Web Informant #153, 4 May 1999:
Thoughts on computers in the schools


I gave the keynote speech at a very unusual seminar this past weekend, one that celebrated the use of technology in my local public school district here in Port Washington. As many of you know, I have been fairly active working as a volunteer to bring technology into our schools over the past few years, beginning with co-chairing a parent community and authoring a long-range plan back in 1994.

Back then our district was in what I call the wood-burning era of computing. We had Apple IIs and no networks anywhere. Since then we have put three PCs in each K-5 classroom and all are networked to each other and to the Internet. More importantly, we have trained the vast majority of teachers.

The purpose of the seminar was to demonstrate this progress and also educate the parents of the community as to what has been going on in terms of how computers were being used in the schools. It was unusual for several reasons:

First, many of the presenters were the kids themselves, showing off their projects that they had been working on over the past year. Some were as young as kindergarteners, others older. I was impressed with the level of poise and professionalism displayed by the children, and how matter-of-fact they went about showing parents what and how they created various projects.

Second, there were a wide variety of technology examples shown during the morning's proceedings, including composing a school newspaper, working on graphs from spreadsheets, authoring their own web pages and creating databases. While as you would expect, some of these children were from the enrichment side of the school, there were other presentations by the English as a second language students as well. My personal "best of show" award goes to the ESL kindergarten teachers and students showing what they could do with Hyperstudio: a complete multimedia tour on how to make chocolate pudding which was better than most professional PowerPoint presentations I've seen at many trade shows.

Third, the web page for the conference was posted in real time, as kids with digital cameras roamed the hallways and posted their "photo book" with the aid of a teacher. When I overheard a few fourth graders talking about the difference between GIF and JPEG files, I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. Again, I have been to many professional-level conferences that didn't post their content as quickly or did as nice a job. You can see the results here, by the way.

Fourth, the seminar showed the top quality and commitment of our teachers in Port Washington. Granted, we had some of the best computer-oriented superstars there but still I came away amazed at the level of interest and excitement that these teachers had for what they were doing. This wasn't technology for technology's sake: all of them were using technology to do what they have always done, to help teach their kids the same old 3Rs.

Finally, the Internet was accepted as something part and parcel to the whole process. Ironically, the seminar was held in the least connected building in the district, in the middle school. We had net access to a few labs and the administrative offices -- this summer the entire building will be wired. Since I wanted to show a few web sites as part of my keynote, I ended up using a product called Catch The Web to capture the sites and play them back during my presentation. (This is a great tool, by the way. It also allows you to show a snapshot of the web in a moment of time to make some pedagogical point.)

I'm glad to be part of this effort, and proud of what our community has accomplished and how the parents, teachers, and school administrators have worked together to produce something worthwhile and so positive for our children.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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