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Articles: Technology

I have a monthly email communication with Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan professor and the chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning, who writes our Going Mobile column with Cathie Norris. Somewhere within the email thread, Soloway is sure to write words such as these: “Someone has to tell the emperor he’s naked.”

There is a catch phrase among educators on Twitter: Lurking and learning. It’s used to describe the first steps an administrator or educator new to Twitter should take. According to Tom Whitby, a retired English teacher turned education professor at St. Joseph’s College in New York, who helped create #edchat, by “lurking and learning,” searching for relevant people, and taking time to see how others engage on Twitter, the initial learning curve will gradually flatten out.

On Feb. 23, Steven Anderson, instructional technologist for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County (N.C.) Schools, celebrated his three-year anniversary—on Twitter. Anderson began exploring Twitter in 2009 as a way of finding people with similar interests, opposing views, and resources on integrating technology in the classroom to share with teachers and staff in his district of 57,000 students.

It’s becoming clearer by the minute that, as Web technologies open more and more doors for learners, they also pose more and more challenges to traditional thinking about schools. At the center is figuring how best to prepare students for the vast learning opportunities they have outside of the traditional education system. While the challenges are different for each individual school and district, all will be forced to come to terms with five new realities in the short term.

If we want children to memorize the capital of each state or the presidents of the United States, then 3x5 flashcards, at $0.99 for 25, is a time-tested technology.

Students at the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, Conn. can walk on a boardwalk through a pond and marsh.

“It’s a three-dimensional textbook,” says Jeff Elliott, architect with JCJ Architecture, of the aquatic-themed Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, Conn. The school, located on the Connecticut shore near New London Harbor and designed by JCJ, first opened its doors to roughly 100 ninth- and tenth-graders this past fall. It includes nautical features such as large windows for observing the aquatic culture and a first-of-its-kind ship simulator for learning how to navigate ships in ports.

Until recently, student electronic devices, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers, were the forbidden fruit in schools. But with technology budgets languishing and such devices becoming more powerful, affordable and omnipresent in students’ lives, district technology leaders are now eyeing a welcome educational harvest through bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.

While Facebook and Google+ are popular social networks for everyday life, dozens of other networks have been created to provide safe and effective social learning environments for K12 education. Social learning networks (SLNs) allow students to learn 21st-century skills. Students can build online portfolios and resumes and collaborate with peers through project-based learning, which will help them in college or the workforce.

• Big Ideas Math is a middle school math program developed for the Common Core State Standards.

• Castle Learning Online, a supplement to classroom instruction, offers review math assignments.

• CTB/McGraw-Hill’s CoreLink Services is a summative assessment solution that offers paper-and-pencil or online tests.

• CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TerraNova Common Core, a national achievement test that represents a field-tested measure of the CCSS.

• DreamBox Learning Math features in-depth fractions coverage for grades 3 and 4 and added virtual manipulatives for K5.

Although Apple has hogged much of the e-book spotlight since its announcement in January that it would partner with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to roll out K12 e-Books in addition to its improved iBooks applications, it isn’t, nor ever will be, the only player in tablets in education. On the heels of Apple’s announcement, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski released in early March his plans to get all U.S. students, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, using electronic book titles by 2017—in five years.

Since the launch of the Apple iPad, educators have touted the tool’s ability to engage special education students with autism spectrum disorder through unique, customizable applications and stimulating touchscreen technology. Many still feel, however, that although touchscreen tablets work well as personalized tools, they cannot be a replacement for interactive whiteboards, which help autistic students with social learning in a group setting.

Whiteboards began making headway in the K12 arena in 2006, and their presence in classrooms has increased exponentially ever since.

The New Tech Network, which began in 1996 as a nonprofit school improvement organization, made a splash at the Educon conference in Philadelphia earlier this year, explaining how it reformed 86 schools in 16 states. And the difference with the model is that communities, not schools, fund them. Through fundraisers, donations and other contributions, the community “invests” in the change that happens.

Warning: All school districts that use two-way radios will have less than one year to comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s narrowbanding mandate, or risk losing all communication capabilities. Narrowbanding is part of a continued effort by the FCC to ensure efficient use of the spectrum and greater access for public safety and non-public safety users. Narrowbanding, which operates at 12.5 kHz, will allow additional channels to exist in the same spectrum and support more users.

Persistent tardiness is rampant in Boston Public Schools as a result of miscalculated bus routes, according to the Boston School Bus Drivers Union. According to a grievance filed against school bus provider First Student, Inc. by the union obtained by the Boston Globe, the drivers felt a new GPS computer software system installed failed to account for the heavy traffic in the city and generated routes that are poorly timed.

We asked District Administration Advisory Panel members “how can district technology leaders create a well-balanced team, and who should be included?” Here’s what some some members had to say:

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