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Thinkfinity's New Look and Community

Screenshot-homepage Thinkfinity has been online for a couple of years now, and many educators have already taken advantage of its resources, but the new Thinkfinity look and design has some changes that will make it a one stop resource for lessons, professional development, and community collaboration. A big difference is that instead of pushing users out to partner sites, the new Thinkfinity site is a resource unto itselffor the most part educators don't have to go anywhere else.  I was taken on a tour of the site expansion, and tried to find something missing, but it seems Thinkfinity has covered all its basis.I did recommend that for those resources that still take you off site, having a new page open is the best plan, so educators, administrators, and technology resource teachers remain on site there, too. That will happen according to Thinkfinity's Kristen Townsend, educational development officer, who shared the resources part of the site with me. The new site even provides resource for home school and after school purposes. It also has ramped up its professional development offerings, which have always been free, and will remain free.

The new site with have news feeds, blogs, as well as the new Thinkfinity Community. The Community Screenshot-get_connected reminds me of an education Personal Learning Network (PLN), something educators have been doing on their own for years. And along with that community Thinkfinity has certainly done its homework regarding the use of social networking by educators today. There will be private and public options as well as tie-ins to social media and Web 2.0 tools. I'd like to thank the Verizon Foundation for helping to set up the interviews and giving me a sneak peak. Check it out today, BUT FIRST...

Please listen to Thinkfinity's Christine McGuinness as she explained Thinkfinity Community to me:

Failure Is Not An Option!

Blankstein I had a great conversation with Alan Blankstein, author of Failure Is Not An Option: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, which has been recently updated and released. Alan is also Founder and President of the Hope Foundation.

"The second edition of Failure Is Not An Option shares what people who read the first book did with it," says Blankstein. "It's really about transforming schools and taking them from "D" to "A". Some have done this on their own by using the book, and others with Hope Foundation help. It's about working with schools to help them form high performing leadership teams--in order to turn things around in the short term, but to make that happen long term as well."

Listen to my conversation with Alan Blankstein, a bit of how to, leadership building, culture changing, trust and hope.

Reaching for the SKY: Learning.com

William Kelly 1 Learning com I've been following Learning.com for quite awhile. One of my first education technology interviews was a PowerPoint demo of Ah!Ha!Math. At that first meeting Barclay Burns, a Co-Founder, talked about learning communities, and I've often thought about that when chatting with PLN (Personal Learning Network) members. And each year since then I've been impressed with new product offerings and solutions from Learning.com. CEO and Co-Founder Bill Kelly and I always have rewarding and enjoyable conversations that leave me with an education smile. Please listen to my SKY conversation with Bill Kelly, and find out why and how Learning.com is reaching for the clouds, and discover how to get your own piece of the Learning.com SKY!

Mark Luetzelschwab: BrainHoney

Markl  I had a wonderful talk with Mark Luetzelschwab, senior vice president of product marketing and development for BrainHoney from Agilix. BrainHoney offers an individualized learning system, based  on open source API. More than a middleware solution, BrainHoney can help districts manage learning at all levels. Best of all, teachers can get free individual accounts. Most of use know that more and more acceptance for new ideas comes from individual educators trying something out, and sharing with administration. BrainHoney understands this. Please listen to my audio interview with Mark Luetzelschwab; I know you'll learn something.

Augmented Reality: The New Simulation

Patrick_oshea2 In a great conversation with Professor Patrick O'Shea, who has worked on the Handheld Augmented Reality Project with Harvard School of Education Professor Chris Dede, I learned the reality of augmented curriculum today. The interview was set up by the great folks at Qualcomm. Three years ago, I had written a story about Qualcomm's Project K-Nect classrooms, which used smartphones to enhance curriculum and engage student collaboration in a safe way. At that time, Qualcomm was a pioneer in use of cell phones in schools. But this meeting, while it does involve mobile broadband, was about Augmented Reality or AR and student learning.

When Dr. O'Shea asked how much I knew about Augmented Reality, I said that what I knew was more game related, mostly avatar manipulation for science and math. So, in reality, I knew very little about what was new. Rather than using AR mapping techniques of the past, O'Shea's model is designed to have students interact and manipulate their virtual environment. Much of that is helped by the development of better handheld devices and connectivity today. Students can really get involve virtually to solve problems and complete tasks using their avatarsin a fun, game-related way.

On April 21, San Diego's Balboa Park, which already offers students hands on, School in the Park learning programs, will be the site of a pilot for just the augmented reality curriculum Patrick has worked and hope for. Students will work and problem solve their way through an AR lesson based on a Chinese folktale about paper cranes. The story involves kindness to a stranger by a restaurant owner, and the repayment of that kindness by the stranger, which makes the restaurant famous and successful. For more on the folktale, check the picture book The Paper Crane by Molly Bang for her version.

For those educators who think augmented reality and avatars are just for games and science fiction, think of these as new tools for what teachers have always done with students in simulation experiences. Today, with mobile broadband, and any mobile device, students don't have to sit in a group with a large piece of oak tag and colored markers anymore. Instead, students can be away from their desks, using avatars to represent them, as they move through and complete simulated tasks in a more realistic way. Students can become the stranger, or the restaurant owner, in the crane scenario, but imagine the other implications in science, history, or math. This is discovery beyond the walls of classroom.

"We wanted this to be for the general public as well, and we wanted it to be free, so the School in the Park, with its museum connections was a perfect venue," says O' Shea.

Parent Wins Tech Hope

Hope 2a Capistrano Valley High School Principal Beni Christensen of Mission Viejo, California credits a parent for the schools Grand Prize win in Samsung's Four Seasons of Hope.

In an interview, Christensen praised Wendy Harder, a parent who read about the contest for crafting a 100-word essay that read like a play. That entry put Capistrano  into  the top twenty-one contestants. At that point, online voting was opened and the high school became one of three finalists. All top three finishers were invited to New York City, where Eli Manning presented the top prize to Capistrano High School and its 2,850 students.

According to Christensen, in a district looking at $34 million in district budget cuts, winning technology, which includes camcorders, notebooks, software, monitors, and even a classroom assistant dog for special needs students. The total award is valued at $210,000, and was an unexpected blessing. That new technology will replace 6 to 7-year old equipment between now and the end of this school year and the beginning of the next. Samsung is also offering training to go along with all that new technology.

When asked if she had shared the news with her school, Christensen said, "I texted all the assistant principals, so I'm sure the news has spread throughout the district already." 

Partnering with Samsung, which organizes the Four Seasons of Hope, are Best Buy, Direct TV, and Microsoft. Since the beginning of The Four Seasons of Hope awards about $28-million in technology has found its way into needy schools.

Hope1b

Karl Engkvist Talks Blackboard Connect

KarlE2 I had a great conversation with Karl Engkvist, executive vice president of Blackboard Connect. While I've known Blackboard for quite some time, I wanted to hear about Blackboard's mass communication solution. Talking with someone at the company executive level is the best way to not only get the scoop on the "Now", but also a look at the "Future". During our talk, I learned about Blackboard Connect, the acquisition of STN Alert Now (a former competitor), a  mobile Blackboard platform, as well as Blackboard's international ventures. With higher level interviews, I've found that there's usually an unmasked pride of purpose, and a spark of excitement when company officials share a product or solution.

Listen to my conversation with Karl Engkvist of Blackboard:

Archimedes Academy a Bronx Gem

Bronx3 The ancient Syracuse problem-solver Archimedes would have appreciated his namesake Archimedes Academy in the Bronx. This 6-12th grade math, science, and technology NYC public school is run by Miriam Lazara modern day mathematician, Bronx6principal, education entrepreneur, author, and problem solver. Unlike Archimedes, her tasks are a bit more difficultand require a bit more work before shouting Eureka.

Running a successful school, getting corporate sponsorship, providing quality curriculum, with energetic teachers and the technology to back it all up, needs the right person at the helm. I doubt many can say no to "Ms. Miriam" when it comes to her kids, teachers, and school. Makes sense that kids travel from all oversome taking 3 buses, to attend thereand that the school population increases each year. Every space in the building is used. If you're looking for a school example where success breeds success, Archimedes Academy stands at the top of the list.

Bronx4 Archimedes has partnered with Qwizdom, IBM, and Vision Ed Inc. Its computingBronx1 technology runs the playing field with IBMs, Dells, and Macs. Furthermore, the staff maintain blogs and use Google Docs with students. While it is a math, science, and technology school, educating the whole child is the ultimate goal. Students learn fencing, ballroom dancing, and are even part of NYC Golden Gloves competition. And yes, their teams compete and win robotics challenges, too.

Bronx2 Teachers are called by their first namesMr. Andy, Mr. Josh and even Ms. Miriam for Principal Lazar, but in three very different classrooms, I observed respect, kindness and an excitement for learning. There's a pride of uniform, school, and participating. On my way out of one class, I dropped some equipment that I was carrying, and was immediately surrounded by helpers.

When observing a school or classroom, far beyond the technology, I look to see if kids enjoy being students there, as well as whether teachers enjoy teaching there. The Archimedes Academy answers yes to both. Whether you call it student-based, project-based, or experiential learningit's happening at Archimedes in the Bronx. And if Principal Miriam Lazar isn't on a speakers list somewhereshe should be. What she's doing needs to be shared. View my Archimedes Visit Video.

Bronx7 Principal Miriam Lazar at the Robotics competition table.

Mona Westhaver Inspiration

Westhaver Discovering New Inspiration

I had a great reunion interview with Mona Westhaver, Inspiration Software president and co-founder. I hadn't spoken to Mona in quite awhile, so needed an information update on Inspiration 9. I began teaching with the original Inspiration software around 1988, and had used it up to the Inspiration 7 release. Here's a short audio clip of my interview with Mona Westhaver:

I96a During my demo, I noted wonderful additions to make Inspiration more of a self-contained, one-software, organizing, writing, and presenting solution. New features include map view for creating mind maps, adding sound and video anywhere, exporting to PDF, and the ability to share presentations by way of a thumb drive and presentation viewer. The highest praise I can give it, though, is that I know that I could walk into a class, or computer lab and teach with the updated software immediately. My recommendation is that this isn't one of those upgrades you should wait on either--it's that good. I95aDiagramming, writing and organizing with text and searchable images, easily transfer to outline view with a click. And the presentations, themselves, have a PowerPoint slide show familiarity.

Administrators will be pleased that there's new site licensing:

  • Fewer than 300 students: $995
  • 300-499 students: $1,795
  • 500-999 students: $2,450
  • 1000-1999 students: $3,800
  • 2000+ students: $7,200
There's also a special introductory price for upgrades for the new Inspiration 9 until June 30, 2010, a Single Upgrade from a prior version is only $29.95, and there are other special prices for volume license upgrades, based on the quantity.

SMART Mixed Reality: Shaken Not Stirred

My mission: Find out more about SMART's Mixed Reality.

Smart1 I revisited SMART Technologies at TCEA 2010 to check in with President and COO Tom Hodson, as well Smart5as take a look at their new XE student response device, but my secret mission was to get more intelligence regarding SMART's Mixed Reality.

The best description is that it reminds me a lot of those plastic Cracker Jack's  prizes—the plastic squares that when turned in different directions shows a different image. Now take that two-image, no-content, toy and fill a card, or a block with many images that have meaning and data. 3D displays, for want of a better description, magically SMART20002 appear when the cards or blocks are placed under a document camera and displayed. Take it another step further—when the objects are shaken, the images change and the information presentedSmart3 deepens—drilling down through 3D content—just with a shake.

I knew that my still images and explanation wouldn't be enough, so under the guise of senior technology editor for Scholastic, I shot some Mixed Reality Video, which will show a more complete story.

SMART Technologies is still working on the idea, but the education implications of their Mixed Reality make it more of a 3D classroom possibility than 3D-plastic glasses. I had to return to headquarters, but I will follow-up on other missions. This is all top secret, so make sure you don't share any of it!

SMART20003

Kaspersky Lab Security Interview

Visiting Kaspersky Lab in Boston for an on the road Scholastic Interview
(Video of the interview to be posted soon in our online video library)

When many districts think about computer and Web security, usually the names Symantec (Norton) and McCaffee may begin the discussion, but there are many more choices beyond that need to be share. In a recent on the road interview for Scholastic Administrator, I sat down in Boston with Peter Beardmore, Kaspersky Senior Product Marketing Manager.

Eugene Kaspersky founded the company 25 years ago and is still CEO. It began because he had a personal computer/tech problem, and finding no great answer, decided to create one. The company began as a technology licensing company, but today’s mission is anti-virus and fighting malware. Its focuses are protection, performance, manageability, and deployment. The company has an international footprint, but here in the US, K-12 is 30% of their business--and rising.

I knew a bit about Kaspersky Lab products. In my role as instructional technology specialist Kaspersky downloads help me save quite a few faculty laptops from attacks through malicious Web links. It was good to sit down with Beardmore to get an update.

With 3,500 new signature threats defined daily, I asked Beardmore what he thought district administrators should be thinking and looking for today. Where is the biggest threat for schools?

“The largest threat today is from the Web vector, and polymorphic mutating viruses that change appearance. Our biggest threat internationally is cyber crime though,” said Beardmore. “ That said, schools need to also be aware to protect personal information, too.”

I asked teacher-specific tech use, such as Twitter, Facebook, downloading cool plug-ins for Firefox and others, use of thumb drives, and even PDFs.
Beardmore feels that many have a false sense of security. “While many of those have updates, for instance Firefox, some of the updates may not happen throughout or thoroughly. PDFs, which are used in almost every district today make a system extremely vulnerable if not scanned. There has to be a plan first, and with that constantly updated security, said Beardmore. “As far as Web 2.0, and self-publishing to places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging you need to be able to know what’s happening, quickly, so Kaspersky can update each hour, and lets district managers control when to avoid interrupting classes or affecting bandwidth. With heuristics, artificial intelligence monitoring, a district technology person can do it. The key is to discover and remove--without damage.”

Kaspersky has 8am-9pm free support, included with a license, and Premium support that’s 24/7.

Kaspersky also has a great security news service call threatpost with amazing reads and updates by experts who exclusively write about security.

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