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Curriculum Update

Calculator Controlled Robot

ANY SCHOOL CAN ENTER THE world of robotics by using graphing calculators and a small programmable car. Entrepreneur and preservice teacher Becky Rowland invented a robot car that runs on four AA batteries and can be programmed by using a Texas Instruments graphing calculator. The calculator attaches to the vehicle by a single connection. The TI Robot kits are ready to go; students install wheels and bumpers and plug in a calculator. The robot is quick and simple to program, making it a good classroom activity for math teachers and their middle or high school students.

Rowland, who first became interested in robotics after a school project when she was 13, believes that most schools don't know how to properly use the graphing calculators they have. At Norland's Web site, free lessons can be accessed, including Mission to Mars, Turns and Mazes, and Game Day, along with all the BASIC programming instructions necessary for success.

Rowland says that some classes have actually dressed up the robot cars as animals and programmed them to drive through a jungle-theme maze.

A penholder attachment for the side makes it possible to use a pencil, pen or marker for tracking vehicle paths on the classroom floor. This summer Norland will offer a larger, floor-model robot.

Baltimore Features Video

BALTIMORE COUNTY PUBLIC Schools (Md.), one of the nation's top 25 school districts, has simplified the process of using video clips to support instruction. Each of the 169 district schools has a video-on-demand server with over 1,200 preloaded Safari Montage videos available in one searchable library. Teachers can search by subject, grade level, state standards and topic. There is no streaming, so the video plays without hesitation. Fifty five users can access the server at the same time to share the high-resolution clips in either Windows Media Player or Quick-Time. Teachers can play entire videos or video clips.

Many give Della Curtis, the library and information services coordinator, credit for bringing Safari videos to the district. Her vision always seems light years ahead, says Middlesex Elementary School media specialist Ann Groth. "I believe Superintendent Dr. Hairston was also important, because he listened to Curtis's idea!" Groth adds.

Baltimore County staff recognized the teaching significance of the technology as soon as it arrived, and they will offer professional development for teachers to make optimal use of it.

Digital Lesson Planning

RIALTO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT (Calif.) is using a new product to streamline weekly planning checks by administrators: eChalk's Lesson Planner, which allows curriculum

specialists to direct and guide teacher lesson plans, and principals to review them digitally. Specific goals can be met, and teachers can get immediate comments and feedback. Lessons can be viewed forward, backward and archived for reuse.

Teachers can easily develop and post plans-including standards covered, homework, and resource guides-to parent-accessible class pages so they can keep abreast of classroom work.

Teaching with Tablets

IN 2005 WASHINGTON'S KENT School District had a 4:1 student-to computer ratio. District officials began looking at 1:1 solutions and how instruction and data could be better delivered to the fourth-largest school district in the state. The district began a ninety-student pilot program at the Mill Creek Middle School, using the beta-release TC4200 Hewlett-Packard tablets. The pen interface allowed students to balance math equations and solve problems that couldn't easily be done with just a laptop. HP's extended life, eight-hour batteries meant that students didn't have to worry about losing power in the middle of the school day.

Kent purchased a class server as a management system to share teacher-created lessons, homework and discussions throughout the district.

The project has changed the way teachers teach and how students access information at school and home. It has increased parent participation and student responsibility while decreasing discipline problems. Students are responsible for the same tablet throughout their school stay. If repairs are needed, loaner machines are available, but the students always get their original tablets back. The project will be replicated throughout the entire district within the next four years.

Formative Assessments Online

USING STI'S WEBBASED ASSESSMENT system, Montgomery Public Schools in Alabama and Bay District Schools in Panama City, Fla., conduct online or paper tests and receive immediate results. Administrators can continuously assess and monitor student mastery of standards and identify areas of improvement. Administrators, teachers and parents can view online reports. "Our goal is to empower our teachers with real-time data and provide concrete measures of how students are progressing toward meeting state and national standards," says Michael Lenhart, Montgomery Public Schools' assistant superintendent.

Lenny Willis, executive director of curriculum and instructional services at Bay District Schools, says "STI provides teachers with diagnostic tools that allow them to pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses so they can adjust instruction to meet student needs."

TeacherTube, the YouTube for Educators

TeacherTube, which launched in March, is a free online teacher community for posting and viewing educator-made instructional videos. Teachers can post videos designed for classroom use, and administrators can use the site for professional development and teacher mentoring. Jason Smith, a fourteen-year veteran teacher and administrator, along with his digital-native and tech-savvy brother, created the site. TeacherTube community members can upload, tag and share videos worldwide; browse uploaded videos; join and create video groups; save favorites and create playlists; and make their videos public or private. Videos must be appropriate and address specific learning objectives and/or provide professional development for educators. They cannot include advertisements or business solicitations.