Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Internet Access Turns School Buses Into Rolling Classrooms

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Internet Access Turns School Buses Into Rolling Classrooms

As part of his

economic-stimulus plan, President-elect Barack

Obama has
pledged to wire more schools to provide high-speed Internet access.

Ethan Clement, a student in rural Arkansas, has some advice:

Don't forget to wire the buses.

A program providing wireless Internet access on buses enables high-school senior Ethan Clement to do classwork online during long rides to and from school in rural Arkansas, and offers her advanced classes and
far-flung mentors.

Ethan, a 17-year-old high-school senior,
has been taking
math and
science classes online during her
90-minute ride to school as part of a
pilot project to
turn old-fashioned school buses into
cutting-edge classrooms.

The project, known as the

Aspirnaut Initiative,

"A Pilot Educational Initiative to
Elevate the
Mathematics and
Science Achievement of
Rural Community
K-12 Students Who
Commute on
Long Bus Rides to School"

gives some high-performing

students laptops or

video iPods and

sets them up with

online courses and

educational videos

during their

long bus rides

to and from school --

a round trip that often starts before dawn and ends after dark.

A number of participants have dropped out, unable to focus on studying as the bus bumps along gravel roads. But for students such as Ethan, the Aspirnaut Initiative has opened new worlds.

The two college professors who run the program have become her mentors. For the first time, she said, she feels confident that she can aspire to a career in science. "It's not just for big-city people with good connections," she said.

Mr. Obama's
pledge to
get more
classrooms online
comes at a time of broad experimentation in high-tech education.

From -
"...let's lay down
broadband lines
through the
heart of inner cities and
rural towns
all across America."

Small rural school districts have embraced distance learning, enrolling students in virtual classes teaching Spanish and other subjects they can't offer in person because of limited staff and funding.

Urban and suburban schools, too, are directing students to the Internet.

Elementary students learning about animal habitats check in daily with a live Webcam monitoring the Florida Everglades.

High-school literature students

set up blogs and

collaborative Web sites

*** This is EASY to do with Google Doc and Sites.

where they take on the persona of a favorite character and field questions from fellow students. In some districts, entire schools work together on online projects such as building a virtual museum.

"Technology tears down the walls of the classroom and allows students to interact with people they may find more interesting than their classroom teacher," said Don Knezek, who runs a nonprofit advocacy group called the International Society for Technology in Education.

The Aspirnaut Initiative extends that philosophy to the school bus.

The program was founded by Billy Hudson, who grew up skipping school to tend chickens and pick cotton on his family's farm in Grapevine, Ark., a sprawling and sparsely populated community of about 700 people. He was on the verge of dropping out altogether when a mentor kindled a love of science. Now a renowned kidney specialist, Mr. Hudson directs the Center for Matrix Biology at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

A few years ago, Mr. Hudson and his wife, Julie, a medical professor at Vanderbilt, went back to Grapevine with hopes of finding a promising student to mentor. They rode the bus -- and were shocked to learn that, thanks to school closings and district consolidations, some students now commute as long as 90 minutes each way, with nothing to do but gossip, fight or stare out the window. "I thought, 'There's got to be a better way,' " Mr. Hudson said.

The Hudsons put up $70,000 and raised another $70,000 from friends to turn three buses into rolling classrooms. Eight students selected by their teachers have received laptops to use on the bus and at home, and 10 more will be given laptops in January. An additional 20 use video iPods to watch National Geographic or Discovery Channel videos.

The Hudsons are seeking grants or public funds to expand the program statewide in Arkansas and to parts of Tennessee and Kentucky. They also are tinkering with the program in the original pilot site, the Sheridan School District, south of Little Rock. Big-screen monitors will soon be installed on buses so those students who choose not to take individual classes can watch science videos together, listening through wireless headphones.

"Time on the bus is a no-man's land," Mr. Hudson said. "This is our chance to intervene."

Some critics, however, see a danger in bus-based education.
Most students balance the computers on their laps, putting them in close contact with the radiation emitted by WiFi technology. In Britain, health officials have raised concerns about the effect of that radiation on children, warning that prolonged exposure -- via WiFi or cellphone usage -- could raise the risk for cancer or cognitive impairment.

A 2006 World Health Organization report found "no convincing scientific evidence" that wireless networks adversely affect health.

Aspirnaut Initiative's Ms. Hudson said that while they aren't aware of any strong evidence pointing to radiation risks from laptop use, they ask the students to work with their computers in a padded case while on the bus.

Another point of contention: The Aspirnaut Initiative might lull parents into accepting ever-longer bus rides for their children, said Rachel Tompkins, president of the Rural School and Community Trust. Her nonprofit fights the growing trend to close small rural districts and community schools.

Skeptics also point out that it takes a very motivated student to power through an advanced algebra class on a bouncy, noisy bus at 6 a.m. Vera Launius, who drives one route on the pilot project, said the kids all clamored to participate at first -- "until the new wore off." Now, half turn away the video iPods she hands out. (They come preloaded with educational videos and can be used only during the ride.) "They want music on there, instead of science," Ms. Launius said.

Students who do want to focus on their studies often complain that their friends don't make it easy. Said 8-year-old Lauren Taylor, "It's hard to concentrate when you have all these kids talking."

Still, Lauren loves the program. She has learned to use email and surf the Web. She is studying data analysis in an online math unit. Her mom, Vonda Taylor, was amazed when Lauren came home one day quoting facts about Pocahontas she had learned on the bus from a Web site offering social-studies lessons along with math and science. "Before, she just kind of looked out the window," Mrs. Taylor said.

Ethan's mother, Kirsten Clement, is just as enthusiastic. The online classes allow regular interaction with far-flung teachers. Last year, Ethan completed AP Biology on the bus, earning college credit. This year, she is taking a calculus class not offered at her high school.

"Ethan has had conversations with people who can tickle her mind, and that's something I could not provide for her," Mrs. Clement said.

Write to Stephanie Simon at

Monday, December 22, 2008

edupunk -- do we like it?

A "Buzzword" article ("Choice Syllables for 2008i, You Betcha") caught my eye in the Sunday, December 21, 2008 New York Times. TV talking heads have picked up on the political buzzwords mentioned by writer Mark Leibovich, like "Caribou Barbie" and "Obamination," but readers of this blog might well focus on "edupunk," the term coined this spring by Jim Groom and defined in Wikipedia as an approach to teaching and learning practices that result from a do it yourself (DIY) attitude.

Leibovich says edupunk is "a style of hands-on self education that benefits the student without concern for curriculums or the interests of schools, corporations, or governments. In other words, an autodidactic aproach that spurns commercialism, mass-market approaches, and top-down goal setting."

Does this sound like quality generic education?

I don 't have the time to look into the various layers behind the edupunk term, but I bet there's more than one meaning and that some aren't flattering. Can someone elucidate?

Barbara Figge Fox

PS. The plural for curriculum is curricula. After three years of high school Latin I thought it didn't look right, and I looked it up. Hands-on self education at work.

Friday, December 19, 2008

CSpan Study Guide -

Friday, December 19, 2008 

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Principles of Government
US Constitution
Legislative Branch
Executive Branch
Judicial Branch
Political Participation
   Benefits of Registering   
   Sample Clips   
   Video Search   
   Copyright Policy   
   Grants and Fellowship   
   Special Offers   
   C-SPAN Classroom Bulletin   

Students will identify the President's cabinet members and understand their individual roles.

One 90-minute block period or two 45-minute periods

  1. A computer
  2. A screen to project computer and video images
  3. LCD projector
  4. Graphic Organizer
    * Identifying the President's Cabinet

Executive Branch
U.S. Constitution

  1. Ask students to describe what makes up the Executive Branch. What positions are involved other than the president and vice president?
  2. Explain to students that a president is in charge of selecting several people to head up the Executive departments. This tradition dates back to the beginning of the presidency. Ask which article of the U.S. Constitution addresses Executive power.
  3. Project the text of Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Highlight the portion from which the president draws the power to select a cabinet. Read aloud or select a student to read the portion to the class.
  4. Ask students how many Executive departments currently exist. Do they know which Department was most recently created? As a group have students identify some of these departments. Ask students if they can identify any Cabinet members under President Bush or any of President-Elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet nominees.
  5. Pass out the graphic organizer, Identifying the President’s Cabinet. This activity can be done either in groups or individually.
  6. Play the C-SPAN clips below. The Cabinet members are listed in the order in which they were named by President-Elect Obama. After each clip, have the students write down the nominee under the appropriate Department on their graphic organizer. Below their name have students list the nominees' qualifications.

    Play   Secretary of Treasury – Tim Geithner

    Play   Secretary of State – Sen. Hillary Clinton

    Play   Secretary of Defense – Sec. Robert Gates

    Play   Secretary of Homeland Security – Gov. Janet Napolitano

    Play   Attorney General – Eric Holder

    Play   U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – Susan Rice

    Play   Secretary of Commerce – Gov. Bill Richardson

    Play   Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Gen. Eric Shinseki

    Play   Secretary of Health and Human Services - Tom Daschle

    Play   Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Shaun Donovan

    Play   Secretary of Energy - Stephen Chu

    Play   Secretary of Education - Arne Duncan

    Play   Secretary of the Interior - Ken Salazar

    Play   Secretary of Agriculture - Tom Vilsack

  7. Discuss each nominee with the class. Call on individual students or groups of students to name the nominees and list their qualifications. Ask if the students are familiar with the nominee? Where may they have heard of this person before?

Explain to the students how a nominee becomes a Secretary. Ask why the nominees have to go through a confirmation process. Which body of government must confirm the nominees?

  1. Have students note which cabinet positions have not yet been filled. Ask the students to select a person that they think could fill one of the empty positions. List their qualifications, and have students write an essay on why this person would be a good selection.
  2. Print out the biographies of the nominees listed below. Hand these out to the students, and have them fill in more information about each person’s qualifications.
  3. Ask students to research the primary functions of one or more cabinet position/positions. Have them create a job posting for a cabinet position listing the qualifications necessary to fulfill the position.

C-SPAN’s Presidential Transition site
President Elect Obama’s Transition
Tim Geithner biography
Hillary Clinton biography
Robert Gates biography
Janet Napolitano biography
Eric Holder biography
Susan Rice biography
Bill Richardson biography
Eric Shinseki biography
Tom Daschle biography
Shaun Donovan biography
Stephen Chu biography
Arne Duncan biography
Ken Salazar biography
Tom Vilsack biography

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A member of Cable in the Classroom

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Preparation by Eighth Grade Critical to College/Career Readiness

Condensed overview of ACT’s report, “The Forgotten Middle,” available for viewing and free downloading on ACT’s website at

Most U.S. Eighth-Graders Aren’t On Track, Will Face Uphill Battle to Catch Up

Iowa City, IA—Students who aren’t on track for college and career readiness by eighth grade are unlikely to attain that level of readiness by high school graduation, according to “The Forgotten Middle,” a new research report by ACT, Inc

The findings suggest the level of academic achievement that students attain by eighth grade has a bigger impact on whether they are ready for college and career by the time they graduate than any single factor examined, including courses taken, grades earned in high school and demographic characteristics such as gender, race, and household income.

“Eighth grade is a critical defining point for students in the college and career planning process,” saidCynthia B. Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of ACT’s Education Division. “If students are not on target for college and career readiness by the time they reach this point, the impact may be nearly irreversible.”

The findings suggest that few U.S. eighth-graders are currently on target to be ready for college-level work by the time they graduate from high school. Only 16 percent of the recent high school graduates studied in ACT’s research had met or surpassed the organization’s College Readiness Benchmarks in all four subject areas—English, math, reading, and science—on EXPLORE, the organization’s eighth grade assessment of academic skills. Students who meet those benchmarks are on target to be college-ready by the time they graduate from high school. College readiness is defined by ACT as having a high likelihood of earning a “C” or higher in first year college courses in each subject area.

Conversely, the report suggests, being on target for college and career readiness by eighth grade puts students on a trajectory for success in high school and beyond. Among three groups of eighth grade students studied—those who were on target, those who just missed being on target, and those who were more substantially off target—only those who were on target in eighth grade were ultimately ready for college and career by their junior or senior year of high school.

“The implications of this research are clear,” said Schmeiser. “If we want to improve college readiness among U.S. high school graduates, we need to intervene before students reach high school, in upper elementary and middle school. The findings impact not only how we prepare students leading up to high school but in what strategic ways we intervene with those who are
behind academically in high school. Both elements are critical for ensuring that our high school grads are ready for college and career. Our students deserve it, and our nation demands it.”

ACT’s report suggests that the impact of this problem extends beyond college preparation to the U.S. workforce and the economy.

“The skills necessary for entry into the majority of the fastest growing jobs that require a high school diploma and offer a livable wage are comparable to those needed for success in first-year college courses,” said Schmeiser. “In the context of our current economic challenges, we should be targeting eighth grade readiness as a key benchmark for our nation’s ability to produce a workforce that is ready to succeed and compete in the global economy. The findings suggest we have a long way to go to ensure that outcome.”

ACT’s longitudinal research followed approximately 216,000 students in the U.S. graduating classes of 2005 and 2006 from eighth grade through high school graduation. All of these students had taken each of the three curriculum-based assessments in ACT’s College Readiness System—EXPLORE for eighth-graders, PLAN for 10th-graders, and the ACT college admission and placement exam.

The findings indicate that eighth grade academic achievement is a better predictor of eventual college and career readiness than any other single factor studied, including background characteristics, courses taken in high school, grades earned in high school, or student testing behaviors.

The study also found that improving certain behaviors of middle school students can help increase their readiness for college and career by the time they graduate. Two academic behaviors were found to have the greatest impact on both eighth grade course failure and ninth grade GPA:academic discipline (e.g., good work and study habits) and orderly conduct (behaving appropriately in class).

The report offers several recommendations to educators and policymakers on how to improve college and career readiness among high school graduates, including the following: Focus K-8 (kindergarten through eighth grade) standards on the knowledge and skills that are essential for college and career readiness, and make these nonnegotiable for all students.

Monitor student progress toward college and career readiness beginning in upper elementary school and continuing through middle school, and intervene with students who are not on target to becoming ready.

Improve students’ academic behaviors (homework compliance, attendance, and other aspects of academic discipline).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Bookwatch: QGE=A

Education is more than just a seasonal political football for aspiring politicians. It is the foundation for a prosperous, free and democratic nation. A new education system for obtaining the best education at the lowest possible cost--"QGE = A: Quality Generic Education is the Answer" is a proposition for a revolutionary new way to educate our children. Author Win Straube has quite the mind for new solutions as an inventor, scientist, and engineer, to connect everyone to the best educators for any given subject in the world. "QGE = A: Quality Generic Education is the Answer" is something that all educators should read and consider and carries our highest recommendations to community library education shelves.
University Press of America