Our Readers Talk About How Internet At Home Affects Their Students

Readers applaud students who are breaking past barriers and exchange views on how home access to computers and Internet connectivity may differ amongst some families. In Reader Spotlight, Mark Peterson talks about wiring up Westside Union School District.

Readers applaud students who are breaking past barriers and exchange views on how home access to computers and Internet connectivity may differ amongst some families. In Reader Spotlight, Mark Peterson talks about wiring up Westside Union School District.

Readers applaud students who are breaking barriers of the past and exchange views on how home access to computers and Internet connectivity may differ amongst some families.

Remembering a Forgotten Past

I would like to personally express my appreciation for the tremendous article in your latest issue featuring our students from Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School (“Up Close and Personal,” Feature Story, Fall 2004). To receive such national recognition from a publication like yours is indeed an honor for these students. The response has been almost overwhelming.

Many of these students traveled as far as California to interview internees of the Japanese-American internment camps in Arkansas. From these stories and reflections, they have looked into the heart and soul of our country and its struggles with prejudice and discrimination.

They traveled to the Rohwer and Jerome internment camp sites in Arkansas several times to document the remains of the camps and walk the land that thousands walked some 60 years ago. The students’ determination to educate Arkansas citizens about their forgotten past has propelled them beyond the norm for 13- and 14-year-olds. I have no doubt that with young students like these, our democracy is secure as they take their place as vanguards of our constitution. These students are writing the history of a generation that we will some day leave in charge.

Thank you for sharing their story with the nation.

—Rick Washam, EAST Facilitator, Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School, Little Rock, Ark.

Closing the Gap

I find the statistics in your Report Card section interesting: 44 percent of children use computers, and 42 percent use the Internet for their assignments (Spring 2004); 10 percent of children ages 6 to 17 have a personal Web site, and 30 percent plan to have a Web site (Summer 2004).

But you are missing a big issue as studies indicate that most African-Americans lack access to technology in their homes. That means many African-American children are exposed to technology only in the public schools or at a public library.

Whites have greater access to the Internet and computers than African-Americans: Twice as many white households as black households have a computer, and the gap between black and white households in access to personal computers, telephones and the Internet has widened since 1998, according to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. For example, a white child from a single-parent home is four times more likely to have access to the Internet than a black child from a single-parent home.

We found that the level of computer use in a child’s school has a direct impact on his or her computer use to complete school assignments at home. Results of a survey of 170 parents in a large, urban Midwestern school system offer hope that we can close this gap. We found that a majority of African-American parents want their children to be exposed to technology, and while 60 percent have home computers, only 38 percent have connectivity.

Our survey results also indicate that 73 percent of African-American parents have an extremely positive view of the technology curriculum in the school of their children, and 72 percent of the parents said that their children regularly use computers for school projects. This suggests that many African-American students can become skilled users of technology when parents and teachers jointly encourage them to do so.

—Clyde Winters, Ph.D., Coordinator, Undergraduate Foundations and University Lecturer, College of Education, Governors State University, University Park, Ill.

Teaching the Teacher

The Teachers’ Study Council, an educators’ professional growth group, recently started its second year at a gathering that had four times the number of teachers and administrators who attended the initial meeting last fall.

The council is the brainchild of Angela Redden, a literature teacher at Dickson Middle School in Dickson, Tenn. She felt there was a need for a monthly gathering of educators from across the school system to discuss global and local ideas, as well as problems in the profession.

Her vision of self-initiated professional development manifested itself through several initiatives last year. The group met with the Tennessee Department of Education’s professional development administrator, discussed two books concerning best-practice strategies employable in classrooms, learned how to make a classroom Web site, shared pertinent articles from professional journals and provided the teachers with a half-day workshop about professional portfolios.

Groups like ours appreciate the information and support provided by magazines like Ed Tech. They help educators bring up-to-date technology into practice every day.

—Mary Lou Reed, Teacher, Dickson Middle School, Dickson, Tenn. Thanks for your comments. It sounds like our Teaching the Teacher section is right up your alley! Please stay tuned for the next issue’s TTT story on Rutgers University’s Special Science Teams program, which pairs special education teachers with science teachers around the state of New Jersey.

Correction: In the Fall 2004 issue of Ed Tech, there was an error in the photo caption in the Tech Debate section on p. 46. The man on the right is Tim Hohman; Dave McCreery is on the left. We apologize to Mr. Hohman and Mr. McCreery for the error.

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Reader Spotlight

Mark Peterson doesn’t own a crystal ball, but the network manager of the Westside Union School District in California does have a vision of the future: data streaming through the air at 45 megabits per second (Mbps).

Lancaster, Calif., a boom area east of Los Angeles, currently has 11 schools, and seven new ones are in the works. Along with the expansion, the district chose this past summer to wire itself for the future. Peterson installed four 10/100Base-T Ethernet ports in every classroom, but he knew that the district would be headed for trouble unless he also updated the wireless wide area network radio links between the schools.

“We knew that once we got all the teachers on [the network] using the Internet and e-mail, it was going to create all kinds of bottlenecks,” Peterson says.

Some of the bridges between Westside’s schools were running at 3.5Mbps. With six weeks to do the work and $265,000 to spend on new switching gear, Peterson drummed up a plan to get communications running at a minimum of 11Mbps over distances of up to 8.5 miles. The top-end bandwidth on the bridges pushes up to 45Mbps and connects to a hard-wired network that’s got enough bandwidth to push Gigabit Ethernet.

“We’re ready to go to Gig-E, but we didn’t buy all the equipment for it,” Peterson explains. “It’s coming in the not-too-distant future, and I wanted to do as much as I could to get ready for it.”

Much of what’s influencing Peterson’s thinking is video. He’d like to create a digitized central video library that could feed all the classrooms in the district from a single server. Thinking ahead to that vision, he made sure that every classroom had one Ethernet port next to its video monitor.

“I’m looking to the future,” Peterson says. “I see video streaming. I see voice over IP [Internet Protocol]. All things will be coming over twisted pair.”

For that reason, he’s stayed away from wireless—and its constrained bandwidth—in the classrooms as much as possible. He did use wireless classroom links in one school that’s in a trailer, saving $30,000 in trenching costs, and in another school slated for major renovations next year.

Online gradebooks, paperless attendance and a central networked print shop are also part of the mix. With all of that, plus 400 e-mail users (a number that will grow rapidly as the new schools are built) and only three network technicians, Peterson decided not to look for trouble.

“You’re only as strong as your backbone,” he points out. “If that doesn’t work, then nothing else does.”

Oct 12 2006

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