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How To Help Our Public Schools With Technology? 378

Posted by kdawson
from the freedom-programmers dept.
armorer writes "I'm a programmer engaged to an inner-city public school teacher. I've been thinking for a long time now about what I can do to help close the technology gap, and I finally did something (very small) about it. I convinced my company to give me a few old computers they were replacing, refurbished them, installed Edubuntu on them, and donated them to her classroom. I also took some vacation time to go in, install everything, and give a lesson on computers to the kids. It was a great experience, but now I know first-hand how little technology these schools have. I only helped one classroom. The school needs more. (Really the whole district needs more!) And while I want to help them, I don't really know how. With Thanksgiving a week away and more holidays approaching, I suspect I'm not the only one thinking about this sort of thing. I know it's a hard problem, so I'm not looking for any silver bullets. What do Slashdot readers do? What should I be doing so that I'm more effective? How do you find resources and time to give back?"
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How To Help Our Public Schools With Technology?

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  • Freecycle (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spazztastic (814296) <(spazztastic) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:34PM (#25848579)
    Look for old computers on freecycle/craigslist that you can put Edubuntu on and what-not. CRTs are hard to get rid of so I've found them being given away for free.
    • Re:Freecycle (Score:4, Informative)

      by gbjbaanb (229885) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:09PM (#25849095)

      if you want old computers, go down the recycling centre. you'd be surprised how many good PCs get thrown out.

      I'm not sure if they'll let you take them (though the bloke at my local tip was happy for me to have a few bits) but if not, you can hang around and ask people who are bringing their old PCs to throw away to give them to your cause (or get a big poster up)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jweller (926629)

        I go to my local dump/recycling center frequently. I think official policy is that you can't take anything. The reality is that it depends on the guy standing there. I tried to take a large pile of still in the package patch cables and KVM cables, and was told that "this isn't walmart." I've also come home with lots of stuff. The worst they are going to do is tell you put it back and ask you to leave. I have brought home perfectly good, but old, machines several times.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          Hey, how about starting a Computers for Guns program at these schools?
        • Some other options (Score:4, Informative)

          by RustinHWright (1304191) on Friday November 21, 2008 @04:36PM (#25850335) Homepage Journal

          I agree with you about those places but I would say that if you're serious, go further up the chain. Call the white collar companies in your area, especially ones like ad agencies that replace their stuff frequently, and see if you can get equipment direct from them.

          Here in Portland we have a group called Free Geek that has done a fantastic job of this kind of thing. You certainly should look at their site and might want to consider getting their video, though they're not specifically education-oriented.

          Lastly, frankly, if your goal is to educate, instead of specifically to "put computers in schools", then consider getting active in your local infoshop, especially if you can get some friends to get active there as well. A good community computer center will reach more people per machine, people who *want* to be using those computers. They also have the freedom to do what works rather than what the schools will allow. Again here in Portland, we have an excellent example, a place called the IPRC, or Independent Publishing Resource Center. It, in turn, was originally modeled on a New York City place called ABC No Rio, though it has long since gone waaay past what No Rio offers. On top of everything else, an infoshop can then partner with a free school, or, as they're sometimes known, a "free skool" [wikipedia.org]. As an educational publisher and somebody who has been involved in every organization I mention above, who has also helped put computers in so many schools that I've lost count, there is little that would make me as happy as to see more active free schools in low income neighborhoods that provided classes in things like the biology of local species or sociology and psychology taught using local human behavior.

          • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 21, 2008 @06:26PM (#25852113) Journal
            I think that there is something to be said for that. I work in school IT myself, and there are definitely some things for which computers are invaluable, others for which they are certainly convenient; but I hardly think that computers are a magic bullet.

            The real problem is this: Computers are perhaps the greatest "force multipliers" for people's abilities and personalities since the advent of mass literacy and public libraries(perhaps ever; but I don't know, and don't need to take up that point). Unfortunately, they will multiply a person's tendencies for good or ill.

            If you have a kid(or adult) with some time on his hands, reasonable autodidactic tendencies, and some interest and enthusiasm for something, the internet is the best thing ever. Virtually any technology related subject is yours for the learning online. You can look at opencourseware stuff, you can talk to actual scientists who blog about science, you can access huge amounts of data on all sorts of subjects(and access library catalogs to look for the rest), you can get in touch with organization of all kinds, etc, etc. For somebody with drive and enthusiasm, the internet is basically the best thing ever(obviously, people before the internet had opportunity, some had a lot of it; but the internet is really good at making a fair amount of opportunity available to anybody who can access it).

            Unfortunately, if you have a kid(or adult) who doesn't have much in the way of drive or interest, or is easily distracted, the internet can and will latch on and suck them dry. Flash games, funny youtube videos, porn, pimping your myspace, etc, etc. Now, none of that is bad per se, some amount of mindless entertainment is harmless enough; but if you are the sort of person who can get distracted by such, the internet has several lifetimes worth, with more added every day.

            Unfortunately, computers and the internet haven't really changed the game of education. They let driven kids kick ass and unmotivated kids fail hard. The real trick, which is unfortunately much harder than getting computers in front of kids, is getting kids who will benefit from being in front of computers.

            In observing teachers I've had, and teachers at the school I work in, this is the aspect of good teachers that impresses me most. A great teacher can actually inspire students, turning mere rule followers, and even the downright troublesome, into learners. Once you have learners, you just need to stand back and help out where needed, they'll figure it out. Teachers who can make learners, though, have my respect.
    • Re:Freecycle (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ushering05401 (1086795) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:16PM (#25849205) Journal

      Wait a minute...
      Checking listings on those websites is a great recommendation, but as someone who has tried to donate like this to another type of underfunded public organization let me say donor beware!

      Even if you are able to make the donation legally, and politically (ie: another cash-strapped dept doesn't complain about fairness of who gets the benefit from your donation etc.), it is difficult to cut the cord after the donation.

      Whatever you are donating needs to be recognized by whatever type of group maintains infrastructure for the organization.

      While providing computers to help educate is definitely the greater gift in terms of changing the learning environment for every child, it might be wiser to spend time individually helping to educate the children(after school program?).

  • Question.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by east coast (590680) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:37PM (#25848613)
    How much technology did they have in the first place?

    You see, I'm still not sold on the idea that PCs in every classroom is a solution to the woes of modern education but it would be nice to know what your experience is compared to mind. I haven't been in a non-college classroom in nearly 20 years and at that point it was mainly the computer labs plus a handful scattered between other departments. The PCs outside of the computer lab didn't seem to serve any educational use at all even though students had access to them.

    Also, a bit off topic but, why isn't this an AskSlashdot topic? I think that line is getting badly blurred.
    • Re:Question.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by liquidpele (663430) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:42PM (#25848691) Journal
      When I worked at an inner city school, the computers in the classroom caused more distraction than anything. The kids would just download games and play flash music videos on them all day. But the teachers in the rooms where that went on were pretty lazy.

      In the end, I think computers in the room can be helpful, but should not be relied on and should not be mandated. For instance, my wife teaches 3rd grade only uses the computers to let her Mexican kids use Rosetta Stone to learn english for about an hour a day.
      • Re:Question.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by gad_zuki! (70830) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:53PM (#25848863)

        Why are these PCs on the internet? I bet if they were firewalled off and actually used in class they would be a boon to education, not a liability. If the teacher needs a site for them to use it can be whitelisted. Its incredible how thoughtlessly PCs are deployed in schools. You need access and internet controls from day 1.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          FWIW, there are some schools that are as you've described. I have a friend who works as a school councilor. When he got his current job a couple of years ago, he was dismayed to find that he couldn't update his fantasy sports teams during his lunch hour (he's a bit of a fantasy fanatic) since the filtering software had classified Yahoo's fantasy sports section as a gambling site.

          It was at this point that he came to me looking for a way to get around the filtering. The solution that I came up with (basically

        • You need access and internet controls from day 1.

          I like to call that supervision--a skill teachers are supposed to have.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Manywele (679470)

            I like to call that supervision--a skill teachers are supposed to have.

            Yeah, keeping track of every click of every student in a room full of 40 computers all facing different directions is a skill I have. I can read minds to fully know the intent of all my students also so if anyone even thinks about playing a flash game or looking at porn I'm on them before they can even click.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Kintanon (65528)

            30 students, 1 teacher. It is simply not possible for 1 person to continually monitor the actions of 30 people while still teaching anything. Physical impossibility.
            Computers in the classroom should help teachers do their jobs, not add more complexity to an already complex and thankless task.

            • I guess you all haven't considered the layout of your classrooms. Imagine, if you will, the teacher desk in the middle of a horse shoe. The student positions are the horseshoe with all positions facing outward (students' backs to the center). Every single screen is visible from the center of the room with a modest head turn.
        • Re:Question.... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by The Dancing Panda (1321121) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:43PM (#25849579)
          Yeah, it should be a white-listing only solution. The firewall blocks absolutely everything but what the teacher allows. You could make this pretty user-friendly to the teachers, with a desktop client on their PC that allows quick white/blacklisting to all the computers in their classroom.

          Maybe even a feature to allow whitelisting to google results, but pages get filtered for obvious porn, and in the case of unknown sites, automatically sent for review by the teacher before they are forwarded to the student. This would be more for young kids than older high school kids (that would use it to show their teachers goatse).

          Another cool feature would be to allow the teacher to push content from her PC directly to the monitor in front of the student, where the student is able to review it in depth. Not just powerpoint slides, but maybe 3D interactive graphics and other such things.

          Does something like any of this exist? If not, c'mon Open Source! Lets do something original!
        • Haha... so the kids could "research" of course ;)
      • by mweather (1089505)

        The kids would just download games and play flash music videos on them all day

        Good thing these are Linux computers, then. You need the password to install flash and games.

        • You only need write access to your home directory to install the flash plugin for Firefox.

          • by mweather (1089505)
            Use a read-only filesystem, then.
          • Then don't give ownership / write access to the users home directories. Have the home directory owned by root or nobody, then create data / documents directory owned by the student's account. Any dot-file that needs write access can be a symlink to a file in "$HOME/dotfiles".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShieldW0lf (601553)

        I would suggest introducing them to Scratch.

        http://scratch.mit.edu/ [mit.edu]

        I've taught my 8 year old to program with it. You can upload your programs to the MIT website and get kudos from other kids, which gives positive feedback. You can download other peoples programs and see how they made them, then hack them and upload them again, and it will preserve the fact that you created it, and whose work it was based upon, giving some opportunity to see the rewards that come with sharing information.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I'm thinking along the same lines.

      I never touched a computer till the 7th grade, and never did anything more than basic word processing with them till the 10th grade. I learned how to do calculus using chaulkboards and paper.

      My kid is in the 2nd grade and already doing powerpoint. WTF?!?!?! The focus is on presentation, not content. The kids know how to make things 'look nice' but they dont have anything worth saying.

      Here is my take it on: remove all computers from elementary school (K -> 6th grade), add

      • The kids know how to make things 'look nice' but they dont have anything worth saying.

        Is that any worse than having something worth saying but not being able to present it in any form that is meaningful? What's more important? Process or Product? Perhaps the emphasis on presentation isn't as short-sighted as you think?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by PogoTex (1063626)
        I couldn't agree more. PowerPoint should be banned from all school computers and most business computers, probably the most misused software ever written. We need to learn to communicate in complete sentences, paragraphs, and perhaps even longer forms. Bullet points communicate fragments, not complete ideas. We need to teach math and sciences starting with the basic computing tools; fingers, toes, blocks, marks on paper... Things that work during a blackout. Computers can be introduced in middle school
      • I would agree that the large number of uses for a personal computer are completely unnecessary in order to teach the content of most classes. I think however that it would be beneficial to give the students a touchscreen computer built into desks that the teachers can push content to in order to annotate problems, allow the kids to all workout there own solutions without sending anybody to the board, pass out digital copies of a book turning the machine into an e-book reader or direct students to a particu
      • I was learning how to 'program' in 4th grade. I took a summer school class. Had I not been exposed to computers at that age I would not have the career I have now.

        That exposure consumed my mind and I went computer nuts learning everything I could about them. When windows 95 came out I was already the pc support person for my of my teachers.

      • I'm thinking along the same lines.

        I never touched a computer till the 7th grade, and never did anything more than basic word processing with them till the 10th grade. I learned how to do calculus using chaulkboards and paper.

        I never touched a computer till the 2nd grade, and never did anything more basic on it than dbase II programming until the 7th grade when I learned C. In the 10th grade, I'd finished the Unix (actually Xenix) half of a Fidonet gateway for both email and Usenet.

        But that was at home. At school, computers weren't used for teaching except in programming class. I learned how to do calculus using chaulkboards and paper as well.

        But that doesn't mean they might not have their place in classrooms now. If the sof

    • These are all great points, and it reminded me of a recent point I made in a somewhat recent discussion....

      Seriously, I didn't have it and I don't see why kids need them now to learn.

      From hindsight, I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in the 1980s. My parents threw in all they earned for me to attend a Catholic school, and they didn't offer much in the way of computers. When I went on to Catholic high school in the early 90s, I didn't get much in the way with computers until I took AP Computer Sc

    • by xzvf (924443) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:02PM (#25848999)
      I'm currently working at a large urban school district deploying LTSP based thin clients. Access in the classroom to education web sites is extremely useful and shows measurable results. First pilot schools significantly improved their reading and math scores. It is also a nice reward. Many of these kids have no computer at home and 15-20 minutes of free time is a treat. Some even skip breakfast to get in line outside their classroom for computer time before school starts. It isn't a cure all, but as long as you integrate technology tools into the instructional mix correctly, it can be a wonderful supplement.
      • by zappepcs (820751)

        I think that you're right. If you can't offer equipment and support, perhaps a person would have time (maybe once/week twice/month) to talk to kids who are interested in learning about the parts inside a computer, how they work, how to build a computer etc.

        Learning to use office applications is good, but there are some who would like to learn more than that. If you can, that is also a valuable contribution to 'education'.

        Learning about the guts of the thing fosters inquiry into more than how to play flash g

      • by Foofoobar (318279)
        LTSP is definitely the way to go as far as I'm concerned. At Amazon from 95-97, most of our deploys were with dumb terminals and the current financial company I am at is now doing a massive thin client deploy as well. It makes it easier to maintain only a couple servers and easier to monitor your users activity.
    • You're not sold? I would suggest that "a computer for every student" is/would be quite counterproductive. What is lacking in current education is fundamental math and reading skills, and lack of development of critical thinking skills. None of those require a computer nor are they obviously enhanced by having a computer. You could argue that you could hypothetically develop critical thinking skills by teaching programming, but in reality it would be highly counterproductive.

      Brett

  • Whatever you end up doing, could I ask you to send a note about it to the people behind GothamSchools.org [gothamschools.org]. It's a slightly New York-centric education blog, but they work with people around the country on improving education, and I'm sure they'd love to know about anything you end up doing.

    <disclaimer>The non-profit that employs me is a parent of that organization as well.</disclaimer>

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:41PM (#25848671)

    They need dedicated, enthusiastic teachers who:

    - push the students to succeed
    - maintain discipline (and are backed up by the administration when parents complain/sue)
    - make the students do the work
    - inspire the students to do better
    - don't take shit from the students

    • Part of the problem is that in most districts, teachers are no longer able to do the things you mention; the necessary power to carry out that responsibility has been taken away, by regulation and bylaws and lawsuits and a whole mess of other bureaucratic crap. You seem to recognize at least some of this with your comment about lawsuits, but I'm not sure you realize how deep it goes.

      Of course it's still important to have dedicated and enthusiastic teachers, but there's only so much good these teachers can d

    • by sherriw (794536) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:51PM (#25848837)

      My boyfriend is a high-school teacher... and there's no lack of dedicated teachers out there. What they really need is:

      - Parents who place a priority on studying and homework.
      - Parents who don't come in and berate the teacher if their child did poorly, arguing over every lost mark on the child's behalf, leaving with a huff that it's the teacher's fault the child left all those answers on the test blank.
      - Drop the no child left behind policy. Being almost unable to fail a student even if he/she does jack-all, is hurting morale of the hard-working students and putting out unqualified graduates who are unprepared for college.
      - Parents who give a crap.
      - The ability to dish out punishments like detentions or extra homework without going through miles of red tape and backlash from parents and principals.
      - Go back to letter grades. This 1 to 4 and R thing we have here is BS. An 'F' doesn't damage the child's psyche for crying out loud, and an A+ is more encouraging than a '1'.

      • The "no child left behind" policy is less than 8 years old, school policies that make it almost impossible to fail a student go back much longer than that.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by redxxx (1194349)

          Right, there are a lot of bad things about NCLB. It lowers the standard for all students. It forces teachers and schools to design their lesson plans around tests. It causes the schools that most need help to be punished for poor performance. Really good schools get rated poorly, because they look for improvement, and it is hard to improve when most of your students already score high on the tests.

          The social promotion thing is more of a hold over from the 80s and 90s, and is one of the few things the co

      • by jlarocco (851450)

        - Go back to letter grades. This 1 to 4 and R thing we have here is BS. An 'F' doesn't damage the child's psyche for crying out loud, and an A+ is more encouraging than a '1'.

        I agreee with everything you said, but what is this? I've never heard of it.

      • I'm no fan of NCLB, but the Act doesn't do anything to make it impossible to fail a student. If anything, it is holding previously failing students more accountable, and more importantly, identifying them so they can get extra help more easily. I guess if giving a poorly performing student extra help so they pass a standardized test counts as "unable to fail" him or her, then I'm all for it.
      • by jweller (926629)

        My Mom taught High School for years. I'd estimate the largest portion of the problem starts at home. Administration fearful of litigation and looking like a failure is a close second. She tells this story when ever it comes up in a debate and it still makes my jaw drop.

        Angry Parent: Why did you fail little Johnny. Hes not going to graduate because of you.

        Mom: Little Johnny has turned in 2 of 18 homework assignments, 0 of 2 papers, and has test grades of 27%, 42%, and 31%.

        Angry Parent: Well, what are you goi

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MykeBNY (303290)

      This.

      My high school, when I first got there, had an Apple //e in certain classrooms. They were never used for anything educational at all, unless you count some kids looking up "dysentery" after they died from it a hundred times over in Oregon Trail.

      Then, for some reason, we got a Computer Lab room. One dozen shiny new 486 computers. No software, not even the latest version of Oregon Trail. No direction whatsoever with them. The most the students did was play Solitaire and Minesweeper. Some used Write

  • by dazedNconfuzed (154242) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:44PM (#25848715)

    The school needs more.

    The school needs TEACHERS, people who actually know how to use the equipment and how to teach others to.

    Just putting equipment in the room has been a failing and expensive step for as long as personal computers have existed.

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      The opening scene of this week's South Park [southparkstudios.com] is a perfect example of this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rosasaul (1412829)
      I used to work in a public school system, and that's exactly the case. The teachers often knew far less than the student's and thats not saying much; most of them just knew how to update a myspace page. The other main issue was this idea that donating a computer solves things. Often if they don't have the computers then they don't have the resources to upkeep them either.
    • by rho (6063)

      Having access to the technology is a pretty important thing, IMO. This isn't 1980 when personal computers were a rarity. Being computer illiterate is almost as bad as being actually illiterate.

      There are also several things that computers can do that even good teachers cannot do. Computer-guided instruction allows the student to go at their own pace, rather than be held behind or left behind. You don't want to lose either of these groups. Students who fall behind tend to drop out, and bored students are, i

  • Intel is a great company to look at; I went to a US News and World Report conference about three weeks ago where an Intel VP came to talk about the special deals and discounts they've worked out with select school systems. Apparently, Intel contributes not only by donating technology for classrooms and computer labs, but also by training teachers in how to use them effectively in the classroom and developing a "digital literacy" curriculum for them to use. Intel takes great pride in their school involvement, and you can find details about that at http://www.intel.com/education/ [intel.com]. Now, there was a panel at this conference talking about the role of private interests in fulfilling the technology needs of 21st century schools beyond just straight philanthropy, and the perspective that came out was that more private companies should be selling deeply discounted equipment to schools to get bulk orders steady customers, not to mention the image boost. There was also a very touching vignette about New York middle school students reading Romeo and Juliet videoconferencing with an Israeli class that was reading the same work. Finally, the Brookings Institution had a little bit about how the Federal government can facilitate involvement in "educational entrepreneurship" which is developing cheap, classroom-relevant tech specifically targeted for school use. This was part of the Blueprint for Prosperity report which can be found at http://www.blueprintprosperity.org./ [www.bluepr...perity.org]
    • Apparently, Intel contributes not only by donating technology for classrooms and computer labs, but also by training teachers in how to use them effectively in the classroom and developing a "digital literacy" curriculum for them to use.

      Similarly, the lesson plan covering nutrition was co-developed by the American Meat Council, and the civics lessons were designed by the US Department of Education.

      Is it that school administrators do not see that there is a conflict of interest here, or just that they do not

  • by krlynch (158571) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:45PM (#25848731) Homepage

    I only helped one classroom. The school needs more.

    The problem I always have with these statements is that this seems to be the end of it. "Getting" the technology into the classroom is not really that big of a problem ... there are huge numbers of companies that would gladly take the tax breaks available for donating old computers to schools (that may not put computers on every school desk, but it would be a start).

    No, the real problem is finding something USEFUL to do with all that hardware. Just as pens, paper, and chalk aren't enough to teach students math, piles of computers and ethernet switches by themselves aren't enough to teach students .... well, anything.

    And if you aren't willing to make a sustained, long term commitment to maintain, repair, and upgrade the hardware, along with ongoing teach training, course development and integration into the greater learning environment, all that hardware isn't going to be any more useful than a truckload of donated boat anchors.

    Widescale computing technology deployment in classrooms has, for at least 25 years, been some kind of hold grail. But it's always been a "learning solution" in search of a problem.

  • by frankie (91710) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:45PM (#25848739) Journal

    The most important thing you can provide is computer education for the educators. There have been far too many times when a school district (or grant foundation) lays out millions of dollars, and every classroom gets a shiny row of networked computers ... which lie unused all year. Unless the teachers know both how to use the technology (which you can provide) and concrete ways it can improve their lessons (which may be the hard part), you'll be wasting a lot of effort.

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      Being the good geek that I am, I'm all for the increased use of Linux and everything. But the concern I have is that if you put old, donated PCs in a classroom running Edubuntu (or pick your other favorite Linux flavor), you're going to see a bunch of old, outdated computers sitting in a lab that no teacher is going to want to touch for real coursework. Sadly, I think most teachers are going to either expect a PC to run Windows, or use MacOS (which, albeit a similar OS to Linux, is still easier to use and h
    • ... and concrete ways it can improve their lessons (which may be the hard part)

      Interdisciplinary education. Taking a writing class? Teach the kid how to write (no technology needed), how to use a word processor, and how to use the Internet to get information. The kid then gets a grade that is applied to both a Writing class and a Technology class. The Technology teacher grades the paper based on its technology merit (used appropriate online resources, formatted correctly, etc.) and the Writing teacher grades it on the Writing. There is some crossover, such as citing online refer

  • by bouaketh (731170) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:48PM (#25848795)
    During my work at a local University we held an e-waste drive. In addition to Freecycle, craigslist, slavation army, and goodwill we were able to provide computers for 2 classrooms (30 seats). We also put Edubuntu on those computers and they are still kicking, that was 2 years ago. Since then they have garnered funding from grants through the NSF and local business. It is now a student run organization with faculty supervision. They invite faculty, staff, and employees from local businesses to donate their time, expertise, and equipment to help outfit the schools. If you have a connection to a local University you might want to consider doing the same. Get the compu-geeks and eco-trip hippies together. It is good press for the University and anybody involved. The students learn something. You do your part to save the earth. Kids get computers and slowly everyone is happy...slowly.
  • Focus on teachers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jcronen (325664)

    Most public school teachers are clueless when it comes to technology. At best, half of the math and science teachers will be technically savvy, while less than 25% of the English and social studies teachers will know the difference between a browser and a word processor. At the elementary level, you're talking 10%, tops.

    It's the whole "teach a man to fish" thing. Having a single teacher on staff that is technically savvy breeds dependence on that one teacher and continued naïveté. If all tea

  • What the OP did was noble, but this is a solution that doesn't scale. If schools started excepting donations of old computers, everybody would bring in their broken computers and the schools would be stuck with a pile of e-waste. This e-waste could potentially cost more to dispose of than the cost of purchasing a few new computers.
  • School Board (Score:3, Informative)

    by Buddy_DoQ (922706) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:50PM (#25848819) Homepage
    I work at a small and fairly wealthy rural ISD, a far cry from a struggling inner-city operation, but one of the best things you can do is get to know your school board. Their meetings are open to the public, and often have plenty of time for Q&A. Calling ahead can land you a slotted time to make a presentation. Convince them of the need for technology, and if you can stress the actual VALUE short and long term, you may be surprised at their willingness to budget for this sort of thing.
    • by Buddy_DoQ (922706)
      I'm going to reply to my own post, to basically second what's being shouted over and over. Teachers.

      We're 90% Mac, running 10.4.11 (with a few 10.5.5 *ehem*) and as easy as Macs are to use, we still spend over a week each summer training our teachers in the BASICS. I'll get calls every day, clear to the next summer, with teachers wanting to do the most simple tasks. This is not a critique on their skills as teachers, not at all, but many of them simply do not GET computers. There are days I feel, that it
    • The PTA in this area spends a lot of time fund raising for technology. Being a little tech hub doesn't hurt either.
  • by armorer (1412191) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:53PM (#25848859)
    I submitted as AskSlashdot, so I'm not sure why it's under news. I'm not sold on the idea that our district should spend its money putting a computer in every classroom either (I'm not asking them too though.) I agree wholeheartedly with the folks here who say that the school's really need dedicated teachers. Unforunately, I can't provide teachers so I'm trying to help with something closer to my area of expertise. As for the machines and kids goofing off instead of doing work: I locked down a lot of things on the machines I brought in so that the kids can only use them for educational games. And I was amazed at how much fun these kids had with TuxMath.
  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:55PM (#25848875)

    I wrote my Ed thesis on this. You've gotta start with the teachers, as they are woefully unprepared (some argue unwilling) to integrate technology into their lesson plans. What good is a 1:1 student:computer ratio if the teachers don't actually have students use the computers for their work?

    A second, lingering problem is trying to figure out what we actually do with computers. There are far too many old-fashioned minds that think education should teach kids about computers, which is an outdated paradigm for sure.

    Keep the Computer Science classes for those truly interested in that field, but quit trying to pretend the computer is a magical box that requires special skills to operate. Realize that any 8-year olds know how to click a mouse, type some words, go on the Internet, etc. (the same assumptions cannot, however, be made about their teachers) and stop trying to teach them to be Computer Scientists.

    Start thinking about how the students can USE the tool to learn as opposed to teaching students how to make the tool work. If they do the first, the second takes care of its self.

    • really, as a computer scientist, why would one ever care? teach them science, mathematics, literature. language. music. this whole idea of computers as an end in themselves is raw masturbation. teach your children to think.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stewbacca (1033764)
        I can't say I disagree with anything you say. You are actually kind of supporting my point, in that there is far too much emphasis on teaching kids HOW to use computers instead of teaching how to use computers to do something. That's my entire point--by requiring some sort of product that commissions the use of a computer, they demonstrate mastery of the tool without having to dwell on the "how-to" steps. It's also hugely motivating for kids to have fun while doing school work. Producing a Podcast is muc
  • Use technology to find ways to get around shortages in other areas that aren't tech centric. Maybe start an "open textbook" movement where people write high quality textbooks under creative commons licenses and then get Amazon to donate a bunch of Kindles (or developer a low cost ebook device).

  • Computers in schools have a bit of a checkered history. My knowledge is probably a bit out of date, but I think the first step needs to be laying out exactly why you think this is a good idea in the first place. I would suggest writing a very specific description of the subject areas with which you think the computers will help and a run-down of why and how you believe computers can improve on how these subjects are taught without them. From this will flow some obvious questions about what other resource

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:57PM (#25848925)

    I'm typing this on a computer I obtained for free off of Craigslist. PIII 700 megahertz. It does absolutely everything I need it to do: video, youtube, Word, XP, WIFI. It does not run fancy games.

    It's a damn shame that a majority of such computers are now in the landfill, since companies just throw them away. In addition to creating more waste, you have deprived someone of a perfectly good computer.

    There is no organization that properly routes, vets, and refurbishes these types of computers to people who need them. Perhaps computer makers are actively discouraging them.

    I'd be willing to start one up with enough seed money.

    I think this sort of exchange is the way to go. With Moore's law making computers cheaper and cheaper, there will always be a steady supply of usable computers headed for the landfill.

    If you support OLPC, then you should support such an exchange of technology.

  • Really?! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Peregr1n (904456) <ian.a.ferguson@gmail.com> on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:58PM (#25848933) Homepage
    I'm not trolling, and don't worry about modding this question, I just want to read the answers.
    But... I assume you're in the USA? Does the government there really not equip public schools with IT facilities? I'm genuinely astonished. Surely schools have some facilities, if only a computer room for IT lessons? Is IT on the curriculum at all?!
    • I But... I assume you're in the USA? Does the government there really not equip public schools with IT facilities? I'm genuinely astonished. Surely schools have some facilities, if only a computer room for IT lessons? Is IT on the curriculum at all?!

      The answer is: it depends. In the US, education is a local issue (as it should be), so what the government equips the schools with depends on each school district (in the US, a school district is the local government entity responsible for the public schools). In addition to the local control, each state has a basic curriculum that each school must meet, but this curriculum is decided at the state level. There is really no authorization in the US Constitution for the Federal Government to get involved in ed

      • by ahodgson (74077)

        If the Founding Fathers saw what the Federal Government was doing today, they would have shot themselves in the head and not bothered rebelling at all.

    • by Fastolfe (1470)

      It depends on the state and the local government, and how much funding those areas choose to give their schools. I've never heard of a public school anywhere in the US that did not have a computer lab of some kind, and the classes you'd expect to see held in such a lab. Putting computers in individual classrooms (that aren't computer classes/labs) is another matter, and I suspect you'll see a lot of variation from place to place. It's not clear to me how much value this actually provides if the students

  • Students these days will learn 'computers' no matter what you do in the schools. Just putting more computer in won't do any good.

    Instead, they need to be taught how to do things on them. Programming, art, CAD... Mostly things -can- be done without the computer, but that proper use of the computer will make them more productive. (Or let them have more fun!)

    In other words, if you aren't volunteering your time, you can't really help.

  • Become a tutor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jmyers (208878) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:07PM (#25849063)

    You will make the most difference by helping some kid(s) by tutoring them. There are lots of organizations around that will connect you with the students that need help. Search one out in your area. You are not going to make a big difference by giving them hardware.

  • by SteveHencye (1400473) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:12PM (#25849145) Homepage
    I am a 9th grade student and I know exactly what you are talking about! I go to a small private school of about 800 kids in 1st-12th grade. I am the only real computer geek here, there is one other kid but he is just about gaming and a little bit of hardware. Which won't get you much. So out of the whole school aside from the computer technician I am the computer guy. People come to me before they go to anybody else, I kind of like it but it almost hurts knowing that these people know nothing about computers (aside from myspace, they all have myspace) and that they are going to have trouble getting jobs because so much requires some type of computer skill. We used to have a computer class but that only lasted for about a year because nobody wanted to sign up. Now I have all the text books and use them for my own learning. This is pathetic. But a lot of parents that I know do not want their kids knowing stuff about the computers for fear that they will become non-active and start gaming, and sad but true thinking that they will become violent. I think that an example of why it might be the way it is would be something like Columbine. After Columbine nerds were being kicked out of school for days because of gaming and such, slashdot especially was jam packed with people telling their stories about how people had grown a fear for them. Many children had their computers taken from them for fear that they would act upon the actions in those video games. The truth is that the games and such are not bringing the violence in, its people that fear these children. These kids are rejected. People in schools do not support computers, they support sports and jocks. Stuff that will get these children no where in life. Something has got to be done to help the education of computers in schools. It is pathetic and very annoying. The teachers do not even know anything. The sad thing is that you have to be careful about how you come upon it, we do not want to raise a bunch of computer hackers and people that will turn to the dark side. Great point. I hope you can work someting out. As far as teaching these kids I have no clue, I have tried but they do not want to learn. I guess you have it or you don't.
  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:17PM (#25849227) Journal

    The problem is not too little technology. All too often technology is crammed in where it doesn't belong, under the supervision of people who aren't capable of maintaining or correctly utilizing it.

    Unless you are teaching something intrinsically tecnological, the utility of a bunch of computers is limited, doubly so if there is no budget for maintenance.

  • If only there was some sort of laptop... designed specifically to provide one laptop per child... if only...

    Oh well...

  • There is a rapidly growing suite [mangocats.com] of "tool" software that's free and works on all major OSs - these are probably the most powerful tools for the kids to learn because they can transfer their knowledge anywhere in "computerland."

    As others have said, good teachers are key. I've found lots of cheerleaders in education that just go flat when you leave the room - all of their enthusiasm for what you're doing to help evaporates in the face of the daily grind.

  • The best thing you can do is don't. US Public schools are fear based, and heavily pro-Microsoft. If you are a Linux user, you don't have a prayer.

    I grew up in US Public schools, and computers in US Schools have been a disastrous waste. Students really haven't benefited from them, in fact the reverse has occurred. You are just casting pearls before swine.

  • Most of the real 'problems' with public education in the united states are systemic and cultural.

    The best way to address them with technology is to go over to a home based system that entirely eliminates the social interactions that interfere with academics.

    The various social aspects can still be met of coarse by allowing the teams, clubs etc a place to get together, but removing the 'having to see people I don't want to be around every day' aspect of school will go a long long way. Also if your teacher do

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      If your goal is to have a society of social misfits that would rather text each other than ever speak to another person again, you are on the right track.

      Half of the companies I work with on a regular basis are staffed by people that simply do not know how to get along with others. Face it, you have to deal with the people you would rather not see again. If you can't learn that skill it is a shame and society at large has failed you. Don't make it worse.

  • by boyfaceddog (788041) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:30PM (#25849443) Journal

    I recently worked applied for a job with a local school system as IT support and got to know one of the techs there pretty well.

    One of the things he told me is that, although the schools* accept donated PCs from well-meaning people, the techs (like techs everywhere) don't really want to support thirty different hardware and software platforms. They will use it if they can but if they can't it gets dropped in the recycle bin. Some people just assume that schools will take anything because those are poor, publicly funded organizations and it is okay to just drop off those pentium IIs with puppy linux installed.

    What may be a warm fuzzy feeling for you might be a big headache for someone else.

    *Yes, this is a suburban school. Your mileage may vary, yada, yada, yada. The point is that you should ask the technical staff (if there is one) or at least the school principal if the school can use the stuff.

  • Vouchers (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lovedumplingx (245300)

    Give the children vouchers so they can go to better schools and learn about technology as they need it through life in the better opportunities that they'll have from not being forced into the government monopolized system?

  • Although I am totally supportive of the idea of the poster, I think he's also missing the big picture of what the real problems of the US education are. What is missing is not a "computer in every classroom", but a strong math and physical science education. The US are failing to train the next generation of scientists and engineers, by focusing on irrelevant form of education. Being able to do a content-less powerpoint, is pretty pointless. Kids need to know math and science, but more importantly, they nee
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Friday November 21, 2008 @04:58PM (#25850717)

    I used to work in a very wealthy school district. They had zero clue about how to best implement their plans, but lots of cash to throw at the problem. They even had a computer lab with 24 desktops and 12 cheap printers; with a parallel cable splitter connecting two PCs to each! The teachers were also never shown how to even use the most basic functions of the PCs they each had in their rooms. So, the vast majority of hardware was relegated to collecting dust or game play when kids were done with their work.

    So, what I'm saying is the first two steps are:

    1. Show teachers how to leverage technology in their lesson plans
    2. Show the administrators what technology can do

    Getting too fixated on the hardware details first is putting the cart before the horse.

  • A few protips (Score:3, Informative)

    by JonToycrafter (210501) on Friday November 21, 2008 @05:41PM (#25851467) Homepage Journal

    I worked for a program that brought computers into inner-city schools in NYC. I was responsible for overseeing two computer labs that received after-school use, and a dozen laptops that went in a rolling media cart. The laptops were running Edubuntu. I was on a six-month contract and so I don't have as many answers as I'd like, but here's a few lessons learned.

    MOST IMPORTANT:
    - You can't give the school computers, particularly running Linux, and walk off - even if the teachers are tech-savvy (most will not be). Your project will die off quickly if you don't make a long-term commitment to support it.

    Edubuntu-specific:
    - Linux support for wireless drivers is less than perfect. Skip wireless, or test thoroughly. Flaky wireless gave our Edubuntu project a poor reputation very quickly.
    - Also test the printer drivers.
    - Many schools have inane requirements that you'll need to support. For instance, our program required that the students be tested using software from Scholastic that was Windows-only and made of fail. The school neglected to tell us that this was a requirement at the time we decided to go with Edubuntu. We also weren't told that they'd want them for a comics-making course - there's no comic-making software for Linux.

    More generically:
    - Everything not nailed down will walk off. Not just mice and power cables, but even stupid things like monitor-to-PC VGA cables walk. Make laptops get checked in and out. The cables connecting peripherals to desktops should be inaccessible to users.
    - 3 out of your 4 non-ruggedized laptops will need replacing after a year.

  • DonorsChoose.org (Score:3, Informative)

    by ffejie (779512) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @02:11AM (#25855779)
    Give to Donors Choose.org [donorschoose.org]. You can browse around for a classroom that you like, for a project that you like, and you give money directly to it. From there, the classroom will send you thank you notes and give you warm fuzzies.

    Generally speaking, it's a good way to give back. Most schools don't want you to just come in, dump some old equipment on them and leave. They want new equipment and all the warranties etc. There's a little bit of overhead on the charity, but it's within acceptable ranges.

We have a equal opportunity Calculus class -- it's fully integrated.

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