MacAdemia Nuts & Bolts
"Either GMTA (Great Minds Think Alike), Apple Computer has found a way to tap into my hard drive, or the problem is pervasive," I thought.
Not wanting to be overly egotistical or paranoid, I opted for the last explanation as I skimmed the April 7 edition of the Macway digest. In it was a plea by Joanne Varni, of Apple Computer, to mobilize the Evangelistas for education. I wrote the majority of this column on April 2 (in case any readers are thinking that I'm just blowing smoke, I took a screen shot of the "Get Info" window of my file).
Ms. Varni was expressing alarm at a recent trend for parents and PTA boards to challenge school superintendents' decisions to purchase Apple computers. I'm sure one origin of this trend was an article in March 14th's Washington Post by Rajiv Chandrasekaran entitled, "Is School Out For Apple?"
Unfortunately, the article is no longer mounted on the Post's site, so I can't point you to it. However, I read it shortly after it appeared and was moved to respond. Ironically, when I looked for Mr. Chandrasekaran's e-mail address, it was nowhere to be found (I SEARCHED every avenue I knew, including WhoWhere's compendium of telephone books and e-mail address listings). So, I wrote to his editor instead. Apparently, I wasn't alone in my choice of action then, either (maybe it's just that I'm becoming more mainstream?). A reply came from this beleaguered soul saying that Mr. Chandrasekaran's e-mail address was "missing" because of some random administrative oversight and gave assurance that my message would be forwarded to him (I wouldn't bet the farm on that one).
Ms. Varni advocated a letter-writing campaign to tout the advantages of using Apple computers for teaching. My plea stems from similar concerns, but advocates a more personal style of action to preserve our choice of personal computer in our communities' classrooms. Here goes:
"Professional days" or "teacher work days" are days when classes for students are suspended to give teachers time for planning, learning, meeting with other teachers, brainstorming; in short, developing. In our local school district, there are 1-2 professional days scheduled each month during the school year. Steven Covey, in his book, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," endorses setting aside time for such proactive endeavors as a non-urgent, yet highly important activity.
The terms "professional day" and "teachers' work day" conjure different meanings to teachers and parents. To teachers, these protected days are valuable time to regroup, refocus, and rejuvenate their curriculums. To many parents, professional days mean arranging for alternative child care, a disruption in the routine; in short, a hassle. This year, professional days are a bit more popular because they're scheduled on Fridays and Mondays instead of mid-week. As a parent, I deal with the frustration of arranging alternate child care for my daughter and it can be annoying. However, as an education partner, I am sensitive to teachers' need for protected time during the work week to learn new skills, hone those skills that are seldom used or just catch up on organizing.
A hot topic for professional days is learning how to use computers and the Internet. For most of the country, Internet access is a relatively new thing in schools. Most teachers were certified prior to the explosion of the Internet. Parents clamor for more integration of computers in the classroom, yet worry about kids surfing onto inappropriate sites. Many PTA Board members are trained Windows users because their business environment is Wintel-based. Yet Apple computers are the most common machine available to teachers. These conflicting goals and circumstances can sometimes overwhelm teachers and make it hard for them to effectively approach computers and use them in their teaching.
Many school districts are now requiring that teachers annually invest a minimum number of development hours on computer and Internet technology each year. For many teachers, this is a welcome endorsement to acquire new knowledge and implement new ideas in their classrooms. For other teachers, it is a frightening and daunting imposition.
Macintosh users, education is fertile ground for sharing your enthusiasm for your personal computer platform. If you have older versions of programs you no longer need or edutainment software your children have outgrown, consider donating these to a local school. But, I challenge you to go a step further. Donate some of your time as well. Help teach teachers how to use the program(s) you've donated.
Who can help? YOU! If you're reading this, you definitely have something to offer. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, if you have a skill you can share, I promise there'll be a teacher who wants to learn.
Who to contact and where should you start? Phone up the central administration of your local school district. They should be able to put you in contact with the appropriate teacher or technology coordinator. These individuals can in turn do some polling to see who's interested and what curriculum objectives or projects are primed for technology integration. People have the highest motivation and learn most effectively when they have a goal. Public libraries, churches, youth programs, home-schooling groups are some other avenues to explore.
What can you do to help? If you use the Internet, be an e-mail partner with a teacher or a group of teachers. One very simple thing I did with my daughter's Kindergarten teacher was to surf for Web sites that were very visual and didn't require a lot of reading skills to enjoy. Teachers don't often have time to surf the Web.
Offer to teach a staff development course. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Many of us consider using one of the many search engines available to find resources on the Web an easy task. To many people, doing a search that brings up 150,000 matches is a daunting experience. Teachers are no exception. They don't have unlimited time to browse, sometimes less than an hour. In our school district, one of the most popular staff development courses is a simple tutorial in using search engines and advanced queries. I would venture to say that most of our readers could walk into such a course cold and teach it effectively. Simple courses like this sometimes make all the difference.
For those readers who want a bigger challenge, consider helping out with a class project. One caution here: please be sure to listen to students' and teachers' needs. The technology person in your district or local school will know what teachers are asking for. See if your interests mesh with those of a teacher or class. Then visit the class. See and hear the context of the project and get a feel for how teachers and students will interact with the software.
When is the best time to offer? Right now. Schools are winding up for the summer and planning for next year. Staff development needs are being assessed and courses to address those needs being designed and scheduled. If right now isn't right for you, do it whenever you can invest the time. It's an investment worth making, and besides, it's a way to share your enthusiasm for your most personal computer - your Mac.
Why is this important? Well, in the general population, Mac users number about 10% of all computer users. In U.S. schools, Apple is "by far the biggest manufacturer," says Mark DiCamillo, vice-president of San Francisco-based Field Research (see the whole article). Some are Apple II's but more and more are Macintosh. Budget crunches mean that schools and teachers are seeking partnerships with local businesses to achieve their technology goals. That could mean fewer and fewer Macs in classrooms if we don't step up to the plate and help teachers use Macintosh hardware and software in education.
How can you get needed funds, equipment and/or software? Many sources abound if you look at your community creatively. The local computer repair shop, Internet service provider, or other local business may be willing to provide in-kind donations.
Another way to get money for a project is to write a grant. I've been told that the word "grant" tends to strike fear in the hearts of non-profits and volunteers, so I'll let the shock wear off and bring the subject up again next time.
Apple in Education highlights:
If any of you are planning to purchase (or know of anyone), please consider a visit to Sears. Sears and Apple have teamed up to provide local schools "points" towards Apple hardware for each Macintosh Performa 6360 bundle sold (includes a 15" MultiScan Display monitor and Color StyleWriter 1500). For more details, check out http://product.info.apple.com/pr/press.releases/1997/q3/970408.pr.rel.sears.html or call your local Sears store or 1-800-YES-APPLE. Program ends May 15, 1997, so please hurry!
Is your child isolated from his/her classmates and friends because of prolonged sickness or disability? Reconnect her/him with other kids via the Convomania web site. "Convomania empowers kids with the opportunity to use the Internet to share their feelings and ideas in a cyber-community setting...Convomania is an alliance between Apple and several partner sites (leading children's hospitals, camps and organizations for kids with disabilities)...Apple is also working closely with the San Jose Children's Musical Theater and Clear Ink, Inc. in the development of the Convomania web site."
Also in This Series
- What do a new Motorcycle and Laptop have in Common? · March 1998
- Apple Blossom or Lotus Flower? · January 1998
- Want a New Apple For Teacher? · July 1997
- MacAdemia Nuts & Bolts · April 1997
- MacAdemia Nuts & Bolts · January 1997
- How Do I use a Macintosh? Let Me Count The Ways… · October 1996