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Google Science Fair 2012

ScifairI was pleased to hear that the Google Science Fair was back for the second year. This is an annual event that adds excitement for student scientists around the globe. It’s open to students ages 13-18. All projects are submitted online. Last year, the Google Science Fair became the largest online science fair in the world with over 7, 500 entries from more than 90 countries.

There are some changes this year, which should add to the international challenges.

  • Accepting submissions in 13 languages
  • Choosing 90 regional finalists: 30 each from the Americas, Europe/Middle East/Africa, and Asia Pacific
  • A “Science in Action” award, sponsored by Scientific American for a project that addresses a social, environmental or health issue to make a practical difference in the lives of a group or community

Submissions are open through April 1, 2012, and Google will announce the regional finalists in May, and select the 15 finalists in June 2012. Google Science Fair winners will be awarded their honors in Mountain View, CA on July 23, 2012.

As a teacher, I used to love science fairs as much as the kids did. My students enjoyed really becoming scientists, and even though I tried treating them like that, they filled the role completely at science fair time. Whether students worked alone or in a group, the vocabulary, planning, experimenting, lab notes, results and reports blended for the most professionally done presentation students’ could do.  I’m pleased that all of this is not lose on Google’s education crew.

Please visit www.google.com/sciencefair for more information and check their post on the Official Google Blog.

Touch Communications: Special Needs Students


Russ EwellReviewer: Russ Ewell

Position: Chairman

District/School: Hope Technology School (HTS), Palo Alto, CA

Number of Students in School: 120 students

Products: HP TouchSmart PC and Voice Notes


We needed an affordable solution that helps students with disabilities learn and interact easier.


TouchSmart technology has accelerated learning and helped to bring HTS students with special needs out of social isolation. The TouchSmart PC has been easy to integrate. The device costs roughly one-fifth the price of traditional Assistive Technology (AT) tools developed with proprietary hardware and software.

Learning Curve:

Teachers and students have found it extremely easy to use. The TouchSmart is an all-in-one touch-enabled PC—making it unique. Users simply touch, tap or sweep a finger across the screen to access information, the Internet, or social. No keyboard or mouse is necessary.

How We Use It:

Students can play music, video chat, check the weather, or watch TV. Children with autism use the device to practice speaking. Students send video e-mail using the webcam, and create videos for class projects. A favorite activity is Jeopardy, with the answers derived from coursework.

What’s Ahead?:

HTS is developing software to help people with special needs match icons and speech to communicate. It has opened a pilot technology lab to make devices available to the community at large.

New High School Thinking: Supt. Mark White

ClarkHall (A)Reviewer: Mark White

Position: Superintendent

District/School: Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, OH

Number of Students in District: 6,988

Products: Dell Latitude e6420, Dell Optiplex 790 desktops, Cisco Networks


The district has implemented a new type of high school, Lincoln High School (GLHS). The unique design of the building was essential to promoting the teaching and learning we envisioned. We are working to break away from the 9-month school year.


Parents appreciate the progressive approach. Teachers are enthusiastic, but they are also being challenged to keep up with the latest trends in technology and how to use them in this new environment. Teachers are pushing themselves to transform their curriculum. Students appreciate the technology, and learning freedom in their new environment.

Learning Curve:

Our principal, Dwight Carter, did an exemplary job training teachers and pushing them to think in new ways about teaching and learning. The staff is committed and shares the vision.

How We Use It:

Upgrading the technology infrastructure was a priority. A cadre of teachers to led the way. The teachers have bought into the change, but they still need constant support. We’re blending traditional learning and curriculum with a modern approach, so there are some challenges.

What’s Ahead?:

The high school must find ways to move the Clark Hall philosophy to its traditional K-12 building. The district advocates a BYOD philosophy, and it must determine how many students will bring their own devices and how many the district must purchase.

No Shelf Tech Here!

Julio Velasquez Director of Technology

Aaron Allen 5th Grade Math, Social Studies and Reading Teacher

Hempfield Area School District (HASD)

Products: Mimio Interactive Solutions

Tech2We looked for something that wasn’t going to be difficult to install and maintain. After the presentations, we surveyed teachers for their input, and Mimio was their top selection.

District tech did the initial install, but we make updates available on our server, and teachers do those themselves. HASD quickly went from very few technology users to 40%, and then to 80% daily blending of Mimio technology with curriculum delivery. “You never want to purchase shelf technology; Mimio gets a daily workout here; it never sits.

We facilitate the training to make sure the technology is always available, and Mimio has been very supportive with everything from individual teacher help to any technical side trouble shooting issues,” says Velasquez. A recent technology training survey, found that teachers wanted more days to get together to share what they were doing with Mimio in their classrooms, and thought it was one of the most valuable inservice days they’ve ever had.

What you get for the dollar makes sense, especially when comparing Mimio solutions with others out there.

Teachers at HASD create and save lessons using Mimio software and the stylus for building text, highlighting, drawing, group work, moving objects, sequencing, as well as capturing supplemental resources from the Internet. Teachers engage students and instantly assess achievement.

Aaron Allen, a 5th grade math, social studies and reading teacher uses Mimio solutions daily for writing, spelling, and language arts.

TeachWith MimioTeach and a stylus I use math manipulatives, and MimioView takes transparencies out of the equation. Kids manipulate objects for concrete references. In its simplest form it’s a quick whiteboard, but it can quickly become something where kids can click, point, manipulate, move, and see their actions. Learning has become a Web 2.0, game-filled, engaging environment in the classrooms of HASD. It’s as easy as using PowerPoint or Word, and If you want to get more technical, it’s not that difficult to create new worlds of learning. Our reading program is online, so this works beautifully for teaching in ways we couldn’t do before—when it was just on paper. It’s a lot easer—and a time saver with Mimio. The right tools are there when and where you need them.

Agriculture Science Goes Interactive: Byron Ernest

Byron Ernest - SMART Best in TechReviewer: Byron L. Ernest

Position: Department Head Agriculture Science

District/School: Lebanon Community School Corporation, Lebanon High School, IN

Number of Students in District/School: 3,551/1,046

Products: SMART Boards 685 ix/600 UF 65, SMART Response Systems, SMART Notebook software


We are designing and developing a learning environment that integrates various technology tools such as interactive white boards, mobile technology, high access technology (laptops) and the applications to Smtfully integrate all technology through the SMART system, enabling highly effective teachers to facilitate high student achievement.


Everyone is on board with our strategic tech plan. Students have done presentations using the technology for our school board, parents, and community. Students love coming to class and immersing themselves in the educational process through collaborative learning and use of technology.

Learning Curve:

First-round teachers provide support and training, and share lessons. The SWELL Classroom allows for designing each lesson to meet individual student needs. Teacher leaders provide coaching, and we include specially developed administrator training. SMART has tailored specific workshops, too.

How We Use It:

Our interactive agriculture science classroom is equipped with SMART Board technology. In Advanced Life Science students are asked to produce presentations using SMART Notebook and the SMART Boards related to various topics and upload those presentations to group wikis. After review SMART Response systems are used to gage student knowledge.

What’s Ahead?:

Our school is undergoing a renovation that will equip all classrooms like the SWELL Classroom. Additionally, we will have a 24/7 one-to-one computing environment with our students in grades 6-12. 

Evernote Education: Russ Goerend

RussReviewer: Russ Goerend

Position: 6th grade Language Arts

District/School: Waukee / Waukee Middle School, Iowa

Number of Students in District/School: 7,000 / 850

Products: Evernote, Doxie Scanner, smartphone camera

Reviewer's Notes:

I use Evernote because it works so well to create and capture different forms of media (audio, video, images, and text). The basis for the system is to capture student learning, which could be done with different tools.


Documenting student learning in (more) authentic ways. Evernote allows me to capture and organize anything I can digitize. Pictures of student work, video of students learning, audio of student conferences, scans of student work, clips of student blog posts. 


Administrators have appreciated my work because it is helping to document student learning. Students think it's "cool" that I have digital copies of so much of their learning. Parents have not been as excited as I'd hoped.

Learning Curve: 

Evernote itself, and importing documents is easy to learn. The actual setup of notebooks and tags that I use has taken a few years to get where it is. I would recommend playing with notebooks and tags to see what works best for you. Evernote is software I used before I was a teacher and I still use a ton outside of school. I use it to organize our garage and our kitchen, for example.

What’s Ahead?: 

I worked with 6th graders who are all under 13. Unfortunately, this means they can't have their own Evernote accounts. If they could -- or if we can find a way to have parents create the accounts for them or something else -- the next step would be to get them doing the collecting, analyzing, and organizing of their own artifacts. That would be the key for me. Right now, we're working on having students take over the evaluation aspect of the artifact collection. As of now, I'm the one deciding what gets digitized or not. I want the students to be the ones doing that.


Assistive Technology: Carole Ries

Carole RiesReviewer: Carole Ries, OTR, Assistive Technologist

Wayzata Public School, Plymouth, MN  

Number of Students:
10,000 Students: 7 elementary, 3 middle schools, 1 high school
Product: SOLO 6 by Don Johnston


Our district was interested in evaluating technologies that would support literacy. SOLO 6, developed by Don Johnston, is a suite of four software tools that can be used individually or together to support students’ reading and writing skills. 

Reviewer's Notes: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that the Wayzata Public Schools uses when evaluating technology tools. We are committed to embedding technology solutions into our curriculum from beginning so that these tools are available to all staff and all students.

The components are:  

Write Outloud:  A talking word processor that supports the editing process and increases the amount of written communication.

Co:Writer:  A word completion or word prediction tool that support students who are slow at keyboarding, have difficulty spelling, and narrows the gap between thought and written words.

Draft Builder:  Creates outlines, organizes notes, builds a draft and scaffolds students through the writing process.

Read Outloud:  Is a text to speech program that can read the web, e-text and digital books and helps to collect and analyze relevant ideas and organize notes.  It has many reading comprehension supports embedded into the program, including highlighters, a dictionary and a bibliographer.

Pilot Study:

A pilot study, evaluating Solo 6, was completed by K-12 general and special education teachers in our district. After 8 weeks, each participant completed a feedback survey. The results conclusively revealed that the majority of the teachers strongly agreed that Solo 6 would help their students with writing, reading, organization and research. 

Technology Integration:

Wayzata Public Schools then purchased a district license of Solo 6 and installed the software on all student and staff computers. Additionally, students have take-home rights to the software. Students can download the software from the district website or check out a CD of the program from the media center to install on their home computer. 

AmandaAmanda Leddy, 6th grade Language Arts Teacher at Central Middle School, used Draftbuilder and Write Outloud to complete a history research paper.  Students’ feedback about Draft Builder and Write Outloud was very positive. They stated that it was faster to take notes using Draftbuilder, they could quickly see where more research was needed because of the organization provided by Draftbuilder and they preferred to take keyboarding notes rather than handwritten notes. All the students surveyed felt the program was easy to learn, taking less than 10 minutes to learn how to use the software. Ms. Leddy reported that using the software increased productivity by needing three less class periods to complete the paper. She stated that Write Outloud also increased students’ independence with spelling and proofreading, resulting in more time for her to work with students that needed more one to one support. Finally, Ms. Leddy stated that using the software improved the quality of the final paper.

CarolCarol Dunsmore-Clement, Elementary Special Education Teacher, is using Read Outloud with students with print disabilities.  Her students are reading more, feel less frustrated when reading and are choosing to read in their free time. The students and their parents are happy because the students have increased independence at home when completing their homework. One student proudly stated that he read a book independently at home and when he came to school the next day he received 10 out of 10 on the test! The technology motivated and engaged him.

LoriLori Fildes, Director of Special Education, said, “Solo 6 has been a tool commonly discussed at student Individualized Education Planning (IEP) Meetings.  Parents are thrilled that Wayzata Public Schools is supporting such a powerful technology that will assist their children in becoming independent as possible in their academic learning. That being said, it is clearly not a tool reserved solely as a special education adoption, but is quickly becoming a way of assisting all students and staff in their academics.  It has the capability of enhancing student work and in some cases, helping students to be successful without the need for referring them for further intervention and/or special education services.”

ShellyShelly Nelson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, shared, “Taking the time to complete work well is important. With the use of Solo 6, our Language Arts teachers found that students took better notes, produced better research papers, demonstrated an understanding of the research process and saved several days of class time typically dedicated to a research writing project.”

What's Next?

The implementation of Solo 6 has been a positive initiative to provide a flexible approach to reading and writing so that students can customize the software to meet their individual needs. Our implementation team continues to meet.  Our next goal is to work with publishers during our curriculum review process to build an accessible digital library of all our textbooks and to begin to take data of how SOLO 6 is impacting students’ reading and writing skills and scores in our district.

Classroom Innovation and Creativity: Sarah Butler

SarahReviewer: Sarah Butler

Position Held:  First Grade Teacher

Sarah Butler's Teacher Website 

District/School: Hempfield Area School District, West Point Elementary School, Greensburg, Pennsylvania

Number of Students in District/School: Hempfield Area School District serves 6,100 students in grades K-12 in 11 schools, which include 6 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 1 high school and 1 alternative education school

Products: Mimio Classroom Family of Products, including Mimio Teach, Mimio View, Mimio Capture, Mimio Pad, and Mimio Vote


Last year, Hempfield Area School District invested in the Mimio Classroom Family of Products with the Mimioteachintention of offering teachers innovative ways to expand current curriculum and keep captivating our students in a digital world. The goal was to bring technology into every elementary classroom with interactive ways to view, assess, and complete daily lessons traditionally done via pencil/paper application. Hempfield Area was driven to pursue this new technology with the implementation of new Language Arts and Mathematics curricula. Both programs offered a wide range of interactive resources that teachers could utilize more seamlessly with the latest in educational technology tools, like Mimio.


Across the district, the response to this technology has been more positive than anyone could have imagined or hoped for. With anything new and different, the adjustment has been challenging, but rewarding.  As a classroom teacher, I have made it my personal mission to embrace this new technology in my classroom for the benefit of my students. Despite the challenges of learning all new technology (as well as simultaneously implementing new curriculum!), I have found a new passion for what I do- molding young minds with amazing technology to assist! The students have been the true indicators of success.  Mimio has completely changed the “magic” of learning for my students.  Any Mimio lesson I present, any Mimio Vote assessment I complete, and anything I present through my Mimio View instantly draws their attention. I have seen increased classroom participation and on-task time consistently.  I have also seen exponential growth when comparing student understanding based on “old” teaching practices (i.e. lecture, pencil/paper drill and practice), compared to interactive, hands-on, often student-led Mimio lessons.  Perhaps, most helpful to me, Mimio acts as a teacher assistant, of sorts, to allow me more freedom to oversee my students’ progress.

Learning Curve: 

MimiovoteThe possibilities are endless with Mimio technology, and truly can seem overwhelming.  District implementation has centered on hours of Staff Development, and even more hours spent out of school, on my own time, honing my skills.  From a hardware aspect, Mimio is very simple to operate.  Inherent in the design is the ability for all the Mimio equipment to work with minimal techno-savvy abilities.  To put it as simply as the equipment is to operate, essentially you plug things in and it just works!!  A major highlight is the technology is as simple or sophisticated as you want it to be when it comes to creating.  Lessons can be designed for simplicity, or created utilizing the extensive bells and whistles the technology does offer (but, again, does not require). Mimio, and its parent company Dymo, offer their own support systems and online resources.  These supports are truly phenomenal.  For those that aren’t ready to create, there is also a Mimio Connect website that offers a forum for teacher sharing of lessons. This component has allowed for me to use my prep and planning time most efficiently.  Mimio Connect offers a forum to find pre-made, adaptable templates, games, lessons, and even allows for peer feedback on lessons I create and share. Between the resources offered by Mimio, and the in-district teamwork atmosphere, it has been a challenging, yet very rewarding journey that continues to lead Hempfield Area into a realm of limitless educational excellence.

How We Use It: 

Hempfield Area School District has embraced the role of technology in the classroom and taken the Mimioviewapproach to utilize our Mimio resources to enhance what we already do every day- strive to offer all our students the best educational experiences possible. Mimio is a classroom tool we use to supplement our current curriculum.  Mimio lessons are designed to target the hands-on approach already engrained in our daily learning goals. Using the Mimio Classroom Family of Products, every elementary classroom is equipped with a Mimio Teach, which makes any whiteboard interactive when used in conjunction with a projector, computer, and Mimio software.  Every elementary classroom also utilizes the Mimio View, which is a document camera.  The Mimio Pad allows the teacher to move freely around the room and operate the whiteboard from remote locations without wires.  The Mimio Capture is an ink recording system that works with standard dry erase markers.  It allows for notes to be saved, in many formats, for later editing, printing or other use.  The Mimio Vote (my personal favorite.) allows for instant assessment/feedback.  You can also gather scores and download results into spreadsheets by assigning the handheld devices individually for testing.  The game-like handset maximizes participation, and are you ready for this, put excitement into assessment for children.

What’s Ahead:  

MimiopadI educate children that are more technologically savvy at age 6, than I will ever be in my lifetime. But, I am committed to being a life-long learner and doing my best to make my classroom as relevant and educationally rich as possible. My teaching now embraces, and is part of, the visually stimulating world my students are growing up in. I have the ability to offer my students hands on, motivating lessons that engage their brains in ways most interesting to them. Often, the lessons I create offer components for all learning styles and modalities. It’s definitely provided an avenue to balance the best of technology with the best of traditional education strategies.  Anyone that has spent time in a classroom can tell you, it’s not an easy job.  But, when you love what you do, it makes it easy to find the highlights and triumphs as the glowing parts that outweigh the challenges. There is no greater reward than seeing that proverbial “light bulb” come on for a student.  I see success daily, exponentially, in fact, when including Mimio technology as part of my standard teaching repertoire.  With all of these “light bulbs”, the future is truly bright for my first graders.

Supporting STEM Education: Raul Santana

Raul Santana2Reviewer: Raul Santana

Position: Director of Technology

District/School: Upland Unified School District (UUSD), Upland High School (UHS), California

Number of Students in District/School: UUSD serves more than 12,000 students in 14 schools, which includes 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools

Products: HP Workstations Hp


Upland Unified School District (UUSD) faced two of the same challenges that most public school districts are facing nationwide—we had a lack of funding to pursue programs of excellence, and the need to improve student achievement in math and science. UUSD’s ultimate goal was to find a way to provide educational technology to support rigorous programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.


In an effort to improve students’ math scores and skills in a cost effective way by leveraging outside funding, UUSD laid out plans to participate in Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national program that provides rigorous and innovative science, technology, engineering and math education for middle and high schools. In order to meet the needs of the courses of PLTW, the district’s IT team created two 21st Century Classrooms at UHS, which are equipped with HP Z Workstations, digital projectors, an electronic white board and more.

The community has been incredibly supportive of PLTW and the implementation of HP technology. In fact, in 2008, the community passed a construction bond that has enabled the district to remodel many classrooms and incorporate leading edge educational technologies to create the 21st Century Classrooms needed to support PLTW.

Teachers believe that PLTW is helping to increase student success: “It’s not our goal to make engineers out of every kid in the class,” says Doug Hutchings, teacher, Upland High School, “But it’s very likely that students who participate in Project Lead the Way will have a better chance of being admitted to college and doing well once they get there.”

The program and school district are receiving support from local colleges and universities as well. California Polytechnic Institute at Pomona and the University of California at Riverside actually guarantee admission to students who complete the entire sequence of PLTW courses.

Learning Curve:

The district’s first PLTW course, Introduction to Engineering Design, is a methods course involving product design using Autodesk Inventor software. UUSD runs the software on HP Workstations. We have found that because Autodesk applications are thoroughly tested and qualified on HP Workstations, that they are the perfect fit for the classrooms where the PLTW courses are taught. Together, HP, Autodesk and PLTW have offered a wide-designed platform for science, technology, engineering and math education that has helped integrate the program pretty seamlessly.

How We Use It:

Using HP Workstations, students tackle four design projects in the introductory PLTW course. The first is a puzzle, which students design and engineer for manufacturing. Subsequent projects include a toy train, a full-size boat, and a fourth project serves a real-life community need and changes each year. Last year, the class is designed and built a mobile scoreboard for the local Little League.

Now in its second year of involvement with PLTW, UUSD has added a second PLTW course, Principles of Engineering. Students use HP Workstations to tackle more rigorous engineering challenges and are exposed to a wider range of engineering software packages.

All told, the high school has roughly 135 students taking PLTW courses today and that number should continue to grow as new courses are added.

Reviewers Note:

UUSD has a solid reputation for preparing its students academically, and several schools in the district have been cited as California Distinguished Schools.

Classrooms Collaborate with Projects by Jen

WagnerReviewer:  Jennifer Wagner

Position:  Online Project Coordinator

Online Site:  ProjectsByJen.com

Number of Students in School: 825

Products:  Voice Thread, Animoto, Smilebox, Google Docs & Forms, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office, and the ProjectsByJen site - http://www.projectsbyjen.com/.


The primary ProjectsByJen goal is to seamlessly and effortlessly weave various opportunities of tech into Jw1 the PreK – 6th grade classroom, while at the same time setting up collaboration activities for interaction.


My first project in 1999 had 125 responding classrooms, most current project over 1300.
Because standards are shared with each project, and the projects can be molded to fit within each teacher’s schedule and curriculum, the response has been positive. I receive emails from teachers, admins, and parents thanking me for offering these projects online so their students can participate. Each classroom is also earns a participation certificate to showcase their involvement.

Learning Curve:

The learning curve is different within each classroom; however, detailed instructions are provided with each project as well as activities and extension ideas. Tutorials are provided as well as several online community forum areas. If a teacher has any difficulty, there are many ways to get support. If any teacher is creating their own worksheets, etc, they usually share out their ideas there. 

How We Use It:

Reviewer's Note: All of my projects can be found here:  http://projectsbyjen.com/archives.htm

Sample Projects:

Most teachers in the Prek – 6th grade level will have some sort of harvest lesson during the last week of October, which will probably involve a pumpkin. The Pumpkin Seed project takes what will already be done and weaves in a math lesson, pumpkin costume show, and many other activities, which can easily be used during this harvest theme time. If a teacher wishes, there are also opportunities for the classroom to collaborate with other classrooms via Skype, e-mail, snail mail, or various other ways.  At the end of this project, all results collected are displayed in graph form, available in a downloadable spreadsheet, and participants are placed on a map. This project easily incorporates math, literature, science, art, history, technology, spelling, and more.

What’s Ahead?:

ProjectsByJen has 6 more planned projects for the school year, including The Holiday Card project in December, which truly brings the holiday spirit into your classroom in a very geographical way. The St. Patrick’s Day project blends graphing, sorting, and estimation into the K3 classroom. A new project, “Picture This”, where 24 different classrooms will share in creating a masterpiece of collaboration will be hosted for Spring. 

Reviewer’s Notes:

ProjectsbyJen is offerered at no charge to classrooms around the world.  However, to subsidize website expenses, I do offer a monthly newsletter, Wordle Packets can also be found at http://www.projectsbyjen.com/, along with  a book entitled “35 Tech Tips for Teachers”. 



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Best in Tech Today are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.