Caveon Test Security Services contracts testing security services to schools . Caveon owes much of its business to the high stakes testing environment created by NCLB legislation. This is a company that uses sophisticated proprietary methods to detect cheating on tests. For example, a red flag might go up if certain patterns emerge, such as getting difficult questions correct while missing easier questions. For anyone wishing to stay abreast of the latest news on plagiarism and other cheating topics, Caveon provides a “resources” link to recent articles, both from Caveon staff and from external sources. It also has an excellent statistics page. Among the interesting things revealed in the various statistics: students who considered themselves “religious” were more likely to cheat than others (Maybe they were just honest enough to admit it.) and students who cheat in school are more than twice as likely to cheat in relationships. There are various statistics from both scientific and less-scientific sources and some do contradict one another. However, much of it is consistent, such as the fact that around 70% of students admitted that they cheat or have cheated in the past. Obviously, academic dishonesty is a pervasive problem at all levels of education, even at teaching and administrative levels where there is pressure for schools to show improvement in test scores. Certainly, adults bear a great deal of responsibility for how students view cheating, when they fail to be positive role-models. It is difficult to accurately measure how much worse things are now than in the past, but certainly it seems that technology has facilitated cheating. There are no perfect answers, but there is a lot of information on the internet that can help a teacher to: be aware of how and why students cheat, know what teaching methods can prevent or discourage cheating, as well as how to detect plagiarism. While it is a commercial site, http://caveon.com happens to be a rich resource for finding some of that information.
I stumbled-upon one of the foremost experts in the field of web design and usability in searching the topic “digital divide.” Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s main site http://www.useit.com/ contains a complete education in best practices of web design. And, here’s the bonus: the man puts into practice what he preaches. Everything I have read, so far anyway, has been written in a way that is both easy to navigate and understand. Who knew that such complex concepts could be clear and accessible to the average (that is to say “less than fully-fledged computer nerd”) reader? In the article “Digital Divide: The Three Stages,” Nielsen identifies “economic,” “usability,” and “empowerment” as the three main components of the digital divide. He believes that the economic portion will largely disappear within the next five years as computer prices continue to drop to increasingly affordable levels. He advocates solutions to usability issues by proposing that certain types of web pages, such as government and health information for example, be written at lower literacy levels (incidentally better-satisfying the needs of other users with high-level literacy skills…a fundamental quality of universal design.) Finally, Nielsen asserts that the one potentially insurmountable issue is the “empowerment divide.” For instance, only about 10 percent of internet users are active contributors on the web and only 1 percent contribute regularly, rather than sporadically. Most internet users also lack the search skills to find the information best suited to their needs. Most people will allow themselves to be herded around the internet like sheep “by their computer vendor or ISP.” In my opinion, good teachers with an awareness of this last component of the digital divide are our best hope of bridging it.
When a new teacher needs a tried and true lesson plan or the seasoned teacher just needs something new to try, there is much help to be had by simply typing “lesson plans” into a search engine. Some sites are better than others, of course. I have found two good sites for language arts lesson plans. The first is “Lesson Planet,” which does require a user to subscribe to its service, though there is a ten day free trial. Lesson Planet has its own staff comb through lesson plans from all over the internet, assigning each a rating between one and five stars. Lesson Planet also provides various templates and teacher tools. Another promising site is from the National Endowment for the Humanities (a dot-gov site.) While the lessons are not as numerous in any one subject area at http://edsitement.neh.gov/ , as those at Lesson Planet, all are of reliable quality and, best of all, free of charge.
It is not so much that it is difficult to find a resource site for teachers as it is to find one that is: easy to navigate, rich in quality ideas and resources, as well as “clean” and free of obnoxious ads and dead-ends. edHelper was just the type of site I was looking for. I simply found it from a link at pbs.org/teachers . (One reliable site will generally lead to another. ) Anyway, at edHelper a teacher can generate various types of puzzles, vocabulary lists, monthly or seasonal- themed activities, and more. There is something here for teachers of any subject K-12. Much of the content, however, is restricted to those who register as members.
Many school districts have their own support sites or coordinators for the technology issues that will inevitably arise. However, teachers can try a few things on their own as well. There are many helpful sites out there for just this purpose. Take, for instance, www.educationworld.com/a_tech/ from where one can navigate from “top five” to “tech proof” (they meant “prof.”) or to “techtorials” which contains several useful links under the heading, “computer maintenance/troubleshooting.” There is another useful site I came across, http://www.computerhope.com/ ,”free computer help for everyone.” This one is perhaps more geared toward the proficient user or for reading general topics to build proficiency in computer knowledge.
The Washington Township Board of Education has a “best of web” site for language arts, rich in quality links to all categories and sorts of language arts topics. This is a wonderful resource for language arts teachers. In it, I found many links to sites featuring audio and video. One of these (appropriate for the season) is http://www.themoonlitroad.com/ “Ghost stories and strange folktales of the American South, told by the region’s most celebrated storytellers.” Alternately, the stories can simply be read. Students would enjoy this seasonal literature activity.
Just as there are many types of differences and disabilities in the student population, there are nearly as many adaptive strategies and assistive technologies to choose among. It is worthwhile for any teacher or prospective teacher to become familiar with some of these. Having just finished writing about a potential ADHD treatment, I wanted to continue along those lines, since this is a condition or difference that is very common in students and in the general population–something teachers are likely to encounter on a daily basis. The Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) site contains a page with links to eleven articles that provide information about “Assistive Technology in Support of High Incidence Disabilities.” I had to weed through a few of these before I found just the article I was looking for: “Project ACCESS: Field Testing an Assistive Technology Toolkit for Students with Mild Disabilitis” by Kathleen S. Puckett of the University of Tennessee. The article describes how a group of teachers were provided a “technology toolkit” that was available for general-anticipated as opposed to specific assistive purposes. The customary approach is to tailor assistive technologies to student need as indicated on the IEP, which is a slow process tailored to a specific individual’s needs. However, an assistive toolkit is not an either/or proposition. It is a way to meet the needs of students who might not be on the radar and it is based on the evolving principle of universal design. The technologies teachers found most useful were also some of the most user-friendly, such as Kidspiration, Intelli-tools, Write Outloud, and Alphasmart.
Israel-based author Stephanie Freid describes an effective technique developed by sports psychologist, Boris Blumenstein, and two other scientists at Israel’s Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports. Its original purpose was to mentally prepare Olympic athletes. Now, however, this effective, proven technique–a gradual five-phase biofeedback process designed to help athletes better focus and self-regulate under stressful conditions–is being tried with appropriate modifications on a group of Israeli students with extreme ADHD. The students were initially suspicious and skeptical, but were eventually won-over, in part because of their fascination with the biofeedback technology. The “Wingate 5-Step Approach (W5SA)” techniques were found to be very effective in improving these students’ performance and behaviors. As a consequence, educational psychologists from various other countries are also showing interest.
If even these students with severe behaviors can be helped effectively without drug treatments, the “W5SA” should be a beacon of hope for both our schools and our parents. I know that, as a parent, such an approach would be the first option I would want for my child if it were available. Drug treatments should always be a last resort, since they rarely get to the root of problems and can cause side effects and other related issues, such as possible abuse of medications. I believe that a targeted biofeedback approach has great potential for improving the performance of every student, not just those with problems.
To learn more, read “Getting Rid of Ritalin” pgs. 50-51 in the Nov./Dec. 2006 issue of Edutopia Magazine. This same article can be read online at http://www.edutopia.org/getting-rid-ritalin
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has a document in PDF format entitled “101 Best Web Sites for Teacher Tools and Professional Development,” which can be accessed through www.iste.org. This is an exceptional place to begin when deciding what resources to use in addressing the administrative/organizational aspects of teaching. One of these suggested sites that I visited was www.gradeconnect.com . It is a clean and navigable site for tracking attendance, grades, assessments and calendar. It can e-mail parents/guardians alerting them to when their student is absent from class. I like the sidebar which has: google search, word of the day, education news links from ED.gov, breaking news links from NASA, a wordfind puzzle creator, along with local weather and a weather channel link. Wow! All that without looking cluttered. I was impressed.
It’s nothing I was not already aware of, but there is a dizzying array of great interactive educational resources for students to use both independently and in a classroom setting. The difficulty is in deciding which of these stand out above all others. This task could take weeks…or months. (Then, there is the temptation to try everything out.) All that aside, www.readwritethink.org is one standout site for student and teacher alike. There are hundreds of standards-based lesson ideas and–if I counted correctly–fifty-one activities for students of every ability level in K-12. “Read, Write, Think” is a collaborative product of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), funded by the Verizon Foundation. The site is easy to search and navigate. It is one of many great sites out there, but indispensible for teachers of language arts. For me, it is a “keeper.”