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ATPM 4.09
September 1998




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Segments: Slices From the Macintosh Life

by Ken Houlihan (Russell Elementary K-2 Teacher),

Baby Mac

Eyes twinkle at the familiar startup sound of Baby Mac, an SE donated by a kind soul in New York. Feet scurry to finish morning jobs as the screen comes to life on the Apple IIE donated by a high school student from Iowa. Conversations suddenly end when Josh turns on the LC580, and exclaims that there is a new CD we received from a Colorado transplant now living in Florida. And so begins another day in my K-2 classroom at Russell Elementary, a flurry of non-stop activity where my kids and I use technology as a powerful tool in the educational process.


Russell Elementary is a public school located in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, Colorado. We have a student population of 410 students in grades K-6. Russell is a Title One, At-Risk school. We receive Title funds through a school-wide improvement initiative to help all students, including our At-Risk students, perform at higher levels of achievement. We have 65% of our kids who qualify for free/reduced lunch by federal guidelines. We also serve a school community that has 67% of our county’s low income housing. We also have a 32% minority and 10% ESL (English as a Second Language) population. SERS (Special Education Related Services) students make up 10-15% of our population. Russell’s mobility rate is 38%. Our students have very limited access to technology resources, mainly what we can provide through school. My classroom is a first/second multiage class of students that is typical of the rest of the school. One student in my class last year had a computer at home.

It’s 6:15 AM, and I am startled by a knock on the outside door. I don’t know why I should be. It’s one of the older students wanting to know if I have any jobs for him to do, knowing that once finished, he can work on one of the computers until it’s time for breakfast. An all too familiar scene. But the kids know I would rather have them come to me than to be wandering the streets.


Research shows that disadvantaged students learn more and score higher on national tests the more they are exposed to and make use of technology. My belief in this is reinforced every day in the classroom. Even the student hardest to engage in the learning process can be reached using computers. I see how much my students have grown because of their exposure to technology. And I have just touched the surface in providing them these opportunities.

I also have a strong belief in my students’ ability to learn and be successful. They are every bit as capable as the “normal” child. They are disadvantaged because they haven’t had the opportunities or experiences that most children do. Once given these, they blossom. It is not unusual for a student to make more than a year’s growth in an academic area, once they have access to the proper learning tools and the professional direction the staff provides. All students can learn.

Another belief I hold dearly to is that if there is something my students need, I feel it is my responsibility to find a way to provide it for them. Rather than waiting for it, I need to make it happen. With this in mind, I have committed to bringing the full value of technology to my classroom for my students’ use.

Ring! Ring! Ring! It’s the secretary calling. Will I come get Patrick, one of our SERS students? He is in a rage, and she can’t control him. After I have physically carried him into our classroom, I sit down where some of my kids are working on a geography lesson at the computer. Still keeping a death grip on Patrick, I wait for the transformation I know will come. Slowly but surely the screaming and squirming stops, and he focuses on what my kids are doing. They are stuck trying to read/find Venezuela. The fit is over as he offers to help my kids. I turn him loose, and he is soon fully engaged in the activity. I move on the the reading group I was supposed to start earlier.

Current Usage

I use technology as a tool for my kids to use in all curriculum areas. Here are some examples of what we did last year:

“I am a computer expert!” declares Jelena, my student from Bosnia, as she presents her writing journal entry done with The Amazing Writing Machine application she loves so much. At the beginning of the year, she struggled mightily with the transition to a new country and language. But once I sat down with her at the computer and introduced her to the talk feature of SimpleText, and she showed the other kids, she has progressed amazingly. The highlight of her year was when I brought an e-mail message with pictures I received at home from her family back in Bosnia.Yes, we still have a little work to do on pronunciation...

Donation Program

With this in mind, I have committed myself to setting up a donation program with two major goals. First, I want our students to have the full benefits of technology as a learning tool at school. Second, I want to provide these same opportunities for them at home. I am in the very beginning stages of doing this. My first step is to approach our PTA and/or community organization to sponsor this effort. My second step is to find a donor to financially support the set up, maintenance, repair, and training for donated equipment. My third step is to solicit individuals, businesses, organizations, etc. to donate computers, peripherals, monitors, accessories, software, etc.


“I haven’t done Reader Rabbit this week!” declares “Zach-a-ruuski” for the fourth time in the last five minutes. He is one of my ADHD kids, and he has perseverance down to a fine art form. “Once you are able to focus for 5 minutes, and do your best handwriting, it will be your turn.” He is fascinated with technology, and it has been the “hook” I use to help him demonstrate self-control. He tries so hard!

Since so few of our students have a computer at home, providing them with one would give them opportunities that many other children have. It would help students progress much faster with the Technology Content Standards, as well as other Content Standards. Homework could be assigned taking advantage of this tool. Further, this would have the added benefit of engaging an At-Risk group of parents in many positive activities with their child, and providing them with much-needed computer skills.

This concept is still very much in the brainstorming process, but I envision it including the following ideas. First, a method and process for choosing students would be determined by a program sponsor group. Criteria would include family need, number of children at home, a letter of request by the student outlining how the computer would be used, a user agreement signed by the parent and child,etc. Second, a group of teachers would evaluate the level of proficiency a particular student is currently at in regard to the Technology Content Standards. This would be used by the sponsor group to determine the type of equipment and software most appropriate for the child to be given. Third, as a child progresses and is able to demonstrate a higher level of proficiency, he/she could reapply for upgraded equipment/software.

Any equipment could be utilized, no matter its age or condition, to put together what is needed to provide students with home access. As a result, no donation would go to waste. Below is a wish list that would help put this concept into practice.

Wish List

Another way of generating equipment for home use would be donations used in the classroom. As these are replaced with upgraded equipment in the future, current equipment could be transferred to the home use program.

I have gotten such a joy jolt since I sent you ‘Old Paint’ as a donation! Every time I see the empty space in the closet, it reminds me that I did a good thing. I’m so glad you contacted me!

So wrote a mother-to-be from Texas after she sent us her trusty IIci. Mac users are the so compassionate and generous!

I’m just a high school student, so I can’t donate anything. But if you follow this bookmark, it will lead you to my web page where I have posted your request for donations.

Another example of what I mean about Mac users from an e-mail I received from California.

It is my fervent hope that something in this article will provide a spark in you to help make a difference for kids. Everyone has something sitting around that is not being used. I urge you to find a school or child to give it to. Use /expand on my donation ideas in your own community. My classroom and my students are living proof of what a difference you can make in a needy child’s life.

If you are interested in a copy of the Technology Content Standards I use to determine what to teach my kids, and what they need to be proficient in, please feel free to contact me

[apple graphic] Copyright © 1998 Ken Houlihan. Send your Segments submissions to

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Reader Comments (1)

Daniel Diedrich · July 12, 2007 - 13:30 EST #1
Ken - Nice piece of work. Clearly you care about your kids. I love the technology emphasis. By the way did you graduate from Mullen HS 40 years ago? I just retired as principal of an alternative high school after thirty years. Now I am the Director of student teachers at Aquinas College. Great to hear you are a teacher if it is the same Ken Houlihan I knew. Let me know what you have been doing. Reunion is coming up on July 27th at 7 PM at Brooklyn's by Invesco Field, Also at noon at Mullen for a picnic with spouses and kids. Come on by.

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