Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Students take byte out of life with computers

Technology opens doors for children

By Phillip Pina
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Technology is exploding in Tristate classrooms with students designing Web sites, software replacing textbooks, and laptops becoming as essential as backpacks.

[photo] Students at Roselawn-Condon School work in the computer lab.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Computers “are as important as a pencil,” said Barbara Moran, a reading and English teacher at Roselawn-Condon, a Cincinnati public school listed in the nation's “Top 100 Wired” schools in this month's FamilyPC magazine.

        The payoff is in student performance, experts say. Technology in the hands of trained teachers is linked to improved student achievement. At Roselawn-Condon, a year after the first comput ers were installed, eighth-grade reading and writing proficiency test scores soared by 30 percent.

        Getting wired was a monumental task at Roselawn-Condon.

        Five years ago, it wasn't even on the district's priority list for classroom computers.

        Now, the school's 620 kindergarten through eighth-grade students test their reading skills on computers. They download research from the Internet. And they have turned regular English papers into computer-animated presentations.

        Other schools across the Tristate are constantly implementing new programs and adding computers to their teaching efforts. At Moeller High, each freshman has a laptop. At Kings Local, students can learn Web page design. At Campbell County, there is one computer for every 3.5 students — the best student-computer ratio in Kentucky, according to a recent state survey.

        “What good schools do is they provide all the students with the appropriate technology. And they teach how it can make their lives more meaningful,” said Joyce Pittman, assistant professor in instructional technology at the University of Cincinnati College of Education.

        Studies by the Educational Testing Service Network link computers to higher student test scores when teachers are properly trained and students use computer time productively.

        For its “Top 100 Wired” ratings, FamilyPC and The Princeton Review examined number of computers, Internet access and how computers are integrated into course work.

        The survey noted Roselawn- Condon's teacher training, technology support and supervised computer access for students, according to the magazine. How it happened was the result of a principal determined to give her students a chance.

        Deborah Winston has been the principal at Roselawn for six years. She presides over a building that shares many of the problems of other urban schools.

        In the mid-'90s, when the district was drawing up a long-range plan to wire buildings, Roselawn-Condon was near the bottom of the list, said Ms. Moran, who doubles as the school's technology director.

        Determined, Ms. Winston forged ahead. A technology plan was written in the summer of 1995. While most grants were geared toward elementary schools, Ms. Winston pushed hard to equip the middle school as well, said Linda McIntyre, a computer consultant who has taken on the school as a pet project.

        It was the efforts to boost the middle-school programs that were recognized by FamilyPC.

        Plugging in is just the beginning, Ms. Pittman said. Schools need a plan, teachers must be trained, and they must develop classwork that best uses the technology. Then they need software and support.

        Through SchoolNet, Ohio has made a big and costly push for school computers. Since starting in 1995 and through the year 2001, state and federal money will have totaled $860 million for school technology, SchoolNet spokeswoman Teresa Brown said.

        Earlier this year, the initiative reached the goal of wiring each of Ohio's public schools. That's 60 million feet of wiring in 92,000 classrooms.

        At Moeller High School, educators wanted to let computers be a catalyst and a tool to improve how teachers teach and how students learn, said Principal Dan Ledford.

        Roselawn-Condon teachers like Ms. Moran have noticed more than better grades. Excitement over the technology has improved students' work ethic, and computers sharpen skills like problem solving.

        Brandon Smith, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Roselawn, volunteered to create a Web site for the school.

        For Brandon, it was a chance to do something he likes and develop a marketable skill. He wants to pursue a career in computers.

        “I'd be happy to have someone be able to look at my work,” Brandon said.

        Good teachers and course plans remain the key, Ms. McIntyre said. But computers can be such a wonderful tool for teachers to connect with students, she added.

        “This is giving kids a whole different way of learning,” Ms. Winston said.        

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