Use a cell phone, pay a fine

In some Texas districts, teachers can confiscate cell phones and charge students $15 to get their phones back. Cell phone fines have netted $100,948 for Klein Independent School District, which has been charging the $15 fee for two years. The money has paid for art supplies, free P.E. uniforms, pizza parties to reward students and other enrichment activities.

Cell phones can be a learning tool, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He wants schools and colleges to deliver course content to phones, reports eSchool News.

“Kids are on their cell phones the 14 hours a day they are not in school,” Duncan said in a recent interview with eCampus News . . . With teenagers and young adults using cell phones constantly, Duncan said, technology officials should find ways to send homework, video lectures, and other classroom material so students can study wherever they are.

Of course, students might use phones less if it meant listening to lectures.

At some colleges, students are downloading course material on their cell phones, avoiding the high costs of buying textbooks. Ball State nursing students must buy an AT&T mobile device to “access lab books, medical dictionaries, diagnosis literature, and other resources throughout the school year.”  Undergrads pay about $250 for course materials that can be used throughout their studies. And they’ve got a lot less to carry from class to class.

School of the Future flounders

Philadelphia’s high-tech School of the Future (SOF), designed with help from Microsoft, was supposed to revolutionize education, writes Meris Stansbury on eSchool News. So far, we’ve seen the future and it doesn’t work very well. (I had doubts when the school opened in 2006.)

It would teach at-risk students critical 21st-century skills needed for college and the work force by emphasizing project-based learning, technology, and community involvement.

. . . From alternative school hours to laptops for every student, from a customizable school portal to campus-wide wireless access, and from a panel to design 21st-century curriculum to a new teacher hiring model, the SOF was thought to be a sure winner.

The school went through four principals in three years. Union contracts made it hard to hire teachers who were a good fit for the school.

Teachers received little training on how to use the technology to foster learning. Students had trouble using the laptops and worried they’d be stolen if they brought them home.

Although the technology itself was not supposed to trump basic classroom practices, Microsoft and the school’s planners had decided not to allow the use of textbooks or printed materials; instead, all resources were located online through a portal designed by Microsoft.

Yet educators frequently encountered problems accessing the internet, because the school’s wireless connection often would not work.

Just like Windows Vista, writes Lorri Giovinco-Harte at NY Education Examiner.

In a panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Drew University Professor Patrick McGuinn found problems at every level.

“There is no clear definition of what project-based learning exactly is and how that can be step-by-step implemented in the classroom. Student remediation also didn’t fit with the project-based collaboration model.”

He added: “These teachers and administrators had to fly a plane while they were building it.”

Over time, the School of the Future adopted the district’s curriculum and assessments; it began to look a lot like schools of the present. However, school leaders are trying to learn from the early mistakes — they hired a tech support person! — and clarify the mission. We’ll have to see what the future holds for the School of the Future.

Update: Thirty-five years ago, Philadelphia’s school of the future was William Penn High, a “showpiece packed with amenities, including a television studio, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and a dance studio,” reports the Inquirer.  Now a wreck operating at less than 20 percent of capacity, the low-scoring school will be closed for two years for rebuilding. And, one hopes, rethinking.