Technology + Online + Industry + Partnerships

Sending the Right Message

An online game uses real-life scenarios to teach teens the ins and outs of safe, responsible cell phone use.

In BriefEIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT OF KIDS under age 17 in the US have cell phones, according to statistics from Web Wise Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids stay safe online. But while those kids are using cell phones to gather information on the go and stay connected with family and friends, they're also using the devices for irresponsible and potentially dangerous activities.

According to Web Wise Kids, 53 percent of teens admit to sending hurtful messages over the internet or cell phones, and 51 percent of teens ages 16 and 17 use their cell phones while driving. The organization's statistics also indicate a large number of teen cell phone users participating in what's known as "sexting," with 20 percent of them revealing they have sent nude or seminude pictures of themselves to others, and 40 percent copping to sending sexually explicit messages.

Those alarming numbers led Web Wise Kids to partner with the philanthropic division of the Entertainment Software Association, called the ESA Foundation, virtual technology provider Will Interactive, and communications company Verizon to create It's Your Call, a new web-based game that's part of an onlinesafety education program aimed at giving middle school students the tools to make appropriate decisions about cell phone use.

It's Your Call is based on true stories, and allows teens to practice playing out difficult reallife scenarios in a safe, virtual environment. The game turns students into live-action characters in interactive movies, during which they are asked to make decisions involving cell phone use and view the consequences of their actions.

Throughout the game, students receive guidance on proper cell phone behavior and advice on how to use the devices to enhance personal safety. Among the issues players confront are academic cheating, sexting, and cyberbullying. Web Wise Kids also offers tips to educators on ways to use It's Your Call to enhance school curriculum, as well as providing cell phone safety tips for parents and teens, and teacher resources.

It's Your Call was launched on March 23, when Los Angeles Unified School District introduced it to Sepulveda Middle School in North Hills, CA, to promote responsible cell phone use. "As we all increasingly rely on mobile technology in our lives, it is critical that young people understand how to use cell phones to interact responsibly with others, whether that is with their peers or adults," said Mónica García, LAUSD board president, in a statement. "I applaud Web Wise Kids, Will Interactive, Verizon, and the ESA Foundation for taking this step to educate young people on how to safely utilize the many benefits of mobile communications."

It's Your Call is available through the Web Wise Kids and Will Interactive websites for a small fee, and through Web Wise Kid's training programs offered via schools, law enforcement agencies, and community organizations.

Green Spot


In BriefThe US Department of Energy, along with Discovery Education and the X Prize Foundation, has created a new online knowledge center called Fuel Our Future Now. The center is designed to teach K-12 students the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills necessary for creating energy-efficient vehicles.

Lesson plans on the website complement STEM curriculum, and feature content in areas such as advanced vehicle technologies, energy efficiency, climate change, and alternative fuels. The website also offers videos, virtual labs, and other interactive tools for K-12 classrooms.

The project was inspired by insurance company Progressive's Automotive X Prize, a $10 million contest that calls on teams to design and build new types of super-fuel-efficient cars to stimulate breakthroughs in automotive technology.

:: Industry News

DREAMBOX OFFERS FREE ACCESS TO MATH GAME. Through June 30, e-learning company DreamBox Learning is offering K-2 classrooms throughout the US and Canada free access to its classroom math game. The online game combines standardsbased math and an adventure-style backdrop to provide a fun, engaging learning experience for students. Teachers can sign up for the free trial by visiting here.

LEXMARK IMPROVES MFP ACCESSIBILITY. Lexmark has created a new interface for its multifunction printers (MFPs), called the Accessibility Solution. The new application is designed to make it easier for people with visual impairments to access Lexmark MFP technology. With the Lexmark Accessibility Solution, users can set up copy, fax, e-mail, FTP, and scan jobs directly from their workstations through compatible assistive technology software instead of using the touchscreen displays on MFPs. Visit here for complete details and purchasing information.

NEW INITIATIVE EXPLORES WEB 2.0 IN SCHOOLS. Thinkronize, creator of the NetTrekker educational search tool, and Lightspeed Systems, a provider of network security and management software for schools, have formed an ongoing initiative, called Safe Schools in a Web 2.0 World, to help schools safely and effectively implement Web 2.0 technologies to improve teaching and learning. The initiative's first step was to call on an independent research firm to conduct a survey titled "National Online Survey of District Technology Directors Exploring District Use of Web 2.0 Technologies." The survey examined the current status, future plans, and ongoing challenges of Web 2.0 implementation in K-12 education. Key survey findings revealed that although many districts are using or planning to use several types of Web 2.0 technologies, there is still resistance to using online social networking for instructional purposes. For more on the initiative and survey results, visit here or here.

VKERNEL TOOL SIMULATES DATA CENTER SCENARIOS. VKernel, a provider of virtual server management solutions, has created Modeler 1.0, a VMware ESX data center modeling tool. The tool lets users simulate hundreds of data center scenarios to understand their impact on performance, which then allows IT staff to plan ahead and make informed decisions on which changes should be made to a VMware ESX infrastructure. A 14-day free trial of a fully functional Modeler 1.0 appliance is available on the VKernel website.

MARSHAL8E6 ACQUIRES AVINTI. Marshal8e6, a company formed last November by the merger of IT security providers Marshal and 8e6 Technologies, has acquired Avinti, a provider of advanced, behavior-based malwaredetection technology. Avinti's team was merged into Marshal8e6 in April, and its behavior observation tool was integrated into the Marshal8e6 portfolio of e-mail and web security solutions. The acquisition will strengthen Marshal8e6's ability to stop security threats that involve both e-mail and the web, known as blended threats.

PEARSON ED OFFERS FUNDING HELP. Pearson Education has created a new website, called Pearson Resources for Grants and Funding, to help educators sort through the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The website contains tools such as webinars, informational videos, and an e-mail hotline to help districts figure out how to access and use stimulus money, and will be updated regularly with the latest ARRA information.

:: People

Melinda GeorgeGEORGE APPOINTED TO MOM CONGRESS BOARD. Melinda George, senior director of PBS TeacherLine, a provider of online professional development for educators, has been appointed to the advisory board of the Mom Congress on Education and Learning. Recently launched by Parenting magazine in cooperation with Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies, the Mom Congress is an online initiative that connects mothers of K-12 students and helps them advocate for education reform. In her role on the board, George, who also is senior director of PBS' National Educational Partnerships, will share her expertise with Mom Congress participants.


C.H. SavoieSAVOIE NAMED NSBA PRESIDENT. C.H. "Sonny" Savoie was recently named the 62nd president of the National School Boards Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering excellence and equity in public K-12 schools through school board leadership. Savoie has served on the Louisiana School Boards Association's board of directors since 1995, and has been a member of the board of St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Louisiana for 23 years.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.