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Archive for February, 2012

Coming soon to Howard County: a digital school system

Mt. Hebron High School students, from left, Brandon Beers, Steve Kang and Taylor Crittendon work together to analyze the stock market and create portfolios for their Honors Accounting class — just a taste of the online possibilities planned in the school system. (Photo by Noah Scialom / February 28, 2012)

By Sara Toth,

When the county school board approved a 2013 operating budget last week, board members also gave the green light to a comprehensive, system-wide approach to greater digital learning for students.

In its $697 million request, the board designated $500,000 for a new e-learning program that will hail the beginning of a virtual online school.

“We’re in good shape to launch a very robust program,” said Chief Academic Officer Linda Wise.

The program is in its beginning stages, Wise said. But the school system successfully piloted online courses during the 2011 summer school session, and has implemented other forms of digital learning in the past in “small pieces.”

The new program will take those pieces to a new level, Wise said.

“By having a program as the focus of that, we’ll be able to bring into the schools online credits for home and hospitalized students, for make-up credits and to make more opportunities for students to get credits or enhance their work online,” she said.

The new program would move forward under the guidance of a new digital education officer and technical assistant, jobs created by the $500,000, said Julie Wray, coordinator of instructional technology.

Those positions would be filled after the County Council approves the board’s budget, and online courses would be available for some students in the 2012-2013 academic year.

“We’ll start small,” Wray said. “It’s not something that will be rolled out all at once. … But we’re moving forward as we speak with small programs so we can build it from there.”

Wray said the system this summer would again be offering blended online courses — taught both online and in a physical classroom — for students in danger of failing a grade, and would offer classes for interested gifted and talented students as well.

“There’s so many different pieces of it,” Wray said. “We’re looking at an iPad pilot that could be a component of this; we’re looking to bring it hopefully next year to a middle school and one particular grade level, but there haven’t been specific details of that yet.”

Short on specifics

Because the program is in its infancy, specifics are unknown, Wise said. There are many ways to go about integrating technology in a physical classroom and creating a virtual one, she said, and how the system would move forward would be determined once someone is hired to oversee the new program.

For example, the school system may establish a relationship with an accredited online institution to provide classes, rent or lease online classes or create its own classes.

Some of the $500,000 set aside for next year will be used to test and develop programs, purchase content and train teachers, since the online courses would actually be “blended” with in-person classroom components.

When the program is implemented in its entirety — neither Wray nor Wise could say when that will happen — it would be more than just online classes. It could be a unique learning tool for each individual student.

“Ideally, this could be something that could accommodate pre-K through 12th grade,” Wray said. “When this comes to full implementation, we could see pre-K access to online content that would be individualized and tailored to that student.

“It could be fifth-graders accessing resources online, not just because they’re out of school, but as a way of enhancing their learning. … It would be a way to accrue additional credits, to have a personalized learning program for that individual with anywhere, any time access.”

Such individualized, digital learning is the future, Wray said.

“We can’t restrict ourselves to learning only in brick-and-mortar buildings, where we’re learning from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in a schoolhouse,” she said. “It’s about expanding opportunities so these kids can have more chances to learn outside the school building and connect to folks outside of the school in the county, state, country. With the technology and resources we have, we can provide students with what they need to be successful.”

Board member Brian Meshkin said he helped push the drive for digital learning for that very reason.

“Technology is not just a tool,” he said. “It’s game-changing. It allows us to personalize information for the student, personalize exactly what they need to know. You can know what they’re learning and what they don’t understand.”

Meshkin proposed similar initiatives last year, but with no success. This year, the board unanimously approved the program — in part, Meshkin said, because of the success of the smaller digital learning pilots.

The digital school was not included in Superintendent Sydney Cousin’s initial budget proposal. But after a report Jan. 26 on the various pilot programs and staff suggestions to one day create one system-wide plan, board members decided to start the program sooner rather than later.

“We’ve been in such a crunch of trying to constantly downsize the budget,” board Chairwoman Sandra French said. “We should have done this last year; it just wasn’t economically feasible. Even now it’s a leap of faith, but how many more years are we going to wait when everyone recognizes that this is a pressing need?

“We will find a way to make this happen. We need to push forward.”

This article was originally posted at,0,7266230.story


West Prairie Board approves three-year technology plan

Sciota, Ill. —

West Prairie School District’s three-year technology plan, approved by the district’s board of education Thursday night, includes steps to move the district towards implementing a one-to-one digital learning program that would provide students with their own device, such as a laptop computer or iPad.

The plan, which is submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education for approval, will allow the school district to access federal E-Rate funds for lower telecommunications and Internet costs. The E-Rate program discounts range from 20 to 90 percent, depending on the cost of eligible services, the low-income level of the district and urban/rural status.

Scott Sullivan, the district’s technology coordinator, prepared the technology plan and presented some details to the board. The plan not only includes a purchasing plan for network upgrades and new hardware, but instructional goals for integrating technology in the classroom to enhance learning.

Sullivan said the district spent about $114,000 last year on network upgrades, including a new computer server, and will spend around $150,000 the next fiscal year. Network upgrades that will next be completed include new switch boxes — devices that connect computers to a network and enhance connectivity between buildings.

Sullivan said those upgrades are necessary as the district moves towards a one-on-one digital learning environment.

While the district has not yet decided what kind of device, such as an iPad or laptop computer, will be used, Sullivan said the cost will be about $2.50 per student, per day, and added that cost is comparable to what other school districts have spent to implement one-to-one digital learning programs.

He also said he doesn’t expect the district to begin looking at purchasing any devices until this summer for possible implementation in the fall, starting with the high school.

Sullivan has visited a number of other school districts, including Mendon and United, to see how they have implemented one-to-one digital devices.

“I think this is going to help us move forward,” Sullivan said about the technology plan.

Superintendent Jonathan Heerboth said students in high school agriculture teacher Corinne Galvan’s classes are already getting to experience one-to-one digital learning with their own iPads to enhance instruction.

“It’s kind of a first baby step,” Heerboth commented.

In other business Thursday night, the board:
• Accepted the resignation of Eunice Lutz, middle school principal.

• Set a special board meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 14, at the West Prairie Middle School in Colchester to discuss personnel matters, maintenance matters and long-range planning. The next regular board of education meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at the West Prairie High School.

Sen. Rogers: Digital Learning Can Make Georgia a Leader in Education

Digital learning, teachers are the main subjects of Sen. Chip Rogers weekly legislative address.

Rogers said SB 289, the Digital Learning bill, will give Georgia the opportunity to be a leader in education instead of continuing to trail the nation.

The Republican senator said most of the time digital learning would take place in the classroom, at each student’s own pace.

Places in the state without the abiltiy to pay teachers for small numbers of students in subjects such as physics and languages such as Japanese will be able to offer them through digital learning, Rogers said.

Digital Learning Bill Passes State Senate

The Digital Learning Act passed the Senate with a bi-partisan vote of 36-15. The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) is expected to make Georgia a national leader in online elearning.

“This bill would significantly broaden learning opportunities for Georgia students. Based on current virtual classes already being offered we have the opportunity to increase student achievement at significantly lower costs,” said Sen. Rogers.  “Right now, there are 16,000 students participating in this program, and that number is quickly growing. These programs are vital to ensuring that our students are able to meet the ever-changing demands of the 21st century marketplace.”

SB 289 focuses on the importance of virtual and digital learning in today’s modern learning environment. Under this bill, students entering the ninth grade during the 2013–2014 school year will complete at least one online learning course prior to graduation.  Options to meet this requirement include the following:

• Online courses offered by the Georgia Virtual School;

• Online duel enrollment courses offered by a postsecondary institution; or

• Online courses offered by a provider approved by the Georgia Department of Education

The bill also requires all end-of-year core subject assessments to be administered online by the 2014-2015 school year, a move expected to dramatically reduce the opportunity for cheating.

In addition, the passage of SB 289 would allow local school systems to enter into contracts with virtual learning providers approved by the Georgia Department of Education.

The bill has received support from the Department of Education, specifically from Bob Swiggum, the Chief Information Officer for the Georgia Department of Education and Thomas Wilson, Director of Governmental Affairs at the Department of Education.

“SB289 provides more opportunities for Georgia’s students to participate in online courses, a common instructional method of post-secondary institutions,” said Bob Swiggum, Chief Information Officer for the Georgia Department of Education. “Our students will be better prepared for success, instructional costs will be reduced, and a wider variety of courses will be offered.”

Sen. Rogers, along with several of his Senate colleagues, are working to find solutions to address the educational needs of 21st Century students. This bill is a key component to the Republican Caucus’ ongoing commitment to education reform.

For Immediate Release:
February 24, 2012

Natalie Dale, Director

10 educational iPad apps recommended by Explore Knowledge Academy

EKA students as young as kindergartners use the iPad to learn traditional subjects in math, English, social studies, and science.

When Explore Knowledge Academy has its grand opening celebration in March 2012, it will become the first “iSchool” in Nevada, with a 1-to-1 ratio of iPad tablets to students.

EKA students as young as kindergartners use the iPad to learn traditional subjects in math, English, social studies, and science. (To read about their experience, click here.)

Here are the 10 iPad applications used by educators at the public charter school and recommended for other schools and families with iPads.


BrainPOP is a subscription-based application that brings 750 or more movies and quizzes in science, math, social studies, English, engineering, art, and health to the iPad. Users can watch an animated movie on a particular subject and then test their knowledge by taking an interactive quiz. The iPad application is free, but it costs between $1.99 and $6.99 per student, per month to access education materials.

Cell and Cell Structure

Cell and Cell Structure is a graphic application that teaches middle school students about cells, cell structure, and function. Users can view 3D interactive graphics on different cell types and parts, take quizzes to test their knowledge, and use flashcards to review and memorize information. Videos also give users a microscopic view of the cell. The app costs $2.99 in the App Store.


ConjuVerb is a foreign language application that allows students to look up more than 600 commonly used Spanish verbs and their conjugations. Quizzes and flashcards help students memorize and test their knowledge. It’s free in the App Store.


Dinopedia is a reference guide created by National Geographic for dinosaur connoisseurs. Students can look up more than 700 dinosaur types using the application and get audio pronunciations, vital statistics, size comparison, and videos about each of the dinosaurs. A visual table of contents and an interactive family tree allow students to quickly search for their favorite dinosaurs. It costs $4.99 in the App Store.


Discover is a reference application for the iPad that repurposes Wikipedia articles for the tablet user. It’s free in the App Store.

Math Bingo

Math Bingo is an educational iPad game modeled after bingo. Elementary school students try to get five “Bingo Bugs” in a row by correctly answering math problems. Scores are determined by how fast students complete a game, and students are assessed a two-second penalty for every incorrect answer. It costs 99 cents in the App Store.

Math Drills

Math Drills is an educational application that tests up to 50 students in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Students can use number lines, wooden blocks, facts, and hints to solve problems. Teachers can view an individual student’s scores and test history to see which concepts need to be reviewed. The app costs $1.99 in the App Store.


Penultimate is a handwriting and note-taking application for the iPad. Students can scribble notes on digital pages and sort them into notebooks. They can also import photos into the application and annotate them. It costs 99 cents in the App Store.

Scientific Graphic Calculator

Scientific Graphic Calculator is a math application for the iPad that allows students to solve math problems needing a scientific calculator or a graphing calculator. The application also contains a triangle solver, which solves for a missing side or angle in geometry problems. Students can also use a unit converter and a constants reference to complete math problems. It costs $1.99 in the App Store.

Word Wizard

Word Wizard is a spelling application for the iPad that allows students to hear sounds of letters and words using an interactive alphabet. The application also provides a spelling quiz with more than 1,400 questions and answers. Elementary school students can tap on alphabetic or QWERTY keyboards. It costs $2.99 in the App Store.

Copyright (c) 2012, the Las Vegas Sun. Visit the Las Vegas Sun online at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Of Profits and Power: Education Establishment Attacks Digital Learning

The education establishment is pulling out all the stops to stifle the movement to expand the use of technology to modernize the way students learn.

Digital education is a growing form of school choice. Virtual charter schools are a natural way to provide access to top-notch instruction for students, regardless of their geographical location. But the protectors of the status quo are doing everything they can do stop it.

Finally, their true colors are showing.

Debbie Squires, a representative of a school principal’s association, recently told the Michigan House Education Committee that while parents do indeed care for their children, they’re not knowledgeable enough about what is best for their children.

This is a standard line of thinking – those with the background and “expertise” know what’s best for children, not their parents.  See recent articles on the “school food police” for further evidence.

The other line of attack is that “profits” are evil and that no one should be making money in education, even if for-profit  companies provide quality instruction for children.

Michigan Parents for Schools (but apparently not virtual charter schools) recently urged its members to contact lawmakers and demand that they reject the virtual charter bill, which would remove the cap on the number of schools allowed in the state.  The subject line of the email read, “Let’s make sure online schools help kids, not pad profits.”

This is an interesting criticism because ultimately, lots of people make money off education.  Textbook companies make money.  Contractors make money.  Teachers make money.  Administrators make money.

But who’s accountable when taxpayers are ripped off by government schools that aren’t delivering results?

Say, for example, Muskegon Heights school district in my own quaint community in western Michigan.

Recent data shows that 6.8% of 11th graders are proficient in reading and writing while only 2.2% of students are proficient in math. Meanwhile,  the school district is nearly broke and may not be able to meet its payroll for the rest of the academic year.

Someone is grossly mismanaging district funds (perhaps making a profit?) while the children go without a decent education.  Where is the outrage from the establishment about that?

Perhaps the Michigan Parents for Schools group should call a few Muskegon Heights parents, to see what they think.

My bet is that most, if not all, of those parents would welcome a digital education option, a charter school option, a school voucher option – anything to get their kids out of that miserable “not-for-profit” government school district.

And they probably wouldn’t care if some company was making money while teaching their children, as long as their children learned.

Digital textbooks hinge on connectivity

I wrote earlier this month about Lamar County School District Superintendent Ben Burnett’s goal this semester of finalizing a policy on student use of iPads and other handheld electronic devices.

Burnett wants to move towards eventually using digital textbooks in the district. His first step is to allow students to bring their own personal electronic devices to school to use as learning tools.

“If we wait two to three years to begin thinking about this, our students will be behind,” Burnett told me.

Also, earlier this month, at a news conference in Washington, D.C., Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said the time was now for American students to transition to digital textbooks.

Genachowski issued a challenge at the press conference – to companies, government officials, schools and teachers – to do their part to make sure every student in America has a digital textbook within the next five years.

The U.S. trails countries like South Korea in transitioning to digital textbooks. That country has announced it will begin moving all students to digital textbooks next year.

Genachowski imagined how a digital textbook could help a student who was having trouble doing his geometry homework by automatically inserting a supplemental lesson.

Or, he suggested, a teacher could get instant access to the results of a pop quiz and immediately see which students didn’t understand the concepts so she could offer an extra lesson.

Genachowski said digital textbooks are being used in pockets around the country, but adoption is not widespread and is too skewed to wealthier areas.

“We spend $7 billion a year on textbooks in this country, but digital textbooks – this massive innovation – remain the exception, not the rule,” he said.

Genachowski said one major obstacle remains to implementing digital textbooks nationwide – connectivity.

“About a third of Americans – 100 million people – still haven’t adopted broadband at home,” he said. “Digital textbooks can’t work without this home connectivity.”

The FCC is working to address this problem, Genachowski said.

It’s launched a public-private initiative called Connect-to-Compete.

“We’ve seen major companies like Microsoft, Best Buy and the cable companies step forward with significant commitments to promote adoption,” Genachowski said.

Education and communications officials say digital learning is crucial.

Technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning objective by 30 percent to 80 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And a Federal Reserve study found that students with a PC and broadband at home have six percentage to eight percentage point higher graduation rates than students who don’t have home access to the Internet.

Keep up with information like that found in this column by accessing me on Twitter at

Ellen Ciurczak is the American’s K-12 education reporter. She can be reached at or 584-3116.

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