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ATPM 3.01
January 1997




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MacAdemia Nuts & Bolts

by Belinda Wagner,

Welcome! ATPM is celebrating 1997 and Macintosh's unique niche in the Education sector by inaugurating this quarterly column. MacAdemia Nuts and Bolts will highlight cost-effective, innovative solutions geared toward enhancing curriculum content and effectiveness with computer and multimedia technology with curriculums. Of course, it will often feature Mac hardware and Mac-only software, but not always. In fact, this month's solution is cross-platform (but has more flexibility when implemented on a Macintosh).

For a new column, it's best to begin at the beginning. So, this inaugural education column will focus on the elementary grades K-5. I must admit up front that I cheated on this one. Horrors!!! Cheating on an educational column!! In my defense, January tends to sneak up so quickly after the hubbub and chaos of the Halloween-to-New Year's blitz of holidays. But first a little background...

[Psst! I'll give you a daughter Nicole attends elementary school.]

Our yearly School Open House Night is held in August. We meet our child(ren)'s teachers, sign up for PTA, enroll the kids in morning and/or after-school care, etc. Parents are also targets. It's almost as though teachers have a quota for getting a certain number of parents to commit to Volunteer service which can range from arranging flowers for the cafeteria tables to serving on various committees. Kindergarten parents don't count. You can spot 'em a mile off. They have that "deer staring into oncoming headlights" look to them (I was no exception, by the way). This year, Nicole was entering first grade. I was fair game and yes, I got nabbed!

First there was the gerbil adoption... It started innocently enough. Nicole and I were foster parents to the Kindergarten gerbils, Fuzzy and Ernie over the summer break. I agreed to keep these creatures to stave off Nicole's constant begging to get a puppy. We already have a cat. Our lifestyle is too mobile. A dog would be too much. So, we gave gerbils a try. Gerbils, feline and humans survived summer vacation with flying colors. I agreed to adopt two baby gerbils from the school's breeding pair on Open House Night when we returned Fuzzy and Ernie...

My appointment to the Media and Technology Committee is an event for which I have only myself to blame. My biggest adjustment during Nicole's Kindergarten year was relying solely on her for information. Prior to Kindergarten, she had been entrusted to a small cadre of child care providers — three to be exact. I never realized how much I relied on these wonderful people for feedback about Nicole's activities. Nicole is a very imaginative child and at five, she had yet to fully grasp the difference between truth and "make-believe." My solution to the lack of reliable feedback was to engage in short, frequent conversations with her teacher by walking with Nicole into class almost daily.

These five minute talks were very informative. For my part, I encouraged Nicole's teacher in her quest to learn e-mail. Telephone calls during the business day are difficult. First, there are only three phone lines for the entire school (one line's use is shared between phone calls and Internet access). E-mail was a good solution for us to schedule parent-teacher conferences, be informed about special class events, etc. For her part, she sent me one of her very first e-mails. I responded immediately with a congratulatory note sent by "Electronic Postcard." Viewing these postcards requires no other software than a Web browser capable of displaying graphics. The addressee receives an e-mail saying that they have been sent an Electronic Postcard by "so-and-so" with a "pick-up number" and instructions on how to "point" the browser to retrieve the card.

Armed with this incentive, Nicole's teacher approached the Media Center coordinator and asked to learn Netscape in order to pick up her postcard. This took no time at all (early mornings were best for accessing the phone line and the server) and I was greeted that morning with a big, warm hug as the teacher exclaimed, "How did you know I loved the beach?" (The card depicted a famous painting of a beach chair.)

Nicole's teacher was so tickled by the Electronic Postcard that she sent one to everyone for whom she had an e-mail address. She also taught other teachers how to send and retrieve postcards using Netscape. The cascade had begun. Teachers were cruising along one lane of the information superhighway and loving it. Except...

They couldn't surf. They had no time for it. Remember, a single phone line was shared amongst all classes for Internet access and was used at other times for telephone calls. Postcards were fun, but what about stuff for the kids? Where was that? Yahoo searches brought up too many hits. Browsing through them was tedious because most were irrelevant. Few teachers had computers, let alone modems, at home. They were losing interest...

At Christmas, Santa brought me a 28.8 modem and I had free Internet access from home through my employer. Saturday and Sunday morning coffee time was spent cruising the 'Net instead of channel surfing or rifling through Science or Time magazine. I previewed sites geared toward younger students. I found some real gems. One was a site dedicated to students for whom English is a second language (ESL). Nicole's school is an ESL center in our district. I e-mailed the URL to her teacher. When the ESL teacher was searching for ways to get her kids interested in the Internet, Nicole's teacher had a resource to share.

Thus was born my latest nickname, "Technazon." So... I was in the crosshairs for being appointed to the parent slot on the "Media and Technology Committee." Teachers were gunning for me with both barrels. I was a goner...

The first meeting of the Committee started at 7am. How fitting. I am not a morning person. At that hour, the stark contrast between academic (or business) professional computing and the resources available to the average elementary teacher took on mythical proportions.

Some of the challenges:

"How can we use Internet resources in the classrooms that are housed in 'trailers'?" (Many schools in our district have anywhere from 1-20 mobile home-type trailers to house overcrowded students in extra classrooms beyond the building's capacity.)

"What do I do when I can't get onto the server during my class' computer lab hour?"

"How can we be sure that the kids are safe when they're on the Web?"

"Can more than one class construct Web pages? How do we store all the files and still use only one copy of a program?"

"I'd really like to use something like WebWhacker to view sites offline, but how can I get them from one hard drive to another when they're too big to fit on floppies?"

The Realities:

Even when the school's LAN is set up and a direct Ethernet connection to the Internet via the district server is established, trailers won't be networked in until much later.

The "cream of the crop" machines in the computer lab (mostly LC 560s) have 8Mb RAM and 100Mb hard drives. Computers housed individually in classrooms tend to be older with less memory and hard drive storage.

Little money is available to upgrade memory or other hardware or to buy multi-site licenses for software that will be used occasionally.

Even for teachers who have home computers, after-hours access to the Internet is virtually impossible because the district server is swamped during evening hours. Underpaid teachers are not inclined to pay personally for work-related Internet access.

A Solution!

The school is now the proud owner of an Iomega Zip Drive (hopefully, the first of several), a cost-effective yet elegant solution to the realities and needs of both teachers and students.

How Will It Work?

First, those drives are fast enough that you can run software directly off a Zip disk. Some software will be used by several classes or teachers, but usually no more than one or two at a time. Instead of buying a multi-site license, the school can save money by purchasing one or two individual copies and installing them on Zip disks. Zip drives are relatively inexpensive and portable. Similarly, Zip disks cost about $15 or less and hold 100Mb of data, the equivalent of about seventy 1.4Mb floppies.

Second, 100Mb of storage is enough for storing Internet resources, images, and other large files offline. Student works, class projects or teacher materials about a particular topic can be stored together on a single disk. Disks can be shared between schools, classes, students, teachers, parents and other education partners. Storing large amounts of related files and data on Zip disks keeps valuable hard drive space free on computer lab and classroom machines. Data can be easily updated or copied as necessary.

Currently, Claris Home Page is installed on a Zip disk and was used to design the school's Web page <>. Software and files were stored together on the disk. The Media Center coordinator worked on the project by toting the 1 pound drive between home, school and District offices with ease. After creating and testing the site on a local computer, files were uploaded to the server directly from the Zip disk instead of tying up precious phone lines transferring large files via modem. Adjustments to the uploaded files were made using the Home Page application running from the Zip disk while the drive was connected to a terminal on the server network.

Other software, like Adobe's Photoshop or PageMaker, can be installed on their own Zip disks, too. These expensive and feature-rich programs are usually considered too luxurious for elementary schools because their power is needed only occasionally. However, using the Zip drive/disk solution, several classes or even several schools could combine financial resources and buy one or two copies to share.

Ethernet connections to the Internet are very fast. Teachers can save time by performing searches, downloading individual files or, using an application like WebWhacker, entire Web sites for offline viewing on a computer with an Ethernet connection. Increasingly, files have become too large for storage on standard 1.44Mb floppy disks. With Zip disks, teachers and students can take advantage of an Ethernet connection on one machine for downloading and still be able to view those files later on a different computer.

Macintosh's PC Exchange software permits writing to or reading from Zip disks formatted for IBM-compatible platforms. Data can be imported from or exported to DOS or Windows machines. If a teacher or student has an IBM-compatible computer available outside of school, Zip disk contents can be viewed and worked on after school hours or during school holidays. At least one parallel port Zip Drive will probably be purchased by the school in the near future and made available for loan.

Offline storage of Web pages solves other challenges besides Internet access. First, Web pages can sometimes "disappear." A valuable resource here today might be gone tomorrow. Second, educational institutions are accorded some privileges for using copyrighted materials that do not extend to the public domain. Sharing resources offline among other educational institutions is allowed, but publishing on public servers would, in some instances, be a violation of trademark or copyright. Third, children's privacy issues limit how students' images and documents can be mounted on public servers.

The Zip Drive "solution" I've described will not be common in business or higher education because networks already exist and people have more reliable access to them. Furthermore, people in these environments need more frequent, if not constant, network access. This need justifies the expeÉÉhof installing and maintaining a public server or "intranet" and regular upgrades to remote users' hardware and software. Schools, on the other hand, have different priorities and more limited resources.

It turned out that the breeding pair of gerbils had produced a litter of three rather than their normal two offspring. Apparently, the word had gotten out that we were adopting at least two gerbils. At Open House, four different families asked whether we would be adopting all three babies or just the two I'd planned for (we live in a rather small city). I was reminded that gerbil littermates bond quite strongly. More than once I heard how cute they were and how horrible it would be if one gerbil suffered emotional damage from being "abandoned."

You guessed it... Nicole and I came home that evening the proud new "parents" of Fluffy, Hubie and Elizabeth. Two boys and one girl. My future was "littered" with visions of baby gerbils galore. Agreeing to adopt three gerbils and serve on the Media and Technology Committee probably won me "Most Gullible Parent" award. But the real prize goes to whoever can figure out whether the gerbil who met its maker not too long ago under my fridge was a boy or girl!

One thing I look forward to in sporting my new editorial "hat" is feedback. Please write! Do you like (or dislike) MacAdemia Nuts and Bolts? How is your community integrating computers with curriculum? What are your educational challenges? Do you have a solution you'd like to share? My goal is to highlight a variety of educational settings - public, private, home schools, and alternative education programs. Also, learning is a lifelong endeavor. All grade levels and ages have challenges - K-12, college, graduate, bi-lingual, special, remote, and adult education. Please share your experience!

Most importantly, does anyone know if, when and how many baby gerbils I might have up for adoption?

[apple graphic] "MacAdemia Nuts & Bolts" is ©1997 Belinda J. Wagner

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