Technology + Online + Industry + Partnerships

Can Elmo Help Kids Learn Their ABCs?

A PBS study indicates the cell phone’s potential as an early-literacy learning tool.

In Brief

E IS FOR ELMO: The popular puppet
helped teach preschoolers the
alphabet via a cell phone.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH that my 12-year-old wants a cell phone, now I have to get one for my 3-year-old, too? That could well be a common refrain from parents after they learn of the results of a study done by the Public Broadcasting System’s PBS Kids that tested the ability of cell phone-delivered video clips to helppreschoolers learn the alphabet.

For the study, called “Ready to Learn Cell Phone Study: Learning Letters With Elmo,” video-enabled Sprint phones were given to 80 parents in Oakland, Fresno, and Los Angeles. The parents were asked to listen to literacy tips and show their children video clips of letters at least three times a week for eight weeks. The researchers aimed to assess the effectiveness of the cell phone as an educational device for preschoolers, as well as evaluate the different impact the approach would have on participants in different economic demographics: above the poverty line, and at or below the poverty line.

According to the participating parents, their children’s knowledge of the alphabet grew during the eight weeks. Among families living at or below the poverty line, approximately three-quarters said that the video clips helped their kids learn their letters; half of the families living above the poverty level reported similar results. At the conclusion of the study, respondents all indicated improvement in their children’s ability to sing the alphabet song and identify individual letters.

Parents noted that the portability and convenience of the cell phones, the ease of use of the content, and its appeal to their kids made the program an attractive, successful teaching tool. Sponsored by Sesame Workshop, Sprint, WestEd, and GoTV Networks, the study was part of the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn-funded literacy initiative, in partnership with PBS, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Education Sector has released new information outlining the growth of state virtual schools over the past several years. According to the independent education-policy think tank, enrollment has expanded significantly since 1997, when just five states had established virtual schools. State virtual schools differ from individual cyber schools in that they are designed by a state agency or state legislation as a way to supplement, rather than replace, the traditional classroom. Virtual schools, now available in 28 states, allow students to take courses (such as AP classes) not offered at their home campus, overcome scheduling problems, make up credits, or simply try an alternative setting if they are underperforming in the classroom. Today, more than 139,000 students nationwide are enrolled inat least one online course.

Utah and Florida boast the oldest and largest virtual school programs and have seen enrollment climb more than 50 percent in the past five years. Education Sector predicts that if enrollment continues rising at its present rate, in the next few years we will see half a million students signed on for online coursework.

:: Awards and Contests

News BriefsGOOD NEWS FOR SCHOOLS IN NEED OF HIGH-RESOLUTION PROJECTION CAPABILITY. T.H.E. Journal magazine will be following the K-12 classroom use of three Canon REALiS X600 multimedia projectors— affordable equipment that boasts razorsharp projection ideal for the study of detailed material—to see how advances in “smart classroom” technology (such as Canon’s brand-new “AISYS Enhanced” LCOS technology) are actually impacting classroom work.

Results of the study will be covered in the magazine and on our website. The editors of this publication will select three (3) schools to be the lucky recipients of the projectors; the projectors will become the property of the schools. We are looking for classrooms with high-resolution projection requirements or the need for high levels of clarity.

Interested parties should submit a brief explanation (100 words or less) of study environment and need, emphasizing compelling study challenges and innovative use of the projection technology.

Special consideration will be given to programs with budget constraints. E-mail entries to: [email protected], by December 30, 2006.

NASA ANNOUNCES NEW AERONAUTICS COMPETITION. NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington, DC, has created a new aeronautics competition for high school and college students, sponsored by the directorate’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program. High school students are asked to imagine themselves 50 years into the future and describe how air transportation systems have evolved. Entries are due on March 15, 2007. There is a separate topic and prize for college students,whose entries are due April 27, 2007.

The awards range from $1,000 to $5,000 for first-place winners in each category. Prizes will also be given to second- and third-place finishers. For contest information, click here.

ADOBE CAPTIVATES TECH AWARD JUDGES. Adobe Systems was a double winner at the recent Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Awards, honored for Adobe Captivate 2 and Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional (formerly Adobe Breeze). The awards, presented by eLearning consultant and researcher Brandon Hall Research, recognize innovative workplace learning solutions.

Captivate 2 received the silver in the Learning Technology category for its creation of professional-quality interactive simulations, software demonstrations, and scenario-based training modules. Acrobat Connect won the bronze in the Learning Technology category for delivery of real-time meetings and seminars that users can access instantly with nothing more than a web browser and the ubiquitous Flash Player.

NEW JERSEY SCHOOLS RECEIVE VERIZON GRANTS. Broadband and telecommunications provider Verizon Communications is bestowing $110,000 in grants on 13 New Jersey schools to improve technology in their classrooms. The grant money will be used to provide technology for school-to-work programs that help students with disabilities acquire computer skills, and fund basic literacy programs that build children’s reading skills. The 13 schools come from seven counties. Jennifer Young, external affairs director for Verizon New Jersey, comments,“Basic and computer literacy are increasinglyimportant tools for success in the21st century, and they are tools that theseprograms are putting in the hands oftomorrow’s leaders.”

:: People

News BriefsPEARSON FORMS HISPANIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL. Educational publisher Pearson Education has formed the Hispanic Leadership Council on Education. The council, whose 17 members include superintendents from several of the nation’s leading school districts, addresses the growing number of Hispanic students in our nation’s schools and the low rate at which they’re receiving high school diplomas.

Among the new members is Wilfredo T. Laboy, the superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools in Massachusetts and president of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. (Laboy was selected as one of T.H.E. Journal’s 2006 Innovators; see page 26 of our magazine.)

:: Industry News

THINKRONIZE GOES CANADIAN. Thinkronize has announced the addition of more than 2,000 Canadian websites to the content of netTrekker, the company’s educational search engine. A team of Canadian educators worked with Thinkronize to identify and evaluate resources that specifically support Canadian teachers and students. The new content is primarily focused on social studies,geography, and Canadian studies.

INFOCUS PARTNERS WITH OETC. Digital-projector manufacturer InFocus has partnered with the nonprofit Organization for Educational Technology and Curriculum (OETC) to bring affordable technology and training to educators. The partnership will equip OETC members with InFocus projectors and ensure they are trained in using the technology. InFocus will work closely with educators through OETC conferences, focus groups, and trade shows to address concerns and improve existing technology. OETC members will also be eligible for discounts on InFocus products.

PBS TEACHERLINE SUPPLIES COURSES IN CORE CONTENT. PBS TeacherLine, which provides online professional development for preK- 12 educators, is offering courses covering core content in math, reading, science, instructional strategies, instructional technology, and curriculum mapping, while threading technology, differentiated instruction, and assessment into its professional development coursework.

PBS TeacherLine includes more than 90 courses and is partially funded by a federal grant of roughly $6 million. Coursework was developed in conjunction with leading education organizations, including the Education Development Center, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the International Society for Technology in Education.

News BriefsPOKEMON INTRODUCES ONLINE EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM. The Pokémon Learning League, a web-based educational suite of animated, interactive lessons in language arts, mathematics, science, and life skills for grades 3 to 6, aims to help students grasp academic concepts through the use of supplementary exercises starring characters popularized by the Pokémon television show, card games, and toys.

The Learning League is offering students a program of research-based curriculum on a free trial basis through Dec. 31, 2006. Beginning in January, yearly subscriptions will be available for sale to schools, districts, and families.

:: District-Vendor Partnerships

DISCOVERY OFFERS ACCESS TO ONLINE TEACHING RESOURCES. Discovery Education has launched One Place, a digital-media management product offering convenient access to online teaching resources through a single entry point. The effort is attracting states, regional centers, school districts, and K-12 online service providers, which wish to give their educators access to Discovery’s resources. Districts such as Florida’s School District of Palm Beach County and Fontana Unified School District in California are signing up for One Place. Alabama Public Television will offer One Place via its online digital resource library, APT Plus. Educational publisher and eResearch provider Thomson Gale is the latest online service to integrate into One Place, joining World Book, Atomic Learning, Maps101, and others. One Place also includes preloaded digitalcontent for professional development.

ALABAMA CONTRACTS STI TO DELIVER ASSESSMENTS. The Alabama Department of Education has contracted Software Technology Incorporated (STI), a provider of educational data-management systems, to deliver web-based formative assessments to schools within the state not performing up to requirements set by the No Child Left Behind Act. Alabama educators will be able to use the STI assessment tool to develop and implement formative assessments or benchmark tests using STI’s bank of questions, which is correlated to the Alabama Course of Study. The results of these tests will allow educators to see the specific areas of study where students need help, and enable them to create ongoing reports of student progress. The reports will be accessible to administrators, teachers, and, if the districts grant permission, parents as well.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.