Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Pretzel Logic or Pretzels and Wireless: Is Philadelphia an Innovator in Education Too?"

Name: G. Mick Smith, PhD
Department: Social Studies
Date Submitted: 15 November 2005

“Pretzel Logic or Pretzels and Wireless: Is Philadelphia an Innovator in Education too?”

Philadelphia is known for several things, such examples include pretzels, hoagies, water ice, and wireless. But is Philadelphia about to be acclaimed for yet another innovation?

Philadelphia is developing and implementing a citywide Wi-Fi network that will stretch over 135 square miles, making it the nation's largest municipal Wi-Fi broadband undertaking to date.

The implications for education in the city may indeed be staggering.

Schools implementing wireless typify innovative learning models. For example, in most geometry classes, students use a compass, ruler, and protractor at their desks. But in grades 6-12 in Sunnyvale, California students wishing to compute the volume of an object are more likely to grab a camcorder, and an iBook and head off to work. Thanks to the wireless laptops and the faculty’s innovative use of such programs as iMovie, Destination Math, and Mathematica, students are now using technology in the math curriculum from beginning Algebra to AP Calculus. Likewise, the Escuela Collingwood School in Calgary, Canada offers a wireless technology environment with 24 bilingual Spanish classes (K-6). In Maine, where the state provided every seventh-and-eighth-grade student and teacher with laptop computers starting in 2002, more than 70 percent of instructors surveyed say the laptops help them meet curriculum goals. The same percentage of students said laptops helped them get their work done more efficiently.

According to Dianah Neff, Philadelphia's chief information officer, 55 percent of households in the city have no Internet connection at all -- a statistic that highlights the reality of the digital divide in the city. The implementation of wireless would accomplish the goal of getting a low-cost Internet connection into low-income households.

And the good news for educators is that with the goal of closing the digital divide our students can be one step nearer to closing the information and educational gap between low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia with innovative educational programs elsewhere in North America.

“Wireless Philadelphia moves one step closer to fulfilling its charter to strengthen the City's economy and transform Philadelphia's neighborhoods by providing high-speed, low-cost wireless access throughout the City," said Neff in a recent statement.

Now if I could only figure out the volume of my ice and the volume of water in my water ice. Where is my handheld computer anyway?

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