Monthly Archives: October 2011

Special Olympics

Today we got a letter from the Special Olympics. Its fund raising time, again, boys and girls!

The Special Olympics started over forty years ago, as a small day camp for individuals with intellectual disabilities. the main goal of the camp was to help the capers to explore the world of athleticism and their physical abilities. Five years later, the first Special Olympics was held, with roughly 1,000 participants. Nowadays, the Special Olympics are an international event held semi-annually, on odd years.

The Special Olympics are held to encourage the participants and others facing the same challenges to explore their abilities and become more confident. At the same time, the games promote understanding among others. On the official website, you find these words:

Dignity, acceptance, and a chance to reach one’s potential – these are human rights worth promoting for everyone. For more than four decades, Special Olympics has been bringing one message to the world: people with intellectual disabilities can and will succeed if given the opportunity.

New Bill to Adapt No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind is an act passed in 2001 to regulate the public education system in the United States, requiring certain standards to be met.  This act has met many critics in education and administration.

A new bill has been voted through by a committee that would adapt the NCLB act, though it has yet to pass in either house.  This is the Harkin-Enzi Bill.  It was pushed through largely because the committee members were frustrated with the administration’s offering of waivers to some states allowing them to avoid the law’s key provisions.

The new bill would limit federal control in most public schools, while increasing the national government’s oversight of certain schools with low performance.  Critique of the bill however, claims that it would inflate spending in a way that the government can not currently afford.  The bill would also require schools to begin keeping and offering records on what percentage of children went on to college level education and what percentage of those graduated.  However, there may be  flaws with this provision.  Simply counting students who attend post-secondary education is not necessarily an accurate measure of how many students were intellectually and educationally prepared for it.

What are your thoughts on the new bill?  While most agree the current No Child Left Behind laws are not what is needed, may disagree with this new option as well, for a umber of valid reasons.

The Outlook on Mobile Payment Systems

A digital wallet is a service that allows one to use one’s mobile device as a payment medium, much like a credit card.  Google Wallet is one of the major front runners, along with their competitor Isis.  While Google seems to have a lead due to their presence in the smartphone market via the Android operating system, there are several other players who have various associations with credit card and phone provider companies.  Paypal is also in competition with Google on this front, through they say that adoption of mobile payment systems is further away than some think.

The mobile payment system still faces some issues – particularly the security concerns of users.    Some individuals worry that phones could be lost or stolen.  Personally, I think this is the same issue people face with credit cards.  Even if the phone is lost, users will need to enter a 4 digit code.  Additionally, the app will not store identification, so users will still need to carry their IDs with them for use.  Further, while the phone is asleep, you won’t be able to make transactions.  This means that no sleeping phone (in your pocket for instance) can unknowingly be charged.

The wallet system has been unveiled for American Eagle Outfitters, The Container Store, Foot Locker, Guess, Jamba Juice, Macy’s, OfficeMax, and Toys R Us as of last week.

The Intel Classmate by Chester Creek

Earlier today, I was browsing articles online, and I came across this list of tech innovations that could change the world. Included on this list are improved sanitation, alternative energy, and one item we’re fairly familiar with here at Chester Creek:  The Intel Powered Classmate. The Classmate is part of an initiative by Intel to bring technology to children across the world.  In fact, they have sent over four million laptops to places with low technology availability like Argentina.

The Chester Classmate - a rugged and portable tablet PC laptop with color-coded keyboard.

This rugged tablet computer is particularly suited to the task at hand.  The tablet PC has been created to be durable, with a rugged case – drop tested from desk height – and some models have also been tested in extreme temperatures.  The other thing that really sets this line apart is that they include a “software suite of education tools to help teachers in the classroom,” and keep students engaged.

You can read more on Intel’s press release fact sheet.  You can also see Chester Creek’s own version of the Classmate with the our unique, color-coded keyboard
specially designed to improve typing skills in students on our website.

Jobs Brought Computers to the Classroom

Steve Jobs died last week.  Articles about this man’s life and death have been written by the score across all forms of media.  Steve Jobs was a man who influenced history.  He designed and marketed one of the first successful personal computers.

Part of Apple’s early marketing effort includes introducing the personal computer to the classroom.

Since the sixties, public and private schools have been utilizing computers.  However, for a long time, this usage was confined to universities.  What’s more, they were not computers as we know them, but rather mainframes.  A mainframe at that time was a very large and powerful (for its time) computer that mostly did very basic computations with paper punch input still common even in the mid- to late-sixties.  Even when computers moved into K-12 level schools, they were rarely found in the actual classrooms.

When Apple began producing computers for individual use, they also had to create a market.  Jobs and Apple began donating computers to schools for instructional use by teachers in the mid seventies.  At that point, mainframe usage began to lose dominance in education.  Although there were stumbling blocks, computer usage is common in almost every classroom across America today.  Today, Microsoft machines have become predominate in most of the country’s school districts due to their comparative affordability.   That being said, the market and even idea of computers in elementary and high school classrooms was not considered realistic until Jobs created the market.  No one thought that children were capable of using computers until then.

In large part, we have Jobs to thank not just for Apple computers, but also for the prevalence of computers in learning.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This October is the first National Disability Employment Awareness month.  (Yes, we know it’s a mouthful.)   President Obama has declared it so.  Our government defines disability in the following way:

  • A person may be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning).
  • A person may be disabled if he or she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
  • A person may be disabled if he is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).

A number of organizations provide support for disability employment.  This support can take a number of forms:

  • Federal law requires that employers make reasonable accommodation for disabled employees.  This means that any accommodations that do not cause significant expense or difficulty for the employer must be made for employees or potential employees who have  a disability.
  • Training and education is provided by many organizations for individuals with disabilities.  This may be to help them seek employment for the first time or to re-train to obtain or return to employment after incurring a disability in some way.
  • Some organizations work to match individuals with jobs that they will find suitable and fulfilling.  These programs are generally non-profits, and may either work one of two ways.  One way is to help connect employers and employees for a traditional work arrangement.  The other is to hire individuals with disabilities directly and find work for them with third party employers on a full- or part-time basis, temporarily or indefinitely.
You can read the full text of President Obama’s press release on the White House website.

Scores for MN standard tests are out

Last year’s AYP scores came out for Minnesota recently.  The state Department of Education defines these scores as:

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is a means of measuring, through standards and assessments, the achievement of No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) goal.  The goal of NCLB is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

Every year, students in the sixth grade take standardized tests.  In Minnesota, those tests are referred to as the MCATs – the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-Series tests.  Schools are graded not only on how well the students perform, but also on how many of them actually take the tests and what attendance is like on a day-to-day basis.    The scores also break students down into subgroups: all students; American Indian/Alaskan Native students; Hispanic students; Black students not of Hispanic origin; Asian/Pacific Islander students; White students not of Hispanic origin; limited English proficient students; students eligible for free- or reduced-priced meals and special education students.

Schools that are Title 1 (they receive funding based on having a certain number of free- and reduced-price lunch students) can face repercussions if they score consistently below their targets.  These targets are increased yearly, with the goal of having all students proficient in math and reading by 2014.  Schools that don’t meet these standards are required to make improvements in various ways.  More years below their goals mean more required improvements.  If they do not begin scoring closer to or above their targets in a certain timeframe, they receive funding cuts.

These scores are released publicly, and can be found on the MN Dept. of Education website.