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Curriculum Update

Research, trends and development

Students in Michigan Connect with Authors

Last fall, students at Michigan's Berrien County Intermediate School District read The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall. They wrote about the author and his book in an online blog. But the best part of the unit was when they interviewed Stovall via a live videoconference.

This blending learning event is part of the five-year-old ASK (Authors Specialist and Knowledge) program. "The videoconference is the driving force to get students to read with more comprehension and purpose," says Jim

Wenzloff, technology consultant for the Macomb (Mich.) Intermediate School District. Students prepare questions ahead of time and are not allowed to ask yes or no questions or anything for which they can easily find an answer. "I'm always amazed by the questions," says Wenzloff. "The authors frequently remark on how impressed they are with the depth of the questions."

The ASK program runs from fourth grade through high school. Each grade does one or two videoconferences a year, ranging from storybooks to poetry. Wenzloff is convinced that the journaling the students do in the blog is key to the program's success. "We ask them not to just summarize but to think about a character or something that happened in the book and tie it in with their lives."

Of course, the seemingly costly or technologically challenging videoconferencing component might discourage schools from starting a similar program. Elaine Shuck, the education market coordinator for Polycom, which helps set up the videoconferences, helps teachers learn how to use the equipment. She secures the authors, finds additional teachers and classes to participate and makes sure that everyone is able to connect.,

New Health Content for States

State departments of education in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming have partnered with Discovery Education to make the year-old Discovery Health Connection available to every school district in each state. Discovery Health Connection, a Web-based library of K-12 health and prevention content on violence, alcohol abuse, nutrition and development, includes teachers' guides, worksheets, videos and literacy lessons. Ted Davies, the curriculum specialist for the Nebo District in Spanish Fork, Utah, likes that he can call Discovery and find out how many times each teacher has logged in and used the system. Gerald Maas, director of health and safety for the Wyoming Department of Education, wanted to help his state's smaller districts with limited funds buy a number of programs for a reasonable price. When Discovery came up with the discounted price of $500 per site, Maas bought one license for each of Wyoming's 48 districts. (The districts choose which school gets access.)

Biotechnology is Coming to a District Near You

In 1988, Ellyn Daugherty took what she believes was the first biotechnology workshop for teachers. At that time, only a handful of schools offered any kind of biotech lesson or class. Today, thanks to the industry's explosive growth, more schools are looking for ways to offer biotech.

Her experience spurred Daugherty to create the San Mateo Biotechnology Career Pathway in California 12 years ago to prepare students for a career or continued education in biotech. It's housed on the San Mateo High School campus in a remodeled woodshop. In addition, she recently published the first biotech textbook, Biotechnology: Science for the New Millennium (Sargent-Welch), to help anyone with a science background create a biotechnology class or program. The book comes with a 500-page teacher's guide.

In Arizona, Mesa Public Schools is creating a biotech academy within its six high schools by revamping the science and agriculture areas to focus more on biotech. "Recent studies show that very few educational programs exist in this area and students lack the necessary employable skills," says Superintendent Debra Duvall. The academy will have six semesters of technical science training and introduce biotech concepts into core science classes. Duvall is also trying to set up a summer internship program and a science research class.

The Phoenix Union High School District is opening a 400-student-capacity science high school this fall. "It's located downtown, near many biotech companies, hospitals and the University of Arizona medical school, so we envision many opportunities for externships," says Deedee Falls, the district's science specialist.

In August, the School of Biotechnology at Atkins opened in Winston-Salem, N.C. An advisory committee, made up of local businesses, helped design the curriculum and will offer internships and job shadowing.

Of course, the first step is getting teachers on board. One resource is the Biotechnology Institute, which offers training programs and materials. Paul Hanle, president of the Biotech Institute, encourages districts to start by integrating biotech ideas into their science framework and to use biotech as the thread to teach the core science disciplines. "Communities might want to develop biotech for economic reasons, too," adds Hanle. Makes Reading Come Alive

Your district's students can learn about authors from Nancy Pelser-Borowicz, district library media specialist for Orange County Public Schools in Fla., is a self-professed Teachingbooks guru, having accessed more than 40,000 of the site's resources since April 2005. "The site has activities for all grade levels," she says. "There are zillions of interviews and about 40 of them feature video clips of authors or illustrators speaking about their books." The site also has teacher projects, book guides and discussion questions, book excerpts and thematic book lists. Unlimited access for a single school costs around $325; district access runs around $20 per school.