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Education

Cheap Computers in My Classroom? 43

Posted by Cliff
from the teaching-tools-for-the-next-generation dept.
richeddy asks: "I am going to start teaching elementary school in the near future. As a new teacher, I have the crazy idea that I might be able to actually teach my students a few things that other teachers just don't seem to be able to teach. This involves teaching methods that might be a bit unconventional. To this end, I am interested in building and installing a network of classroom computers that the students can use in real-world ways. That's right, no glorified flash cards in my classroom! I want my students using computers for research, presentations, writing, data collection and analysis, etc. In order to do this, I am going to have to personally foot the bill for the hardware and software. So I am looking for suggestions on what direction to go. I figure that I will need 5-7 computers to accomplish my vision, and I can't imagine paying for Windows and Windows apps. It looks like my only real option is to build the systems myself, which isn't a problem. Any ideas? Suggestions? Comments?"
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Cheap Computers in My Classroom?

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  • Cheap O computers (Score:3, Informative)

    by xagon7 (530399) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @07:05PM (#4539010)
    You could ask for donations from Parents.. tax write-off for them

    You could get the $200 PCs from Wal-Mart.com .. the school may be able to scrounge up monitors for you -- or the donation route or your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.

    I home this help "some".

    Good luck!
  • AT this point walmart sells lindows pc for as little as $200. I don't think you get pc's too much cheaper than that(at least not anyhting that you can hope to be current enoguht to last a while). I would suggest going with the lindows pc's and install a real distro linux on them. YOu could even set up all system to basically mirror one master system(for software update). BUt that's my 2 cents
  • Microtel PCs [walmart.com]. Good 'nuff for the classroom, unless you want Windows on there.
  • by GuyMannDude (574364) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @07:15PM (#4539050) Journal

    I know you're asking about the computers and not your style of teaching, but I'd like to put my two cents in for what it's worth. I don't know what this school you are going to teach at is like but many institutions are scared of change. By starting off right away and using, as you put it, unconventional teaching methods, you run the risk of irking the powers that be in the school. Since you are new, you haven't given them any reason to trust your instincts or abilities. Perhaps after a few years of proving yourself as a competant, exciting teacher they may be more receptive to your quirky ideas.

    I want my students using computers for research, presentations, writing, data collection and analysis, etc.

    I'm not sure what you have in mind, but I am wondering how many elementary school students are going to be ability to demonstrate the skills you list above. Again, you run the risk of other, more established teachers telling you to cool off and take a few years to get acquainted with the abilities of a typical elementary school child.

    I admire your dedication to your field and, although I am usually a strong opponent of computers in the classroom, your approach sounds interesting (I, too, am against glorified flashcards). I just want you to realize that you are taking a fairly big chance with your career by following unconventional teaching approaches right away. It works out nicely in the movies but the powers that resist change in the real world tend to be much more formidable then their cinematic counterparts.

    Good luck,
    GMD

    • I tend to agree with pretty everything above. If you're married to the idea of exposing the kids in your class to computers, then go the next step and see if you can submit grants for enough computers to set up a lab somewhere on campus as a resource for the entire school. If you want to donate a couple yourself I'm sure that will be appreciated without stepping on anybody's toes. If the school library could use more computers this would be a nice place to start.
    • Another issue to look at before you start spending time and money on technology for your students you will need find out what limitations the school division's computer policy places on you.

      In many divisions only division approved equipment/software may be used in schools. You may need to justify every little detail of your plan to the divisions IT department (even if you are using your own money)

  • go easy route (Score:3, Informative)

    by psavo (162634) <psavo@iki.fi> on Saturday October 26, 2002 @07:20PM (#4539068) Homepage
    If you get some PC's with enough RAM, and 'young' enough, I suggest you run Knoppix [knoppix.org]. It's a CD-ROM distro, and lives from ROM. It doesn't need to be installed, and doesn't need a hard-drive. It can save your settings on a flpppy though. (And it supports burning CD's). It has lots of niceties like autodetecting most if not all hardware, kde, openoffice and alike.
  • My first suggestion is to make sure every computer is the same. This mean that you won't have to worry about reconfiguring each computer individualy. I would suggest seting one machine as the "master" and have all of the other machines mirror that one via an ftp or rsync cron job.
    You then could set up every machine to get all files every night and then give each child a account on the main machine, so when the machines update themselves they will all have the same accounts. You could do this with all the configuration.
    THought you did say elementary school and this all would be a lost cause if the kids are too young. Before a certain age the os doesn't really matter.
    I think this is a good idea and could be used in the future for computer based testing etc
  • Just make sure.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by aztektum (170569) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @07:40PM (#4539150)
    they know they're arithmetic, spelling, and the capitals first. don't get them started on oo wiz bang gizmos until they understand their basic studies otherwise they might get distracted. i started playin' those silly learning games in school and never wanted to do my homework.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Perhaps you should take the class so you can learn the difference between their and they're.

      "The internet, death of language and communication." -- me
    • Also make sure they know "they're" grammar.

      At this age, I think there are a lot of basics that students need to learn. I think that computers would be more of a distraction than anything else.
  • LTSP (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The Linux Terminal Server Project [k12.or.us] would be a cheap base for your plan - one central high-spec server, with a load of low-spec workstations displaying the served (remote X) terminals.

    Don't be fooled into thinking that the performance will equivelent to the server spec averaged over the workstation machines, the peak performance of the server will be available to each user. Having just one box to administor, and being able to lock it in a cupboard should simplify setup & administration.
  • ACCRC (Score:2, Informative)

    There are places that donate computers; one I'm familiar with is at accrc.org. I know that they have Pentium-level machines at hand, and they have passed along many donated computers.
  • by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:17PM (#4539298) Homepage
    Getting hardware cheap isn't going to be your problem. What will give you the biggest headaches will be getting appropriate software. There's very little free stuff out there appropriate for little kids, and I doubt you'll be able to get discounts on the commercial stuff. I personally found it all mediocre.

    You may be able to get somewhere by having the kids visit some of the children-topical websites that are up. As for their making presentations, and doing coursework online... I think you'll run into problems.

    I strongly suggest that before embarking on this ambitious project you get ONE computer, and try to set it up so it'll be capable of everything you want. That way you won't wind up with kids working around the big, useless boxes sitting on their desks.
    • While hardware might not be a problem, you may have issues with what _type_ of hardware you get. Schools have recieved big discounts on mac hardware for years, so you may end up with old macs.

      However, if you want all your computers to look the same, then you could run BeOS on all the computers. It looks and feels the same on both mac and PC, so your students wouldn't get confuesed. (Yes, Be Inc. was purchased by Palm, but the OpenBe Project is getting close to a release, and you can insert the open modules directly into the current Be distrubution).

      good luck!

      ::I stole your sig::

  • What is your goal? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheWanderingHermit (513872) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:22PM (#4539312)
    First, I'd have to say I agree STRONGLY with the post by GaryMannDude above about change. Schools are VERY conservative institutions (speaking from experience -- 10 years of teaching before burnout). They do not like change and administrators are often actually feel threatened by teachers -- especially new ones, who konw a lot of things the administrators don't know -- like how to use technology.

    Second -- and my main point: What is your goal? Is it to teach the children the objectives for your year that you have them, or is it to teach them all the things you think they should learn? Almost every 1st year teacher I've ever known (myself included) has spent 12 hours a day or more on lesson plans. This is especially true for elementary students. You don't say what grade you'll be teaching (and there's a big range and a BIG difference between kindergarten and 5th grade), but I don't know a single elementary teacher who spent less than 10 hours a day on prep and grading during their first year.

    Do you really want to add setting up a group of computers on top of that? Is your goal to teach or to make a new record for quick teacher burn out? If you are not teaching the basic goals, as stated in your state's/county's/city's guides, it won't matter what miracles you're producing or what the kids can do with computers, you'll be on probation and out the door by the ned of the year.

    First year teaching, especially in elementary school, is rough. If you want to succeed as a teacher, spend your first year teaching and finding out what it's like being totally, 100% responsibile for a class of children (including dealing with the administrator and the parents) without your teeachers or an experienced teacher helping you through 1/2 a semester of student teaching.

    I admire and applaud your goals, but trying to do all this in your first year is asking for burn out and a new career. Spend this year, and likely the next, learning your profession. After you've been teaching for a few years, then make plans for how you're going to integrate the computers into your classroom. You'll do much better if you tie the computers in directly to the required objectives (in Virginia teachers are responsible for teaching the material stated in the Standards of Learning for each grade -- and yep, the Standards of Learning are called S.O.L.s), so when you're setting them up you can show administrators how they tie in directly to what you're expected to teach.

    You'll also do much better this way in the long run. You're pacing yourself instead of trying to do everything at once. While your students in the first year won't gain benefits from your computer plans, in the long run, if you pace yourself, you'll reach many more students without burning out.
    • by djmitche (536135)
      There are a few major current problems with technology in education:
      • Little/no IT support
      • Lots of expenditure without training
      • Most training does not support teaching and learning
      • Very few programs specifically, directly support teaching and learning
      If what you're doing does not directly support teaching and learning (emphasis on learning), it's not your job. And with a 25-hour job (that's first year teaching with training; I didn't even know what a lesson plan on my first day in my own classroom!), anything that is "not your job" is something you should not, cannot, and ultimately will not do.

      I highly recommend the Jere Confrey et al.'s "A Framework for Quality in Educational Technology Programs" in the May-June 2002 Educational Technology and Fulton and Honey's "Emerging technologies in education" in the July-August 2002 volume of same. These articles provide a good background and rubric with which to judge technology ideas, projects, programs, and implementations.

      Research your ideas first. If they're good ideas, others will help you with them (this is a new field, starved for truly good ideas and overrun with mediocre to bad ones). If they're bad ideas, you'll find out.

      • It's probably a bit dated by now, but you might also check out Great Teaching in the One Computer Classroom [tomsnyder.com] by David Dockterman. From what I can recall (read it wayyy back in grad school), it had a few decent basic, practical applications. I think he might also have another newer book available at Tom Snyder. (nice Co., btw, if you're looking for other decent educational software & resources.)
  • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:50PM (#4539388) Homepage Journal
    First, there are no new ideas in teaching. It's the same old crap wrapped up in a new buzzword. The 'new things' my mother and MIL learned when in college were the same things with different names that my wife learned.

    Second, you are going to be too busy the first year to muck about with computers for the classroom. If not, you're probably doing a disservice to the kids. (OTOH, if you get it going in the summer so that all you have to do is wheel them in...)

    Are you going to support them? On a teacher's salary? How long until junior wants to see if the class goldfish can live in the CD rom drive? If not, do you have any idea how bad the odds are that someone who works IT for your school will have a clue? Again, good luck.

    If you really have new, useful ideas, you could probably do more good sharing them with other teachers, not testing them on some unwitting students. If what you are thinking truly is new (and see my first comment: it probably isn't) you could qualify for some grant money. At this point, getting the okay from your principal is very important.

    Finally, I strongly urge you to read High Tech Heretic [amazon.com]. Even if you disagree with his conclusions, you should at least be able to argue against them intelligently.
  • Talk to some retailers/distributers around your area as they may be able to offer discounts for bulk deals.

    Also, you're right on the windows front. I would slap FreeBSD on those boxes and use the excellent suites that come with that to get those kids hooked on the better side of computing. (Damn, did that really sound like it did?!)
  • Good luck! (Score:2, Informative)

    by djmitche (536135)
    I'm a new middle school teacher, and while I heartily encourage you and hope you the best of success, be *very* careful not to focus too much on the technology. Several times, I've gone to some length to develop a technological solution to a perceived problem, and discovered later that I had wasted quite a bit of (valuable) time because of some misperception of the problem or some deficiency in the technology in my district. As a tech person, it's very easy to focus on large technical solutions to small problems.

    That said, I've very successfully taught small kids to build computers from spare parts and installed Linux on them. I then started bringing them up on, what else, Python. We used donated computers, which we stripped for parts. We then tested parts and built new, working computers which the students then took home with them. This was in a summer program, but I see no reason you couldn't do the same with your kids.

    I'm interested in hearing the ideas you have for effective use of computers in the classroom. Remarkably, this is a very new idea and you're likely to be on the forefront of ed-tech innovation if you have good, workable ideas.

  • Load Manrake 9 on the machines. Mandrake has tons of stuff that the kids coulld get into. once you install on one machine, you can save a "quick install" and duplicate it over the other machines with Mandrake. you will also have open office for presentations. Go through some Gimp titorials with the kids, that'd be great for art projecrs. Gphoto2 captures pictures from Most digital cameras. Of course for research there's Mozilla, or 3 or 4 other browsers laying around on Mandrake. I wouldn't set them all up with login accounts, just have one user and login on each machine and make them all the same, and set them to auto login on boot.

    asking the parents to help seems like a good idea, create an invoice and share it with everyone what you've spent on the machines. after a few years of a volutary "lab fee" you'll have those machines paid for.

  • In this [slashdot.org] posting earlier today, someone commented about being able to run distinct desktops on each monitor hooked up to his PC on linux.

    I've never tried it, but it seems to me that if you only need 7 or 8 monitors, setup a box running Linux, with 4 Matrox G450 PCI cards. 7 heads for them, one for you (or 8 for them, and you get one running off the AGP slot), A bunch of USB keyboards and mice (unless anyone knows of a better way of connecting that many input devices), and you have the added benefit of having a single box to maintain. Few if any licensing issues, add Wine or VMware, depending on your needs, and you can run the occasional windows app. This'll keep hardware costs down overall, but your box had better be pretty fast and robust.

    Plus, using some creative monitoring you can watch exactly what each of your students are doing on the system and the net and easily curb their activities as required without having to run to each PC or run additional software (VNC, comes to mind).
  • by duffbeer703 (177751) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @09:26PM (#4539541)
    One of the smartest people I ever met was the son of a farmer whose family owned a vcr, much less a computer.

    He went to a local community college, then transferred to the state university and eventually ended up becoming a very rell-regarded biochemist.

    You don't need to go to an elite school or have access to lots of high tech gadgetry to learn. Make it your goal to have your fifth graders reading at a 10th grade level and you'll be doing them a far more valuable service.
  • Don't be a dumbass (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Give up on the computers already. Take the money and spend it on those cool things called "books". Your kids aren't going to grow up to be nutsacks because they didn't learn XP at 2 years old.
  • I agree.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by davisshaver (583015) <.canyougrokme. .at. .hotmail.com.> on Saturday October 26, 2002 @09:55PM (#4539652) Homepage
    I am in 8th grade, and i think it would be the coolest thing to have a network of non-regular computers (ie Macintosh Power PC's) running Linux. You might want to wait a little bit, like until you get more experience or even if you get moved up. 5th grade is probably the earliest youll see results that are worth the time effort and money.
  • LTSP (Score:4, Informative)

    by charlie763 (529636) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @09:57PM (#4539659) Homepage
    You can get one quality computer and then get several old 486's donated for free. You can have the 486's rebotly boot from the main server (the quality PC). Check out this site [k12os.org]. These people make a version of Redhat that is specific for this purpose. Also, check out LTSP.org [ltsp.org].
    • by larsu (473425)
      Yeah. While I've not used LTSP in an educational setting, I use it at home and it rocks. My main box is a bit beefy, but all the workstations are quite small, and diskless, and since everything executes on the server, everything is still snappy. Even my non-geek wife uses this setup. It's wonderfully easy to administer (1 box vs 10), and performs great. I just can't say enough nice things about this.
  • Wal Mart (Score:2, Informative)

    by Evro (18923)
    Have you taken a look at Walmart.com? I don't know if you could possibly undercut this system [walmart.com] at $299 with no OS. You'll need a screen [walmart.com] too.
    • AMD Duron 900 MHz processor
    • 200 MHz frontside bus
    • 128 MB SDRAM, expandable to 1 GB
    • 133 MHz memory speed
    • 256 K integrated level 2 cache
    • 10 GB Ultra ATA 100 hard drive, 5400 rpm (total accessible capacity varies depending on operating environment)
    • 52x CD-ROM drive
    • Integrated Trident Blade 2D/3D graphics
    • Up to 8 MB shared video memory
    • Integrated 3-D enhanced sound
    • 10/100 Ethernet connection
    • 56 Kbps V.90 Win modem
    • Micro ATX tower case (7.06"W x 14.7"D x 13.8"H)
    • Total drive bays: two 5.25-inch external, two 3.5-inch external and one 3.5-inch internal
    • Available drive bays: one 5.25-inch external, one 3.5-inch external and one 3.5-inch internal
    • Total slots: 3 PCI
    • Available slots: 2 PCI
    • High-speed serial port
    • Parallel port
    • 2 USB ports
    • Game port
    • 104-key keyboard
    • 2-button mouse with wheel
    • Audio port (line-in, line-out, mic-in)
    • Stereo speakers
    • 1-year warranty, return to Microtel
    • Windows and monitor are not included
  • What exactly do you have in mind that elementary school kids need to research?

    <rant>

    School bureaucracies today are among the worst pin headed bureaucracies. School boards and teacher unions tussle over who controls the money, not about education.

    In particular, there have been two conflicting fights, one raising test scores to match the Japanese among others, the other reducing class size (which seems more a cycical ploy to hire more teachers and enlarge the unions). No one seems to consider that Japanese schools do NOT have small class sizes, have longer days, go to school on Saturday, and have much more homework.

    One of the more recent ways to spend (ie, control) more money is computers in school. Fine, in high school. WTF do elementary school kids need computers for? They need to learn how to do arithmetic on their own, how to write on their own, the elementary stuff.

    </rant>

    Is the concept of actually teaching passe?

    What exactly do you think elementary school kids need to learn?
  • Easy (Score:2, Informative)

    by Noodlenose (537591)
    I have no idea why the rest of the posters insist on something as complicated as Linux. Ok, it's cheap, but it's a nightmare to administer and install and if you're not a full blown alpha geek, forget it.

    I would get a set of mid- to endnineties Macs (pre G3). Why? Networking is dead sinple via appletalk, there is an absolute myriad on scientific software out there for Classic, and the hardware is dead cheap.

    Sites like Lowendmac [lowendmac.com] are teeming with examples how to put older Macs into good use in the classroom.

    Don't end up getting tangled up in Linux, please.

    Dirk

    Oh yes, and if you really, really want to use a free *nix, use OpenBSD. [openbsd.org]

  • Half [half.com] and Ebay [ebay.com]
  • Teach...that's all our kids need in those early years. They don't need whiz-bang computers or a philosophy lesson.
  • by chacha (166659)
    "As a new teacher, I have the crazy idea that I might be able to actually teach my students a few things that other teachers just don't seem to be able to teach."

    As a new teacher, you have no idea what you're in for. I'm not saying this to be mean. I'm not saying it because I get a kick out of scaring soon-to-be teachers. I'm saying this because it's the truth. Teaching is wonderful, but very rarely a Dead Poets Society vision of inspiration, especially with elementary school students who have a hard enough time with long division. My advice to you is to wait a year before trying anything experimental. Establish yourself at the school. Make nice with the other teachers, especially those teaching the same grade as you. Get in there, and just experience what it's like to be a classroom teacher. You might decide that there just aren't enough hours in the day for your set curriculum, much less additional computer lessons. Depending on what grade you'll be teaching, you might realize that computer-based presentations and data analysis might actually be somewhat over the heads of your average elementary school students.

    Once you've been in there for a little while, if you still feel that computers in the classroom is something that you want to do, you will probably need to talk to your school's principal, and maybe even your local school board. This is where your fellow grade level teachers will come in handy - see if you can all get together and do something as a unified grade level. It's one thing if one newbie teacher wants to do computer stuff. It's another if the whole grade level comes up with a curriculum and can present it realistically, with lessons and plans and everything. If you do something like this, your school district may well pay for at least some of what you'll need.

    If you feel you absolutely have to do something like this right off the bat, see if you can start an after-school program. That way, the students who want to learn about computers can, and those who don't have a need at this point in their lives can concentrate on their math homework or what-have-you. Back when I was in 5th grade, there were about 10 of us who participated in an after-school BASIC programming course. Nothing against my other classmates, but this kind of thing would have been lost on them. By doing BASIC after school, our teacher had a much easier time of it, because only the kids who were really interested in it were there.

    Wait a year. Make some friends. Figure out the office politics at your school (yes, there will be office politics). Find out what has been done before at your school, what has worked, what has failed. See what teaching is like WITHOUT trying to add in more material. You might figure out for yourself why other teachers just aren't able to teach additional subjects.

"In the face of entropy and nothingness, you kind of have to pretend it's not there if you want to keep writing good code." -- Karl Lehenbauer

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