We are currently deploying new computers to 40+ elementary schools. Our present model of allocation goes beyond strict student ratio, to provide a stable, consistent lab environment for schools, on a 3-year replacement cycle. Most schools are more than happy to have their labs updated, but I am noticing increasing push-back for classroom mini-labs (network drops are the schools' cost). I am a former computer, English and math teacher, with a lab, and a classroom mini-lab, and frankly, I had trouble maintaining robust class-use of the 4 networked computers I had.

Most classroom computers seem to be places to put over-due marking and dust. My question is, are you seeing a new trend to a change of classroom practice that allows seamless integration of technology, with a motivated teacher, or do you think these mini-labs, installed at the expense of an up-to-date computer lab, will simply be a place for extra time on games and the like.

Appreciate your thoughts.

Tags: change, classroom, computer, computers, labs, mini-labs, of, practice

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You are a highly talented fifth grade teacher. I know none like you in my school who would willingly adopt the care and feeding of a classroom lab. The several computers each class has now are serviced by IT folk (like me, in between my classes) not so much because they are difficult to maintain, but because the teachers are afraid of them.

My congrats on what you've done! Can I clone you, or make you the poster child of the cloud computing generation of teachers?
Jacqui, all this technology is fairly new to me. I began my journey with Linux in March 2008 after seeing its potential at the CUE conference in Palm Springs. Desire and effort are key factors in learning how to build a lab. Edubuntu Linux is easy and there is a ton of information out there available if you need help. The one aspect I love about building your own lab is that it is empowering and if you truly want a lab in your classroom you can create one with minimal cost and if your lucky no cost. One feels a sense of power when all the computers in your school go down and the old recycled Linux computer lab continues to run.

Teachers who build their lab will use their lab. There are two other teachers at my school who saw my lab and were frustrated with the outdated slow technology in their classrooms. They wanted this Edubuntu lab. I told them that I would guide them through the process and help them build the lab. However, the deal was that they would learn what I learned so that they could be in control of their own lab. The good thing about this is that they didn't have to look for information because I have already been through all the steps. All these guys had to do was add more memory to their server and buy a switch. All the hardware was donated. They learned very quick and believe me we are not technology gurus. Yet it seems like we are slowly becoming very knowledgeable in this area and are known as those guys at Hawaiian who build labs from nothing and can make old computers breath with new life using Linux. These days we have our Wednesday lunch and share how we integrate technology in our classrooms. We continue to grow here at Hawaiian Elementary. We are an island holding our own in a district struggling to pay for its software, licenses, new hardware. We take all those old CPU's that are discarded and make them run like new.

I say put in that new state of the art computer lab with all the bells and whistles; but don't throw away your old PC's. They have value and if set up right can compete with that new lab. Just think, for the price of a new lab, minimal at $50,000, you could create 20 Edubuntu labs having 15 new thin client computers for around the cost of $2500 for each lab. Gosh! It might be worth the experiment to just create one and see how good it is. Wait! I've already done it. My lab, with a server I paid for with 14 donated computers only cost me around $1000. The lab virtually takes care of itself. All I do is install updates, add printers, software, users, and create meaningful ways to incorporate this fabulous tool into the curriculum.

I would be happy to answer questions about Edubuntu if you have any.
Hi Joel,
Very interested since I have a bunch of Dell GX150 (900mhz, 256meg) and monitors about to recycle.
What software apps do you run? Open Office, Google Apps?
What web-based software?
Streaming video or multiple kids on a website?
Do you have broadband access?
Do your kids log in with personal accounts and save automatically to their personal server folder?
Is the folder on the Linux server or could it be on a school wide Windows file server?
Do the thin clients handle digital photo and video software?
Thanks for taking the time to share.
Don Wilder
Hello Don,

Sounds promising, these should make pretty good thin clients. Are they network ready with PXE boot capability? All you need is a server.

Since I chose Edubuntu it had all the production software ready for me to use, including Open Office applications. I used this suite for writing and presentation tasks. My kids were familiar with Apple and Window apps. and caught on very quickly. Edubuntu also has a typing program called Ktouch and Tuxtype. There are dozens of applications related to chemistry, math, and art. You may want to download the iso image and burn a disk to try out the applications. This is the latest version: Edubuntu 9.04 (http://www.edubuntu.org/Download) I am currently using 8.04 LTS. Go to this site and follow the directions to get your own Edubuntu software.

I currently don't use web based software other than Picasa Web Albums, however, I don't see any limitations in this.
My system can handle streaming video such as You Tube or Google Video.
I have a website that I created for our 5th grade students. (http://hawaiianfifthgrade.weebly.com/) It has educational resources, games, our linux lab, history resources, field trip photos, and access to their math textbook. Our textbook has a DVD, yet my students could not play it on their computers so I used infrarecorder (http://infrarecorder.org/?page_id=5) to open the DVD. I found all the jpeg files and uploaded them to my website. You need a password to access it. My site is always changing. Check it out.
I use my computers to support language learners and students with special needs, especially when it comes to reading their social studies text. Students can read the same text in Spanish and or have it read to them while following along.
We do have broadband access soon to be fiber optic.
I have used both private accounts and assigned computers with folders on desktop. I found it faster to have computers logged into one desktop all the time. My two other teacher friends prefer that their students have their own accounts.
The accounts are on the Linux server. However, there is a way to save on to the school wide server. I can't remember what application or script you would use. My kids also go to the Apple lab where they have projects that they work on. They have specific tasks in my class. My lab is an island to itself unaffected by outside influences. However, you can open it to the world if you like.
Each computer also has Ubuntu on the hard drive so if everything goes to hell we can bypass the server and still do some work. Some even have Windows XP for the rare occasion that I might need it in a pinch.
I have not tried handling digital photo files or video software on the thin clients other than having students save jpeg files to incorporate them into presentations.
I have Ubuntu systems at home and can watch DVD movies and download photos. You can Fspot or even Picasa III.

Since March 2008 I have been learning exponentially and find myself using Linux 98% of the time. There is a sense of ownership knowing that I am only limited by knowledge that I have and that there are resources available to learn what I need to learn. This movement towards freedom in access of information is world wide. It's cool to be involved and to share in the wealth.
Handling video applications depend on a robust server, the number of thin clients, and video capability of the thin clients.
Here are 42 video applications available for Linux: http://www.linuxlinks.com/article/200807130419006/Video.html
To network with Windows file server, install and configure Samba. This enables Linux to talk with Windows.
I totally agree regarding open source applications. The problem we have down here is that our school districts are required to teach to certain specific TITLES of software. For instance, our school district MUST use Successmaker, and the next district over uses Classworks, and the one past them is still using CCC! The IT folks won't support Open Office and Microsoft Office is all the comes loaded on the PC's. We have tried a hardware product called nComputing that kind of does the same thing but it didn't work very well. It uses one more powerful PC and you can install a kind of a network card and hook up 4 or 7 or 30 (!) monitors, keyboards and mice through a little thin client box. Problem was it wouldn't REALLY run that many sets of devices, plus it had some Microsoft licensing problems, plus videos didn't really run that well when you got out to that many devices, plus we couldn't run MovieMaker, or Successmaker, or CCC, or Classworks on more than one device at a time. We also couldn't run open source applications because we were sharing one copy of Windows XP (that was the reason for the licensing problems). We really liked the concept of LTSP, or Edubuntu or Skolinux but we couldn't get the IT folks to support it. We were willing to do all the work, but they wouldn't let us install it on the network. They came back with their own solution called Fiddlehead (www.myfiddlehead.com), and we were sure it would be just another thing that would cause us to have to work around their needs. They used one of our regular Dell PC's and loaded a kind of BIOS update and then just plugged in extra keyboards, and mice (4) and installed 2 extra regular video cards and plugged in extra monitors (4). They loaded their same image as normal (Windows XP, Office, Successmaker, and our settings) and it ran just like normal. One PC and 4 users! It ran perfectly, but the only problem was it only had one CD and couldn't run open source applications. ...or so we thought! When the company came in and gave us free PD, they showed us several icons that allowed us to run ktouch, kstars, kalzium and lots of other Linux applications right from our Windows desktop. We could add more based upon our kids aptitude or grade level. They also showed us how to make virtual CD's and share them without having to use the CD player. No more scratched CD's! They showed us how to clone from one station to another, from one cluster to another...how to update and autoshutdown, how to use the teacher control software to allow me as teacher to see and control the students, and how to lock down the stations like deepfreeze. It costs about half the price of buying regular PC's, or so the tech guys say. They say it saves tech time,and we get the best of both worlds.

I saw that they have been talked about on this website. I would suggest taking a look at them if you are interested in open source, or saving PC money. I can't remember the person's name that works there. Anyone else remember?
We agree totally regarding open source and Fiddlehead. The FH guy is Dave Peterson and the company is easy to work with (or so I'm told...)
Sue...do you use the classroom management software? I think it doesn't have quite all of the features that SmartSync has, but it comes free and it works well for us. How about the cloning software? Our tech's like the fact that it allows them to clone from a Dell to an HP without having to build another image. I don't know if we just have a really good network or what, but it takes about 1/4 the time to clone a lab as it did when we used Ghost!
We do use teacher control and it does just what we want. I can see the kids, control the kids, show my desktop, launch applications, show one of the students to the rest of the class, etc. It does require a decent network, but it does what we want. I think the speed of cloning has to do with the fact that only 1/4 as much of the "PC's" need to be imaged. Once a copy of the first image has been sent via the network, the other three seats are done internally.
The computer lab per se is now reaching the end of its life. The netbook campus is the way of the future. I just picked up an ACER at Walmart for $298. A local school in the DFW area got Gateway to bring the price down to 200 per netbook fully loaded with all the bells and whistles needed in K-8.

Th biggest obstacle at my school with integration of IT into class work is not hardware or software...it is professional development. Most of my staff do not realize there is a right mouse button, can create a folder, or make a desktop icon shortcut. And this is from mostly attitude, not lack of training.

Heard the latest joke? IT is the new IQ

You're right about the computer lab reaching the end of it's life. The bigger netbooks that are out there now have plenty of power for K-12 use and I'm seeing more and more of my customers using them in conjunction with a charging/storage cart.
I have an associate who argues that schools that have computer labs are bound to fail, as are schools that have technology plans. It's almost like having a pencil lab or a pencil plan. In the Twenty First Century teachers must learn to integrate advanced technology into teaching and learning practices.

I started teaching with no formal education classes and no experience. I tried to engage my students in dialogue and did not ask them to write very much. One day my principal suggested that I try an activity that required students to write. I said it sounded like a great activity but I had students write yesterday. I asked if it was OK to have students write two days in a row. He responded, "This is school." I recognized how silly my questions was.

Isn't it as silly for teachers not to use computers within core aspects of their classrooms in the Second Decade of the Twenty First Century?

Andrew Pass



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