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Making the most of what you have
Mike Maveal, who teaches eighth-grade science at Jones Junior High in Toledo, Ohio, shares his story about integrating computer technology into his curriculum.
By Mike Maveal
In 1994, in one of my graduate classes, I became involved in the Internet Ambassadors Program with Dr. George Shirk of the University of Toledo (UT). We trained eight students from Jones Junior High to use the Internet. With the help of one of my best friends, Greg Moore, owner of Michigan-based Moore's Computers, I started learning about computers and how they operated. My involvement since then has ranged from supervising student e-mail access to creating an entire computer-lab in my classroom, and slowly but surely integrating computer technology into the curriculum.

One day, while investigating a trash dumpster, the students in the Internet Ambassadors Program found some old monochrome monitors and IBM computers without hard drives. We obtained the needed parts from my friend Greg, repaired the computers, and installed internal 2400 baud modem cards. Each student took home his/her own computer and went online with text-only e-mail accounts donated by UT. The "Jones Junior High Hackers" (JJHH) Internet club was formed!
     The JJHH met nightly on the Internet at 9:30. One of my eighth-grade students figured out a way to do a six-way conference call on the Internet where six of us all "talked" to each other over the UT Vax e-mail system. Each computer screen split six ways and each member of the club could chat with the other members simultaneously. It was amazing. Even the Professors at UT could not do this! To say the least, we were all excited.
In 1995, the UT program advanced beyond our hardware capabilities. We did not have, and could not get, the new 386 computers capable of running all the graphics on the Netscape Web browser, so we left the UT program and continued on our own at Jones. We ended the year with five running IBM XTs in the classroom, one of which was capable of text-only e-mail. We connected this computer with the others through a 200 foot telephone extension cord which we still use today. Word started to spread about what we were trying to do and individuals began donating old computers to the class. I also went to auctions and garage sales hunting for old computers, whether they worked or not, to use for parts to repair the other PCs we had obtained.
"We saved all the computer parts we could. I still have boxes full of disk drives and old hard drives in my closet. We saved all of the circuit boards, fans, motors, batteries, and speakers."
I found interested students, who ate lunch with me everyday in the classroom, and we worked on the computers trying to figure out and fix the problems. I bought some old tools at garage sales and set up a "disassembly table" in one corner of the room. As students finished their assignments, they were allowed to take apart equipment that was beyond repair. One thing I realized about children today is that they do not build or repair things very often, as we did when I was young. Perhaps this is why their measurement skills are so low; the only time they use a ruler is at school! I found many students were either afraid to tear things apart for parts, or they would try to beat it apart instead of carefully disassembling the machine. I had to take time to teach them how to take things apart; and I found that old sewing machines were wonderful for this lesson.
     We saved all of the computer parts we could. I still have boxes full of disk drives and old hard drives in my closet. We saved all of the circuit boards, fans, motors, batteries, and speakers. The rest of the metal parts we took to the scrap yard and sold for scrap metal. At the end of the 1995 school year, we had added a 286 that was Internet ready; all we needed was an Internet provider.
When the 1996 school year began, I was convinced that computer technology was the management tool of the future. The school district arranged for each school library to have Internet access. I asked the provider to install the software on my classroom computer and he did, so we were able to access the Internet from my classroom for the first time. We also had a number of other computers in the room by that time. In the summer, I had located and purchased 28 pre-Windows IBM XT computers from a parochial school for $600. We repaired them and ended up with 23 working computers in my classroom at Jones for less than $800! They were old and limited in their capabilities (20 meg hard drives), but they had CGA color monitors and the students loved them. These PCs have proven to be wonderful tools; I use them as incentives as well as teaching tools. When a student completes his/her classwork, then he/she is allowed to use a computer to type assignments or play educational or non-educational games. In addition, a number of my regular lessons involve using the computers in the classroom.
     As I replace the older computers, I try to put them into other teachers' classrooms. Language arts teachers can use the older machines for word processing and then nothing goes to waste! Involving other teachers in this way also helps ease them into computer technology and shows our students the possibilities of technology in all areas of our curriculum, not simply science.
"Sometimes you can even get additional software when buying or receiving old computers, because the owners may not have use for it any more. Remember: always ask for any old software the previous owner might have."
At the beginning of this year, I was offered a bigger science lab which meant moving all of the equipment. I went crazy during the summer, but managed to move and rewire all 24 computers. I also spent $300 and had my friend Greg put together a used 25-megahertz IBM 486 with a 14.4 modem. It was slow by today's standards, but capable of the nicest Internet access the students had ever seen! I was also trying to install switch boxes and printers so that three computers could share a printer. I started developing projects where the students could enter the scientific data they collected into a spreadsheet or database, and use the data to produce graphs and charts. Old machines are quite capable of these procedures by using a simple database or spreadsheet program or an integrated program that contains both.
     Most machines already have an installed edition of an integrated software program, which is capable of running word processing, spreadsheets and databases. Sometimes you can even get additional software when buying or receiving old computers, because the owners may not have use for it any more. Remember: always ask for any old software the previous owner might have. I have boxes of old software stored in my barn at home that is very valuable for older computers. I take a box to school every now and then and let the hackers sort through it to find programs and games that will run on the older machines. Several years ago, in a load of computer software I obtained, I found five un-opened boxes of Windows programs. I saved them until the day I found computers capable of running Windows, and now it has finally paid off! A few months ago, I had the opportunity to buy eleven IBM 386s, and all of them are now running Windows in my lab.
Another place to find software is the Internet. I found a simple Logo program, "Berkeley Logo," on the Internet that is freeware and requires no site license. Basic Logo programming is a wonderful tool for students that lack organizational skills. It forces them to write exact procedures in order to complete the drawing or project. My hope is to locate a used Lego-Logo robotics kit to construct a computer-operated robot in the classroom without spending any money. Oftentimes, we put our own money into projects like these, so it's thrilling when you can save! I have about $1,500 tied up in my class computer lab at this time, and new projects could increase the investment.
     Once computers start appearing in the class, interest in them rises, and demand increases. Because the computer equipment is so popular with the students, it is important to regulate their use. In my classroom, I limit the use of the computers to time before class begins or only after all work is completed. Furthermore, I only have one computer online in the classroom, and it is next to my desk so I can control its use. You will be amazed at how missing assignments turn up when computer privileges are removed. In addition ot these privileges, every Friday is computer day. The entire lesson is developed around the computer, integrating use of technology regularly into my curriculum. This allows students to learn with technology slowly, but surely.
To assist you, it's always useful to have other students in the class who already have computer skills. Then peers can guide one another in the learning process, and certain students can help you with possible troubleshooting and repair of the computers. For this reason, I ask the 7th grade teachers to try to locate the students interested in computers, and let me know who they are so I can begin to develop my "hackers" for the next year. If you don't actively seek out these students, you will spend half of the year trying to find your crew.
     If you have trouble scaring up hardware and software, and most of us do on our school budgets, send a letter home to parents at the beginning of the year to let them know you want to use technology in the classroom. The word will get around very quickly, and hopefully you will end up with some donated equipment. Remember that you can give an "Income Tax Deduction" receipt to anyone who donates computer equipment to your school or classroom.
The future is with technology! The new computer technology being developed offers us the capability of individually monitoring the progress of each student as he/she advances through a program of instruction. Many computer programs are capable of monitoring advancement through a self-paced curriculum, by controlling the step-by-step completion of each assignment. A student cannot advance to the next level in a program until he/she demonstrates to the computer that he/she is capable and has completed the necessary prerequisite work. Remediation is a simple process for the individual student by repeating a lesson. The challenge is in getting the hardware, computers, keyboards, and monitors to run the programs. It will be years before this hardware is supplied by many school districts. In the meantime, I am convinced that with very limited resources and large amounts of creativity, any teacher can obtain and use computers in his/her classroom.
     To sum it all up, I would like to offer some light-hearted suggestions to anyone thinking about making a computer lab in your class. First, buy a bottle of dark hair dye -- you'll need it; and don't worry about installing a mouse on each of your computers. At Jones, people have stolen the roller balls out of almost every mouse I have installed! On the other hand, Beavis and Butthead screen savers will make you a hero; and last but not least, don't feel guilty if the closer you get to June, the more you feel like installing Duke Nukem on every computer and forgetting the whole thing. And remember, have fun!
Check out Mike's favorite sites!
Top two educational sites:
1. Franklin Institute Science Museum. A site where students can learn about volcanoes, El Nino, weather forecasting, and more! You can also read about projects that other classrooms are doing, such as; "Scientists in the City" and "Water in the City."
2. Treasure Hunting around the Globe. A treasure hunting site written by an avid user of metal detectors to find treasures. Mike plans to use this to locate a source of inexpensive metal detector kits so that his students can build metal detectors.

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Mike Maveal is a science teacher in Toledo, Ohio. Read more about this author.

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