Tag Archives: Technology

Tech bus delivers training

Take a standard 40-foot, 84-passenger yellow school bus and make it into a rolling technology center.

Scottsdale Unified School District unveiled its eCoach yesterday at Mohave Middle School. They brought out the Saguaro High School Jazz Band, provided refreshments, put up a tent to shade attendees and conducted quick tours through the bus, which is equipped with a Smartboard, document camera, audio, Wi-Fi, extra air conditioners and enough room for 11 people and an instructor.

The eCoach was crowded with students, district staff and members of the media during yesterday's unveiling ceremony.

Tom Clark, the district’s chief technology officer, said it wasn’t too expensive to create because the district already had the bus, district employees made the furniture, partners donated various parts and services to make it a reality and they’ll have a district bus driver cruise around to where the teachers are. All in all, Clark said, it cost “a few thousand.”

The district also intends to use the bus for community outreach to teach parents about the technology their kids are using in school and to provide online access to kids who might not have a computer or an Internet connection at home.

The benefit for teachers is that they will be able to schedule the eCoach to come to their school when they need training rather than having to drive to another school or the district office.

One area of staff development Clark mentioned was the increasing use of iPads in the classroom and apps to enhance the teaching and learning process. The eCoach will make it easier for teachers to get up to speed on the newest apps.

Scan code on the side of the eCoach.

There are 31 schools in the Scottsdale district and about 1,700 teachers, so it looks like the eCoach driver will be on the road non-stop for much of the school year.

For more information, visit ecoach.susd.org.


Engineering the education of future engineers

Too few students are becoming engineers or working in scientific fields. A Wall Street Journal article from Nov. 2011, Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay describes how students may start college intending to become engineers but lack the motivation or skills to meet the rigorous curriculum or choose other fields offering more pay.

The article states, “Research has shown that graduating with these majors (engineering and science) provides a good foundation not just for so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs, or those in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, but a whole range of industries where earnings expectations are high.” Non-STEM fields seek people with quantitative skills and may pay more the than the engineering jobs.

Engineers create our technological gadgets. Science Foundation Arizona hopes to persuade more students to become engineers. photo: Steve Jurvetson-Flickr.com

But students are not prepared for college science or mathematics. Less than half of the graduating high school seniors were ready for college math and less than a third were prepared for college science courses according to an ACT report cited in the article.

Ironically, high-tech gadgets designed by engineers are embedded in the lifestyles of high school and college students, yet they choose not to pursue a career to make the gadgets and software, and perhaps earn a fortune they doing so.

Science Foundation Arizona has established the Arizona STEM Network to increase the number of students interested in STEM fields, increase student achievement, and hopefully inspire them to pursue STEM majors in college.

The Science Foundation of Arizona will manage the Arizona STEM Network to increase teacher effectiveness, get businesses involved in the schools, increase the amount of STEM learning and activities in schools and keep track of what initiatives works and their impact.

They have a five-year plan they hope will change the course of the state’s economy by increasing the number of citizens trained in science and engineering fields to attract employers seeking people with those skills.

The Veritas Homeschoolers’ Future City essay

Veritas Homeschoolers
Teacher: Mary Ann Ekstrom
Engineer Mentor: Ken Ekstrom

One of the most critical issues facing Taiwan during the early 21st century was the country’s reliance upon imported energy.  Due to minimal energy sources, Taiwan received 98% of its energy from China.  For this reason, great needs existed for Taiwan to develop its own energy resources and to establish aggressive conservation and efficiency standards.  To ensure the sustainability of its people, and the security of their nation, nuclear engineers from Xiwang, Taiwan, have developed a safe, efficient, form of energy called “HBfuse.”

With the ability to generate power without the radioactive waste of nuclear fission, Xiwang’s primary energy source, HBfuse, consists of the aneutronic fusion of hydrogen and boron fuels.  First researched in the United States during the early 21st century by Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, and tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Xiwang’s nuclear engineers have developed decentralized reactors for commercial use.

HBfuse uses dense plasma focus reactors, made up of two cylindrical beryllium copper electrodes set inside each other, inside a vacuum chamber filled with low-pressure gas. A blast of electricity from an energy storage device, called a capacitor bank, is released across the electrodes. The extreme current flows from the outside electrode to the inner electrode, through the low pressure gas, last just over a few millionths of a second. As the current heats the gas, it develops a powerful magnetic field.  The current molds itself into a slim coating of blazing, electrically-conducting plasma gas. Next, the plasma enters the end of the inner electrode, where the magnetic fields create an electric field. An electron beam heats the plasma to an unprecedented temperature, 100 times hotter than the center of the sun. The astonishing temperature created is approximately 2 billion degrees Celsius.

The benefits of aneutronic fusion are many.  Both nuclear fission and conventional neutronic fusion generates heat requiring turning water to steam in order to spin turbines to generate electricity.  In contrast, aneutronic fusion creates electricity directly.  This is due to the positively charged helium ions, which create neutron-free nuclear fusion.  Since electricity is created directly, valuable land which would otherwise be used to house large power plants, can now be conserved.   Costs associated with building and running a power plant are saved along with the water that would have been needed for a conventional power plant.  In addition, aneutronic fusion does not produce neutrons as a product of the reaction.  This is unlike nuclear fission, where a neutron splits a large atom into smaller atoms, releasing more neutrons for a radioactive chain reaction.  Nuclear fission also has many concerns, such as nuclear proliferation and containment.  In contrast to conventional neutronic fusion, aneutronic fusion does not involve the fusion of deuterium and tritium.  Tritium is in short supply, is radioactive, and can be used in nuclear weapons. Non-radioactive helium gas is the only “waste product” from HBfuse. Furthermore, the materials to create hydrogen-boron fuels are common. Hydrogen comes from water, and boron can be extracted from natural sources such as sea water.  HBfuse is an amazing source of safe, radiation free, and clean energy.

Each HBfuse reactor consists of a 5 megawatt system, producing enough energy to power 1,000 homes.  Compact in size, HBfuse reactors are so small, they take up no more space than a standard two-car garage.  Due to energy efficiency, many family units live in large residential towers.  These towers each have an HBfuse reactor adjacent to them, while our communities with single family homes have 2 reactors per community.

Xiwang chemical engineers and researchers have created revolutionary bio-fuels from waste rice straw. Rice is the number one crop grown in Taiwan. After harvesting the grain, rice straw is left behind. Instead of going to waste, the material is turned into bio-fuel. This inventive fuel provides a net energy gain, which means that the energy used to harvest it is less than the amount of energy produced. In addition, rice straw is produced without reducing food supplies.

Making wise use of Xiwang’s unique natural resources, additional energy is provided by wind, geothermal, and solar power.  Due to Xiwang’s coastal location, harnessing energy from the ocean was considered.  However, after considering the environmental impact that wave, tidal, and deep ocean turbines might have on marine life, the decision was made to omit all forms of ocean energy.

Sustainable energy in Taiwan is transmitted via computational systems thinking machines(CSTMs), advanced smart grids created by Xiwang’s electrical, IT, and telecom engineers.  These grids provide excellent two-way communication between Xiwang’s energy sources and its energy consumers.  In order to handle excess energy within the grid, large scale power storage, using technologically advanced nanomaterial batteries, consisting of sodium and potassium water based electrolytes, are used.  For additional energy storage, pumped-storage plants, producing hydroelectricity, enable widespread use of renewable power. Excess energy produced in Xiwang is sold to neighboring China, and transmitted through submarine cables.

Due to increased energy demands, Xiwang’s software engineers, electrical engineers, scientists, and researchers are strongly committed to energy conservation, efficiency, awareness, and education. Through the use of superior energy management, Xiwang’s electrical engineers regularly measures and tracks the energy performances of all operations, and have implemented steps to increase energy efficiency.

With the use of energy monitoring dashboards and software, Xiwang’s residents are now able to successfully manage their own energy.  Efficient 4th Generation Platinum LEED buildings conserve natural resources while protecting Xiwang’s environment.  Water conservation and recycling, along with advanced energy efficient appliances, and walking to work helps Xiwang’s residents to conserve energy and use very little fuel as well as maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Due to the dedication of Xiwang’s engineers, Taiwan is no longer reliant upon other countries for its energy needs.  Now a world leader in research and development, sustainability, and conservation, Xiwang is a proud example of what can be achieved when an entire community works together to make a better, safer tomorrow.

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Celebrating art, culture and giving back

Camelback Desert School’s Annual Art Walk celebrated innovation and cultural awareness while honoring and raising funds for Japan. Some highlights from last week’s event:

All students in grades 3-8 play violin, so they performed during the walk. Younger students read creative poetry and short stories over the microphone.

Students have been learning about Japan’s food, language, music, history and significant contributions to world culture. They combined their cultural studies with a fundraising effort for tsunami relief and a moment of silence was held  to increase awareness of the still unfolding tragedy.

"Juice for Japan" was just one example of fundraising the students have undertaken to benefit tsunami relief in Japan. On Friday, students could "pay" $1 to wear their regular clothes, instead of school uniforms, with proceeds going to Japan relief.

Of course an Art Walk isn’t complete without art. Here are some examples:

Student sculpture.

Colorful paintings.

“In today’s global marketplace, it’s important for schools to encourage learning through arts, cultural awareness and technology to compete through innovation and ideas,” says Principal Jen Estes.

Camelback Desert School is a preschool-grade 8 private school offering a rigorous, standards-based curriculum with technology focus, small class sizes, personal assessment and learning plans and integration of 21st century skills in academic instruction. The school is located at 9606 E. Kalil Dr. in  Scottsdale. To learn more, call 480-451-3130 or visit camelbackdesertschool.com.

Holding students responsible with technology

I always had friends who would go to great lengths to stop their parents from seeing their report cards. They would rush home after school and wait at the end of the driveway for the mail to come, or just let the report cards get lost in the abyss of their backpacks. We grew up in the ’90s, so we didn’t have to worry about technology foiling our devious plans.

Too bad for the children of today! Technology keeps advancing and making it easier for parents and teachers to communicate. Now that email is as easy as breathing, it’s very easy for teachers to give parents a heads up if their child is having problems in school.

It has become even harder for kids to outsmart their parents with new inventions like SnapGrades, an online portal for parents, teachers and students to keep track of students’ progress. Teachers are able to upload progress reports or report cards and parents and students can use their own passwords to log on and check in.

Students will also have to be more accountable for their homework assignments as teachers can post assignments, due dates and announcements. Teachers can also email or text parents who own smart phones if a student is missing their assignment or receiving low grades. This tool can also be used for attendance to immediately alert parents if their child is missing from class.

The SnapGrades service also allows teachers to send messages to parents who don’t speak English. All they have to do is type their message and the service will translate it into Spanish. This could be a very handy tool with Arizona’s large Hispanic community.

Teachers can also arrange seating charts, take attendance, or plan for substitute teachers.

Gilbert Public Schools is beginning to use a similar service called Infinite Campus where they will electronically distribute progress report to parents. While report cards will still be mailed home, this gives parents a peek into how their kids are doing in between report cards.

The end is near for irresponsible students who hope to keep their parents in the dark.  — Veronica Jones

Smart Phone learning Apps help bring lessons everywhere

Parents may have to hand over their smart phones to their kindergarten to third grade kids. Dr. Gary Bitter, Professor of Educational Technology at Arizona State University has developed Math Apps called MathReady for young school-aged children to learn basic math skills on the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.

The 12 different Apps, which are available from the Apple Store for $2.99 each, go through simple math problems to help give K-3 students a little extra practice. In the kindergarten Apps, kids will learn to use words like “big, biggest, large and largest,” learn how to identify basic shapes and how to count to five.

First grade Apps teach kids how to do basic addition and subtraction with numbers up to 18 as well as beginning lessons on time and money.

Second grade Apps focus on time and money as well as continuing addition and subtraction and fractions.

Money and time continue to be a part of the third grade programs as well as learning how to add and subtract with numbers up to 100.

These Apps are great if you have somewhere to go with your kids that may require a lot of waiting. Instead of playing mind-draining games, they can get ahead on what they will be working on in school. They could also be good in-car activities for long road trips to keep your kids busy and keep your sanity. Having these Apps available on such portable devices makes it possible for you to take your child’s learning anywhere without having to drag books or textbooks along.

Using these kinds of Apps are very effective for students especially as the technology world is ever changing, however it is important that parents also understand these pieces of technology. To a lot of parents, these new developments can be very confusing. Unlike their kids, they didn’t grow up in the age of Internet, email, and text messaging.

Technologies like Smart Phones and iPads are becoming more and more popular in schools all over the country. A January article from the New York Times showcased some of the schools that are filling classrooms with iPads so students can bring their learning home. Pinnacle Peak School in Scottsdale was one of the schoolsl mentioned after 36 iPads were brought in for the new school year.

If your early elementary school child starts to be frustrated trying to understand the Smart Phone programs, make sure you’ll be able to help them figure it out. You may have graduated from school years ago but the learning won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Visit the MathReady website to learn more about the programs and look for them to become available on Android and Microsoft Smart Phones in the future.

The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman