March 2006

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In December (2005), the journal Nature conducted a scientific study of the accuracy of scientific entries in Wikipedia (on online, free & editable encyclopedia) vs. Encyclopedia Brittanica. You can view the original results here.

Yesterday, Encyclopedia Brittanica struck back, with this lengthy press release. Ultimately, they requested Nature to retract their article. A summary of the release (albeit jaded) was compiled by arstechnica. A more balanced review can be found at The San Jose Mercury News. It should be noted that it took three months for Encyclopedia Brittanica to respond, and this document was internally written without external review.

As expected, Nature wrote back defending its original study, mainly citing how they obtained each article and that the reviewers were blind as to the source (EB vs. Wiki). This statement elegantly sums it up: “We realised that in some cases our reviewers’ criticisms would be open to debate, and in some cases might be wrong. But this applied as much to criticisms of Wikipedia as of Encyclopaedia Britannica.” At the end of the letter, Nature firmly defends its original study by stating: “We do not intend to retract our article.”

This argument is a grand example of what we are teaching about the internet, and what the future of the internet can be. For instance, it highlights the concerns about an open and editable internet versus one where users pay for their content. There are pros and cons to each approach, and we can easily highlight them in the classroom.


You Are What You Post
by Michelle Conlin

This Yahoo Finance article discusses the fact that that there is no such thing as an eraser on the Internet.” In times where our students are posting personal and provacative information about themselves in healthy does to sites such as MySpace and Xanga, this surely offers a teachable moment.

As educators, we can encourage our students to podcast and blog in an educational setting, while exposing them to the dangers of personal disclosure on the internet, while illuminating the future consequences of their impetuous actions.

I would also encourage you as educators to see what your students are posting about you and other teachers in your building. Search through MySpace, Xanga, Google and Rate My Teacher (and many others). Be careful, as there is often graphic and offensive language on these sites. Note that some students post pictures of themselves as well – if there is any nudity, this can be construed as child pornography.

In closing, I will add a personal story where this did affect me and a student. I had a former student who decided to create a site on Xanga with my name as a pseudonym (that is, he pretended to be me for fun). This was mostly harmless, and not directly offensive to me – it was actually somewhat comical. In any case, a student from another school (who had been kicked out of my summer school class and knowing that it wasn’t me running the site) posted a very offensive message – a death threat. Obviously, this was found and turned over to the police. Knowing the student, I was fairly convinced that I was in no danger, but in our post-Columbine era, that didn’t matter much to the police. Thus, thinking he was anonymously posting something to a site where he thought no one would see it, this student now has this activity on police record.

You can access this site here.


“In the summer of 2004, technology and education innovators and visionaries convened in Big Sky, Montana, to explore the challenges affecting the introduction of technology to improve the teaching and learning of science. In particular, they explored what educational leaders know about applying technology to improve the quality of science education for all students, and what leaders need to know to ensure that emerging technologies are more successfully integrated into K–12 classrooms and more effectively applied in out-of-classroom inquiries.”

With the help of NSTA, this is the document that was put together: “A New Digital Divide: Emerging Technologies and America’s Classrooms”, and it can be accessed here:

While the document specifically addresses technology in the science classroom, the challenges that it addresses have no discipline boundaries; as educators, these are questions that we must address. “Based on what is known today, participants agreed that universal access to task-appropriate technologies, coupled with teacher preparation and professional development designed to enhance science and technology teaching and learning, should become a national priority.” This is of course, a concern that must be addressed by all educators in the 21st century classroom.


Tonight, I accidentally stumbled upon a show on The History Channel entitled “How William Shatner Changed the World”. As a Star Trek fan (but not a full-fledged Trekkie), my interest was immediately grabbed. Based on his book “I’m Working on That”, Shatner hosts and narrates a show that postulates how Star Trek has influenced the technological society that we live in today.

In one comical moment, Shatner describes how the show’s creators developed their vision for the future: they made it up! Insights into the show also revealed that the infamous transporters were developed because the shuttle craft weren’t ready in the first few episodes. And tricorders were actually recycled salt shakers!

Besides these bits of trivia, the show emphasized that the vision of Star Trek invigorated the technological age that we live in, complete with personal computers, cell phones and non-invasive medical techniques. This show immediately reminded me how imagination can directly lead to innovation, and how we as educators can inspire our students to bridge this gap.

Catch the show again on The History Channel:

Shatner Internet Fun:

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The cover story for NEA Today’s March issue is entitled Ready to Upgrade?, which discusses using technology in the classroom. If you missed the last issue, you can also catch the story at

The article has ideas for integrating technology at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Specifically, it discusses the use of handhelds (like a Palm Pilot) or podcasting for education. The article also stresses the importance of teacher input for technology purchases in district so they are meaningful and relevant in the curriculum. The last line of the article sums it up nicely: “As a teacher, hopefully your number one priority is to inspire your students to become lifelong learners,” says Lynn Lary. “These new technologies are a powerful way to do that.”

At the bottom of the article is an online technology guide for educators. There is an excellent ‘Gigabyte Glossary’ if you want to see the definition for such terms as ‘bluetooth’, ‘applet’ or ‘blog’. Within the technology guide you also might find some helpful site such as: Learn how to operate a data projector or Using a digital camera in the classroom.

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Just getting home today from our annual Wisconsin Society of Science Teacher’s Convention, I am quite invigorated to get back into the classroom to try out some new ideas. It’s amazing how re-energizing it can be to be around people who are passionate about education, and are willing to share their ideas to everyone (what one of my colleagues calls ‘peer poaching’). But one of the first destinations in the building Monday morning will be to my principal’s office to thank him for allowing me the opportunity to attend this professional development event. I think it’s important for us as educators to show what we’ve learned from these opportunities, and how we’ll share them with our colleagues.

My focus in this convention was to see how other teachers are using technology in the classroom, so I first attended a session where I was able to practice using Windows MovieMaker. The teacher offering the session showed how he uses short clips that his students record in his middle school science classes. Primarily, they used clips from labs and demonstrations to later be edited in MovieMaker. I could easily see how these homegrown clips can be enhanced with ones from United Streaming for students to really get into a topic. As I haven’t used this software much at all, I am eager to incorporate it into my curriculum.

Another session that peaked my interest was done by Vernier Software & Technology. This company is very freindly to education, and are sensitive to the needs and budgets of science and math teachers. Their central software product is Logger Pro 3, which allows for data capture and graphical analysis. This is an extremely useful tool that costs $159 for a site license (allows a school to install Logger Pro on every school computer, all instructor computers, AND the students’ home computers). A few new products, such as the Wireless Dynamic Sensor System, allows a cord-free option for data collection in physics classes. Their new Spectrometer (powered by ocean optics) has a variety of uses in a number of different disciplines – most notably in teaching waves, light and color.

But perhaps the neatest treat of all was the keynote speaker – Sean Carroll. Dr. Carroll teaches in the Genetics and Molecular Biology Department at the University of Wisconsin. Carroll discused the new science of Evo-Devo, as described in his recent book Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Using genetic, embryological and molecular techniques, Carroll eloquently describes the process of body pattern evolution.

Beyond the sheer genius of his work, we were in awe of the technology that’s employed in his research. Stunning videos and pictures were used to illustrate his speech. Some can be found on his website Simply click on Images and Movies to access them.