Saturday, March 27, 2010

NASA Launches Students into Orbit

In a 20-foot vertical spin tunnel at the NASA Langley Research Center, aerospace technologist Steve Riddick tests free-flying models of fighter aircraft, transport vehicles and capsule vehicles to see how they perform under different conditions.

“It’s one of the better places to give a tour because there’s a lot of visual stimulation with that tunnel,” Riddick said. “You get to actually see something going on, as opposed to some computer collecting data.”

And that’s what STEM is all about. As the United States focuses more on these academic subjects, NASA is on a mission to engage students, educators and families in STEM fields, as well as to strengthen the future workforce of the organization and the nation.

Almost half of NASA’s current workforce consists of baby boomers, and by the end of fiscal year 2010, more than 20 percent of the organization’s workers will be eligible to retire, according to a 2008 presentation by Toni Dawsey, assistant administrator for human capital management at NASA.

The company is now hiring more people from Generation Y to replace retirees. Over the next two fiscal years, NASA projects that it will hire 373 workers in aerospace engineering and 430 in general engineering, specifically with an emphasis on increasing the number of aerospace project managers and systems engineers.

In the past 15 years, new types of positions have emerged in information technology and in automation and robotics, while employment levels in numerous existing positions have increased, Dawsey said.

NASA provides students and educators with a number of ways to learn about STEM careers, including summer research opportunities, team competitions, internships and cooperative education programs.

STEMtech Promotes Interactive Learning

The League for Innovation's annual Conference on Information Technology (CIT) is transitioning into a new conference envisioned as an interactive learning experience with a strong focus on:

  • science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in general education and workforce training; and
  • uses of technology across the institution.

“Excitement is building about the new STEMtech conference,” said League Board Chair Jackson Sasser, president of Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla. “STEMtech provides an opportunity for community college technology specialists, CIOs and other educators who use technology to continue gathering around topics of specific interest to them, while acknowledging the growing importance of STEM disciplines in community college education.”

STEMtech will be available to participants in two formats: on site and online. The 2010 on-site conference will be held Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Online activities will be available Nov. 1-2 and will include live streaming of general sessions, track keynotes and special sessions, as well as several webinars.

“Providing an online option was at the forefront of planning and developing the format for STEMtech,” said League President and CEO Gerardo E. de los Santos. “Those who would like to participate and contribute to an international conference but are unable to do so because of distance or budget constraints will now be able to share and learn through the online option.”

STEMtech conference tracks include five in the STEM areas:

  1. Health and Science;
  2. Energy, Environment, and Sustainability;
  3. Mathematics, Engineering, and Architecture;
  4. Manufacturing, Industry, and Agriculture; and
  5. Technology and Communication

Two tracks will also be offered in institutional technology;

  1. Technology Systems and Applications; and
  2. eLearning Resources

Grant Attracts Minorities to STEM Fields

The University of Texas at El Paso has received a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for nearly $2.9 million.

The “Science for a Sustainable Future: Developing the Next Generation of Diverse Scientists” award will provide fellowships to minority graduate students in NSF-supported disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The doctoral students will build their science and teaching portfolios and bring their leading research findings into K-12 learning settings in an effort to inspire the next generation of scientists.

The fellows will serve as a STEM resource for El Paso’s Early College High School (ECHS) science teachers and as mentors for the students, helping them build practical understandings of science.

“This success in securing federal funding from the National Science Foundation is a good example of the quality of competitive proposals UTEP faculty generate, integrating education and research benefiting our students and consistent with UTEP’s mission,” said Roberto Osegueda, vice president of research and sponsored projects.

A recruitment effort for beginning doctoral students is under way for the program, called NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education. Aaron Velasco, Ph.D., chair of geological sciences; Vanessa Lougheed, Ph.D., assistant professor in biological sciences; and William Robertson, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Education are the faculty leaders who are recruiting incoming doctoral students for the program.

The fellows will help develop ECHS’s science curriculum around the theme “Science for a Sustainable Future,” with a particular focus on the arid Southwest. Specific challenges facing our border desert populations will be addressed:

  • Limited water resources in a changing climate
  • The potential for alternative energy resources
  • A rapidly growing, diverse population and environmental health issues in a multi-national community
  • Geological hazards facing the region

“The idea is to give these students real exposure to the scientific challenges of the region and hopefully inspire them to go into STEM fields,” Velasco said.

The ECHS, recently established in El Paso, brings an innovative approach to high school education by reaching out to young people currently underrepresented in higher education, enabling them to earn up to two years of college credit in addition to their high school diploma, and providing them with the skills to increase their success in college.

One of the goals of this new grant is to complement the current partnership between UTEP and the ECHS and to help facilitate the transition to a four-year university.

The NSF grant complements other training efforts at UTEP and serves to enhance the role of one of the top three Hispanic degree-granting universities in the U.S. as an emerging hub of research and training activities involving the next generation of Hispanic scientists and engineers.

With its growing Ph.D. programs, top faculty, and current demographic, UTEP is poised to lead the way for training minority Ph.D. future scientists and leaders.

Technology + Perseverance = Innovation

Dean Kamen is an inventor, an entrepreneur and a tireless advocate for science and technology. His passion for technology and its practical uses has driven his personal determination to spread the word about technology’s virtues, and by so doing, to change the culture of the United States. In addition to founding DEKA Research and Development, one of Kamen's proudest accomplishments is founding FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use and enjoy science and technology.

How did you get to where you are today?

Necessity is the mother of invention. As a young kid, I decided I didn’t like being told what to do. I liked to understand the problem at hand and decide how to go about solving it myself. I also decided early on I didn’t like being judged by people. It occurred to me as a kid, “Wow, if I can’t deal with this, and deal with somebody judging me as a kid when I’m in school and it’s supposed to be fun, and it's easy, and you’re a kid and you only go to school for a little bit, what am I going to do when I grow up and I have to have a job and a boss and somebody to judge me?” I decided I will learn what I need to know so that I can solve problems in new and different ways, and if my solutions are really good, people will pay me for them. I will supply value to the world and the world will supply recognition and reward for me, and I won’t be judged by some arbitrary teacher or parent or boss. I’ll be judged by history — did I make stuff that the world wanted and needed?

What are the qualities required to be at the forefront of innovation?

I think innovation needs a lot of things. I think in many fields, having the technology capability is certainly a huge piece of what it takes, but in reality, innovation takes perseverance. It takes the willingness to fail, and fail, and fail, and then fail a little bit more. So innovation has a lot to do with technology, but it also has a lot to do with patience and perseverance and persuasiveness. Getting the world to change is not easy.

How do you go about prioritizing your innovation queue?

The way I prioritize is, primarily, it has to be an important project. It has to be a project that, if we succeed at it, it will have been worth trading the amount of time and effort and energy we put into it, which is why I work on medical devices and artificial organs and prosthetic limbs and water for the developing world. I don’t have time to work on nonsense or amusements or silly toys and products that don’t matter.

How do you measure the effectiveness of any one of your innovations?

When you look at the impact you have on the lives of people with medical products, it always makes you feel like you made a good choice. If you’re getting good results and you’re providing them to lots of people, or in the case of something like FIRST, talking to the kids and seeing that you’ve changed their attitudes — you know that their life is going to go a different way because they’ve been involved with FIRST.

How is FIRST making a difference in students’ education?

It gives these kids self-confidence; it gives them the ability to analyze their own situation and what their options are in life; and typically it gives them a reason to focus on working hard at learning. As a result, they’re more valuable to themselves, their families, their companies, their country — it’s just a win for everybody.

Literacy Learning with Electric

Editor’s Note: It’s amazing how “at home” two adults can feel sitting in Oscar the Grouch’s shadow as he lounges in his iconic garbage can. As Converge Editor in Chief Marina Leight and writer Mark Gura were waiting to enter the offices of Sesame Workshop, they saw no point in putting on their game faces while Oscar stared them down: Everyone around them was smiling as broadly as red-furred Elmo and the other "The Electric Company" cast members. Marina and Mark also smiled broadly as they sat down for an in-depth discussion with the show’s creative team leaders.

The opening sequence of “The Electric Company” always presents a literacy learning problem and concludes with one of the characters shouting, “Hey you guys!”

That iconic signal, kept from the original series of the 1970s, is a clarion call to begin each episode’s 30 minutes of fun and learning.

"The Electric Company," produced by the nonprofit Sesame Workshop, formerly Children’s Television Workshop, broadcast 780 episodes from October 1975 to April 1977 with such notable talents as Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks.

In January, the 2009 "The Electric Company" debuted as a mini-marathon, with each new episode featuring a story designed to teach four to five vocabulary words. In addition to the TV show, the new series also has a Web site where kids can watch videos, play games on demand and create a personal profile, introducing them to an age-appropriate version of social networking.Sesame Workshop's new version of 'The Electric Company' engages its audience at home, in the classroom and in the digital world.

In many ways, the new series demonstrates how the digital environment can be effectively structured to provide rich educational experiences for today's tech-savvy generation.

Digital learning comes of age

"The Electric Company" is poised to impact literacy and attitudes about learning in truly 21st-century ways.

It’s as if the best approaches to reach kids — entertainment, solid pedagogy and a modern Web site to support learning — have coalesced in a perfect storm of instructional content presentation guaranteed to be welcomed by today’s early readers, defined as kids in first through second grade.

The show takes full advantage of a confluence of resources comprised of:

  • an accomplished, well-informed education team that determines the most needed and relevant curriculum and pedagogy for today’s young learners;
  • a staff of experienced TV writers and producers, well steeped in the methods and approaches of a sophisticated and competitive media marketplace; and
  • a 21st-century dissemination scheme, embracing a synergistic continuum of media and formats.

Media Tools Boost Literacy

In the classroom, public television shows, such as "Sesame Street" and "Between the Lions," and interactive games help preschool children develop critical literacy skills and better prepares them for kindergarten, according to a new study conducted by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and SRI International. The study analyzed literacy skills in young children, including their ability to name letters, associate sounds with the letters and understand story concepts and printed words.

"Many studies have shown that computer technologies can improve learning for students in kindergarten through grade 12, but using digital media in preschool has been controversial," said lead researcher Shelley Pasnik, director of EDC's Center for Children and Technology.

Commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the study examined 398 low-income children in 80 preschool classes in New York City and San Francisco. For 10 weeks, these students, mostly from low-income communities, were taught through active video viewing and hands-on activities with letters, sounds and books. Research collected from January to June of this year found that students using this curriculum increased their literacy skills significantly: The bottom 20 percent of preschoolers in the study learned an average of 7.5 more letters than did children who did not participate.

"We know public media can improve literacy skills when kids watch at home; what we didn't know is that content from multiple shows could be effectively integrated into a curriculum and implemented by teachers," said William Penuel, director of evaluation research for SRI's Center for Technology and Learning. "If media can be harnessed to help close this literacy gap, as this study has shown, it's a powerful new tool for preschool teachers."

Partnership for 21st Century Skills Releases State Implementation Guides

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) released the State Implementation Guides – which offer best practices on building standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development and learning environments – to help integrate skills (such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication) more purposefully into core academic subjects (such as mathematics, reading, science, history and others).

“I hope to encourage more states to join the 21st century learning movement to ensure our next generation of leaders are prepared for and inspired to achieve careers in innovative, inventive areas that might not even exist today,” said Kathy Hurley, P21 executive board and strategic council chair, and senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Pearson. “With these new guides, P21 provides support for educators nationwide who are integrating skills like critical thinking and problem solving into their education frameworks. Knowing the critical role teachers and administrators play in preparing our youth for tomorrow’s challenges, the guides include professional development opportunities in addition to curriculum, assessment and instructional suggestions.”

The guides demonstrate that no skills implementation can be successful without developing core academic subject knowledge and understanding among all students – students who can think critically and communicate effectively must build on a base of core academic subject knowledge to be successful in today’s world. In addition, it is important to note that the support systems discussed in the guides are not merely ends, but means to a greater goal.

The Partnership released the guides at ASCD’s Fall Conference on Teaching and Learning after receiving extensive feedback from practitioners, policy-makers, academics, business and community leaders and others throughout the year, including during the P21 Cyber and National Summits in June 2009.

Brodcast Projects Promote Literacy

Some students may not be interested in reading books or writing reports, but one teacher at Christiansburg Elementary School in Virginia has found a way to motivate them: podcasting. In Angela Williams' summer class, elementary students have been creating podcasts, and it's been a really good "incentive" for those who struggle with literacy, The Roanoke Times reports.

Williams is using podcasts — audio or video programs delivered through computers and MP3 players — as part of a program offered by the Montgomery County schools' office of gifted education. She is one of two teachers at the elementary school who piloted the state's Learning without Boundaries program last year. The project, organized in part by Radford University, Virginia Tech and Apple, put the iPod Touch and other wireless electronics devices in students' hands to find out how effective they are as teaching tools.

She said some students didn't want to write scripts for podcasts, but instead choose to help find audio to go with the words. After seeing how it worked, reluctant students quickly became motivated and wanted to write their own. She plans to keep the podcasting lessons going this fall, and she said she views the audio-editing software as an alternative form for students' book reports and projects.

Blogging Teachers Face Policy Barriers

Is there a limit for what teachers can say when it comes to blogging? And if so, where is the line and who should determine how far is too far?

These are some of the questions that Jay Mathews is raising in his education column in the Washington Post. Mathews talks about the blogging situation with Michele Kerr, an educator who blogs under the Internet name "Cal Lanier."

According to the column, supervisors of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) at Stanford's School of Education decided Kerr’s anti-progressive views and blogs were alienating students in classes.

Kerr said the leaders tried to stifle her opinions and her blog, and threatened to withhold the Master in Education she was working toward. She said they expressed fear that she was “unsuited for the practice of teaching.”

Kerr ultimately won the dispute, but Mathews writes that the struggle highlights flaws in education systems that try to prevent independent thought on the blogs of teachers. Many times, these institutions have no defined policy on blogging.

But do such restrictions counteract the push for educators to learn the 21st-century skills such as blogging and social networking? Mathews thinks so. He said he thinks the Web debates between Kerr and himself offer many teachable insights.

Even though Kerr isn't currently blogging, she advises teachers to be cautious when it comes to blogs. She said she feels “teacher blogs are an open area crying out for guidelines — and not just at Stanford...The mere existence of a blog is considered trouble — even though there are literally thousands of teacher blogs out there.”

Students See World Beyond the Classroom

Four-hundred years ago, the legendary Galileo created a device called the telescope to gaze into space from a distance. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first use of the telescope in astronomy, schools in the southeast region of Australia united for a star-gazing project, where students used modern-day distance learning devices to interact remotely.

In New South Wales, Australia, students attend schools in various locations, from the coastal capital of Sydney to the in-land rural, mining city Broken Hill. Organized by Western NSW Region, the "Learn Astronomy From Our School" project brought more than 2,000 K-12 students together in 63 virtual classrooms last Spring.

For the astronomy-themed project, each school group produced a video conference presentation. They had to come up with an engaging title and a summary of the information. They also advertised their projects to participants for two weeks in advance. At the end of the school term, students spent 25 minutes presenting content in each session with up to seven other classes dialing in to watch their peers and pose questions.

Video conferencing tools allowed participants to not only learn about the final frontier, but also share their knowledge with other classes. For example, five students at Willyama High School presented "Journey to the Moon and Back.” Students say they learned a lot about Apollo Missions 11 and 13. In the Sydney Region, at Coogee Public School, students gathered information for "the Mars Rovers." Students used Notebook 10 and Garage Band for the presentation. They also interacted with the audience by creating a play, song and a quiz show. The collaboration, officials say, created a sense for students of being part of a learning community.

But the project wasn't just aimed at students. It also allowed administrators to get more hands-on experience with the learning tool.

"The project’s purpose was to enhance the video conferencing skills of teachers and students," said Ann-Marie Furney, School Education Director and Senior User in the Interactive Classrooms Project, "as well as further develop the students learning in IT and science syllabus outcomes."

Steps to Building a Successful School

When the final bell rang in three Kentucky high schools, students climbed into buses to go home, but many of them left without understanding concepts that their teachers taught them that day.

Kids who needed more help couldn't follow their teachers home, and teachers couldn't talk on the phone each night with every kid who needed extra instruction or acceleration, said Heath Cartwright, the district technology coordinator and director of professional development at McCracken County Public Schools in Paducah.

That changed when the district started providing laptops for high school students and teachers last year. Now teachers use their laptops to communicate with students after school, and the students work on group projects at home.

“It takes a tremendous amount of work and patience to get teachers ready and to get administrators ready and to get your IT department ready, but what’s already in place is that the students are ready," Cartwright said. "They’re waiting on us.”

And in Kentucky, school districts are learning from each other so that their laptop programs will become effective tools in the hands of well-trained students and teachers. Here are six things to do to make laptops in education effective.

1. Set goals

Before districts introduce laptops, they should determine their purpose.

“The school needs to establish upfront what the goals and objectives are of their program and how they’re going to measure those,” said Mike Manning, vice president of business development for the consulting firm Educational Collaborators.

Laptop projects fail when they have no focus and no realistic goals, said Rory Fundora, the chief information officer and district technology coordinator of Todd County Schools in Elkton. That's why her district has made its focus clear: Help students hone skills that will allow them to find well-paying jobs, go to college and be successful.

Over the past number of years, the major manufacturing jobs in the county disappeared, which caused unemployment rates to skyrocket. The 2,200 students in the small district needed an edge to compete for jobs with their peers in the larger districts that surrounded them, and they got it with the individual laptop program.

Two months after the high school teachers received their laptops, each student checked out one of the 900 machines in January 2009. At the same time, the elementary and middle schools received about 220 MacBooks on mobile carts so that they would be prepared to use them in high school.

Todd County has already surpassed its first-year goals, which included training teachers to create podcasts, build Web sites, start blogs, work with wikis and mix the tools into their teaching. This year, teachers will focus on updating their lesson plans to include tools such as online maps and virtual tours of museums. The plans will be posted online so that other teachers can find ideas and remix the activities for their classes.

2. Gather support

Throughout the process of researching and starting a laptop program, the community needs to be involved. At Todd County Central High School, students gave their input and learned about their responsibilities.

“I’ll never forget the very first assembly we did with them," Fundora said. "One of my sophomore girls stood up, and she said, ‘You know what? I am sick and tired of hearing that you can’t do this ’cause you’re from little old Todd County.’ She said ‘I’m ready to show them what little old Todd County can do.’”

Before Marshall County School District decided to give teachers laptops, administrators sent surveys to them to find out if they were interested and what value the tools would have, said John David Son, chief information officer. Once the team members found that teachers were interested, they talked to district leaders and stakeholders in Benton. Currently, they're laying the foundation for a 1:1 project by providing laptops to teachers in July.

3. Evaluate needs

Over a period of two months, the staff at McCracken County Public Schools worked long hours and traveled many miles to learn from other schools with successful programs, including Todd County Schools and Westside High School in Omaha, Neb.

Cartwright's staff had to address what kind of wireless environment they would need, whether they should hire additional staff, how to insure the laptops, what their acceptable use policy should look like and how to build professional development learning communities within the buildings.

4. Find funding

When schools look into the cost of a laptop program, they should take a variety of factors into consideration, including what the program could save them, he said. Because teachers and students pass assignments back and forth digitally, they don't need to copy worksheets or tests, which cuts down printing costs.

The 7,000-student school district had recently deployed hundreds of new PC desktops in its three high schools, so when it bought 2,130 laptops, the IT staff reallocated the desktops to to the elementary and middle schools, which also saved them money.

“If you embrace the potential and the opportunities presented in a 1:1, then it just becomes a matter of, 'OK, instead of where are we going to find the money,'" Cartwright said, "you look at it as 'how are we going to make this work.'”

Parents whose kids take their laptops home pay an annual insurance consortium membership of $40 to the district, half the cost that other districts paid for third-party insurance.

In Todd County, administrators combed their budget line by line to see how they could cut and where they could move funds around. They also negotiated good terms from Apple on a four-year, $1.2 million lease, as well as a recycling program where they'll swap out everything they have between years three and four, Fundora said.

5. Train teachers

She advises other schools to look at the complete solutions that vendors provide, not just which machine is cheaper, because no one can put laptops in students' hands and expect them to transform learning. The key to a successful laptop program is professional development for teachers.

“Teachers are very used to being the leaders in the classroom," Fundora said, "and when you hand students computers, they’re running circles around those teachers."

That's why schools need to empower their teachers so that they can become confident with using the laptops and helping students learn with them.

When teachers are not prepared, that oversight can have disastrous effects, said consultant Alex Inman from Educational Collaborators. He pointed to a 2007 New York Times story that detailed the multi-million dollar failure of some laptop programs, including one at Liverpool Central School District in New York. There, the teachers were apathetic of the program, and the students abused their laptop privileges.

“If your teachers weren’t bought in and didn’t understand what it’s purpose was and weren’t trained to take advantage of the resource that the taxpayers had provided them, that’s a real problem,” Inman said. "That article was every tech director’s nightmare who runs a 1:1 program.”

As Marshall County School District is planning its laptop program, the IT team will tackle the big challenge of staff training and professional development for its nearly 400 teachers. Not all the teachers have the same level of skills with laptops, so they need proper training that applies to them, Son said.

Novice users will need time to get used to the laptops, as well as interactive whiteboards, clickers and document cameras.

“We want to make sure they’re comfortable with those tools before we start showing them how to technically integrate those in the classroom,” Son said.

The teachers in McCracken County learned how to mix the tools into their teaching from each other. Once a month, an Apple consultant met with 5 teachers from each school and trained them on the MacBooks, said Molly Goodman, technology integration specialist.

Those teachers went back to their schools and led training sessions on basic operations such as what iPhoto and iMovie could do. Now that the program is in its second year, a different set of teachers are leading training sessions, and Goodman spends at least one day a week at each school to help teachers in their classrooms.

6. Engage students

In a class, 30 kids might be more proficient in iMovie than their teachers, which is why teachers should allow students to learn from each other and design projects and assessments.

You can’t be afraid of letting kids be creative," Goodman said. "You can’t be afraid of giving kids ownership of their classroom and making them contributors to what it is they do every day, and that’s probably the biggest thing that we’ve been pushing from minute one.”

The laptops have allowed Todd County educators and students to change their teaching and learning.

“It was more of a toy to them last year," Fundora said. "This year it’s become that tool. We made them wait the first two weeks of school before we gave them back to them this year, and they were beating my door down.”

In science classes, students do virtual labs online and create podcasts of what they learned so that others can access them. Instead of writing a report about suicide or drug use, teens create video public service announcements so that they can help others who might be in bad situations.

Fundora will never forget the day last year when they were collecting the laptops at the end of school. One of the boys gave her a hug and said that he was about to quit school in December because he was bored and didn't feel challenged, but he decided to give the laptops a shot. He told her that he was starting college in the fall, which brought tears to Fundora's eyes.

Discipline referalls have been down in both Todd and McCracken county schools since the laptop program started because most of the kids who were not excited about the traditional school setting have become interested in education again.

“We’ve had our bumps in the road like anybody will," Cartwright said, "but we feel without a doubt that we are preparing our students to have not only a better education, but better futures with this initiative.”

School Districts Can Apply for $650 Million Contest

Five months after Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the priorities for the Investing in Innovation competition, he finalized the rules and published the application package today.

To qualify, school districts must show that they are either supporting effective teachers and principals, improving the use of data to accelerate student learning, creating college and career level standards and assessments, or turning around low-performing schools.

While states are eligible for the Race to the Top competition, they are not eligible for the innovation competition. Individual school districts, groups of districts and districts with nonprofit partners get the chance to show how they can improve education in their area.

School districts have until mid-May to apply for the $643.5 million grant program, and grants will be awarded in September. In the meantime, representatives from the Education Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement will host workshops in Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver to give them more information. These workshops can also be viewed online.

In addition to the workshops, the department started an Open Innovation Portal so that entrepreneurs and education stakeholders can work together to improve education in schools.

This contest places high importance on evidence that districts' practices, strategies or programs are effective. The level of evidence that they have determines which grants they can apply for.

Scale-up grants

Focus on programs and practices that could reach more than 100,00 students and have strong evidence that they have improved student achievement.

Award estimates:

  • Average size: $40 million
  • Number: up to 5

Validation grants

Programs have good evidence of their impact, but are ready to expand.

Award estimates:

  • Average size: $17.5 million
  • Number: up to 100

Development grants

Support new and high-potential practices that need to be studied further to see if they're effective.

Award estimates:

  • Average size: $3 million
  • Number: up to 100

Peer reviewers will look over the applications, score them and make comments, just like the Race to the Top competition. The department is looking for peer reviewers now, so check out the requirements and e-mail your resume and an information checklist by March 18 if you're interested.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Python Enterprise-Wide at the University


The IT Services department at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, develops and maintains software systems used in a variety of capacities throughout the university.

I had several years of experience working with Perl when I took my first serious look at Python back in 1999. Our team's projects were becoming bigger and more complex, and it was obvious that we needed to bring to them more structure and clarity. I had been looking at Java for some time, but its potential benefits seemed to come at the cost of a steep learning curve, and an overall increase in development time. In contrast, Python appeared to offer the prospect of having both clarity and productivity at the same time. And if we ever needed to make use of Java's class libraries there was always Jython, an implementation of Python for the JVM. The increasing number of Python books being published testified to the language's growing popularity, and the number of available libraries was beginning to rival Perl's. This convinced me to give Python a try.

Python Finds a Home

Soon thereafter, I introduced Python to my fellow developers in the IT Services department at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. It is now the mainstay of our software development efforts.

Python has been used successfully by IT Services for a number of projects. These have included systems administration scripts, where it is used alongside Perl and shell scripts, and also sizeable enterprise systems deployed across the university.

By using it on a number of projects, we have come to understand that Python's dynamic nature, support for high-level data structures, and easy object-orientation all lower the barrier to writing well-structured reusable code in less time. The language's clear and simple syntax helps to reveal the sense (or otherwise!) of our code. This makes it easier to understand and reason about code during development and - more critically - during later maintenance. The fact that Python is so easy to learn has been quite useful as well.

Offical site

Renmin University of China

Renmin University of China (RUC, also known as the People's University of China) is a key university in China. The RUC's strengths emphasize the humanities and social sciences, however, the university also embraces disciplines in the area of natural sciences. The RUC is a comprehensive research-orientated university.

The RUC was established in 1937, during the resistance war against Japanese aggression. The University acquired its present name on October 3, 1950, which made it the first university to be established by the newly founded People's Republic of China.

Well-known educators including Wu Yuzhang, Cheng Fangwu, Yuan Baohua. Huang Da, and Li Wenhai have all served as president of the University. The RUC incumbent president is Professor Ji Baocheng, and Professor Cheng Tianquan is the Chairman of the University Council.

Since its establishment, RUC students and teachers have always endeavored to carry out its redoubtable injunction to "unceasingly strive to be always in the vanguard". The RUC shares a common fate with the Party and the nation. Through prudence, dedicated effort, active and practical exploration, the RUC has become an important teaching and research base in the areas of the humanities, social sciences, and management science in China. Owing to its efforts in spreading and popularizing Marxism in China, for its achievements in developing philosophy and the social sciences in China, and on account of its indispensable contributions to the cause of socialist construction and reform, the RUC is regarded as "A Standard in the Humanities and Social Sciences in China?ˉs Higher Education Sector".

With undergraduate education as the base and an emphasis on postgraduate education, supplemented by adult education courses and online learning, the RUC has formed a multi-dimensional structure and multilevel system in education and research. The RUC has a Graduate School which is responsible for the administration of postgraduate students, and RUC now comprises twenty-one schools of different disciplines (a Chemistry Department has been established for the near future creation of a School of Natural Sciences). The RUC also has a substantial number of research centers, fourteen transitional centers for post-doctoral fellows, and also a School of Continuing Education, a School of Education and Training, and the Shenzhen Research Institute. The RUC ranks first in three areas among all universities in China: there are six national research bases in fundamental disciplines in the literary arts; thirteen key national research bases in the humanities and social sciences; and twenty-five essential domestic disciplines are taught on campus, which places the RUC first in the social sciences and humanities nationwide.

Offical Site

Quaid-i-azam University


This University was established as University of Islamabad under an Act of National Assembly passed in July, 1967. It started teaching and research program for M.Phil & Ph.D. degrees. Later on, it was decided to start M.Sc. degree program for graduates from all regions of the country, based on regional quota. The University was housed initially in rented buildings in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi and moved to its permanent Campus in October 1971. The University was renamed as "Quaid-i-Azam University" in 1976 at the time of centenary celebrations of the Founder of Pakistan. The University is recognized in Pakistan and abroad as an Institution of higher academic standards and its graduates receive acceptance in universities and research institutions the world over. The University has also established research collaboration with selected universities/research organizations in United States, Europe and South Asia. The University is rated as one of top public institution of higher education in Pakistan which has qualified team of teachers and researchers. More than 80% of the teachers hold doctoral degrees with experience of working in renowned universities of the world. The University has the distinction of having a large number of distinguished scientists and educationists as its faculty members, holding national awards and international recognition.
The University presently admits about 750 students in its Master's degree program, 300 to M.Phil and 200 to Ph.D. annually. In addition about 300 students are admitted in MBA, M.Sc. Computer Science, Economics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics, Biology, Electronics, Earth Sciences, Physics and Pakistan. Studies on self financed evening program in Fall Semester (September to January).
At present the University has the following Faculties, Departments, Centers and Institutes offering degree programs.

Offical Site

University of the Punjab

Established in 1882 at Lahore

Established in 1882 at Lahore, the University of the Punjab is the largest and the oldest seat of higher learning in Pakistan. It was the first to be established in the sub-continent in Muslim majority area. The fact that three Nobel laureates are from this University speaks volumes for its academic and research excellence.

Located in the historical and culturally alive city of Lahore, this University has played a leading role in higher education in the country. The University strives to provide a conducive environment for the pursuit of the academic activities. On account of its quality degrees, pleasant environment and low tuition fees the University remains the institution of first choice for admission seeking students.

Allama Iqbal Campus, named after the great South Asian thinker and mystic poet, with Islamic architectural design is in the middle of the bustling city of Lahore.

Quaid-i-Azam Campus, after the name of the father of the Nation, is located 12 kilometers to the South of Allama Iqbal Campus. Spread over an area of 1800 acres of lush green landscape, this campus is the centre of academic and administrative activities of the University. A canal dividing the academic blocks from the student lodgings and adds to the beauty of the campus.

The University has also a summer campus at Khanaspur, located at a height of about 7,000 ft. in the Himalayan range near Ayubia. This Campus, in addition to providing research facilities, is also used as a recreational centre for the faculty and the students.

The University has also started Campus at Gujranwala, with four disciplines i.e. Business Administration, Commerce, Law and Information Technology. Few more disciplines will be added in near future.

The University comprises of 4 Campuses, 13 Faculties, 9 constituent colleges, over 63 Departments, Centres, Institutes, and 500+ affiliated colleges. It has over 620 permanent faculty members involved in teaching/research and over 30,000 on campus students. Annually there are about 350 exams for 450,000 students.

Offical site

Saturday, March 13, 2010

kobe University

Kobe University, working in a spirit of integrity, freedom, and cooperation in keeping with its open and cosmopolitan culture and environs, aims to contribute to the global community through the creation of knowledge founded on universal values and the fostering of rich understanding and strong leadership skills.

Toward Global Excellence in Research and Education

Kobe University Vision2015 "Toward Global Excellence in Research and Education"

Kobe University, working in a spirit of integrity, freedom, and cooperation in keeping with its open and cosmopolitan culture and environs, is committed to achieving Global Excellence by 2015.

Excellence in Research

Kobe University strives to achieve continuing international recognition as an institution for its outstanding work in designated core research areas founded on traditional disciplines and incorporating newly created inter-disciplinary initiatives.

Excellence in Education

Kobe University, in keeping with its Charter on Education and through its outstanding educational program, strives to achieve international recognition as an institution of higher learning, fostering individuals with deep insight, global perspective, rich understanding and strong leadership skills.

Excellence in its Contribution to Society

Kobe University strives to achieve local and international recognition for its contribution to society through the dissemination of research findings, provision of highly qualified human resources working globally in a wide range of fields, and the promotion of advanced medical and therapeutic technology.

Excellence in University Management

Kobe University strives, through the realization of the Kobe University Vision 2015, to ensure that all members of the university community have opportunities for self-fulfillment and to respond to the expectations of its stakeholders.

Offical sites

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