Archive for September, 2009
Could Saving Schools Save the Economy?

Jay Mathews from The Washington Post reviews a book that argues that GDP is directly connected to student performance.

The book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools by Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth, describes some noteworthy research in education conducted by Hanushek.

But his data also show productivity growing at the same pace as the rising education level of our work force, and international comparisons reveal a consistent pattern that strongly reinforces the notion that rising student achievement can make us all richer.

Here is his main point (excuse the jargon): “According to the existing evidence, each one standard deviation difference on test performance is related to a 1 percent difference in annual growth rates of per capita GDP.

The authors conclude that despite the government throwing large sums of money at the problem of student achievement, they have generally failed to improve schools.

While the connection with student performance and economic growth is intuitive, it is interesting to see research that finds a significant correlation. There doesn’t appear to be evidence of causation, as it could be possible that richer nations have better student achievement. Despite this, the data is a pretty compelling reason for the need for educational reform as the nation deals with the worst economic recession in decades.

Watch Yale Psychologist Paul Bloom’s Lectures for Free

Paul Bloom’s, highly recommended Intro to Psychology course is available to watch for free online. He is a very engaging and interesting lecturer. Even if you can’t get into Yale, you can still attend class or at least experience lecture by watching the 20 video lectures from this course. You may not be able to ask questions or take the exams but you can do the assigned reading from Peter Gray’s Psychology (5th Edition).

Watch it on Academic Earth

5 Reasons to Switch to an Online School Calendar

1. Save Paper/Reduce Carbon Footprint
A school can be more environmentally friendly by not printing out all their school calendars for all the students or printing out reminder fliers for upcoming events. Instead by directing everyone to the online school calendar, students and parents can get all the school event information in one place and schools can reduce their carbon footprint.

2. Save Time for School Administrators
Creating a paper school calendar can be very time consuming. A school can have over a hundred different groups, including clubs and sports teams. To create a central school calendar means organizing all the different groups into one calendar and working out time conflicts. When you think you’re done, a group may need to make a change, which can mean reworking the entire calendar. Sometimes a group may try to request an event in a facility that has already been reserved by another group and you are required to play phone or email tag to get the conflict resolved.

An online school calendar like Tandem streamlines the event management process. Groups can submit requests to add events, and the administrator can accept or reject with a click of the mouse. The software automatically checks for schedule conflicts before an event is added to the schedule.

3. Reduce Phone Calls to the School

One labor cost that schools often face is calls from parents, due to uncertainty about the school schedule. They may want clarification on when school will start on a given day, or the time of early dismissal. They may call to see if a baseball game has been rained out, or for the place of that days sporting event. These types of calls can be reduced by having an online school calendar that parents can access for answers to these simple questions. Often Tandem users inform us that setting up an online school calendar has greatly reduced the number of calls to the office.

4. More Effective School to Parent Communication

When a paper school calendar is sent out to parents, they may post in on their fridge or it may get lost. If they lose the paper or do not receive it, they are often left in the dark. Usually a paper calendar is good for informing parents about school vacations, but little else. A paper calendar can not alert the parent when an event has been rescheduled.

In contrast, an online school calendar is a living document. Parents can access the most up to date version of the school calendar in minutes. When changes are made to the time or place of an event, it is reflected to the online calendar as soon as it is posted. With Tandem, the school events can be synced with the parent’s Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar, or Cozi, so events will show up in their work or personal calendar as well. An online school calendar is much more convenient for parents, and provides them with instant information that they need.

5. More Effective School to Student Communication

Students also want information about what is going on at the school, both during school hours and after. An online school calendar is a great source of information on events that students want to be involved in. They can also learn about clubs that they might otherwise not know about, but would like to join to build their college resume and make new friends.

Tandem also provides a feature to where students can post pictures and news about school events and groups. This feature can be used by students to share photos and news with peers, like the math club hoisting the first place trophy or the stats of last Friday’s football game.

Web-based Presentation Tool For School Presentations

Sliderocket is an internet based presentation software that can be utilized by anyone with access to the internet. As files do not have to be stored within a specific hard drive, on a CD, or in a USB device, Sliderocket is perfect for use in an educational setting.

Educators have always realized the importance of collaborative school projects as tools to help shape communication and coordination skills in students.

With Sliderocket, all a student needs to collaborate with their classmates on a project is an internet connection. All files and assets acquired are stored in the “cloud” on-line which means every student assigned to a particular account has full access to their project at any moment.

SlideRocket has a few assets (graphic and photographic) built-in to their program, but for any research paper or project, a student can bring in photos from Flickr and import videos from YouTube.com to create a true multimedia presentation.

Photos, graphics, clip-art, and video can also be uploaded from any PC into the asset library. A free account includes 250 MB worth of virtual storage space, which should be more than ample for any school related assignment.

When the project is complete and ready to be turned in, student’s can create a personalized link and send their teacher an e-mail invitation to view their finished presentation. Unless a creator decides to publish a presentation on a blog or web-page, the completed work remains 100% secure and can only be viewed by third parties with an invitation.

SlideRocket is a secure application that can bring the idea of group presentations back into schools and education at large while providing students a unique opportunity to experience the growing trend of “cloud computing.” Giving a technologically advanced twist to classic school reports and projects ensures that student’s are prepared for not only their future educational challenges but the technological challenges of the future as well.

Will Textbooks Be Replaced By Digital Media?

The following article from Open Education discusses whether textbooks are becoming less relevant in education due to advances in digital media.

There was a large touch of irony in an August NY Times post discussing the demise of a fixture in the world of education, the school textbook. The article, In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History, predicts the death of an industry that is becoming “antiquated” with each passing tech innovation.

Though always considered exceedingly expensive, textbooks were once considered as fundamental to the classroom learning experience as the teacher. These tombs were the source of knowledge, the drivers of curriculum, and the teacher’s most important resource.

But all that has changed in the digital world. According to experts, there are two critical factors.

First, there is the assessment of the value (learning produced per dollar) of these texts:

Dollars in the books, isolated on white background, business tra“They are expensive,” writes Seth Godin. “$50 is the low end, $200 is more typical.”

Yet,

“Textbooks have very little narrative,” writes Godin. “They don’t take you from a place of ignorance to a place of insight. Instead, even the best … textbooks surround you with a fairly non-connected series of vocabulary words, oversimplified problems and random examples.”

And of course, in today’s lightening-fast world, they are out of date before the ink is even dry.

Second, while the books are essentially considered less than ideal, we are seeing an enormous change in students based on the fact they have grown up with technology. From the NY Times:

“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.

“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”

Beyond Textbooks

Today we offer a Q & A with Andy Chlup of the Vail School District. With experience as a classroom teacher and technology coordinator, Andy is a perfect choice to head up one of the digital learning movements cited in the aforementioned NY Times article, Beyond Textbooks.

Andy notes he has been passionate about utilizing technology in the classroom from the first day he walked into a classroom. His interest in digital learning was spurred on by the wide-spread availability of open-source web-based tools such as WordPressMU, Moodle, DekiWiki, and many more.

Below, Andy discusses the move to a digital learning model, one that actually transcends any discussion of textbooks.

What would you categorize as the three biggest advantages to moving away from textbooks and replacing that tradition with a digital learning model?

  • Instant updates. Our superintendent, Calvin Baker, proudly sent out an email message to the school board when Pluto was demoted. In the message he said, we are one of the only districts in the country who’s textbooks are not obsolete.
  • Collaboration. At this phase the primary collaboration is happening between teachers but as the tools become more familiar students will be working with each other, their teachers, and the community more and more.
  • Costs. While the technology that enables digital learning still costs slightly more than a set of textbooks, it can do so much more. A digital device provides access to content and gives students a platform to create, share, and work.


You can see the full interview with Andy Chlup over at Open Education.

Photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/gingerblokey/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Evernote: A Great Note Taking Application for Students

Evernote.com is a site that will be infinitely handy for any student taking a class requiring research. It is the internet equivalent of the bulletin board and more, allowing students to virtually clip and organize web-site articles, facts, and pictures.

A technologically inclined student can also use a version of Evernote on an iPhone, Palm Pre, Sony Ericsson or Blackberry cell phone as well as with Windows Mobile and the iPod touch, which will allow them to store information acquired within physical books or displays in an electronic format.

In an educational context, Evernote is a perfect tool to assist in crafting a report, research paper, or science project. For instance, if a student were to be assigned a research paper on George Washington, Evernote could be their organizational hub.

Any internet research on Washington could be quickly catalogued by copying and pasting a new Evernote into their virtual notebook. This can be done from any PC using the Evernote browsing window. Research materials obtained online at either home, school, or the library will be accessible online at all times.

All new notes retain information relating to the source URL, and each user has the ability to add specially assigned personalized tags (such as subject name) to the notes (these features will ensure key information remains at hand to aid in filling out footnotes and forming a bibliography).

If a student visits a museum or exhibit to acquire information about their topic, photographs can be snapped and added to Evernote. Evernote contains a unique photo searching tool that will scan a picture of sufficient quality for any words present and will identify them in a search of a user’s notebook. This allows quick sifting of all information, which leaves more time for actual research and presentation of a paper or report.

For the student user who may still be operating on a dial-up connection, Evernote can also be ran as a desktop application on Mac or PC. At launch, the program can synchronize with Evernote.com or be ran with the notes already stored.

With so many different methods of access available, from mobile to internet to desktop, Evernote.com can be utilized by almost every student and is a definite asset when putting together a comprehensive school paper or project.

Why Every School Should Have An Online School Calendar

1. Makes information on school events more accessible for students.
Schools have tons of extra-curricular clubs and yet it can be difficult to get the word out that these clubs exist. If schools publish all their school events on a online calendar like Tandem for Schools, it will help students find out about the extra-curricular groups that they can get involved with. This can help them be more involved with school activities and also pad their resumes for college.

2. Makes information on school events more accessible for parents.
Parent involvement is critical to the success of students and an online calendar encourages parents to be more involved with school events. An online school calendar effectively communicates the when and where for school activities and events, which makes it easier for parents to participate.

3. Alerts students and parents of time critical information.

One of the interesting features of Tandem for Schools is that it allows you to subscribe to an RSS feed, or sync the school calendar with your main personal calendar like iCal, Outlook, Google Calendar, or Cozi. When there is a change to the game time or a school delay due to weather, school administrators can make changes to the school’s calendar which will be immediately reflected on the online calendar as well as get distributed to parent calendars and RSS feeds.

4. Go Green
Printing paper calendars for every student and staff can consume a lot of paper and ink. Also paper calendars often become outdated as soon as they are printed because there will inevitably be changes to scheduled events, which leads to more paper being used to notify everyone. Going digital can save many, many trees.

Try our full version online school calendar free for 30 days, or get the free annual school calendar.

Integrate Tandem for Schools With Cozi Calendar

Cozi is an all encompassing on-line calendar site which emphasizes its ability to make family life easier. Not only can Cozi make family life easier, it can also make integrating school information and activities into a regular schedule a breeze.

Cozi has an exceptionally handy feature that allows any parent to go the account settings tab of their Cozi profile and add a school calendar published through Tandem for Schools to the master family calendar. This feature allows Mom, Dad, and siblings to stay up to date with information on school start and end dates, school vacations and closings as well as parent teacher meetings, half-days, and conferences.

The Cozi calendars can also be utilized in a few different ways to ensure better organization of educational endeavors and activities. Each family member can be assigned a unique color to be displayed within the Cozi system. If the family calendar states soccer practice, then one quick glance at the color dot displayed next to the activity will answer the question, “Who has soccer practice today?” Such information can even be accessed on the go by accessing m.cozi.com with a compatible cell phone or mobile device.

Cozi can also be utilized to make various lists for organizational purposes. By clicking on the Shopping Lists icon, a user can create any type of list including to-do lists. This feature is especially handy in an educational context if a student needs last minute supplies and materials for a school project. From any computer with an internet connect, they can type out a quick list and have it sent to mom or dad as a text message directly from the Cozi web-site. No more missed assignment deadlines!

Cozi is a very user-friendly site with easily accessible features and clearly labeled graphics and help files. Any family can be off and running with their own Cozi family calendar and have that calendar synchronized with a Tandem for Schools calendar in just a few minutes. From this point on, the whole family can be organized and linked together on PCs, cell phones, and other mobile devices.

Tool for Family Tree School Projects

Creating a family tree for a school project can be streamlined by using an online service. Not only will this allow quicker construction of the actual tree, but it also provides an opportunity to stretch the benefits of the project across many different school subject areas including history or social studies, math, and computer labs.

Geni.com is a very comprehensive web-site to use in the family tree creation process. It contains all of the features and tools any person or student needs to create a virtual map of their lineage while maintaining a clean workflow and easy access. The focus of the project can remain on creating a family tree, not on using a web-site.

After signing up (which only requires first and last name, gender, and an e-mail address), the creation process begins immediately. The name provided at sign-on is automatically generated as the building block for the family tree. Adding additional family members is simplistic and the program allows a user to choose how they tie into the family (brother or sister, spouse, or parent) which automatically creates the proper connecting lines to other family members.

If a student happens to have a blended family with divorced parents, step-siblings, or deceased relatives, no awkward situations will occur as Geni.com has these possibilities featured within their system. Every child can have their family tree limbs sprout naturally instead of having to make due with a nuclear family mold.

In addition to the typical family tree, which is usually a history class or social studies project, Geni.com also provides tools which will allow the work to overflow into other courses. Take for instance, the statistics tab at Geni.com.

This portion of the web-site takes all of the gender and birth date information fed into the family tree and aggregates it into family statistics. Statistics are a fundamental part of math and the free graphs at Geni.com present information on gender distribution, average life expectancy, and number of children. This material can be incorporated into math lessons on reading graphs, ratios, and averages.

A final benefit to using Geni.com for a class project on family trees is the easy customization of the privacy settings. When children use the internet, an immediate concern is always privacy. Geni.com has privacy controls that allows any profile to have its sharing options toggled down to where only immediate family (people who are listed on the family tree) can access the member’s profile. This is an especially important feature as it provides solid protection of a child’s identity and limits access to information.

Considering the multi-curricular advantages to creating family trees utilizing technology, a virtual family tree is a valid choice when planning out a class project. Geni.com provides all of the tools any student needs to map out their family’s past while also providing privacy settings to protect user information.

Applications of Twitter In the Classroom

Twitter has become a pop culture sensation within the past year, and as such it as acquired users from every demographic of society and every level of business. Not surprisingly, more and more educators and educational institutions are also turning to Twitter as a new tool to further goals and facilitate the rapid relay of information.

Many colleges are already well-versed in using Twitter to further information on their school, but secondary and primary schools are only now beginning to consider the service as a way to reach their pupils and parents. There are many different topics that could be very easily addressed in a micro-blogging format to a school-wide audience.

One prime way Twitter can be utilized is as an information booth. No matter how many memos are issued over the course of the year, there always seems to be confusion over school information.

If your school uses an online school calendar with an RSS feed capability like Tandem for Schools, the school administration can integrate the school’s Twitter account with the calendar’s RSS feed (with a tool like Twitterfeed). This would distribute tweets out to all followers of the school’s Twitter account.

Timely “tweets” at pre-arranged intervals before each event could remind students and parents about upcoming events. Reminders could be sent a week before, three days before, and on the day of the actual event. If school has to be closed or canceled due to inclement weather, a twitter blast can works in conjunction with phone calls and an online calendar.

Teachers can also utilize Twitter as a way to further their student’s independent learning. Many children are not likely to randomly begin searching out historical facts and videos while they are online, however, if they (or their parents on their behalf) received a tweet with a link to a specific educational web-site or an informative video that ties into current topics at school, they would be more likely to click through – especially if extra credit or bonus point promises were part of the tweet.

A further benefit, and perhaps the most important one, that educators and schools utilizing twitter offers is the ability to instill in students that while social networking is about maintaining connections with people you know, it is also a tool that can be utilized to acquire necessary information and to further learning and development.

Additional Links on Twitter In Education
50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Education

Photo by keiya