttingEdgeScience.JPG

Cutting Edge Science

By Jessica Renee Napier**"Print this page"**Converge Summer 2008

Students have always had the opportunity to take science classes such as biology, physics and chemistry. Some of these courses are required for graduation at certain high schools. However, how do students prepare for careers in specialized sciences such as forensics and epidemiology?

These occupations are expected to grow 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively, by 2014. Without the tools for such labs in traditional high schools, an alternative is necessary. One company is raising the learning curve by introducing an online science module with niche topics for students interested in specialized scientific material.

The National Network of Digital Schools (NNDS) distributes Cutting Edge Science courses, a product of Lincoln Interactive curriculum. These science courses include biotechnology, epidemiology, forensics, emerging genetics, sports medicine and stem cell research.

A demand for science
Since technology advancements are occurring on a daily basis, NNDS has incorporated the latest science innovations into online courses through Lincoln Interactive. In addition to Cutting Edge Science and general science classes, Lincoln Interactive provides online education to more than 50 schools across the country.

"We wanted to look at emerging sciences -- things that are changing quickly and be able to respond to those changes quickly in teaching the classes," said Fred Miller, communications coordinator at NNDS. "They picked out some of the things that I like to think of as 'ripped from the headlines.' We have all of the standard stuff, but we also have these exciting new things."

NNSD is hoping to grab the attention of students who may want a career in a niche field such as sports medicine, said Bryan Bown, director of educational services for NNDS. Since most traditional schools are unable to provide such curriculum, Lincoln Interactive can give students the option to learn such material.

"They'll be able to see if they actually enjoy the course or that's something they do want to move forward to once they do get to college," Bown said.

This fall is the first semester that Cutting Edge Science classes will be offered in high schools.

Online education
When NNDS began providing online curriculum in 2005, it was originally with one school, Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Today, Lincoln Interactive courses -- including the Cutting Edge Science classes -- are available internationally to public school districts, charter schools, parochial schools and cyber-schools.

"Because we are providing curriculum to a lot of students, we can justify the expense of developing this curriculum for a large market," Miller said. "Whereas a single school district, how many kids would they have who want to take stem cell research? One or two kids. But in a cyber-school with 7,500 students, we're going to have a fair number of students in a class like that. The way that the cyber-school works makes it perfect for this small niche kind of class that a traditional school cannot afford to offer."

Traditional high schools may offer Cutting Edge Science classes for credit as a supplemental course since most schools don't have the resources for a stem cell research or biotechnology course. Cyber-charter schools supply these courses as elective material.

"We have other school districts that use Lincoln Interactive classes because they realize it's an advantage for their students to be able to take these other classes that they don't offer," Miller said.

Although the online tools are not the same as brick-and-mortar science labs, Bown said that students are receiving a rigorous education. While taking a Cutting Edge Science course, students utilize homemade videos, discussion forums, PowerPoint presentations and Micromedia Flash experiments.

"They can see what they did right and what they did wrong, but they can't actually touch and feel," Bown said. "We're not here to take over -- we're here to enhance the curriculum for any school."

Students who want to take a Cutting Edge Science course for high school credit must attend a school that offers the material to students. Otherwise, students can pay to take a course for leisure.

Cutting Edge Science
Lincoln Interactive is rolling out six new classes this fall, all subjects on the forefront of science. Courses in biotechnology, epidemiology, forensics, emerging genetics, sports medicine and stem cell research expose students to scientific advancements that are happening in the real world. These lessons are for high school students who have already completed one year of biology.

Cutting Edge Science classes consist of 20 lessons over nine weeks of learning modules. A typical semester course is worth .5 credits for the duration of 18 weeks. But the new science courses are shorter, giving students the option not to take a full semester of science if it's not the appropriate subject for them.

"Those students who are really interested in these top-notch cutting-edge sciences that are in the news today, they can take a nine-week course, and if they feel, 'Oh, it's not for me to take,' then they haven't wasted a whole year in taking a specific course," Bown said.

The biotechnology course shows students how technology and biology are used in agriculture, food science and medicine. The epidemiology module touches on subjects such as biological sampling, survey research and geographic information systems. In the forensics course, students will learn to do research that most people only ever watch on "CSI." The emerging genetics module exposes students to genetics concepts and cloning. As a part of the sports medicine class, students will learn how to diagnose, treat and prevent sports injuries. And the stem cell research module will teach students about the development of the human body.

"We're hoping to get these courses out to all students who are interested," Bown said. "Many schools don't have these specific courses out there, so it draws that student in -- that highly motivated student who may be interested in moving on in a career."

Keeping it cutting edge
Not only are students given the resources that meet the latest technology standards, but they're using consumable text books. These are books that the students get to keep, so they can write in them, make notes and refer back to the information after completing the course.

"We've gone through a textbook company called Quantum to write our books," Bown said. "And they've gone out to the specific areas across the country to gain people who are really in-depth with the research to actually write the books."

Additionally, Lincoln Interactive curriculum is audited by The University of Pittsburgh's Tri-State Area School Study Council in order to ensure the rigor and quality of course content. Bown said that the courses go through a three-tiered endorsement process: the Council makes suggestions for improvement; the courses are launched after alterations are made according to suggestions; and parents, students and teachers provide feedback and courses are revamped again.

Not only are the courses tested in three tiers, but Lincoln Interactive courses are also designed to teach in three tiers. Each lesson will encompass key concepts, reinforcement and enrichment. The key concepts will cover the main components of the lesson, using PowerPoint presentations, the textbook and animated Web sites. The reinforcement part is additional activities and curriculum to help students memorize the key concepts. And the enrichment component is additional information that reaches beyond the course for students who want to learn supplemental, non-required material.

"The people who have seen this curriculum are just blown away by it because this is great stuff," Miller said.

The dollar signs
NNDS was set up as a charitable foundation to provide management services and curriculum in an online forum. However, sustaining academic excellence comes with a price tag.

"Nobody wanted to make a profit on this," Miller said. "We wanted to put a profit back in the community, back into the organizations and the people. The way that the funding works in Pennsylvania is the money follows the kid from the school district."

There isn't a standard cost for online education, and the payment system isn't simple. It varies from state to state and within school districts. For the Cutting Edge Science example, NNDS charges $225 plus materials per student for one semester course. Cutting Edge Science classes cost $150 since they are nine-week courses. But, individuals typically don't pay NNDS -- schools do. So, if a traditional school wanted to provide one Lincoln Interactive class to five students, the school district will pay $1,125 to NNDS.

North Hills High School
Until the Cutting Edge Science courses are rolled out this fall, only seven students have had the chance to take advantage of Lincoln Interactive's newest offerings. North Hills High School, a traditional high school in Pittsburgh, Pa., conducted a pilot program last spring, recruiting a few students to take the stem cell research course.

Jerry White, science department curriculum leader and gifted education specialist at the high school, said that the students were given the option to include the class on their transcript since these individuals were already enrolled in a full schedule.

"They liked the fact that they are no specific due dates," White said. "The only condition is that they finish the course within one year of when they enrolled in it. They can do the course when they have time for it and there aren't any hard and fast due dates."

NHHS chose to participate in the pilot program because a former student-teacher at the school is the online stem cell research teacher. Principal Patrick Mannarino said the school will offer all six Cutting Edge Science classes this fall because of the success with the stem-cell research course.

"We're trying to create as many opportunities for our students as we can," he said. "I think the program is successful because we have people like Jerry who are going to work with our kids. He's going to guide them and that's what makes the kids be successful because they have a mentor in the school."

However, despite the amount of students given the opportunity to take -- and pass -- these courses, White said that without the laboratory component, the online classes are the "second best option." The problem is enrolling more students and finding a teacher to implement a new class. Until a greater interest for these science classes exists, White said the curriculum is comparable.

"It is a nice supplement for those areas where we do have some students who are interested but not a critical mass," he said. "It's a nice opportunity for students to explore their interest when we don't have a comparable offering. I think a hybrid is really nice."

As occupations in fields such as forensics and epidemiology continue to grow, more opportunities for learners must be brought from cutting edge to center stage.

November 14
It's not an article but it's good.

November 7

Three Myths About Learning and Why IT Shatters Them

By Trent Batson

One feral child researcher felt that the story of one feral girl demonstrated just how mentally naked humans are when born and how much we rely on society to shape us. As another researcher put it, human culture operates on the mind as "a large-scale moulding matrix, a gigantic conditioning apparatus" without which we would remain at the level of animals.

With these stories in mind, we must wonder at the very basis of U.S. higher education, which has traditionally insisted on individual learning, puzzlingly going against the very grain of human nature.

Information technology enables social learning. It is, in this regard, a more natural learning tool than the less social learning tools and materials we've relied on for centuries.

Myth Three: Machines are De-Humanizing Influences

I am often asked one way or another about technology coming between people or about machines intruding in our lives. The questioners seem to believe or fear that if we communicate through or use information technology we will be less human. Using cell phones too much will cause brain cancer; texting will take kids away from other important activities; video games will lead to violence; students will cheat more because of easy access to Google and Wikipedia. And so on.

When I first started using computers in my teaching, in 1985, I was at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, which is the only university in the world completely dedicated to educating deaf students. The students I worked with faced the same fundamental problem that all people born deaf face: no access to the living form (the spoken form) of the native language of their country. Imagine a blind person trying to learn sign language, for example. It is that hard for a deaf child to pick up a spoken language. Lip reading is largely a myth.

But in my class, we set up a new invention at that time, a local-area network, and used an unknown utility that came with the network software: chat. Hard to believe that chat was almost completely unknown in 1985, but it was. As each of my deaf students sat at their own PCs, they could write to all the other students in the room and to me and we could all have a conversation in English.

Talk about a revelation! For the first time in their lives, they were able to have a group conversation in English and the group included a native speaker of English (me). Suddenly, my class became a destination for my students: They would arrive early and stay late. A new kind of information technology had transformed their learning from a gantlet of failure to a joyful interaction.

Why These Myths No Longer Serve Us Well

Assuming learning is about acquiring content is a distortion of reality. Learning is about learning how to learn. It is a social process: For young people the social process must be tangible, present, and immediate; for more advanced learners, the social context is internalized but still indispensable.

Of course we are social beings. Design learning around the social process of learning. Information technology is allowing us the flexibility to design learning situations that move away from the three crippling myths above, that we've lived with for centuries. There is nothing superficial about the changes we are going through now in our understanding of learning. Now that we have alternative methods that move us from myth to human reality, the time for resistance is over.

Trent Batson, Ph.D. has served as an English professor, director of academic computing, and has been an IT leader since the mid-1980s. He is currently a Communication Strategist in the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology at MIT.

Cite this Site

Trent Batson, "Three Myths About Learning and Why IT Shatters Them," Campus Technology, 11/5/2008,

October 31
OK, this one is just too weird for words. I had to share because just when I thought I could never be surprised, well, there you go.

Japanese Woman Arrested for Virtual-World 'Murder'

Friday , October 24, 2008
external image bgr_ChrisJPeg_300x250.jpgexternal image bgr_ChrisJPeg_300x250.jpg
A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband's digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.
The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.
• Click here to visit's Video Gaming Center.
The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.
She has not yet been formally charged, but if convicted could face a prison term of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000.
Players in "Maple Story" raise and manipulate digital images called "avatars" that represent themselves, while engaging in relationships, social activities and fighting against monsters and other obstacles.
The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married, and killed the character.
The man complained to police when he discovered that his beloved online avatar was dead.
The woman was arrested Wednesday and was taken across the country, traveling 620 miles from her home in southern Miyazaki to be detained in Sappporo, where the man lives, the official said.
The police official said he did not know if she was married in the real world.
In recent years, virtual lives have had consequences in the real world.
In August, a woman was charged in Delaware with plotting the real-life abduction of a boyfriend she met through "Second Life," another virtual interactive world.
In Tokyo, police arrested a 16-year-old boy on charges of swindling virtual currency worth $360,000 in an interactive role playing game by manipulating another player's portfolio using a stolen ID and password.
Virtual games are popular in Japan, and "Second Life" has drawn a fair number of Japanese participants. They rank third by nationality among users, after Americans and Brazilians.

October 24
This is an excerpt from David Pogue's column about the Encyclopedia of Life project. WOW is alI can say.

So today, I offer a much longer version of my interview with E.O. Wilson (friends call him Ed), the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, naturalist and Harvard research professor who's the father of the Encyclopedia of Life.
DAVID POGUE: So how did this project come about?
DR. E.O. WILSON: I've been in systematics and the mapping of biological diversity all my life. And a little more than ten years ago, I thought the time had come to undertake a complete mapping of the world's fauna and flora.
Because remarkably--and this is little known even in the scientific community--we've only begun to explore this planet. It was 250 years ago this year that Karl Linneus, the great naturalist in Sweden, began what became the official form of biological classification: two names, like "homo sapiens" for us, and ranging the species in hierarchies according to how much they resemble one another. 250 years ago.
And in that period of time, we have found and given names to perhaps one-tenth of what's on the surface of the earth. We have now found 1.8 million species. But the actual number is almost certainly in excess of 10 million, and could be as high as a hundred million, when you throw in bacteria.
Let me give you an example. Fungi. The world depends on fungi, because they are major players in the cycling of materials and energy around the world. They're necessary for the health of other organisms. (We should get rid of the idea that fungi are what gives you athlete's foot...feet.) Some 60,000 species are known, and it's been estimated by experts that more than 1.5 million exist. So we've just begun to explore it. And that's true, group after group. We're just beginning.
For a period of time, I was a voice in the wilderness, with a few others, wandering around and trying to raise a lot of money, unsuccessfully, saying, "You know, we need to bulk up the exploration of the planet, the living part." And finally, in 2003, I wrote a paper called "The Encyclopedia of Life." And I said, "What we need is to get out there and search this little-known planet, and then put all the information that we get on species already known into a single great database, an electronic encyclopedia, with a page that's indefinitely extensible for each species in turn, and that would be available to anybody, any time, anywhere, single access, on command, free."
We were about to enter the age of Google. We were about to enter an age where, technically, we could have everything available to everybody all the time.
So I published that article and began to promote it. And some others picked up on it. The key, however, was the warm reception made to it by the MacArthur Foundation. [The MacArthur and Sloan foundations eventually contributed $12 million to launch the project. Later, Dr. Wilson also won the TED Prize, which brings with it $100,000 and, more importantly, a lot of exposure and contacts to help three visionaries each year make their wishes come true.]
DP: And what do you say to people who think, "Oh. Oh, how interesting. A database for scientists." I mean, is there a greater purpose to a Web site like this?
EOW: The public will have this unlimited encyclopedia, where it can browse [at]. Where individual students can do their own research projects. Where you can make your own field guide wherever you're going. It will tell you what the butterflies are of Oregon, or maybe you're hoping to make a trip to Costa Rica and the whole family would like to see turtles. In time, you'll be able to do this with a few keystrokes.
DP: So I understand that the Encyclopedia will operate Wikipedia-style, with contributions from the public, which are then approved by experts?
EOW: The world is full of amateurs: gifted amateurs, devoted amateurs. You can pick almost any group that has any kind of intrinsic interest in it, from dragonflies to pill bugs to orb-weaving spiders. Anybody can pick up information in interesting places, find new species or rediscover what was thought to be a vanished species, or some new biological fact about a species already known, and can provide that right into The Encyclopedia of Life.
DP: Haven't there been previous attempts to catalogue every species in the world?
EOW: Yes, there have been several. And if you have access to one of the great libraries and a LOT of time, you can, with great effort, pull out everything known about every species. But it would take an army actually to get all the information on all species, all 1.8 million species and on beyond, around the world.
For example, 30 feet from where we sit is the largest ant collection in the world. One million specimens, 6,000 species, and it's a wonderful resource. [DP notes: This collection represents Wilson's own life's work.]
But any scientist who wants to utilize this collection--and that's most of them who are doing research on ants--have to come here [to my department at Harvard]. But when The Encyclopedia of Life receives all the information that we have, like the superb photographs and basic data on the species, just a few keystrokes away, it'll be possible to do high-level, cutting-edge, real-time research, wherever you are.
Simultaneously, to speed things along even more, the Biodiversity Heritage Library Initiative has set out to scan and make available maybe 500 million pages published all through time, on all species. [They are literally scanning thousands of books and journals, converting the scans to text, and making it all available to the Enyclopedia of Life.] I just got a letter from one of the leaders of this who said, "We've just passed the eight million mark."
DP: It sounds like this is going to be a major world resource. How is it gonna pay for itself? Are you gonna sell ads?
EOW: This project has to pay for itself. We got our break through the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations to get started. But now we have to pick up funds to expand it to anything near completion.
And right now, I don't have an idea of what that will take in funding. But I'm pretty sure of one thing. It's not going to cost more than the Human Genome Project, because it's way ahead. And it's gonna cost a lot less than our space programs--a lot less. In fact, if we could have a small fraction of one of a space program budget alone, we would see this project go way fast into the future.
It's a scientific moon shot--big science. But I think it's gonna turn out to be one of the least expensive. It doesn't take a lot of high technology to discover species and work out their characteristics.
DP: Is there a larger purpose to The Encyclopedia of Life?
EOW: Oh, yeah. The Encyclopedia of Life is absolutely vital in saving the environment. Because we're losing the vast percentage of species; we are losing them. Whenever we focus on a particular group, whether it's birds, frogs, whatever, we can just see them disappearing. So what happens among all these other groups, from beetles to ants to bacteria to fungi and so on? You know full well that they're disappearing, too. But we don't even know what's disappearing. And we don't know how to save most of them. And we don't know how this is going to affect the environment.
We need to have this information, this great database, in order to plan strategies that are maximally efficient, cost the least, square kilometer by square kilometer around the world, and save the most. And we can't do that without a thorough knowledge of what we're trying to save.
Listen: What would thrill people the most about space exploration? Surely it would be the discovery of life on another planet.
Then, Congress, if it weren't busted, would be willing to put out billions to explore that planet--find out all of the life forms there. Why shouldn't we be doing the same for planet earth? It's a little-known planet. Ninety percent of the life forms unknown to us.
And this is gonna be fun. This is a return to exploring a little-known planet.
DP: What is your involvement with The Encyclopedia of Life these days?
EOW: Here at Harvard, I've started a part of The Encyclopedia of Life effort: the Global Ant Project. I've obtained the funds. We've just had a meeting of ant specialists from around the country.
DP: That's gotta be a party.
EOW: Yeah, it was. (LAUGHTER) The word for them is myrmecologists. And believe me, this was an exciting but, I have to admit, idiosyncratic clan meeting. (LAUGHTER)
And for a skeptical audience who says, "Well, how could studying ants be very important?" Well, let me tell you, ants are the dominant insects. They make up as much as a quarter of the biomass of all insects in the world. They are the principal predators. They're the cemetery workers. Ants are the leading removers of dead creatures on the land. And the rest of life is substantially dependent upon them.
In many environments, take away the ants and there would be partial collapses in many of the land ecosystems. Take away humans, and everything would come back and flourish. But I don't wanna go down that down that road for a broad audience. (LAUGHTER)
DP: I'm just curious: when you see an ant in the kitchen…Has your life's work caused you to reach a point where you wouldn't just stomp on it?
EOW: Oh, no. (LAUGHTER) I've slaughtered more ants in my life than possibly any living person. Whole colonies.
DP: What is your sense of The Encyclopedia of Life's likelihood of success?
EOW: Likelihood of success? Certain. Challenges? Large. Some unknown. But right now, those that can be imagined don't seem to be insoluble. It won't take a huge amount of funding. It'll be relatively a small "big science" effort. No. I think this whole effort has a great future.
DP: So you don't see it being derailed by people leaving, or money running out, or--
EOW: What's to derail? I mean, we're not talking about the Hadron Collider, with people standing outside, wringing their hands thinking that the Earth will disappear into a black hole. We're not talking about religious believers trying to put the stop on the stem cells. We're talking about finding out about life on a little-known planet and making full use of that knowledge.
October 3

White-Hat Whiz Kid: A Digital-Age Teen Talks Tech Turkey

Dylan Field discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.

by Molly Jackel September 24, 2008

Dylan Field, a digital age teen, discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.
Dylan Field, a digital age teen, discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.

Tech Talk:

High school senior Dylan Field is a white-hat hacker and a spokesperson for teens that use technology today.
Credit: Molly Jackel
Edutopia spoke with tech-savvy teen Dylan Field at the northern California offices of O'Reilly Media, where Field is working as a student intern. O'Reilly Media, set among the apple orchards and vineyards of a small wine-country town, is a publisher of popular manuals for software developers.
Field is a polite, articulate, mop-topped senior at Technology High School [1], in Rohnert Park, California. Through his recent public relations work at O'Reilly for Hackerteen, a young-adult graphic novel about computer hacking, he has become somewhat of a technology spokesperson [2] for his generation. Here's what he has to say about technology in the classroom, safety on the Internet, netiquette, and technology's future.

Tell me about your school.

I go to Technology High, in Rohnert Park, on the Sonoma State University campus. It's a public high school with a focus on math, science, and technology. The belief is that you can make the curriculum more interesting to the students and more applicable to real life by integrating technology.

Are there things you wish your teachers knew that they don't know?

They should be aware of the school's Internet-content-filtering software. A lot of times, teachers tell us to do an assignment, but they're not aware that the Children's Internet Protection Act [3] blocks a lot of the resources on the Internet. For instance, CIPA blocks all blogs. That's a huge source of information. It also blocks all videos. Take YouTube [4], for instance. Is there a lot of potential for goofing off on the site? Yes. But is there also educational material? Yes.
Another thing is that instead of making it an us-against-them thing, teachers should trust students and integrate them into the process. Teachers should have kids help out and do tasks with the network, rather than tell them to get away from the network.
If a teacher tells students to get away from the network, then they are going to push right back; every force has an equal and opposite reaction. But if a teacher says, "Help me out," the students will learn a skill that may be useful in their future job. It will also be less work for the IT people. Let's say the server needs to be reset. Either a student at the school can do it, or an IT person will have to drive 30 miles to do it.

Are you a hacker?

Dylan Field, a digital age teen, discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.
Dylan Field, a digital age teen, discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.

At Work:

Field interns at software-manual publisher O’Reilly Media.
Credit: Molly Jackel
I don't consider myself a hacker. Hacker has a lot of different connotations. The term developed at MIT in the early '70s, and back then it meant anyone who has an interesting or clever solution to a problem. Over the years, the media adopted it as their pet term for people who are breaking into the Internet and doing malicious things. People in the security community, who use the term that way, divide hackers into two classes: white-hat hackers and black-hat hackers. White hats explore, look around, and report vulnerabilities. Black hats exploit the vulnerabilities for malicious purposes.
I would never do anything malicious. But I have been known to look around. Freshman year, I found a vulnerability in our network that disclosed a lot of information for two of our middle schools, including names and phone numbers. It was definitely sensitive information. I also found a way to get into many user accounts. But for a teen, it's whom you turn to when you discover something like that that's important.
Dylan Field, a digital age teen, discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.
Dylan Field, a digital age teen, discusses his vision of technology for the next generation.

Credit: Molly Jackel

What did you do?

I didn't do anything. I didn't tell anybody, because I didn't want to get in trouble. But I also didn't tell any of my classmates, because I wanted to make sure the information didn't get around. I just hoped the IT people would figure it out and fix the problem.

What do you think is the best way to discourage hacking?

There are interesting things to be learned about Internet security, and I don't think we should discourage people from learning about the subject just because they could use that knowledge in bad ways. It's kind of like the gun debate: Here's a tool. Should we learn how to use that tool so we can defend against people who want to use it maliciously, or should we just not learn about it?

What kind of Net etiquette have you learned?

Just like in real life, if someone's annoying you or making fun of you online, the way to avoid that is to ignore them -- the same thing you learn in kindergarten. The same rules apply to the online space as anywhere else: Be polite. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Follow the Golden Rule. If you don't want to be yelled at online, don't yell. If you're polite in real life, I don't see why you wouldn't be online.

You seem very wise for your age.

Thank you.

What are your thoughts on Web privacy and safety for kids on the Internet?

If you don't want something out there, don't put it in writing. That's something people just need to know. Once you put it in writing, it's going to follow you your entire life on the Web. One Google search of your name will show everything you've written attached to your name.
One thing I find really interesting is the research of danah boyd [5], a PhD candidate at the University of California at Berkeley. She's researching how teens use technology. A few years ago, she blogged about my parents' generation. She said that when my parents were kids, their parents told them, "Be home before dinner, and you can do whatever you want in the meantime." That's definitely not the case anymore, and that's just a cultural thing.
But kids still need a place to hang out, and teens definitely still need a space to hang out. That space has generally moved online. That hangout space has become an online space instead of a physical one.

What is your Internet diet?

Pretty much the same as any teen, except I read a lot more RSS feeds [6] than anybody else. I use MySpace [7], Facebook [8], and instant messaging (IM), and I just started using Twitter [9]. I read a lot of blog posts, news sites, Digg [10], and reddit [11]. Most of my friends -- pretty much all teens -- use IM and social-networking sites.
But it's hard, because there's so much on the Web that you have to sort through the noise to get the signal. There's a big signal-to-noise ratio, so I try to make that ratio as good as it can get. But it's still hard to do that. If you go to a blog and someone has a really good essay but the rest of their entries are on topics that don't interest you, that's noise to me, but the signal is that great essay.
For example, when you're trying to get a wireless signal or radio signal, there's a signal-to-noise ratio. It's the same thing when it comes to information. Getting the things that you want to hear and that are important to you is hard to do because there's so much out there. You have to process enough to get the stuff that's important.

What do you think is the future of technology?

As far as the Internet goes, I think we're going to start seeing the Web as a platform. This means the emergence of rich Internet applications, or RIAs. Rich Internet applications run in your browser but still have all the functionality of a desktop application. However, unlike as with a desktop application, you don't have to install RIAs on your computer, and you can transfer them to anywhere you have data.
A prime example of this is Google Docs [12]. Google took the Microsoft Office suite, stripped it of some of its more powerful features, and put it up for free on the Web. After logging in with your Google account, you can open, edit, and save any document in your browser. If you want to access that document again later, you can do so from any computer connected to the Internet.
In relation to the Internet as a platform, my prediction is -- or at least my hope is -- we'll start seeing the walls of the social-networking sites break down. There's a huge movement to have open IDs and more flow of information. Facebook Connect [13] and the MySpace Data Platform [14] are both services that make it so you can access the social grid on these Web sites and start integrating their content into applications you build.
So, I think you're going to start seeing the emergence of more mobile technology. We've got two great technologies now in the United States, the iPhone and the soon-to-come-out Android [15] platform from Google. It's going to launch in the fourth quarter of this year on their first hardware phones. Soon, the Internet is always going to be in your pocket.
Finally, the biggest thing in technology, and the challenge for my generation, is going green. I'm going to be driving soon, and I watch the gas prices going up every day. I don't know if I'm going to be able to afford to drive! Governor Schwarzenegger recently signed a deal with Tesla Motors [16]. It's an incentive of millions of dollars for them to develop their electric-car plant in California. We're going to start seeing more alternative technologies and ways to improve the environment, because people really are getting it now. Who knows what the time frame on these new technologies will be, but it's going to happen in my time.
Molly Jackel is a freelance writer and editor in Sebastopol, California.

Source URL:

September 26

Learning From Mistakes Only Works After Age 12, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (Sep. 27, 2008) — Eight-year-old children have a radically different learning strategy from twelve-year-olds and adults. Eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback ('Well done!'), whereas negative feedback ('Got it wrong this time') scarcely causes any alarm bells to ring. Twelve-year-olds are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Adults do the same, but more efficiently.

See also:**Mind & Brain**
Brain areas for cognitive control
The switch in learning strategy has been demonstrated in behavioural research, which shows that eight-year-olds respond disproportionately inaccurately to negative feedback. But the switch can also be seen in the brain, as developmental psychologist Dr Eveline Crone and her colleagues from the Leiden Brain and Cognition Lab discovered using fMRI research. The difference can be observed particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive control. These areas are located in the cerebral cortex.
Opposite case
In children of eight and nine, these areas of the brain react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback. But in children of 12 and 13, and also in adults, the opposite is the case. Their 'control centres' in the brain are more strongly activated by negative feedback and much less by positive feedback.
Three-way division
Crone and her colleagues used fMRI research to compare the brains of three different age groups: children of eight to nine years, children of eleven to twelve years, and adults aged between 18 and 25 years. This three-way division had never been made before; the comparison is generally made between children and adults.
Crone herself was surprised at the outcome: 'We had expected that the brains of eight-year-olds would function in exactly the same way as the brains of twelve-year-olds, but maybe not quite so well. Children learn the whole time, so this new knowledge can have major consequences for people wanting to teach children: how can you best relay instructions to eight- and twelve-year-olds?' ’
Ticks and crosses
The researchers gave children of both age groups and adults aged 18 to 25 a computer task while they lay in the MRI scanner. The task required them to discover rules. If they did this correctly, a tick appeared on the screen, otherwise a cross appeared. MRI scans showed which parts of the brain were activated.
Learning in a different way
These surprising results set Crone thinking. 'You start to think less in terms of 'good' and 'not so good'. Children of eight may well be able to learn extremely efficiently, only they do it in a different way.'
Learning from mistakes is complicated
She is able to place her fMRI results within the existing knowledge about child development. 'From the literature, it appears that young children respond better to reward than to punishment.' She can also imagine how this comes about: 'The information that you have not done something well is more complicated than the information that you have done something well. Learning from mistakes is more complex than carrying on in the same way as before. You have to ask yourself what precisely went wrong and how it was possible.'
Is it experience?
Is that difference between eight- and twelve-year-olds the result of experience, or does it have to do with the way the brain develops? As yet, nobody has the answer. 'This kind of brain research has only been possible for the last ten years or so,' says Crone, 'and there are a lot more questions which have to be answered. But it is probably a combination of the brain maturing and experience.'
Brain area for positive feedback
There is also an area of the brain that responds strongly to positive feedback: the basal ganglia, just outside the cerebral cortex. The activity of this area of the brain does not change. It remains active in all age groups: in adults, but also in children, both eight-year-olds and twelve-year-olds.

Journal reference:
  1. Anna C. K. van Duijvenvoorde, Kiki Zanolie, Serge A. R. B. Rombouts, Maartje E. J. Raijmakers, and Eveline A. Crone. Evaluating the Negative or Valuing the Positive? Neural Mechanisms Supporting Feedback-Based Learning across Development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 17 September 2008 [link]
Adapted from materials provided by Leiden University. Leiden University (2008, September 27). Learning From Mistakes Only Works After Age 12, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/09/080925104309.htm

September 19

Is College Necessary in a Knowledge-Drenched World?

By Trent Batson
A friend told me recently that people are asking him why learners, in this age, need to ever attend college to become educated. This question undoubtedly has occurred to all educators, and to many parents who are paying tuition. There is perhaps no more raw-edged question than this in all of higher education: Have we educators become obsolete?

If we are considering only the learning value of higher education institutions, and not the developmental life-transition value, the list of unique opportunities for learning that higher education offers seems to have shrunk in the past few years.

One gold mine that distinguished higher education institutions in previous decades, the library and its collections, seems to have deflated in its traditional value. And, who needs large lecture halls to learn? Who needs a sound studio or post-production facilities when you can have them on your laptop? Who needs an art studio if you create your composition on your laptop? If high-end lab equipment or scientific simulation software is also available via the Web, why do you need to visit a campus to run an experiment? And why teach writing in a classroom where you have to talk when you could teach it on the Web where you have to, uh, write?

Maybe the question "Why attend college at all?" is suddenly a serious question.

I visited to see if those who opt not to attend college but are still serious about learning can at least ask questions and get an educator or expert to answer. In fact, yes, they can. Here's a sample question:

I'm in my Schools Latin class, and my teacher is always so busy i can't ask him for help... So I was hoping you could tell me what is the difference, and what it is, and what they are about the cases. I just can't understand them.

As in-What are
Nominatives (sing. and plu.)
Genitive (sing. and plu.)
Dative (sing. and plu.)
Accusative (sing. and plu.)

Hope you can help me out

The answer from was accurate but was probably not helpful to the confused student since much of the terminology in the answer itself was domain-specific. The expert could not see the student nor her facial expression, could not anticipate the next question, and in short, had no way to know if he/she had helped or not.

What the Latin student needed was a Q&A in context, the context of what she already knows, which is the scaffold a good teacher would use in an answer. She needed a teacher, or a tutor.

This is only one random example, but it demonstrates the issue for novice learners: By definition, they don't know how to learn by themselves without mediation. So, maybe the question "Why go to college?" is not such a good one. But we educators have set ourselves up for this very question. We ourselves in higher education have distorted people's perception of the process of learning. We have invited the question about why formal education is necessary by our own language and the misconceptions about learning we therefore perpetuate.
We talk about "content" as if it's a commodity you can buy on Amazon. We talk about "delivery" as if FedEx could teach the course. We have devalued collaborative work by shouting "plagiarism" if students turn to each other for help or flout copyright laws, therefore leading to the delusion that young learners can (indeed should) learn alone.

If knowledge is just content and all you need to do is deliver it, and there is no social aspect to learning because individuals can learn alone, then of course people ask "Why go to college?" Our making education into a commercial transaction by our ways of referring to education has dug us into a deep hole. We would not have known how deep if the digital revolution hadn't shown us.

Learning is of course not content but a process that engages both teacher and learner, knowledge constantly alters because of that process, and all learning is social. Viewing learning as a social process which engages both teachers and learners makes the why go to college question moot.

Do all people need to go to college (on campus or online) to engage in this process and succeed? Of course not. But the exceptions will succeed only as long as there are colleges and universities to keep the process going. Higher education doesn't need to respond to the question "Why go to college?" so much as it needs to change how it frames its own knowledge-building process.

Learning occurs through communication. The Web massively extends communication opportunities for casual interactions or for focused, long-term collaborative investigations around a topic or problem. Learners in general, however, need mentors or guides who are regularly available over a period of time. The quantity of information available through the Web does not mean that individual learners can easily become educated on their own. In fact, with the information deluge, it is even harder now to find clarity and coherence because of the huge ratio of noise to signal.

College is more necessary than ever. In a flood, the hardest thing to find is drinking water.

Trent Batson, Ph.D. has served as an English professor, director of academic computing, and has been an IT leader since the mid-1980s. He is currently a Communication Strategist in the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology at MIT.

Trent Batson, "Is College Necessary in a Knowledge-Drenched World?," Campus Technology, 9/17/2008,

September 12
In the land of some folks just have WAY too much time on their hands...

Bytes of Life For Every Move, Mood and Bodily Function, There's a Web Site to Help You Keep Track

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008; C01

...Is the careful tracking performed by Messina and Evans just a form of high-tech navel gazing? Or is it the opposite of narcissism -- an insecure belief that people cannot accurately evaluate what's best for them without the aid of a Web site?
Messina and Evans prefer the term "data junkies," spoken with the self-effacing self-awareness that comes from months of meticulous self-study.
Self-trackers like Messina and Evans could spend hours online, charting, analyzing, tracking. Life as a series of pure, distilled data points, up for interpretation.
It's not about tracking what you do, they say. It's about learning who you are.
Keeping Track
Self-disclosure has been redefined online. In Web 2.0, it's led to blogs and Tweets, Facebook and instant messenger, each developed to help users share the inane minutiae of their lives with others.
But another kind of site has evolved -- a type meant not to broadcast your life to others but to chart it for yourself, on password-protected sites accessible only to the user. A life examined to the point that Socrates himself might say, "Guys, that's enough."
Messina and Evans are at the tip of the information iceberg. The Internet brims with sites that track just about every task that you perform on a given day (eating, sleeping, exercising) as well as the things your body does without direction (pumping blood, producing glucose, gaining weight).
Some of the seemingly goofier sites have practical purposes: RescueTime was meant to increase time-management skills among business types, MyMonthlyCycles was developed for women trying to conceive, and Basecamp helps colleagues complete joint projects remotely. But dedicated trackers can repurpose these sites for their own self-study -- or use them as inspiration for their own, more intricate tools.
In San Diego, statistics student David Horn already belongs to BrightKite, and, which tracks his Internet usage. He's also experimented with to map food intake and calorie expenditure. It was satisfying for a while, but now he wants something bigger -- something simultaneously broader and more nitpicky -- to fill in the gaps that individual sites don't currently track.
Horn is working with his engineer girlfriend, Lisa Brewster, to develop an all-encompassing life tracker, under the working title of "I Did Stuff."
"I'd like to track the people I talk to," says Brewster, "and how inspired I am six hours later. And definitely location history -- where I am, what time -- "
"Correlated with weather history," interjects Horn. "And allergy data, pollen and mold in the air."
Plus, "Web sites I read and their effect," says Brewster. "If I spend a long time reading a blog, like TechCrunch, but I don't get noticeable output from it."
These ideas are the types of heady possibilities that will be discussed by the members of a new group in San Francisco called Quantified Self. Members plan to meet monthly to share with one another the tools and sites they've found helpful on their individual paths to self-digitization. Topics include, according to the group invite: behavior monitoring, location tracking, digitizing body info and non-invasive probes.
"Don't you think it's kind of obvious that if you step on a scale, there should be something that sends the information to your computer?" asks Gary Wolf, a contributing editor at Wired magazine and one of Quantified Self's co-founders. "Isn't it ridiculous to think that blood pressure shouldn't be measured at least once a day, if not several times a day?"
Wolf is a tracker whose particular interest is the secret workings of his own body.
You listen to his questions -- posed energetically and frequently interrupted by excited laughter -- and you think No, Gary, no!
Most of us would prefer our scale's number never saw light of day, much less light of database.
At some level, Wolf knows this. He theorizes that the impulse to self-track is one part available technology, one part geeky, data-driven personality. So far, only 10 people have RSVP'd affirmatively to Quantified Self's first meeting, which is scheduled to take place mid-September. "This is," Wolf says, "probably a very small subset of humanity."
Don't Dismiss the Data
For what possible reason would otherwise sane people dedicate brainpower and man-hours to charting experiences at which they themselves were already present?
And not meaningful things, either. Not things like, "Proposed to future wife at 7:02 p.m., Aug. 15, 2006," but things like, "Ate three green beans at 7:02 p.m., Aug. 15, 2006." And not just occasionally, but lots of times every single day, gobs and gobs of binary data representing everything from the last time you slept past 10 a.m. to the song you were listening to at noon last Oct. 12.
It's similar to a fashionable new trend called lifeblogging, an art form/obsession wherein bloggers go to extreme means to record infinitesimal events throughout the course of a day. Microsoft engineer Gordon Bell famously (at least in very small circles) wears a SenseCam around his neck, which automatically snaps a photograph every 60 seconds of wherever Bell happens to be and whatever he happens to be doing.
But lifeblogging seems mostly like a byproduct of an always-on society. If you do something but fail to record it online, did it really happen?
Self-tracking, on the other hand, is partly about the recording, but also as much about the analysis that goes on after the recording.
The apparent meaninglessness of data recorded over time is actually what makes it profound.
The problem with diaries and blogs, trackers say, is that people use them to record the events they think are meaningful. What they forget is that meaningful events are often a result of months of insignificance, a cause and effect not readily visible to the human eye but easily detected with the help of a computer program.
"Things that happen over time can lead up to bigger events," says Horn. "They may seem small by themselves, but looking at them as a whole I can see how they lead to a bigger theme or idea."
"I was always a terrible self-journaler," says Messina. "Every once in a while I'd write in a journal, but it was always a major, momentous event. 'Got to college.' 'Broke up with girlfriend.' You lose a lot of the nuance that caused that situation to come about."
Tracking can "zoom out over my entire life," he says. It could, for example, help him better understand the aforementioned breakup. "When you've self-documented the course of an entire relationship, trivia that doesn't seem like much could, over time," help him understand exactly what went wrong, and when.
Maybe, to extrapolate on Messina's idea, your weekly date night had been Friday. And maybe you were always in a tetchy mood on Fridays because you'd just come from chem lab, which you hated. Maybe the whole relationship could have been saved by switching date night to Sunday, after your endorphin-boosting yoga class. Maybe you just didn't realize the pattern, because you weren't tracking it. All the answers could be right there, in your life data.
When talking about tracking, Messina speaks thoughtfully and precisely, choosing words carefully and revising his ideas when his original sentence doesn't seem clear enough.
He met Evans when he participated in a research study she was conducting as part of her course work. She was immediately drawn to the insight he showed into his own behavior.
But insight doesn't necessarily translate to emotional intelligence, and people who graph their lives online don't put much weight in intuition and fuzzy feelings.
"For a certain type of person," says Wolf, the Quantified Self founder, "data is the most important thing you can trust. Certain people think a feeling of inner certainty is misleading."
Wolf says he's one of them; Messina can identify with the sentiment.
"I want to understand the changes that are actually happening [in my life], not just my perceptions of them."
...Did you really floss five times last week, or was it more like twice? Now that you realize that, are you a little less angry at your dentist for that painful last appointment?
Computers don't lie.
People lie.
This part's actually good science:
"We all have the tendency to see our behaviors in a little bit of a halo," says Jayne Gackenbach, who researches the psychology of the Internet at Grant MacEwan College in Alberta, Canada. It's why dieters underestimate their food intake, why smokers say they go through fewer cigarettes than they do. "If people can get at some objective criteria, it would be wonderfully informative." That's the brilliance, she says, of new technology.
But it's one thing to use a computer as a tool for behavioral therapy, and another to treat a computer as a life-guiding oracle, ego to our id, telling us how we feel and what we need. Or perhaps, treating the computer as a person -- while we become the machines, subject to our tracking Web sites' every direction.
Michelle McGillivray, a mom in Oregon, signed up for when she was trying to conceive her first child. She has a toddler now, but McGillivray still uses the site, relying on how it says she should be feeling (based on her previous data input) to inform her behavior. If one month she was particularly irritable at a certain point in her cycle, she'll make sure to keep to herself at that point during the next month. She'll even wear the clothes she noticed made her feel best the last time around.
Most of the trackers interviewed for this article haven't been tracking long enough, in their opinions, to adequately gauge how it's affecting their behaviors. (Messina has only been on some sites for a few months). But the possibilities are endless.
For example: Analysis of your stress levels, cross-referenced with other things, could tell you not only that you needed a vacation, but also when and where to go, says Messina.
Brewster and Horn see untapped potential for optimizing productivity and life experiences. If you could learn which foods, people, activities, sleep patterns, driving routes and television shows left you the most content, think of how much better your life would be.
Complicated decisions, diluted to data.
It's a happy thought.
Still, a reporter has one niggling question about this improved world, in which there is no wasted time or effort, in which daily activities like reading TechCrunch would be chopped from the schedule if they did not produce enough "noticeable output."
Is a smile a noticeable output? the reporter wants to know. What if productivity decreased in the hours following, but the time spent on the Web site produced 3.2 chuckles and 2.4 interesting pieces of information learned?
Brewster pauses for a few seconds before looking to her boyfriend, Horn, for assistance.
"David," she says finally, "this is a bigger algorithm."

September 5

Greenbacks for Grades: Schools Use Material Rewards as Incentive

Cash and prizes boost student performance -- but is the means worth the ends?

by Fran Smith

A piggy bank set on a pile of books.
A piggy bank set on a pile of books.

Credit: Corbis
Seventh graders at New York City's Junior High School 123 have big plans for the cash they're earning for their scores on math and reading tests. By early June, Krizya had racked up $252 and was going clothes shopping. Ashanti has banked $277 so far. "I'm saving it so I can go to a good college," he says.
Krizya and Ashanti, along with more than 5,200 fourth and seventh graders in fifty-eight city public schools, are part of an ambitious experiment to test whether paying students for grades improves their performance. The question is gaining urgency around the country as school districts dangle all kinds of rewards to achieve various goals, from raising test scores to boosting attendance to improving behavior. Many of these programs are privately funded and targeted at struggling schools and low-income students.
In Texas, students and teachers at schools earn money for every score of 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam. In a pilot project this year in two suburban Atlanta high schools, students earned $8 an hour to attend study sessions in math and science.
New York City, with the nation's largest public school system, is also using incentives for educators, mostly in the form of bonuses for principals and teachers. It's all part of an aggressive effort to turn the schools -- 1,456 of them serving 1.1 million students -- around. The New York City Department of Education ventured into pay-for-performance for students beginning this year with two pilot projects developed by Harvard University economist Roland G. Fryer, who is working pro bono as the department's chief equality officer.
Spark, the program that has been so lucrative for Krizya and Ashanti, ties cash rewards to ten citywide math and language assessments that occur during the year. Each fourth grader receives $5 just for finishing the test and up to $20 per test, scaled to the score. Seventh graders earn double, for a maximum of $500.
There are other reward programs as well. For instance, the New York City-based Million Motivation Campaign, which won the prestigious 2008 Cannes Lion Titanium Award, honoring the most "innovative and groundbreaking idea" in advertising and communications, gives kids Samsung U740 cell phones as a carrot -- ironic in a city that has famously and controversially banned cell phones in schools.
Students at seven middle schools received the phones in February, and they collect talk minutes, ringtones, and music downloads by meeting certain benchmarks, such as turning in homework and participating in class. As the program expands, schools will use the phones to communicate with students in a messaging campaign designed to rebrand achievement.
All this, of course, raises unsettling questions: Should we pay kids to behave in ways that we used to expect based on their dedication, discipline, and commitment to future success? Whatever happened to the intrinsic love of learning and the school's responsibility to inspire it?
On the other, more pragmatic, hand, why not try anything to promote academic success? Especially in a country where the average seventeen-year-old African American student reads at the same level as the average thirteen-year-old white student, and in a neighborhood where a couple hundred dollars represents a small fortune and a hard-earned investment for college.
"There's a huge achievement gap," says Debra Wexler, spokesperson for the NYC Department of Education. "Our approach comes from the realization that we have to try new things."
Paying for grades may fall short of the pedagogic ideal, but proponents rightly point out that middle-class parents do it all the time. They buy that Samsung flip phone for their sixth grader when she pulls a B in math up to an A, or they promise a Honda to their high school senior if he aces his AP exams. Learning for its own sake is laudable, but is it realistic?
"Don't come to me and say learning should all be intrinsic," says Virginia Connelly, principal of JHS 123. "I'm in an area where there is no money. There is no allowance. Do I want learning to be an intrinsic value? Absolutely. But you know what? I got students excited about coming to school. College is years away. That's a long time for them to stay at that high-pitched level of motivation. And I'm in competition with the streets. I'm in favor of anything that puts me on a level playing field. Now students can earn some money at school, not just outside by stealing hubcaps and selling them to the chop shop."
Whether tangible incentives do, in fact, spark achievement is an open question. Enthusiasts at JHS 123 have no doubt. "It gives us motivation," says seventh grader Ashley, who has racked up $230 so far. Yuli Gutierrez, Krizya's mom and president of the school's PTA, says, "It really pushes the kids to do better."
Psychology research, however, shows that although cash and prizes may boost compliance in the short term, over time they often decrease students' interest in the tasks for which the kids are being rewarded, and may even decrease interest in activities that don't win them anything.
"Rewards, like punishments, produce only one thing: temporary obedience," explains Alfie Kohn, author of //Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes//. "They never help kids think more deeply or become more enthusiastic about learning. I want to believe that at least the goal of these programs is admirable, even if the method is terrible. Sadly, however, schools often use these incentives not to promote meaningful learning but merely to raise scores on bad tests to make the adults look good."
But some school-based research suggests that a well-designed incentive program may benefit students, especially when it is part of broader reform. A 2007 study of the AP incentive program in Texas found that participating schools not only boosted AP enrollment but also reported an approximate 30 percent increase in the number of students scoring 1100 and higher on the SATs and about an 8 percent increase in college matriculation.
The researcher, C. Kirabo Jackson, an assistant professor of labor economics at Cornell University, says he believes the rewards alone weren't directly responsible for a change in student behavior. Instead, they fed into a larger shift at schools, which began devoting money and staff to expand AP programs and to prepare students for more challenging academics. "The culture changed," Jackson says. "The classes were more inclusive. And on the part of students, it was no longer uncool to take these courses."
When New York City education officials originally announced Spark, they set it up so that 40 schools could participate. They received 143 applications, necessitating an expansion of the program. Virginia Connelly saw the program as one more tool in her decade-long drive to remake the culture at JHS 123 and to rescue a failing school. "I wasn't interested in the program as a magic bullet," she notes. "There are no magic bullets."
JHS 123 has 565 students, 64 percent of whom are Hispanic and 35 percent of whom are black. English-language learners make up 17 percent of the student body, and 87 percent of kids are on the free-lunch program. Before Connelly arrived in 1998, parents avoided the place. As a review on -- an online guide to the city's public schools -- said of JHS 123, "Parents were scared off by tales of kids getting their heads dunked in toilets by gang members and students ripping fixtures out of the walls and then hurling them from windows." But Connelly changed things, reducing English and math class sizes to an average of sixteen students, hiring more teachers for core subjects ("I buy teachers -- I don't buy test coordinators," she states), and switching to mastery grading.
A year before Spark started, Connelly instituted a rewards system in which students earn play money, called Zone dollars, and spend it on tickets to school dances or on Yankees caps, stuffed animals, and other trinkets at a school store. Zone charts are posted all over the school, listing behaviors and their corresponding financial rewards. Students who read and show respect for displays in the hallway earn one Zone dollar. If someone drops something, the student who picks it up and returns it gets two Zone dollars.
Students love Zone bucks, but Connelly says their value lies in something deeper. "It's about establishing a relationship in which I honor you, and you honor me," she explains. "It's about setting expectations, constantly communicating those expectations, and reinforcing them."
Raising expectations and reinforcing them -- sometimes with rewards -- yields payoffs. In the third quarter of this year, 230 students made honor roll, up from 180 in 2006-07 and 95 in 2005-06. Although the annual state test scores have not yet been announced, by Connelly's reckoning, the results will see an overall rise of 35 percent in language arts and 50 percent or higher in math.
How much Spark, or any tool, contributed to these outcomes is impossible to say. Connelly believes Spark has the biggest impact at the top and the bottom of the class. "It works really well for kids who can earn a lot," she says. "And it works really well for kids who never get anything. It's great that I can say, 'I can give you bucks for showing up.' If I don't get them in here, I can't teach them."
Fran Smith is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

This article was also published in the August/September 2008 issue of Edutopia magazine.

I'm posting this article simply because it resonates with me in terms of general philosophy.

"Have You Seen This Web Site?": The Value of Exchanging Tips About Online Resources

By Jim Moulton

I love working with teachers. Part of it is the importance of the work they do and the sense of satisfaction, both professional and personal, I feel when I am able to make them more powerful and effective. But another reason is that teachers are people who feel compelled to share their best ideas. And because of this trait, it is not unusual for a teacher, generally during a break, to come up to me and say, "Have you seen this Web site, Jim?" And then they give me a URL, and very often the site they pass along is great.
Early this past winter, in a session in a middle school in New England, I was eating lunch in the workshop room. Most of the participants had left the room for lunch, but a couple of teachers had also brought along bag lunches, and we got to talking.
During the workshop, we had been discussing the importance of teachers having classroom Web pages (see my Spiral Notebook post on this topic), and one of the teachers wanted to show me her husband's -- he is a music teacher in a local elementary school. So I popped his page up on the big screen via the projector (for more on the importance of large-screen projection, see another of my Spiral Notebook posts), and I navigated through the site, one that was as impressive for the program it supported as it was for its technical strengths.
And this is where I discovered a link to On that site are Tulga's interactive tools, which use music to support learning in many curriculum areas. The first tool I played with, and the one I now use to introduce this site to others, is his Unifix Cube Drum Machine.
Visually simple, this tool uses three colors of Unifix cubes (red, yellow, and blue) to indicate a loud strike, a soft strike, and no strike. Different rhythm instruments (conga, snare, shaker, and so on) can be toggled on or off, and the resulting rhythm can be played at varying tempos and started and paused using simple, large buttons.
Several preprogrammed rhythms are included, all customizable by clicking on the individual cubes to roll from red to blue to yellow to red. The rhythms range from regional beats from around the world to mathematical rhythms like 2:3 or 2:3:4 ratios. Imagine that -- listening to a complex mathematical concept to gain understanding.
Oh, and one more thing: This kind of tool is perfect for use by students and teachers on an interactive whiteboard with a set of speakers attached to make those rhythms ring out.
Ever since I was shown this site, I have enjoyed showing it to other teachers, and I am confident many have gone on to spread it further. Maybe the tool they highlight is the Morse Code Music Maker, used to help kids hear the music in a phrase, but whatever they demonstrate, the important thing is that it is another case of teachers supporting each other in a true community of learners. It's teachers teaching teachers.
So, what Web-based resources has a colleague shown you that you are glad to know about? Or what are the online tools you point others toward, sharing, at the same time, examples of how you have used them to improve teaching and learning in your classroom? Share it here, and you never know how many others you will have informed.
After all, teach a teacher a way to help more kids, and you know what they're going to have to do with that knowledge -- teach someone else.

5/16 Google to Connect Friends Across the Web
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008; D01
To socialize these days, hundreds of millions of people every month visit networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
But what if the Web itself operated as a social network?
Google announced yesterday another step in what its engineers see as that inevitable evolution. A new, free service from the Mountain View, Calif., tech giant will allow any Web site to become a social site.
Any Web page, whether it is devoted to curling or pizza or a folk singer, could allow visitors to meet and connect with "friends" who visit that site. Like any such major network today, a Web page using the service could present users with the names and pictures of friends and potential friends. Those people could then post messages to one another.
The announcement from Google comes at a time of ferment and speculation over how people will meet and fraternize on the Web.
While large social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have grown rapidly and are judged to be worth billions of dollars, they have also drawn criticism for being "walled gardens" -- places that allow members to connect easily, but only while the members are at that site.
The new Google service, known as Friend Connect, raises the possibility that the kind of kibitzing that has been largely contained on a handful of mega-sites could spread across the Web.
"We're in the middle of a huge change," David Glazer, an engineering director working on Google's social initiative, said in an interview. "Wherever people go on the Web, they want to have their friends with them, and this makes it possible."
Some analysts described the service as a way for Google to gain a better foothold in an area of Web services that it has been slow to exploit.
"The fact that so many people were using Facebook made Google nervous," said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of, an industry site. "They watched this site have explosive growth, and they don't have a competitive product. It's not that Google is thinking, 'Gosh, all these people need help.' They're thinking, 'We're behind on social networks.' "
Friend Connect is aimed at the millions of Web sites that could benefit from having members interact but can't enable such connections because of a lack of technical expertise or hardware.
With Friend Connect, the owner of a Web site would add a snippet of code to its page. Google's servers would handle the rest.
For example, one of the first Friend Connect customers will be independent musician Ingrid Michaelson, who like most entertainers has an official Web site.
Her fans can befriend one another if they visit her MySpace page. But by using the Friend Connect service, Michaelson will be able to allow fans to connect with their friends, or make friends among fellow fans, without having to leave the site. Visitors will be able to see which of their friends are posting comments or attending concerts.
Friend Connect is "about helping the 'long tail' of sites become more social," Glazer said. "Many sites aren't explicitly social and don't necessarily want to be social networks, but they still benefit from letting their visitors interact with each other."
Friend Connect will be available for now to a limited number of Web sites, maybe a dozen or so, company officials said. Within a few months, it is likely to become more broadly available.
While Google will receive no immediate financial reward, Glazer said the company benefits when "the Web is healthy." When more people use the Web, more people see the ads that Google runs.
Friend Connect also boosts Google's standing in the social networking field, analysts said, where because of its size the company has ample ability to catch up.
"Google has been a fast follower behind Facebook, but they're still Google," said Ray Valdes, research director of Web services for Gartner. "This will have an impact for sure."
Over the past year, even as tens of millions of people have signed up for social networks, the industry landscape has been in the throes of a rapid evolution.
Users have discovered the hassles of registering with multiple networks and having to "import" their friends list from one site to another.
Those problems have led some in the industry to support standards that allow for sharing of social information across Web sites. In a similar vein, MySpace and Facebook announced initiatives last week to make it easier for users to transport their information.
For the companies involved, the burgeoning social behavior on the Web is what's at stake.
Just as Google, through its search engine, is a gatekeeper for much of the Web's content, the company that succeeds in helping consumers socialize on the Web could reap similar benefits.
Still, there is a great deal of uncertainty over what will happen.
Some analysts have suggested that Facebook and MySpace might be fads. Others have speculated that their use could decline as more sites add "friend" features, or as the Web itself becomes a social place.
"The real question for a Facebook or a MySpace is: Is it best to think of them as a place like Studio 54 -- a place where everyone wants to get in because all their friends are in -- or is it more like some kind of utility?" asked John McCrea, vice president of marketing for Plaxo, a company that maintains relationship information for 20 million members. "This is the evolution of the walled garden to the social Web."

5/9 Wed, Apr 30, 2008

Blogging helps encourage teen writing

Survey reveals that student bloggers are more prolific and appreciate the value of writing more than their peers

external image 09%5F30%5F05photo.jpg
A new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project explores the intersection between teens, technology, and writing.
For most media outlets that reported on an important new survey measuring the impact of technology on teens' writing skills, the big news from the survey was that emoticons and text-messaging abbreviations are creeping into students' formal writing assignments. :-(

Buried beneath the alarm of writing "purists," however, was a promising finding with equally important implications for schools: Blogging is helping many teens become more prolific writers.

The survey, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project with support from the College Board and its National Commission on Writing, explores the links between the formal writing that teens do for school and the informal, electronic communication they exchange through eMail and text messaging.

Teens who communicate frequently with their friends, and those who own more technology tools such as computers or cell phones, do not write more often for school or for themselves than less communicative and less gadget-rich teens, according to the study, released April 24. Teen bloggers, however, write more frequently both online and offline, the study says.

Forty-seven percent of teen bloggers write outside of school for personal reasons several times a week or more, compared with 33 percent of teens without blogs. Sixty-five percent of teen bloggers believe that writing is essential to later success in life; 53 percent of non-bloggers say the same thing.

Bradley A. Hammer, who teaches in Duke University's writing program, says the kind of writing students do on blogs and other digital formats actually can be better than the writing style they learn in school, because it is better suited to true intellectual pursuit than is SAT-style writing.

"In real ways, blogging and other forms of virtual debate actually foster the very types of intellectual exchange, analysis, and argumentative writing that universities value," he wrote in an op-ed piece last August.

Teens write for a variety of reasons, the report notes: as part of a school assignment, to stay in touch with friends, to share their artistic creations with others, or simply to record their thoughts. Teens say they're more motivated to write when they can choose topics that are relevant to their lives and interests, and they report greater enjoyment of school writing when they have the chance to write creatively. Teens also report that writing for an audience motivates them to write well and more frequently--and blogs are one way of providing this type of audience.

Despite efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, however, nearly two-thirds of teens (64 percent) admit that emoticons, abbreviations, and other informal styles have crept into their writing.

"It's a teachable moment," said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew. "If you find that in a child's or student's writing, that's an opportunity to address the differences between formal and informal writing. They learn to make the distinction...just as they learn not to use slang terms in formal writing."

Half of the teens surveyed say they sometimes fail to use proper capitalization and punctuation in assignments, while 38 percent have carried over the shortcuts typical in instant messaging or eMail messages, such as "LOL" for "laughing out loud." A quarter of teens say they've used :) and other emoticons in their school assignments.

Defying conventional wisdom, the study also found that the digital generation is shunning computer use for most writing assignments. About two-thirds of teens say they typically do their school writing by hand. And for personal writing outside school, longhand is even more popular--the preferred form for nearly three-quarters of teens.

That could be because the majority of student writing is short: School assignments typically average a paragraph to a page in length, Lenhart said.

Still, teens appreciate the ability to edit and revise their writing on a computer, the report says. Nearly six in 10 students (57 percent) say they edit and revise more frequently when they write using a computer.

Teens who use a computer in their non-school writing believe computers have a greater impact on the amount of writing they produce than on the overall quality of their writing. Yet, there is a great deal of ambiguity with respect to the impact of computers in each of these areas.

Among teens who use computers in their non-school writing, four in 10 say computers help them do more writing, and a similar number believe they would write the same amount whether they used computers or not. In comparison, only three in 10 teens who write on computers for non-school purposes at least occasionally believe computers help them do better writing--and twice as many (63 percent) say computers make no difference in the quality of their writing.

Parents are more likely than teens to believe that internet-based writing (such as eMail and instant messaging) affects writing skills overall, though both groups are split on whether electronic communications help or hurt. Nonetheless, 73 percent of teens and 40 percent of parents believe internet writing makes no difference either way.

Most students (82 percent) believe that additional instruction and focus on writing in school would help improve their writing even further--and more than three-quarters of those surveyed (78 percent) think it would help their writing if their teachers used computer-based writing tools such as games, multimedia, or writing software programs or web sites during class.

The telephone-based survey of 700 U.S. residents ages 12 to 17 and their parents was conducted last year from Sept. 19 to Nov. 16 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. From;_hbguid=e0da166a-2d66-434d-9c7c-01286ec3b126&d=top-news


"Writing, Technology, and Teens" survey


Industry leaders join push for home media networks

Tuesday, April 29, 2008; 8:18 AM
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Chip and electronics makers Intel (INTC.O), Infineon (IFXGn.DE), Texas Instruments (TXN.N) and Panasonic (6752.T) have formed an alliance to promote home networks for movies, music and pictures using domestic wiring.
The four leading chip and electronics makers will help market and test a standard to wire together computers, TVs and entertainment systems using electricity, phone and coaxial cable lines that already exist in most homes, they said on Tuesday.
They hope the first products using the new standard will be on the market in about a year.
Consumer electronics and computer makers have long talked of the so-called digital home, in which entertainment appliances and PCs are linked and typically controlled from the computer, making it easy to share digital media content between devices.
But a lack of common standards between makers of these devices has held back progress.
There is already a common wireless standard to link home devices using Wi-Fi. Wired networks often have the advantage of being more stable and having more capacity, and the building blocks for the infrastructure already exist in most homes.
"Powerline is the most ubiquitous technology in the world. You have powerlines to almost every house in the world," Intel's Matt Theall, president of the new HomeGrid Forum ( said on a conference call.
"There's a huge market potentially for this type of technology. It can be embedded in DVD players, TVs, PCs, speakers -- any home entertainment device."
The four leading members of the HomeGrid Forum ( said they would work with the International Telecommunications Union to promote, test and contribute to a standard the ITU is already working on, called ITU-T
Their role will be similar to that played by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which helped promote an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) wireless standard and has certified thousands of products for wireless local area networks (WLANs).
The HomeGrid Forum has seven other founding members: Aware (AWRE.O), DS2, Pulse Link, Ikanos (IKAN.O), Sigma Designs (SIGM.O), Westell (WSTL.O) and Gigle Semiconductor.
Intel, Infineon, Texas Instruments and Panasonic -- who will serve on the board of directors -- said they were recruiting additional members among chipmakers, service providers and makers of consumer electronics and personal computers.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by David Cowell)

4/25 Saturday, April 12, 2008 Acting globally

Students find slavery thriving in Sudan


external image one_pixel_transparent.gif


Francis Bok, who was held as a slave in Sudan for 10 years, signs his book for Christopher Siuzdak, a senior at Shepherd Hill Regional High School, after speaking to the students Wednesday. (T&G Staff/DAN GOULD)

DUDLEY— Students at Shepherd Hill Regional High School have come face-to-face with the reality of modern-day slavery and genocide through a real-time global learning project focused on war-torn Sudan.

English teacher Barbara A. Marderosian, in collaboration with social studies teacher Jennifer Dowdle, developed the Global Neighbors project to increase students’ multicultural awareness and to assist African refugees through the students’ community service.

“This is an innovation, as it is a real-life, hands-on experience that cannot be replicated through a textbook alone. It provides opportunities for students to make connections to current events worldwide,” Ms. Marderosian said.

Since the project was launched in October, students have learned about the ongoing genocide and present-day slavery in Sudan through classroom study and humanitarian volunteerism.

The multi-faceted project culminated with a visit by former slave and Sudanese refugee Francis Bok, who spoke with more than 200 students, parents and community members at the school Wednesday.

Mr. Bok was abducted from his Dinka tribe in 1986 at the age of 7 and was enslaved by an Arab rancher in northern Sudan for 10 years. He came to the U.S. in 1999 and has worked to spread awareness about modern slavery in speeches across the country and through his critically acclaimed autobiography, “Escape from Slavery.”

Mr. Bok shared his story of capture, torture and eventual escape with the audience.

In an account of a recent trip to his birthplace, he spoke of a personal goal to help provide the region’s three critical needs: clean water, schools and a health clinic.

Speaking of the estimated 27 million people in bondage worldwide, Mr. Bok asked students to become abolitionists.

“There are people who lie awake at night wondering who is going to come and free them. I believe in my heart that people like you and I will win the struggle,” he said.

Sophomore Grace Aldyoub of Dudley later commented that Mr. Bok has inspired her to work for change.

“I didn’t think there was still slavery going on today. We need to help people to be free.”

Prior to Mr. Bok’s visit, students confronted modern social issues during roundtable discussions Feb. 15 with refugees from Darfur and Somalia and a former Peace Corps volunteer.

Shepherd Hill students also tutored students from the non-profit African Community Education program in Worcester.

Local educators volunteer on Saturdays to teach English to refugees from various parts of Africa. Ms. Marderosian began volunteering for ACE in the fall.

“Many U.S. teens do not have the opportunity to meet people their own age who have lived in refugee camps or have relocated half way around the world,” she said.

Throughout the Global Neighbors project, senior and student council president Kathleen S. Walsh has been a leader among students in advocating for Darfur refugees. She organized the school’s second annual Dodge for Darfur tournament on March 7. The entrants formed more than 20 dodge ball teams consisting of teachers, students and one Charlton town team, which included the police chief, fire chief, town administrator and several selectmen.

The event raised more than $2,000, with a portion of the proceeds going to aid refugees.

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, the Sudan genocide began in 2003 and is led by the Sudanese government. To date, as many as 400,000 people have been killed and an estimated 2.5 million civilians have been forced from their homes and now live in refugee camps. More than 3 million men, women and children in the region rely on international aid for survival.

The United Nations and several countries, including the U.S., have stepped in yet the killing continues.

“Every day while we are occupied by our daily activities, there are thousands of people being driven from their homes in fear and being killed in a land not well known to Americans, Darfur Sudan,” Ms. Walsh wrote in the dodge ball invitation.

The Global Neighbors program was funded by a $1,500 donation from Marilyn Fels of Webster and contributions by Nichols College and the Dudley and Charlton cultural councils.

For more information about Mr. Bok and the genocide in Sudan visit and


Fear of classroom technology just doesn't compute

Technology is not a substitute for good teaching, but rather provides the best teachers with the tools to engage pupils in learning, says Stephen Crowne April 4, 2008 12:03 AM
Computers are going to replace teachers, and our classrooms will soon be overflowing with useless pieces of technology that have no obvious benefit to anyone except the greedy manufacturers who make them. Or so Phil Beadle would have us believe in a recent piece for Education Guardian, in which he bemoaned the use of technology in schools, says Stephen Crowne.
Why, Beadle asks, aren't more teachers prepared to take a stand against the "pernicious, creeping rise of these dumb tools and their bovine, unmalleable functionality"? Perhaps because of mounting evidence that shows when these "dumb tools" are used effectively, the results are inspiring - improved grades and retention rates, greater participation by students and increased effectiveness by teachers and tutors.
Take Shireland Collegiate Academy. The school is situated in Sandwell, one of the UK's most deprived boroughs, and over the last 10 years has been transformed from struggling comprehensive to a specialist school rated by Ofsted as "outstanding", due largely to the innovative use of technology at the hands of its headteacher, Sir Mark Grundy.
Far from being full of the latest gadgets and gizmos, the school uses a relatively simple and un-glamorous but hugely effective online "learning gateway".
At any time and from any location, pupils, parents and teachers can log onto the gateway and access the school's essential learning resources and learning activities. The gateway provides individual email and calendars, personalised MySiteSpace pages, document sharing functions and the tools to manage blog posts and collaborate using wikis, making it a fun and dynamic and safe place to learn.
To support the gateway the school has its own "computers in homes" scheme, which enables all pupils and their families to access the internet and the learning gateway at home. Parents are more involved with their children's education, and thanks to the online resources for families they are able to help their children to learn and develop like never before. It has had a profound effect on pupil attainment.
But what do teachers think about the drive for improved technology use in schools? Is technology stifling their creativity and encouraging didactic, front-of-class teaching? Strong evidence to the contrary suggests that effective use of technology is helping teachers bring lessons to life. Becta's 2007 "harnessing technology" review - an annual survey of teachers and school leaders - revealed that the majority of teachers feel the use of technology positively impacts on the engagement and motivation of their learners.
No one would question the methods of the truly creative teacher who can "enter a classroom with only a marker pen for company and produce a brilliant lesson using only their professional brilliance and a stern expression". But in reality, how many teachers would choose to engage a class of pupils this way?
With so much choice it's vital that schools and colleges assess their needs thoroughly before purchasing any new technology. Becta's "self-review framework" helps schools assess how they are currently using technology, and to plan for future improvement to prevent purchasing technology that will only be used once.
Teachers at schools across the UK are already using interactive whiteboards, hand-held learning devices, school radio stations, blogs, podcasts, digital photography and video conferencing to create increasingly stimulating and exciting environments for their students to learn in.
But technology of this kind is not a substitute for good teaching, which is at the core of effective education. Rather, technology provides teachers with powerful tools to enrich and extend what the best teachers are good at: explaining, demonstrating, and involving and engaging pupils in learning.
This is where the argument against technology really begins to fall apart. Young people today have grown up with technology. They respond to technology in the classroom because it feels like an extension of what they do in their free time. To get the best out of pupils we need to do what parents and educators have always done - harness their children's passions and interests.
And in an increasingly competitive global market for skills and talent, we need to ensure that today's pupils are equipped with the technology skills that they will need as the workforce of tomorrow.
· Stephen Crowne is chief executive of Becta. To find out more about the Next Generation Learning campaign visit


Reinventing the Big Test: The Challenge of Authentic Assessment

Problem: Old-school accountability tests are crude measurements of student learning. Solution: Build a better test.

by Grace Rubenstein

Assessment: Reinventing the Big Test
Assessment: Reinventing the Big Test


Traditional standardized tests deaden teaching and inaccurately measure student learning.
Credit: Gregory Cherin
When I was a younger education reporter in the old mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, the big day came when the state released scores on its school accountability tests. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, better known and feared as the MCAS, fulfills the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act through annual tests in English and math (and now additional subjects).
I scrutinized pages of numbers and wrote a story on the success and failure of nearby schools. My editors played it big on the front page because they knew parents would look anxiously at their school's results and homeowners would mentally adjust their property values based on the scores. I prodded principals and superintendents to explain their schools' leaps or stumbles.

Special Report: Authentic Assessment

And unwittingly, I played right into the dominant illusion that these bloodless test scores are the most definitive measure of a school's success -- and that they measure what's most important.
Cold, hard numbers have a way of seeming authoritative, but accountability tests are not the infallible and insightful report cards we (and our state governments) imagine them to be. The educational assessment tests states use today have two fundamental flaws: They encourage the sort of mind-numbing drill-and-kill teaching educators (and students) despise, and, just as important, they don't tell us much about the quality of student learning.
"We are totally for accountability, but we've got the wrong metrics," says John Bransford, a professor of education at Seattle's University of Washington who studies learning and designs assessments. "These tests are the biggest bottleneck to education reform."

Hobbled by History

Jennifer Simone, a fifth-grade teacher at Deerfield Elementary School, in Edgewood, Maryland, is acutely aware of the limitations of standardized tests. Her curriculum must emphasize subjects for which the state accountability test measures proficiency -- math, reading, and science. Social studies? Though the subject is on her master schedule, if there is a shortened school day, it gets dropped.
Moreover, Simone says, the test scores don't truly reflect her students' abilities and are too vague to help her pinpoint individual needs. She longs for an assessment that relies on more than just written problems, that could capture the more diverse skills visible in her classroom and valued in the workplace, such as artistic talent, computer savvy, and the know-how to diagnose and fix problems with mechanical devices. Simone asks, "If we differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of all the learners, why aren't we differentiating the test?"
Assessment: Reinventing the Big Test
Assessment: Reinventing the Big Test


Desiree Jerome demonstrates a chemiluminescent reaction as part of her portfolio to move up to the next grade at F.W. Parker Essential School, in Devens, Massachusetts.
Credit: Gregory Cherin
The simple, but unsatisfying, answer is history and efficiency. The tests that states use to satisfy NCLB descended from a model created in the 1920s designed to divide students into ability groups for more efficient tracking. Eighty years, two world wars, and a technological revolution (or two) later, the tests remain structurally the same.
Policy makers revere the seeming objectivity of these tests, but the truth is that the exams are not adept at determining either how well teachers have taught or students have learned -- and test makers themselves will tell you so. Stephen Dunbar, an author of the influential Iowa Test of Basic Skills, explains that these tests can help illuminate statewide educational trends but are too broad a brush for the detail at the school and classroom level that NCLB demands.
Assessment tests might show the overall effectiveness of the ninth-grade curriculum, for instance, or indicate trends within large demographic groups in that grade. But Dunbar says that when you get down to measuring the ability of students at Dallas's Woodrow Wilson High School, for example, where you're comparing this year's ninth graders to last year's, accountability test scores are not very useful. "They might tell you more about idiosyncrasies in that combination of kids than the level of achievement or the quality of teaching and learning that's going on," Dunbar explains.
In other words, state governments, at the behest of the feds, are using tests to measure something they actually don't measure very well, and then penalizing schools -- and in some cases, denying students diplomas -- based on the results.
"Most of these policy makers are dirt ignorant regarding what these tests should and should not be used for," W. James Popham, professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles and former president of the American Educational Research Association, told PBS's Frontline in 2001. "And the tragedy is that they set up a system in which the primary indicator of educational quality is simply wrong." (See Popham's article "F for Assessment," April 2005.)
There are several reasons the tests are imprecise. (See "Where Standardized Tests Fail.") Some are technical: an ambiguous question, a misjudgment in setting the difficulty level, a scoring error. The National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy, at Boston College, has documented cases when scoring errors sentenced children to summer school or caused them to miss graduation before the mistakes were discovered. Some reasons are personal: Simone, whose school narrowly dodged state intervention last year, has seen fifth graders arrive on testing day angry about personal matters; others struggled to sit still during the test or broke down in tears under the pressure.
The tests' fallibility has most to do with the very idea of measuring a year's worth of learning in a single exam. Inevitably, cramming that much coverage into a short test leads states to rely mostly on multiple-choice questions -- the fastest and cheapest means of large-scale assessment. Such brief yet weighty exams limit the ways students can show their skills, and because it's impossible to test hundreds of state standards in a few hours, they leave teachers guessing on which to emphasize. Randy Bennett, who holds the title of distinguished scientist at ETS, writes that this rigid idea of assessment yields a "narrow view of proficiency" defined by "skills needed to succeed on relatively short, and quite artificial, items."
Even when states do pony up to use open-ended essay questions and pay human scorers, these questions can encourage formulaic answers. Last school year, I watched the principal of a (high-scoring) Boston high school interrupt a test-prep session to warn students not to stray from the essay-writing formula -- main idea, evidence, analysis, linking -- lest they lose points. "Don't be creative," she said fiercely. "You've heard me rail against standardized tests, and this is why. There's one way to do this, and it's the way the assessment coordinator told you."
Equally worrisome is that today's assessments emphasize narrow skill sets such as geometry and grammar, and omit huge chunks of what educators and business leaders say is essential for modern students to learn: creative thinking, problem solving, cooperative teamwork, technological literacy, and self-direction. Yet because NCLB has made accountability tests the tail that wags the dog of the whole education system -- threatening remediation and state takeover for schools that fall short -- what's not tested often isn't taught.
In short, the American accountability system is a bastion of the past that's stifling our ability to tackle the future.

High Stakes

The good news is there's work afoot to create better tests that will challenge students to demonstrate more creative, adaptable skills -- and, in turn, encourage teachers to teach them. Some model assessments already exist; for instance, many experts tout the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam for its challenging, open-ended questions on practical topics, such as climate change or the pros and cons of graffiti. Even more advanced models, some using computer simulations, will become available in a few years -- and none too soon.
Business leaders have issued dire warnings about how hard the U.S. economy will tank if our education system doesn't get itself out of the nineteenth century, and fast. They're clamoring for creative, productive, affable employees -- not just dutiful test takers -- and they point to assessment as a crucial tool for turning the tide. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, addressing state governors, CEOs, and educators at the National Education Summit on High Schools in 2005, said, "America's high schools are obsolete. Even when they're working exactly as designed, they cannot teach our kids what they need to know today. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind."
The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, convened by the nonprofit National Center on Education and the Economy, issued a stark report in December 2006 predicting that our standard of living "will steadily fall" compared to other nations unless we change course. The globalized economy has created, the commission wrote, "a world in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job"; what's essential, it added, is "a deep vein of creativity that is constantly renewing itself." According to the report, whatever efforts we make to modernize education, without a complete overhaul of the testing system, "nothing else will matter."
Congressman George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and chief House wrangler of NCLB (and a member of The George Lucas Educational Foundation's Advisory Board), understands the problem. The original law left it up to states to choose their own tests, but now he believes most states picked tests more for cost and efficiency than for educational value. "They don't truly measure what a student knows or doesn't know," he says, "or whether students have a depth of understanding so that they can apply their knowledge."

Real Solutions to Real Problems

In the past, states haven't had much choice in the kinds of large-scale assessments available, nor have they asked for much. That's about to change.
Test makers in multiple corners are creating more complex assessments, ones that, if tied more closely to curriculum and instruction, could paint a clearer picture of student learning. They're building these assessments to measure the twenty-first-century skills we so urgently need, aiming to gauge a child's readiness for the real challenges that await. If tests like these succeed, they could not only provide better information about children's readiness for real life but also give educators incentive to do what they want to do anyway: teach kids in engaging ways to be well-rounded people and lifelong learners, not drill the life out of school with dry test preparation.
A number of researchers are building tests that could be models -- or at least one piece of a larger model. The University of Washington's John Bransford and Andreas Schleicher, head of the Indicators and Analysis Division at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), maker of the PISA exam, believe students need dynamic problems to solve, ones that require real-world research and allow them to learn on the spot, not just apply prior knowledge.
A static problem, for instance, would ask test takers to say from memory how to save a certain endangered bird species. A dynamic assessment (in a real example from Bransford's lab) asks students to use available resources to learn what it would take to prevent the white-eyed vireo from becoming endangered. This is a novel question that demands students independently dig for information and know enough to ask the right questions to reach a solution.
Bransford says he doesn't believe the old trope that students must master a battery of content-specific facts before they can have a prayer of learning higher-order skills. "Just the opposite," he says: Students need to understand big concepts in each discipline, such as the relationship between a species' life cycle and its risk of extinction, but from there it's the higher-order skills that lead them to the pertinent facts.
At ETS -- which writes the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, among others, and administers fifty million tests a year -- Randy Bennett is field-testing assessments that make use of about thirty years of psychology research on how children learn. It's research that he says has been largely left out of test design. The key strategies he has found include asking students to integrate multiple skills (such as reading and making comparisons) at once, presenting questions in meaningful contexts, and using a variety of information forms, such as text, diagrams, and symbols. Eva Baker, codirector of UCLA's National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, proposes one more: Never have someone present a solution without explaining why he or she chose it.
It's not so different from the kind of assessment Jennifer Simone would like for her students. She'd like the exam to use more formats than just writing, including visual or spoken components. "You would have to take the time to have a student interview, allow students to have an oral response," she says. "That's how we teach them reading."
Technology is what will make this revolution possible. Already, computers have enabled Bransford, Baker, and others to create interactive questions, search environments where students can find new information, and simulations to make problems more engaging and real. These tools can record students' answers as well as their thought process: what kind of information they sought, how long they spent on each Web page, and where they might have gone off track.
The British government has created a computer-literacy test that challenges teens to solve realistic problems (how to control crowds at a soccer match, for instance) using online resources. The more sophisticated these tools become, and the more adeptly test makers use them, the better assessment will be.
So, progress is coming -- in some cases, has arrived -- but as the OECD's Andreas Schleicher says, "It's a long road, and we're at the beginning." The biggest hurdles are time and money (richer tests require more of both to design and administer), and that rarely tamable beast, politics. The next version of NCLB, due later this year, could pump federal money into pilot projects to help states create richer assessments, paired with richer curriculum -- but only if that clause survives the political battle to come.
Stephen Dunbar, the Iowa test author, has doubts that more complex tests can be done on a large scale. Though the effort is worthy, he says, the cost and time to create and score open-ended questions, and make them comparable from year to year, could make it too impractical. Scary as it might sound, artificial intelligence is likely to play a big role in the scoring of such exams. If the technology becomes sophisticated enough to handle answers to trickier problems, it could make better assessment more affordable.
The ETS's Randy Bennett, on the other hand, believes the prospects of building an assessment system to match the demands of the twenty-first century are "pretty good." The key is to convince states that it's practical, affordable, and clearly better than today's exams at providing meaningful information. At least one state, West Virginia, has begun asking the test makers it contracts to emphasize more modern problems and skills. Another hurdle will be for politicians to temper their devotion to multiple-choice questions and get comfortable with a little subjectivity. "For any assessment," Schleicher says, "you have to make a trade-off between objectivity and relevance."
Jennifer Simone, for one, is depending on forward-thinking test makers and policy makers to succeed -- for the sake of her students, most of all. "That we are held accountable is a good thing. That we are doing something to measure the progress of our students is a good thing," she

Arts education described as vital

State work force needs creativity, lieutenant governor says

Posted: March 29, 2008
Wisconsin needs to cultivate an innovative, entrepreneurial work force, and arts education is the key, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton said Friday.

A new task force on arts and creativity, co-chaired by Lawton and state schools Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster, plans to survey arts offerings in Wisconsin schools, hold public hearings around the state, and issue a list of recommendations by the end of the year.
"I see artists imagining solutions to 21st-century problems," Lawton said at a meeting of arts advocates at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. "Creativity is important to every sector of Wisconsin's economy."
The event kicked off a daylong meeting of the Wisconsin Arts Board, which Lawton chairs.
The task force is expected to include members of the state's business, arts and education communities. The list of participants will be finalized within the next week, officials said.
The group's goal will be to position arts education as a way to teach critical-thinking skills and encourage Wisconsin's students to become visionaries who can propel the state to the forefront of the green economy and other emerging industries, Lawton said.
"The Silicon Valley wasn't brought in on semi trucks," she said, citing Apple CEO Steve Jobs as someone who combines technical know-how with an artist's touch.
Officials said the task force will address how to move arts education from the fringes of low-income school districts' enrichment offerings to their core curricula, which will mean involving arts advocates in the state budget process.
"The arts are not a luxury," said Burmaster, a former music teacher and drama director. "The arts are essential."
Burmaster said the recommendations the task force generates will inform the state Department of Public Instruction's budgeting process in the summer of 2009 and her subsequent proposal to Gov. Jim Doyle
Last academic year, 29 Milwaukee public schools had no visual art teacher, and six offered art about once every two weeks.
All of those schools educate elementary- or middle school-aged students.
The task force will help address this gap, said Barry Applewhite, music curriculum specialist for MPS and principal at Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
"We know that the kids have to read, write, and do arithmetic, and it's how you get them to be interested," he said of the school's arts-based curriculum.
Just under 65% of the school's students scored in the proficient or advanced range on state reading tests in 2006, and 51% scored in the same range on the math test. MPS district averages were 40% in reading and 30% in math.
The link between exposure to the arts and academic achievement in other areas is clear, said Audrey Dentith, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Earlier this year, she coordinated an event for area educators called Arts Education in the Age of Accountability at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Testing mandates under current federal education law need to be balanced with child-centered approaches to learning, she said.
"Assessment is fine, but it only regards test scores that are quantitatively measured," Dentith said. "The more that children are exposed to the sort of freedom and complex thinking that surrounds the appreciation of the arts, they become much deeper thinkers."
Burmaster has overseen prior task forces on issues including high schools, truancy and financial literacy.


Digital Age Assessment: Part 1

Harry Grover Tuttle
from Technology & Learning
A look at technology tools that aid formative assessment.
Effective observation and diagnosis of student learning can be greatly assisted by 21stcentury technologies. Below are five practical tools to help educators measure student progress.
Personal response systems such as those by GTCO allow us to get a snapshot of students' comprehension in real time. We might ask a middle school social studies class: "Which state does not belong in this list and why? A) Florida; B) New York; C) California; or D) Nevada." As the computer displays the answers on a teacher desktop or on a projection screen, the results (appearing in chart or graph form) provide quick information on any gaps or trends in student understanding.
Online quizzes
Students take an online practice quiz offered by a course management system such as Blackboard, HotChalk, or Baudnet; a quiz-giving service such as Quia; or through a noncommercial service such as ProProfs. The teacher can organize the test so that it evaluates the learning standard at a high level of thinking. For example, the first three questions could quiz at the Bloom's Knowledge-Comprehension level, the next three at the Application- Analysis level, and the remaining four at the Synthesis-Evaluation level.

Quia lets you create your own quiz while analyzing class progress.
In a Spanish class, we first ask "What does tocar mean?" then "What is the 'we' form of tocar?" and finally, "Which is a correct use of tocar?" Also, questions could be organized by specific learning goals within a standard. Students benefit from the immediate feedback of online practice quizzes and educators are able to monitor students' progress without having to correct and analyze the quizzes.
Click Here
Click Here

Web-based surveys

Students can take an online one-minute survey in which they respond to three questions such as what they have learned about a topic, what confused them, and what additional comments they'd like to make. After social studies students analyzed the causes and effects of the Great Depression, they take a Zoomerang or Moodle survey. The teacher gives them a short, two- to three-minute activity—such as summarizing a chapter—while we look over their instantly collected and organized responses, determining immediately if and how the instruction should be changed.
Digital logs
To develop elementary students' reading skills, teachers can record how many words they read in a given number of minutes over numerous weeks. After they finish reading, teachers record it in a log on a PDA, tablet computer, or desktop computer. Commercial literacy products, which are PDA-based, such as Fox in a Box K-3 literacy assessment, facilitate this monitoring process.
As science students participate in an online discussion or contribute to a class wiki topic on genetic engineering of plants, the teacher rates their answers to see if they are doing complex thinking about the learning goal. Instead of just counting how many responses they give, teachers can look at their comments and rate each on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 representing beginning use and level 4 indicating above-proficiency. The teacher then records this information in a spreadsheet under the specific goal so that they have collected all their information in one easy-to-manipulate form.

Social Networking: The New Face of Recruiting
Social networking sites aren't just for fun. In what may be the future for college recruiting efforts, some 300,000 students now use a social networking site called Zinch specifically to network with colleges. On Zinch, prospective students can enter a personal profile that gives colleges in-depth information well beyond grades and test scores. From the other side, Zinch says that more than 450 colleges and universities are using Zinch as a high-powered recruiting tool.
Read Complete Article

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why. By ELLEN GAMERMAN
February 29, 2008; Page W1
Helsinki, Finland
High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.
Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

Finland's students are the brightest in the world, according to an international test. Teachers say extra playtime is one reason for the students' success. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman reports.
The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.
The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.
Visitors and teacher trainees can peek at how it's done from a viewing balcony perched over a classroom at the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland. What they see is a relaxed, back-to-basics approach. The school, which is a model campus, has no sports teams, marching bands or prom.

Fanny Salo in class
Trailing 15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves "Gossip Girl" books, the TV show "Desperate Housewives" and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends.
Fanny earns straight A's, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. "It's fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class," Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.
At lunch, Fanny and her friends leave campus to buy salmiakki, a salty licorice. They return for physics, where class starts when everyone quiets down. Teachers and students address each other by first names. About the only classroom rules are no cellphones, no iPods and no hats.

Every three years, 15-year-olds in 57 countries around the world take a test called the Pisa exam, which measures proficiency in math, science and reading. **The test:** Two sections from the Pisa science test **Chart:** Recent scores for participating countriesDISCUSS
Do you think any of these Finnish methods would work in U.S. schools? What would you change -- if anything -- about the U.S. school system, and the responsibilities that teachers, parents and students are given? **Share your thoughts.**
Fanny's more rebellious classmates dye their blond hair black or sport pink dreadlocks. Others wear tank tops and stilettos to look tough in the chilly climate. Tanning lotions are popular in one clique. Teens sift by style, including "fruittari," or preppies; "hoppari," or hip-hop, or the confounding "fruittari-hoppari," which fuses both. Ask an obvious question and you may hear "KVG," short for "Check it on Google, you idiot." Heavy-metal fans listen to Nightwish, a Finnish band, and teens socialize online at
The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master's degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom.
Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says Mr. Schleicher, of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.
One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.

Ymmersta school principal Hannele Frantsi
Finland shares its language with no other country, and even the most popular English-language books are translated here long after they are first published. Many children struggled to read the last Harry Potter book in English because they feared they would hear about the ending before it arrived in Finnish. Movies and TV shows have Finnish subtitles instead of dubbing. One college student says she became a fast reader as a child because she was hooked on the 1990s show "Beverly Hills, 90210."
In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials from the Education Department, the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. "You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?" says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.
Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn't translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: " 'Nah. So what'd you do last night?'" she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

At the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, school principal Helena Muilu
Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.
Despite the apparent simplicity of Finnish education, it would be tough to replicate in the U.S. With a largely homogeneous population, teachers have few students who don't speak Finnish. In the U.S., about 8% of students are learning English, according to the Education Department. There are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% -- or 10% at vocational schools -- compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.
Another difference is financial. Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland's high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland's best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.
Finnish students have little angstata -- or teen angst -- about getting into the best university, and no worries about paying for it. College is free. There is competition for college based on academic specialties -- medical school, for instance. But even the best universities don't have the elite status of a Harvard.

Students at the Ymmersta School near Helsinki
Taking away the competition of getting into the "right schools" allows Finnish children to enjoy a less-pressured childhood. While many U.S. parents worry about enrolling their toddlers in academically oriented preschools, the Finns don't begin school until age 7, a year later than most U.S. first-graders.
Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant. While some U.S. parents fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis.
The Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but they, too, worry about falling behind in the shifting global economy. They rely on electronics and telecommunications companies, such as Finnish cellphone giant Nokia, along with forest-products and mining industries for jobs. Some educators say Finland needs to fast-track its brightest students the way the U.S. does, with gifted programs aimed at producing more go-getters. Parents also are getting pushier about special attention for their children, says Tapio Erma, principal of the suburban Olari School. "We are more and more aware of American-style parents," he says.
Mr. Erma's school is a showcase campus. Last summer, at a conference in Peru, he spoke about adopting Finnish teaching methods. During a recent afternoon in one of his school's advanced math courses, a high-school boy fell asleep at his desk. The teacher didn't disturb him, instead calling on others. While napping in class isn't condoned, Mr. Erma says, "We just have to accept the fact that they're kids and they're learning how to live."
Write to Ellen Gamerman at


Gaming, School Libraries and the Curriculum

Posted by Librarygamer under Libraries, curriculum, games | Tags: Board Games, curriculum, School Libraries |
Games engage students with authentic leisure experiences while reinforcing a variety of social, literary and curricular skills. When an educational concept is introduced and reinforced during a game, it is internalized as part of an enjoyable experience and further utilized as one aspect of a strategy to attain success.
Games also carry other benefits. They help students connect and build social skills, working as part of a team or negotiating the most advantageous situation for themselves. It also provides an opportunity for students to to explore a host of life skills not inherent in the curriculum , but important for success. Some of these include: micro-managing resources and options; actively re-evaluating, re-prioritizing and re-adjusting goals based on uncertain and shifting situations; determining acceptable losses in an effort to obtain an end goal; and employing analytical and critical skills to more authentic social experiences.
Here is a list of NYS standards currently supported by a well established school game library:
NYS Social Studies Standards:
  • Standard 3: Geography Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the geography of the interdependent world in which we live—local, national, and global—including the distribution of people, places, and environments over the Earth’s surface.
  • Standard 4: Economics Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the U.S. and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and non-market mechanisms.
  • Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the U.S. and other nations; the U.S. Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.
NYS English Language Arts Standards:
  • Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding As listeners and readers, students will collect data, facts, and ideas, discover relationships, concepts, and generalizations; and use knowledge generated from oral, written, and electronically produced texts. As speakers and writers, they will use oral and written language to acquire, interpret, apply, and transmit information.
  • Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation As listeners and readers, students will analyze experiences, ideas, information, and issues presented by others using a variety of established criteria. As speakers and writers, they will present, in oral and written language and from a variety of perspectives, their opinions and judgments on experiences, ideas, information and issues.
  • Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction Students will use oral and written language for effective social communication with a wide variety of people. As readers and listeners, they will use the social communications of others to enrich their understanding of people and their views.
NYS Math, Science and Technology Standards:
  • Standard 1: Analysis, Inquiry, and Design Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions.
  • Standard 3: Mathematics Students will understand the concepts of and become proficient with the skills of mathematics; communicate and reason mathematically; become problem solvers by using appropriate tools and strategies; through the integrated study of number sense and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and statistics and probability.
  • Standard 7: Interdisciplinary Problem Solving Students will apply the knowledge and thinking skills of mathematics, science, and technology to address real-life problems and make informed decisions.
Health, Physical Education, and Family and Consumer Sciences:
  • Standard 3: Resource Management Students will understand and be able to manage their personal and community resources.


Peabody students do virtual work for city

By **Jeremy Boren**
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Technology-savvy Peabody High School students will help Pittsburgh choose a video teleconferencing system that officials here could use to conduct virtual meetings with counterparts in another city or broadcast a news conference to CNN.
Pittsburgh Technology Council's "Adventures in Technology" program will guide a class of about a dozen students through a 10-week, hands-on project to research what video-conferencing equipment and computer software the city should buy and at what price.
"I look forward one day to sitting in my conference room and being able to really meet with the mayor of Philadelphia, or even the governor, without traveling across the state," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Wednesday during a news conference with students and city and foundation officials.
The first-time classroom collaboration between Pittsburgh Public Schools and the city is sponsored by the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, Catalyst Connection and The Lois Tack Thompson Fund through The Pittsburgh Foundation. "Adventures in Technology" is in its sixth year.
Trudy Williams, Pittsburgh's assistant computer information systems director, said it's unclear how much money the city will invest in a video-conferencing system after the students conclude their research in early spring. The conferencing center likely will be in the city's computer center in the City-County Building, Downtown.
"This project is about bringing students to the real world through real project work," said Ron Painter, CEO of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board.
Peabody junior DeAndre Jackson, 16, of Garfield, is eager to get started.
"Computers are basically where the new age is headed," he said.
2/15 This is nor the usual thing I put in here, but I did think it was a very interesting approach to data driven decision making.

Redefining Data-Driven Decision Making

How schools can move beyond D3M to embrace a culture of education performance management.
By Keith Waters

from School CIO
Throughout the country, district superintendents expect their chief information officers and IT staff to play an instrumental role in helping educators increase the quality of education. But the processes and steps to improving performance are often not so clear.
In 2003-2004, educators from 12 districts in the St. Louis metropolitan area decided to tackle this complicated issue head on. They participated in a series of workshops in which they identified and analyzed factors that strongly influence student learning. After exploring numerous barriers to achievement, it became clear that any solution would have to be systemic in nature and could not rely solely on information technology. The concept that emerged was referred to as Educational Performance Management (EPM): “Educators using data and decision support tools to continuously improve educational practice for the purpose of increasing student learning.”
EPM: The Vision
The St. Louis group took its analysis a step further by defining six integrated disciplines, which, along with a variety of decision support technologies, would enable educators to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Following are snapshots of each discipline.
1. Knowledge Leverage
Knowledge is the essential ingredient to successful educational practice. Therefore, EPM positions professional learning and development as high priority themes for districts and buildings. Additionally, knowledge accrued by educators becomes a major contributing factor during annual performance and developmental reviews. The EPM Professional Accountability & Contribution Evaluation (PACE) method provides a progressive approach to assessing professional growth; identifying developmental needs; interpreting individual and team performance; and calculating fair rates of compensation.
Leveraging knowledge is achieved by sharing facts and insights across educator “communities of interest.” EPM facilitates both the contribution and selective retrieval of facts, insights, experiences, and rules-of-thumb (heuristics) from a broad collection of shared databases.
2. Instructional Differentiation
Educators have little time to implement this effective strategy for accommodating individual student needs and helping students optimize their learning experience. To facilitate instructional differentiation, EPM tools are used to automate the design of multiple lesson plans with varying degrees of content, detail, and difficulty. The design process interprets several inputs including a characterization of the student’s aptitudes/interests, learning grade-level, and curriculum schedule. Time saved by educators via differentiated lesson design is freed for higher-impact instructional or developmental activities.
3. Directional Alignment
The group identified a collection of primary objectives that, if achieved, would eliminate many of the constraints surrounding the goal of increased student learning:
  • Knowledgeable, skilled educators
  • Motivated, engaged students
  • Curriculum objectives that meet state-level expectations, accommodate individual student aptitudes/interests, and position all students for success on summative high-stakes assessments
  • Ongoing translation of educational research into instructional and administrative strategies and techniques, with subsequent infusion in daily practice
  • Differentiation of lesson content and strategy on an individual student basis
  • Explicit specification of learner objectives for every student, educator, and parent
  • Targeted, beneficial, and timely improvement to educational practice
  • Ubiquitous knowledge transfer without boundaries, thereby accelerating collaborative problem solving and individual professional learning
EPM enables the specification of these and other objectives in ways that can be cross-compared using “dimensions” (building, class, subject, potential impact, established priority, completion date, responsible individual or team, etc.). Linking objectives via a supporting/supported rubric allows educators to clearly understand the direction their district/building is taking and the ways in which their contribution to specific objectives may affect performance from the district down to individual student levels.
4. Practice Integration
Each instructional or administrative practice is defined in terms of a sequence of activities, required resources, and information/knowledge that is created or shared during the conduct of the activity. Practice “integration” is accomplished by examining the “end-points” of an activity sequence and identifying what other practices might use the products/services emerging at these junctures.
Specifying and evaluating educational practice often leads to the identification of efficiency and effectiveness improvements. In addition to supporting continuous improvement, practice specifications help educators gain better insight into “how things work” in a district or building. Finally, practice specification forms the basis for designing explicit roles associated with each job/position. Role specifications become the starting point for PACE reviews and enable the clear identification of knowledge/skill requirements associated with each instructional or administrative practice.
5. Situation Analytics
Closely akin to data-driven decision making (D3M), this EPM discipline and related toolsets help surface trends and correlations that often hide within large volumes of data. EPM ensures that users do not require an in-depth understanding of information technology in order to meaningfully interact with available data, analyses, and knowledge-based interpretations.
Elements of student data maintained by EPM extend well beyond disaggregated summative test scores and attendance (a student’s engagement rate, reading comprehension/fluency/retention index, critical thinking skill level, etc.). EPM also requires a broad spectrum of text-based and numeric data, thus involving database structures that are more complex than typical data warehouse implementations (objective and strategy statements, priorities, role specifications, student characterizations, research findings, instructional and administrative practice specifications, standards, and actions projects).
6. Improvement Diligence
Many improvement initiatives fail to generate desired results due to one or more common faults:
  • Objectives not characterized in terms of a measurable factor or not properly prioritized
  • Actions not tracked to completion with regular status reviews
  • Unclear or excused accountability for action completion
  • Poor planning or lack of time/resources or strategies for mitigating risk
EPM integrates the formal discipline of change management into the daily lives of teachers and administrators in order to capitalize on improvement opportunities and ensure long-term maturation of educational practice.
In Closing
The challenges surrounding EPM implementation are daunting, the anticipated benefits are far-reaching, and the amount of change to the status quo represents nothing short of a paradigm shift. If you would like to get more details about EPM and the six disciplines, e-mail me at
Keith Waters is a process consultant based in Missouri.


Try It First in Web 2.0

By Trent Batson
An intriguing development in Web 2.0 space: Educators, administrators, and students are experimenting in Web 2.0 space where experimentation is, mostly, less risky than in real life...

- Darren Cambridge, a professor at George Mason University, sees students trying out their "network" selves in Facebook, Second Life, MySpace, chat, Linked In,, and other social networking sites. This "network" self, a construct in the virtual, then redounds to the development of their "symphonic" self, the real-life self, the fully-integrated "built-out" self: (see

- The Princeton Review creates a series of SAT strategy sessions in Second Life (SL) where students can "meet" and not only learn strategy for the SAT but also socialize with each other. This is not the full SAT preparation course series, but a kind of "reception" experience for students around the world to get an idea about SAT preparation. Ohio University hosts the strategy sessions on its SL campus.

- At Northeastern University, a new space for faculty combining the Educational Technology Center and Teaching Center spaces is prototyped in SL to "test run" the actual physical space, which is in development at the campus. This way, the planning committee at Northeastern can try out different arrangements, visit the site as avatars, as can others, and see how the space works. A query on the EDUCAUSE Learning Space list asks list members to visit the SL site and, in particular, check out the positioning of a support beam that makes "the space seem unwelcoming." Imagine how much better for campus planning if planning committee members, rather than trying to visualize the space from blueprints, could see a 3D rendition of a space and visit that space!

- A professor at Bentley College in Waltham, MA, is able to use Popfly, a Web 2.0 mashup application from Microsoft, to teach upper-level programming concepts to first-year students. Students are able to "try out" those programming concepts and see results because of the capabilities of Web 2.0.

Are these experiments replacing the classroom or the lab or the field experience? No. Web 2.0 can and does allow pathways and capabilities for learning that weren't there before the Web, but for the moment we see faculty and administrators using Web 2.0 to augment existing functions and learning practices. Higher education is more nimble and open to change than many believe it is.

Trent Batson, Ph.D., is a researcher, author, and speaker, specializing in ePortfolio research and development. He is also editor of Campus Technology's Web 2.0 e-newsletter.

Cite this Site

Trent Batson, "Try It First in Web 2.0," Campus Technology, 2/6/2008,

2/1Blu-ray Disc--The New VHS?
I've been following this story to see what will become the standard before I invest in technology for my home, so you guys get to read up on this every time I find someone else chiming in.
PC World
Tuesday, January 29, 2008; 4:17 AM
Hello Blu-ray ... adios, HD DVD. There was no doubt in my mind when I heard that Universal studios lined up with Warner Bros in its support for Blu-ray. Hold off on your calls and letters. I know--Universal is still supporting HD DVD too; see "Universal Denies Reports That It's Leaving HD DVD."
At the same time, if you read "Toshiba Slashes HD DVD Prices," you'll see that Toshiba appears to be dumping HD DVD players faster than Windows Vista users are switching to Macs. And Microsoft has said it couldn't care less about HD DVD (see "Microsoft: No HD DVD Xbox.")
Don't misunderstand. My decision is only in principle: I'm too cheap to actually run out and buy a Blu-ray player. Besides the cost of a player, I'd also have to buy new cables. Then there's the hassle of installing it and dealing with the schmutz behind the big-screen TV. So I'm waiting for prices to plummet.
I realize you'd rather do your own research. Sure, I agree, and here are a stack of articles for you to scroll through.
"I should have seen that one coming." Among birders, there's a rule about looking up.Here's why. [Thanks, Moe.]
Your cell phone's outdated if it doesn't have a set of functions like this one. (Fair warning: Not suitable for children or adults who disapprove of "potty humor.") [Thanks, Shirley.]
A couple of recent models--Samsung's BD-P1200 Blu-ray player and Toshiba's HD-A20 in the HD DVD camp--have great performance and reasonable prices, our Melissa Perenson says.
You might also take a look at our roundup, the "High-Def Video Superguide," which reviews scads of players and ranks the nine best available at the time into a handy chart. We did the roundup about a year ago, but most of the models are still around--and they cost a lot less now. For example, the Samsung BD-P1000 that started out at around $800 now sells for $500 or less.
Of course you can hedge your bets and get a combo player. Samsung has one--theUP5000 HD DVD/Blu-ray combo player. It has high-end features like HQV processing and the ability to decode DTS-HD Master Audio. Here's a review: "Samsung Dual-Format High-Def Player Does Blu-ray and HD DVD."
Here's a videoof a bunch of Darwin Award nominees handling a difficult situation. It had me chuckling all morning. (And no, the dopey guy pulling the car from the bottom doesn't get crushed.)
Word Sandwichis an annoying game. That's because I had to think and reason, and went absolutely nowhere. The game plan is to guess a five letter word; you get hard-to-use clues. Lemme know if you get anywhere. [Note to Alex: I wasted 30 minutes; don't send me anything this difficult again, eh? Thanks.]
So in my blog the other day I asked loyal readers, "So whaddya think you'll do--HD DVD or Blu-ray?" Here's what they said...
"I'm all for HD DVD, but in the long run I see Blu-ray taking the ball...if either succeed. Video-on-demand seems to be taking off too. That's why this 'war' has lasted so long. Other ways have emerged to get movies now." --joker1231978
"The average Joe Blow does not want to spend a minimum of $425 for a Blu-ray player when he can get the HD DVD for $150 to $200. ... Time will tell, but I wouldn't count out HD DVD just yet." --kasjun
"Blu-ray may outsell HD DVD. ... [but] until Blu-ray also plays DVDs it can't win." --shanedr
"Just bit the Blu-ray bullet here as well, Steve. 'Lost, Season 3' on its way, first Blu-ray purchase, no looking back. My only quibble with the entire edifice is this: ... I'm stuck with VHS and DVD and Blu-ray crap littering shelves and boxes in an attempt to have an 'authoritative' collection." --mattpeckham
(Matt is our gaming guy and I'm delighted to see he's reading my blog and commenting. Check out his "Game On" blog.)
"Universal is very firmly in the HD DVD camp, unless something has changed in the last 30 minutes. So HD DVD still has two very large Hollywood studios, and with Toshiba's current fire sale ... things could change quite quickly. Consider that the overwhelming percentage of the public haven't made a decision either way (despite the blustery bravado of pimple-faced PS3 owners), but now might just pick up one of those HD DVD players for chump change. I wouldn't call this war over by a long ways." --dforbes
"This 'pimple-faced' PS3 owner is 33 with a PhD, and it is the centerpiece of my HE system. I picked up five of the $99 1080i HD DVD players from Wal-Mart, so it is not a problem for me who wins. However, I am pulling for Blu-ray, and I will be so glad when this is over.... The PS3 [which plays Blu-ray Disc] is one of the most underutilized pieces of equipment available." --Physics
I'd really like for you to chime in and join in on the brawl; click "Post a comment" at the bottom of this page. The only catch is that you have to be a PC World member to add a comment. If you're not already, don't fret: It's an easy, 2-minute process and you cando it here.
I know you've seen tabloid pictures of people with a black rectangle covering their eyes. They're obviously trying to disguise the identity of the person in the image. But did you knowhow that was achievedbefore Photoshop? I didn't think so...
Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's dailyTips & Tweaks blog.Sign upto have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Stevee-mail.
© 2008 PC World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved


From MySpace to My Job: Online Interaction Prepares Students for Employment

By Chris O’Neal
Last year, I blogged a bit about social networking. I want to revisit the issue, since I continue to receive emails with questions about where to find safe alternatives to the mainstream sites, or teacher-oriented social networks, as well as invitations to come discuss the issue with school boards, and so on. I'll respond to some of that below.
First, a few updated statistics on the social-networking phenomenon. According to a recent Pew Internet study, about 55 percent of teens have online profiles on MySpace or Facebook, and that percentage continues to grow. Also according to Pew, "Two in five (42 percent) teens who use social-networking sites also say they blog. And, in keeping with the conversational nature of social media, social-networking teens are also interacting with others' blogs.
"Seven in ten (70 percent) social-networking teens report reading the blogs of others, and three in four (76 percent) social-networking teens have posted comments to a friend's blog on a social-networking site," the report added. So, why should educators care about social networking?
I visited a few high schools recently to chat informally with some teens. The handful I spoke with had nothing in their online presence I would consider inappropriate or alarming. I did find some music or video issues that either crossed the copyright line or teetered right on it, however, and we had some insightful discussions about that, of course.
There are also numerous reports around the world about some of the seedier, and sometimes dangerous, aspects of social networking. Although that issue does exist, I found a lot of original poetry and music and a wealth of creative writing and interacting. I also did a rundown of the skills I see in action on a site like Facebook, such as producing, collaborating, communicating, writing, creating, reading, decision making, social interacting, and countless technology skills.
Interestingly enough, a report entitled "Are They Really Ready to Work?" (released in October 2006 by the Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management) suggests that some of these skills are growing in importance in the workforce, including capabilities in critical thinking, information technology, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. In my opinion, the abilities required in social networking and those needed in the "real world" outside school aren't that different.
I know many educators who are working hard to key into these skills, but in the context of an educational atmosphere. To me, that's an ideal approach -- use social-networking technology skills while addressing content and curricular standards.
How do you feel about social networking? Do you think of it as a skill-building resource for teens growing up in a world in which collaboration is becoming increasingly important? Please share your thoughts.

Paths to Paradise: A Virtual Guide to the National Parks

Whether you and your students pay a real visit or a remote one, America's natural treasures offer a wealth of learning resources.

printer-friendly versionby Douglas Cruickshank
Natural Resources: A Wealth of National Parks Information
  • Getting Started: Interpretation and Education -- Begin familiarizing yourself with the National Park Service's online offerings here.
  • Curriculum and Planning: Curriculum-Based Programs in Your National Parks -- Get access to curricula and tips on planning your class's field trip.
  • More Help for Teachers: TeacherZone -- Find additional field trip-planning assistance as well as information on workshops, park-related traveling trunks, and more.
  • Especially for History Teachers: Teaching with Historic Places -- Offers a wealth of teaching materials on major themes of American history.
  • Especially for Science Teachers: Nature & Science -- Provides valuable information for before and after the visit, resources to supplement curriculum, and aids for students doing research.
  • Complementary Programs: Institutes & Field Schools -- Lists nonprofit organizations that offer park-related K-12 school programs, teacher training, field seminars, and more.
In addition to visually stunning landscapes, flora, fauna, and wide-open spaces, America's national parks offer teachers and students a wealth of rich instructional and learning opportunities, both on site and online. And there's never been a better -- you could even say more critical -- time to use the parks in this way.
Follow along for a virtual hike through the National Park Services Web site that will point out those areas you won't want to miss if you are hoping to make a park visit with your class and save some preparation time along the way. Let's go.
Ironically, the Web is an excellent place to begin connecting your students with the nondigital, nonelectronic parts of the world. As you know, preparation is what it's all about when it comes to successfully presenting a lesson. Fortunately, most of the parks make it easy by providing online information for teachers that is specifically focused on preparing for and enhancing class visits. From podcasts to photo galleries, maps, and direct phone numbers for park personnel, the sites make preparing for a field trip relatively simple.

Cyberspace National Park

external image nps_screen_grab.jpg
States of Nature: The home page of the National Park Service Web site.
The National Park Service (NPS) oversees the country's national parks, which consist of about 400 natural, cultural, and recreational sites across the country. Its Web site is nearly as vast. The site's home page features an interactive map of the United States that enables you to quickly locate national parks in your state -- most of which have their own Web sites. (More about those later.)
Getting you and your students to a nearby national park promises to be a rewarding experience for all of you, but if that's not possible, the NPS provides an array of park-related activities your class can benefit from without leaving school. Once you've found a park to visit or plan a lesson around, visit the Interpretation and Education page.

Interpretation and Education

This page is the first stop on your real or virtual national park visit. From here you can follow links to
  • LearnNPS, where teachers and students can explore national parks.
  • WebRangers, the National Park Service's Web site for kids.
  • GoZone, which offers park-specific online games and other fun activities.
There are usually also several multimedia features and podcasts on the page.
external image fossil-beds.jpg
Bridge to the Past: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Credit: National Park Service
The NPS site recently featured a presentation about central Oregon's John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and another commemorating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia -- America's first English colony. Such features are enormously useful as a preface to a field trip because they're a quick, visually appealing, information-rich way to introduce the location and its history and special features to your students.
These resources can be viewed in class or assigned as homework the night before the trip. They also function as excellent stand-alone teaching tools for classrooms with a broadband connection and an LCD projector. Many of the presentations offer a Plan Your Visit component. In the case of the Jamestown page, this feature includes a dozen links to other relevant Web sites.
The LearnNPS page gives you access to a truly handy For Teachers area, which includes links labeled Parks in Your Curriculum, Resources, Workshops, Field Trip Planning, and Share Your Ideas.

Parks in Your Curriculum

external image point-reyes.jpg
Beachhead: Point Reyes National Seashore
Credit: National Park Service
The Parks in Your Curriculum link, which leads to a page titled Curriculum-Based Programs in Your National Parks, is an alphabetical list of every national park in the country, many of which offer curriculum-based programs, curriculum guides, and lesson plans. Among the five parks whose names begin with the letter P, for example, you'll find a link for the Web site of northern California's Point Reyes National Seashore, which offers a trove of materials for educators and students, stating something that is music to any teacher's ears: "Visiting . . . with your class is easy and free of charge."
A DVD titled Science Behind the Scenery is free for the asking to teachers, as is a complimentary curriculum CD and seven comprehensive study guides in PDF format you can download or print. (One study guide, "Defining Habitats at Point Reyes National Seashore," designed for middle school students, is 188 pages long.) And that's just the beginning. You'll find abundant links to other relevant online offerings and a special page for helping teachers plan field trips.


TeacherZone, the page that launches when you click Resources on the LearnNPS page, offers a range of tools to "bring your students to the parks and the parks to your students." You'll find links that direct you to information on teacher workshops, tell you how to borrow or buy park-related traveling trunks and kits to use in the classroom, and provide you with audiovisual materials, some for free. There are also links to "online environmental education resources for students and teachers." Other features accessible from this page include the Field Trip Center, which you'll want to explore when you start planning for your class to visit or study a national park.

History and Culture

The History and Culture section of LearnNPS is another gold mine for teachers. In addition to parks, the NPS oversees myriad historical sites, from Gettysburg to Alcatraz, and these also have their own Web sites, which typically include components designed for teachers and students.
The fact is, the NPS Web site is so capacious that sometimes, while wandering its virtual corridors, one will stumble on something like the Teaching with Historic Places lesson-plan index page. It gives you access to 130 lesson plans, a jackpot of prepared teaching materials on major themes of American history -- from the Revolutionary War to art to women's history to archaeology, and much more -- all available on the Web. You can sort the entire collection by location, time period, U.S. history standards, and social studies standards.

Nature & Science

At the risk of sounding like one of those old late-night television commercials for Ginzu knives, wait, there's more! LearningNPS's Nature & Science page also has a generous selection of information for before and after the visit, links, and other resources that will help teachers prepare for a trip to a national park, supplement curriculum, and aid students in researching their assignments.
The Nature & Science page offers links to non-NPS Web sites, including EarthScope. The program, which describes itself as one that helps educators and students "explore the structure and evolution of the North American continent and understand processes controlling earthquakes and volcanoes," runs its own education and outreach initiative.
You'll also find a link to the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, which offers K-12 curriculum in the form of interactive, online teaching tools: books in PDF format, transparencies for overhead projectors, and other materials in a course called the Wilderness and Land Ethic. (There's one version for K-8 and another for 9-12.) Two representatives each from several federal agencies that established the center -- the NPS, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service -- supervise management of the education programs it offers.

Institutes & Field Schools

Finally, you may want to check out the Institutes & Field Schools page, where you'll find an A-to-Z list of nonprofit organizations that offer K-12 school programs, teacher training, field seminars, and other educational experiences in cooperation with specific parks throughout the country.
external image arches-park-avenue.jpg
Golden Age: Arches National Park
Credit: National Park Service
At Utah's Arches National Park, for example, the Canyonlands Field Institute runs daylong and multiday programs aimed at secondary school groups. Sandra Sermos, a middle school teacher from Clayton, Missouri, says on the site, "I dreamed of excitement, adventure, education, and safety for my students. We got it all. It was the perfect expeditionary experience."
Likewise, at Point Reyes National Seashore, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association offers teacher-training workshops and seminars (The Natural World, Birds of Point Reyes, The Arts, and Especially for Educators, to name just a few). Similar programs, given by nonprofit organizations working with the NPS, are available for Honolulu's USS Arizona National Memorial (the Arizona Memorial Museum Association), Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve (the Alaska Natural History Institutes), and nearly twenty other parks.

Turn Off the Computer and Go!

What's of key importance, naturally, is getting your students out to these extraordinary national parks for an immersion in the splendors -- monumental and microscopic -- that they offer. Multimedia presentations, impassioned lectures, in-class study and discussion, video, and audio are all great ways to complement the wilderness experience, but the difference between walking through a park and learning about one through media is the difference between looking at a photograph of a flower and smelling one.
Douglas Cruickshank is the former editor of

Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors

By ELISSA GOOTMANPublished: December 26, 2007
Some parents and teachers regard comics, with their sentences jammed into bubbles and their low word-to-picture ratio, as part of the problem when it comes to low reading scores and the much-lamented decline in reading for pleasure. But a growing cadre of educators is looking to comics as part of the solution.
In Maryland, the State Education Department is expanding a new comics-based literacy curriculum, after a small pilot program yielded promising results. In New York City, a group of educators applied to open a new small high school that would be based around a comics theme and named after the creators of Superman; their application was rejected but they plan to try again next year. And the Comic Book Project, a program run out of Teachers College at Columbia University that has children create their own comic strips as an “alternative pathway to literacy,” is catching on. Six years after it started in one Queens elementary school, it has expanded to 860 schools across the country.
“It’s very much a teacher-led kind of movement in that teachers are looking for ways to engage their children, and they’re finding some of that in comic books,” said Michael Bitz, who founded the Comic Book Project as a graduate student and is now its director. “For kids who may be struggling and for kids who may be new to the English language, that visual sequence is a very powerful tool.”
The recent interest in comics as a literacy tool comes as graphic novels have cemented their status as sophisticated works of literature, and as teachers nationwide are struggling to boost reading scores. Proponents of comics in the classroom say that they can lure struggling readers who may be intimidated by pages crammed with text. They also say that comics, with their visual cues and panel-by-panel sequencing, are uniquely situated to reinforce key elements of literacy, like story structure and tone.
Still, skeptics fret that in the wrong hands, comics could become simply a vehicle for watering down lessons.
“If you’re going to use comics in the classroom at all, which I have serious doubts about, it should be only as a motivational tool,” said Diane Ravitch, an education professor at New York University. “What teachers have to recognize is that this is only a first step.”
Lisa Von Drasek, the children’s librarian at the Bank Street College of Education, said that “not a semester goes by that not a parent or a teacher expresses a concern about a comic-format book that their child has taken out or is using for their reading time.” Usually, she said, the critics come around. “What we say is, ‘Whatever works.’”
Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland’s schools superintendent, said that years ago, she noticed teachers’ discomfort when their children were spotted with comics.
“They tried to justify it by saying to me, ‘Well, this student or this group of students, they hate reading, and we’re just trying everything,’” she said. “We’re trying to open the eyes of teachers and educators to this as a possibility, this as something that might really help children and is good education.”
In the 2005-6 school year, teachers at eight Maryland schools taught lessons based on old Disney cartoons as part of a Comics in the Classroom pilot program. Researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, were commissioned to evaluate the program. They did not try to gauge how much students learned, but found that teachers and students had positive perceptions of the program.
“There were some teachers at first who thought: ‘Oh, my God, comics? What’s next?’” said Susan Sonnenschein, an associate professor of psychology at the university, who was one of the evaluators. “I think the teachers changed their impression.”
The state, working with Diamond Comic Distributors and Disney Publishing Worldwide, has since refined the curriculum and invited 200 teachers to take part on the condition that they provide additional feedback. It is also planning to introduce teachers to a new series of original comic books for early readers, to be released starting this spring by Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, and her husband, Art Spiegelman, who revolutionized comics with his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus.”
Ms. Mouly said that she believed her books had “enormous” potential to turn children on to reading. She cited the experience of her own son, now 16, who learned to read through French comics like Astérix.
“The one thing that retained my son’s interest night after night was the comics,” she said. “Whatever that light bulb is went on.”
At Public School 59 in the Bronx one recent afternoon, students clustered around tables, plotting out their own comic strips at one of the Comic Book Project’s after-school programs.
At one table, Jamie Collazo’s and his friends’ faces lit up when asked about their favorite activity: video games like Ultimate Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. and Wolverine’s Revenge.
“I’m a game freak,” exclaimed Jamie, 11, saying that this was “when you collect a lot of games and you can’t stop playing them.” Reading, he said, “is kind of boring to me.”
But there he was, brainstorming a tale of three powerful gods who land on Nerainis, a planet between Neptune and Uranus.
Gabriel Cid, 10, agreed that “reading is kind of boring,” but said comics were different.
“Superheroes, comics, that’s when it gets interesting because you get to see all the cool stuff,” he said. “We get to do our own design, and we get to color whatever we want — create our own characters and stuff.”
By the end of the hourlong session, there were comics about islands populated by Native Americans, and about aliens who communicated in Morse code. There were plenty of misspellings (“to be countind you,” one child wrote in lieu of “to be continued”), but there were also instances in which students asked one another how to spell words like “mysterious.”
Amid the sketching, coloring and debating over the best way to split four panels into eight, Dr. Bitz of the Comic Book Project saw glimmers of learning: children composing, revising and organizing their thoughts into linear narratives.
“Because it’s their story,” he said, “they want to make it right.”


When Movies Don’t Live Up to the Trailer

By DAVID POGUE Published: January 3, 2008
I can’t tell you how much I love the Internet Movie Database ( I love The Times’s movie reviews too, but I don’t always agree with them. The wisdom of the masses on IMDB -- thousands of people’s collective grade for a movie on a 1-to-10 scale -- very rarely misses.

(Hint: It’s not really a 1-to-10 scale. By the time you average together all the scores from a huge number of people with different tastes, the scale gets compressed. On IMDB, an average movie usually gets around a 7. Anything that averages an 8 score is sensational; below 6, it’s a turkey.)
Last night, I took my two older kids to see “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” I knew from IMDB that it wasn’t going to be a masterpiece; it scored only a 6.9, and the comments warned us that there are plot holes big enough to drive a convoy through. But we’d liked the first “National Treasure” movie, with all its historical references and clever puzzles, and thought we’d give it a shot.
On the way home, what we discussed wasn’t the plot or the shaky grasp of history. It was all the good stuff we’d seen in the trailers (the ads) that weren’t even *in* the movie.
For example, in one of the trailers, there are shots of the pyramids and other Egyptian landmarks. None of the movie takes place in Egypt.
Then there’s a flyover of the top of Mount Rushmore, revealing that there’s a rectangular door carved into the stone of the mountain behind it. That shot isn’t in the movie, either (and would have helped a lot with comprehension, by the way).
One of the most compelling sequences in the trailer shows Nicolas Cage at the Lincoln Memorial — three or four shots that make you think that this movie’s grand historical conspiracy somehow involves that famous monument. It doesn’t, and none of those shots appear in the movie.
Oh, there’s humor in the movie, too. In the trailer, Nicolas Cage sticks his hand into a rocky hole. His mother says, “It could be a horrible trap!” He suddenly screams in pain! But then he reveals that he’s just kidding: “Sorry, I couldn’t resist.” This sequence is totally different in tone, timing and even camera angle than what’s in the movie.
In trailer #2, Mr. Cage’s girlfriend Abigail says, regarding the presidential book of secrets: “Oh, come on. It’s a myth!” She doesn’t say that in the movie; she hasn’t even heard of it in the movie.
In the preview, the President of the United States tells Mr. Cage: “You are now No. 1 on the N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted list.” All of this is edited dramatically in the trailer, with quick flashes to running SWAT teams, FBI guys with raised pistols, and so on.
But that line never appears in the movie — and, if you see the movie, you’ll see why it’s completely misleading to imply that the president would say that.
Then there’s the sidekick Riley’s hilarious quips. Cage says, in a dank, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-style cavern: “Riley! What do you see down there?”
Riley replies: “Death and despair. Mostly death, though, maybe a little despair for a few seconds, but then a hard sudden death.”
That entire exchange exists only in the trailer.
Now then.
I can already hear the snarling e-mail rebuttals: “It’s a movie. Let it go. The world has bigger problems.”
And I do realize that editing happens. Especially with movies in trouble or movies where early test audiences are confused. And I’ll bet there was a lot of that on this movie. Trailers are often edited rather radically — scenes rearranged, dialogue snippets taken out of context, and so on. And usually, nobody minds.
But this one got me thinking: Just how different can a trailer be without becoming false advertising?
In this case, those lines from Riley made the movie seem funnier than it was, the president’s line made the dramatic stakes seem higher than they were, and the scenes at the Lincoln Memorial made the historical conspiracy seem more ingenious than it was (historical clues hidden right under our noses!). I can say with confidence that some of those elements played a part in my wanting to see the movie.
Rearranging scenes in the trailer is one thing. But what about this business of putting stuff in the trailer -- a *lot* of stuff -- that isn’t in the movie at all? If they can get away with “National Treasure”-style misrepresentation, what’s to stop other moviemakers from putting special effects, witty lines, exotic locales and hot-looking actors into *their* trailers, just to get us to go to a movie that doesn’t have any of those things?
And if they do start doing that, how will we, the people, ever compare notes and warn each other? We’ll do it on IMDB, of course. Bookmark it.