Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Continued Opposition To Laptops in Schools 528

theskeptic writes "The WSJ has an article about opposition to programs that provide laptops to 6-8th grade kids. Detractors say that the kids are wasting too much time online browsing dangerous sites, instant messaging friends, and posting to Myspace. Parents are worried that serious learning is being neglected in the quest to 'dazzle up presentations with fancy fonts instead of digging through library books.' Some parents however are 'enthusiastic laptop proponents,' one saying the laptop has helped her twelve-year-old son 'master critical professional skills like how to compile a PowerPoint presentation.'" Gaaah.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Continued Opposition To Laptops in Schools

Comments Filter:
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:57PM (#16018440)

    It sounds like the vast majority of problems that this program is encountering could be solved by a halfway competent network administrator applying some basic restrictions.

    (Hey....I'm a halfway competent network administrator...where do I send my resume? ^_^)

    Seriously, though, a combination of Group Policy restrictions, a firewall at the school, and perhaps the use of a content filtering product like WebSense would instantly solve about 99% of the current issues, while causing relatively few problems in return. Sure, there's going to be a few hardcore users that manage to get around the system, but I think that if the student is savvy enough to outwit the Network admin, the school guidance counselor needs to talk to him/her about the various exciting and rewarding opportunities in the field of Information Technology. After all, hacking is an education in itself...a clever sysadmin would post rewards to any student who could game his system and show his work, so the sysadmin could plug the identified security holes.
    • by jcr (53032) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:02PM (#16018499) Journal
      I'm a halfway competent network administrator...where do I send my resume?

      Sorry, you're overqualified.

    • by Ruie (30480) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:05PM (#16018524) Homepage
      Hey....I'm a halfway competent network administrator...where do I send my resume? ^_^)

      Are you close to Boston ? Know bash or Tcl ? Do you have your resume somewhere online ? Thx !

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I kNOW DCL cAN I aPPLY?

        VMS iS tHE fUTURE!
        • by Lord Prox (521892) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:04PM (#16019706) Homepage
          Good network admin ins only a small part on the problem. From what I have seen (mind you this is the LA area) the whole system is broken.
          1. When you have damn near everything blocked by the firewall/router like Wikipedia the usefulness goes way down. I swear I think they are running a whitelist not a blacklist.
          2. I donated a few old machines to a school here and installed them. Dropped a note to the admin to add their MAC's to the list and after a few weeks my friend (teacher there) started calling and memoing as well. After the school year ended and the next semester started and ended and still nothing. Not so much as a phone call from to admin at the district, much less Network access.
          3. The teachers have no clue how to use them effectively. They seem to use them as a reward for doing something. "Get a passing grade on your next test and you can play with the computer" type of thinking
          4. My old Jr. High spent money on removing all the lockers in the place to replace them with trophy cases. One might ask where do students put their books?.... Surprise? They got rid of books years ago. Yet they blew tons of money on a fancy new computer lab that sits mostly empty and unused and/or underused, blew money on removing lockers, blew money on installing a trophy case, and have not spent a dime on books in 5 years.
          5. The students are aware of this B*llsh1t, are forced to go and have no respect (plenty of contempt) for the school (understandable) and treat the equipment like everything else
          What can we expect from the people running our schools? Certainly not reason. And what is it we expect laptops to do at the schools under these conditions?

          Curse them all []
    • by bagboy (630125) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:10PM (#16018587)
      The problem is that most school districts refuse to pay for the level of quality in network professionals that they need. Therefore, they get mediocre (generally) computer skilled people running their networks. I'm sorry, but a mac expert just doesn't cut it anymore. You need someone who knows how to manage IP layer traffics as well as various network applicances and Windows-based PCs (for the teachers who inevitably bring in their own laptops). Until the districts cough up for qualified people, their networks will continue to degrade.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ryan Amos (16972)
        The problem is that many schools are chronically underfunded and can't afford books or enough teachers, let alone a competent network admin qualified to manage a 1000 user network, who can easily pull down the salary of 4 experienced teachers in the corporate world. As a result, most admins know less than some of the students at the school, which inevitably leads to problems.
        • by cluckshot (658931) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:44PM (#16018969)

          A few years ago, my late father and myself conducted a 2 year study of every single school system in the State of Alabama and looked deeply into the issues of what made them tick and not tick. This resulted in a series of proposals based on what actually happens towards fixing the schools. Every single proposed solution at that time was passed except 1. That one was to actually vary the pay of the teachers and their tenure based upon the results of the standardized test progress of their students. Yes I did propose and it has gone nation wide the testing of schools by testing the progression of the students! I am the one everyone likes to hate over this.

          The critics are absolutely right about the ineffective use of testing and such. My answer is shut up about the defects as an excuse not to test. Lets test the students and get better tests and better testing methods if you don't like the results. I whole heartedly support more efficient evaluation methods and any efforts that can direct teachers towards better results. The methods here are standard industrial and technological evaluation methods.

          Schools are not under funded. They are grossly over funded. Teachers are not under paid except in their early career years. This may vary some from state to state but bureaucracy pays more by tenure. Lets cut this crap out that funding of the schools is the problem it isn't even the problem at all. The issue is that the system does not reward people for trying. It rewards them for expiring the clock. You get what you pay for.

          The issue of Laptops in class has mostly to do with the issue of teachers being quite unwilling to adapt to the present time. Here are a set of solid proposals for the schools around the world.

          Beginning about the 4th grade students should no longer carry books. They should be issued laptops. Their books should be documents on the net freely available to them. The school systems should hire the authors directly and fire the school text book companies. It would save a bloody fortune.

          The issue of the style of interactive texts in the schools that is developed should be based upon an axiom my father said about teaching me the slide rule. (Yes I date to that time) He said, you may use a slide rule when the answer you get is more important than learning the method of getting the answer. This should be the objective of the design. All lessons should require the method be examined while that is what is being learned. If this is done, the tricking with cute fonts and cut and paste reports will do no good in grading.

          The real matter here is design. I discussed this with the authors of and their effort to teach phonics on line. (Excellent site by the way) I told them that the cute interactive graphics and funny cartoons should only work as a reward for full development of a lesson. They are doing more and more this way in time. This should set a map for people to see. One can clearly see that this is a job never done. It is a work in progress forever. That is why we will always need teachers and not just computers for training.

          A note to the mods. This is the most on topic least troll and most informative listing you have ever read on this topic. If you can't see that write a criticism as a response or get a life. Otherwise this deserves every mod point you can give it. Slashdot shouldn't be a shout-down and heckle society.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by operagost (62405)
            Looking at the moderation on your post, I guess one Slashdotter's decision between "-1, Supports Bush Administration Policy" and "+1, Provides Tech Solution to Social Problem" was resolved by choosing the former.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by BorgHunter (685876)
            Lets cut this crap out that funding of the schools is the problem it isn't even the problem at all.

            I hope you're not the one teaching kids English.
          • by Com2Kid (142006) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:23PM (#16019374) Homepage Journal

            The critics are absolutely right about the ineffective use of testing and such. My answer is shut up about the defects as an excuse not to test. Lets test the students and get better tests and better testing methods if you don't like the results. I whole heartedly support more efficient evaluation methods and any efforts that can direct teachers towards better results. The methods here are standard industrial and technological evaluation methods.

            You are part of the problem.

            Blame the teachers? They don't expect enough of the students, sure.

            Who REALLY should be blamed?

            The parents.

            For not taking responsability for their children's actions and learning.

            Require calculus from all students to get out of high school. Require REAL reading. A book in 2 months? Laughable. A book in 3 weeks.

            Don't PUNISH teachers for FAILING the FAILURES. If a student fails, it should be the parents who are ashamed, not the schools.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Oriumpor (446718)
              You must be a teacher, teachers think this way. An excellent teacher can make great leaps beyond what a bad parent can do. An excellent parent can make great leaps beyond what a bad teacher lacks.

              Problem people cause problems. Live with it, and stop sending kids to special ed who have 'behavioral problems' because you keep yelling to 'pay attention' to your dry ass LECTURE that's just regurgitated from the text they have to read anyways, until they snap back at your hypocritical statements. (Ok pardon,
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Vancorps (746090)

                We're talking 6th to 8th grade teachers here. My mother was an 8th grade math teacher although the school district wanted her to also teach science despite being unqualified. She opted to teach math at 5th grade level instead because she wants to put her knowledge to the best use she can. I have seen a teacher with a TA maybe twice in my life and in those circumstances that person was actually helping the teacher. Taking a kid aside to give them extra assistance with a given math problem for instance while

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Alioth (221270)
            The trouble with basing teacher criteria on test results is that it results in teachers who instead of trying to teach a good understanding of the material, teach to the test instead to get the highest results; a case of the tail wagging the dog.

            You've got to have qualitative measures as well as looking at the tests. Test results, while a good performance mesurement - in isolation paint a very incomplete picture, and you need a way to make sure that you don't just end up with a system that rewards teaching
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by RobertKozak (613503)
            Every single proposed solution at that time was passed except 1. That one was to actually vary the pay of the teachers and their tenure based upon the results of the standardized test progress of their students. Yes I did propose and it has gone nation wide the testing of schools by testing the progression of the students! I am the one everyone likes to hate over this

            You might know more about this then I do but wouldn't tying teacher's rate of pay to standardized testing encourage the teachers to teach j
            • by Jetson (176002) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:09PM (#16021151) Homepage
              wouldn't tying teacher's rate of pay to standardized testing encourage the teachers to teach just the exam and not how to learn and explore?

              In any effective education system (there aren't many of them) the teachers don't see the exams until after the students. The teachers and the QA staff have access to the same curriculum - one group creates lesson plans based on the curriculum and the other group creates exams. This division of labour prevents "teaching to the test" because the teachers don't know what's going to be on any given test (everything in the curriculum is fair game), but more importantly it takes away the ability of teachers to "test only what they taught" if they fail to complete the curriculum. That hopefully eliminates the stereotyped "worst case" [] where a student is promoted all the way through high school without learning to read or do math.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by nasor (690345)
              "but wouldn't tying teacher's rate of pay to standardized testing encourage the teachers to teach just the exam and not how to learn and explore? It doesn't matter if the students learn as long as they do well in the test right?"

              If the standardized test is designed to test what the students are supposed to be learning, then what's the problem? People like to go on about the dangers of "teaching to the test," but if the test measures the student's ability to read, write, and do math then wouldn't "teachin
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by cdcarter (822001)
            I currently go to High School and we are underfunded, do you know why? My science textbooks are so out of date, they still list Pluto as a planet!
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Knara (9377)

            A note to the mods. This is the most on topic least troll and most informative listing you have ever read on this topic. If you can't see that write a criticism as a response or get a life. Otherwise this deserves every mod point you can give it. Slashdot shouldn't be a shout-down and heckle society.

            Nor should it be a "here's why you should vote for me!" post society. That last paragraph was pretty lame.

          • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:07PM (#16019733) Homepage
            Except the real solution is to get rid of compulsory schooling entirely and get people doing "unschooling",
            and upgrade libraries and turn school buildings into learning centers (or democratically run "free schools"
            for those children whose parents cannot afford to supervise their children during the day directly).

            See for example John Holt's writings:
            or John Taylor Gatto's:
            or any of many other radical school reformers.

            All your suggestions sound good on paper but miss the point that people have tried for decades to reform schools incrementally and they are still broken -- or rather, they actually are still performing the mission they were designed for, which is dumbing kids down into compliant workers, obedient soldiers, and gullible consumers so they will fit well into a well ordered industrial economy, a mission now obsolete in a post-industrial and post-scarcity information age.

            The future is not to still idealize Prussia and even earlier empire building aspirations back to Plato
       031028151034651 []
            which developed these techniques of "education" but instead to look into the future, where people start asking questions like "why work?"
            and how to structure an economy when "Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator: Creativity and intrinsic interest diminish if task is done for gain":

            (Sorry to read about your loss, and it sounds like you were doing a lot of great things together, just needed more time to go even further.)
          • by protohiro1 (590732) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:13PM (#16019790) Homepage Journal
            Actually, I slightly agree with you. There are a lot of incompetent teachers (and administrators) and this is a huge problem. The difficulty is not that you can't fire teachers (you can). Teachers should be accountable for their performance, and they way this is done is not more testing. Its management. Adminstrators don't spend time in the class room observing and managing the teachers.

            The fact is there isn't much incentive for good people and good performance in teaching. Positions are hard to fill and teachers can't expect to make more than a blue coller salary. The standard political approach to this is always to act like accountability is the answer. All carrot and no stick for teachers. In your job do you do good work just to keep from getting fired? Teachers need to be paid for performance and they need to have a lot more opportunity to make a real salary.
          • From looking at some of your other posts, I have come to the conclusion that you are a skillful and accomplished troll. Congratulations, sir. Have you considered joining the GNAA?
          • by kpharmer (452893) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:42PM (#16020365)
            > That one was to actually vary the pay of the teachers and their tenure based upon the results of the standardized test progress of their students.

            Right - think carefully about that just a little bit. If someone's pay is directly based on test scores, then... the teacher will want to get every kid that isn't promising kicked out of their class. Slightly slow child? Poor english? Minor health issues? Whatever, they're out of there! No time for charity - there are high scores to be earned!

            > Beginning about the 4th grade students should no longer carry books. They should be issued laptops.

            Great idea. And who's going to be paying to replace these laptops every year? You don't actually think that laptops are going to last more than a year (if that) in the hands of 9 year olds, do you?

            > Schools are not under funded. They are grossly over funded.
            > Teachers are not under paid except in their early career years.
            > You get what you pay for.

            You've got a bug in your code here fella.

            > A note to the mods. This is the most on topic least troll and most informative listing you have ever read on this topic.

            No, this is the one of the least on topic and least informative postings today. Your thinking is cloudy and you're ranting half of the time. You should probably start taking your meds again.

            You claim responsibility for the No Child's Behind Left program. That's just precious - this is the program by which every school will eventually be a "failing school". See, eventually every school runs out of progress, every school will fail to get good grades out of some tiny minority sliver, and every school will fail to get 100% of their students over the bar.

            I know the critics of the public schools are disgusted at the poor performance that some of them deliver. Then again - look at the poor performance that these critics deliver:
                  - poor grammer (see above posting)
                  - inability to pass tests they require of high school students (see Colorado Governor Owen's big testing failure)
                  - inability to work with numbers (see how NCLB will cause all schools to fail within next 5-7 years)

            Testing is a good thing, no argument there. But giving testing numbers to the numerically illiterate (whether it is pointy-haired bosses in corporate america or ranting anti-school libertarians) just doesn't work. Here's a suggestion - lets take a look at the parents role a bit, ok? Why do we expect teachers to work miracles with kids that are allowed to play videogames, watch television, and play sports 4-5 hours a day? Where are the parents of all these poor-performing children?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by saskboy (600063)
          The other "solution" is to do like my province did and "amalgamate" the school divisions, so the tech support is centralized and more "efficient" when they have to drive twice as far to fix a problem on site.

          This way you have top notch staff who is just too busy to do anything the right way.
    • by Jason Earl (1894) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:10PM (#16018589) Homepage Journal

      Actually that's more than part of the problem. Many schools don't have halfway competent network administrators, and they certainly don't have the resources to maintain that many laptops, and they would have to maintain them. After all, if little Johnny's laptop stops working, and that laptop is important to his participation in school then someone is going to have to fix it, and in many cases the parents aren't going to be able to afford to.

      What's more, this would give each of these children a tool that would allow them to get online at any hotspot on the planet, and lots of parents are going to have a problem with that. Sure, there are probably ways to make it so that the wireless card only works at school, but then why not simply use much less expensive desktop machines?

      This doesn't even take into account problems of sabotage, theft, or accidental damage. Do we really need kids in urban areas carrying around hundreds of dollars of computer equipment? Plus, every year hundreds of thousands of school books get destroyed. Computers are far more fragile than books, and more expensive to boot.

      Basically, giving kids a general purpose laptop is a horrible idea with very few redeeming virtues.

      • by Myself (57572) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:18PM (#16018678) Journal
        If you want kids to learn how computers work, then make it so they can experiment with them. Setting it up so that the kids depend on these computers for their classes means they'll be afraid to break anything, which means they won't get anything out of them other than the typical office-worker knowledge, which isn't very deep or useful.

        If you want kids to use laptops in class, then stop pretending they'll learn anything useful about computers in the process.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DragonWriter (970822)

          Setting it up so that the kids depend on these computers for their classes means they'll be afraid to break anything, which means they won't get anything out of them other than the typical office-worker knowledge, which isn't very deep or useful.

          It is possible to learn quite a bit about computers without substantial risk of breaking anything. Though the fact that most of the teachers at the 6th-8th grade level probably don't have any more than "typical office-worker" knowledge about computers makes it un

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Alioth (221270)
            That's always been the case though: the vast majority of teachers and schools not only don't encourage students to experiment with computers, they actively discourage (and sometimes punish) for it. It's been that way for years and will probably continue to be that way. The only students who do learn to use a computer as something more than a glorified typewriter-cum-calculator-cum-overhead-projector is to do it through their own initiative.

            I remember a school report I got, I was furious about it at the time
      • by spud603 (832173) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:28PM (#16018804)
        Computers are far more fragile than books, and more expensive to boot.
        I don't know how much it costs to boot a schoolbook, by my laptop boots for free..
        (couldn't help myself, sorry)
      • You're missing the point, which is "Kids should use computers in school because computers are cool and modern and futuristic," or some variant of such sappy reasoning.

        There really is no compelling reason for computers to be a central part of early 21st century education, and many compelling reasons why they should not be, in particular those having to do with cost.

        But this is Slashdot where no problem exists that can't be solved by attaching a computer to it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geekoid (135745)
      after reading your advice, I concur. you are a halfway competent network administrator.
    • by DesertWolf0132 (718296) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:30PM (#16018824) Homepage
      A hearty amen to that. Further I think the teachers need to be a bit more tech savvy and learn to actually implement the laptops as more than just fancy typewriters. Most teachers in our local district wouldn't know MySpace if it bit them in the ass. Further they need to know when to have students shut down the laptops. With some education, minus the MySpace/social networking fear-mongering the media puts out there, teachers could really leverage the technology to their advantage. I know one guy who's English professor has required all freshmen to maintain a blog for the semester making at least two entries a week. Grades have gone up in the class over 15% since implementing that. It is just a matter of the education system educating itself first.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MindStalker (22827)
      Its not just the sysadmin, its mainly about the teachers. If the teachers know nothing about computers, and there isn't a curriculum based around them. While you may be able to add protections, what are the children really going to learn? How to surf the web?
    • by queenb**ch (446380) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:45PM (#16018987) Homepage Journal
      OMFG! What are we teaching our kids? Has the curriculum really dumbed down to the point that using PowerPoint is "cricical"? I hate it! The entire universe cannot be distilled down to some bullet points!

      What happened to the "Three R's"? In an age where we're turning out an increasing number of high school graduates who are functionally illiterate, what are we doing? It's time to put an end to the "New Education" and get back to basics. Just recently, Dallas ISD published the stastic that only 26% of their high school graduates were functionally illiterate and they were actually *HAPPY* about it because it was down from 33% the previous year.

      DISD credits this increase in basic literacy to "removing distractions from the classroom". They've been working on quite a few things, including mandatory school uniforms, banning cell phones, etc. Now you want to introduce the biggest distration of all - portable computers. One of the biggest problems is that most people are so uneducated that they aren't able to determine a "good source" from a bad one. Quoting from a recent newspaper article here "Students may know how to use an Internet search engine, but professors have complained that the online information students use is not reliable, said Mary Jo Lyons, information literacy coordinator at UT-Arlington....."There's nothing wrong with Google," Lyons said. "They know how to type in words and search, but it's how they evaluate whether it's a quality site. That's the problem. ... They're citing Joe Schmo's paper in their paper, but who is Joe Schmo? And is he objective?"

      In a world where knowlege, if not education is power all we're doing is setting ourselves up for becoming the next Third World country.

      2 cents,

    • by trivialscene (990808) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:53PM (#16019621)

      Last year I taught at a private high school that required all of its students to purchase laptops. At first I thought it sounded like a great idea; how cutting-edge. But before the year was over, I came to see the whole program as a waste of the parents' and the school's money.

      The issue isn't really anything from the technical end. IT had WebSense up and running, which blocked anything they deemed inappropriate for anyone connecting to the school's wireless (nevermind the few students who found ways around this). And IT could monitor what each computer logged into the system was up to at any point in time. They kept a record, so if a teacher suspected a student of doing anything unacceptable, but didn't want to make a big deal about it during class, all it took was an email: "What was Johnny doing between 1:15 and 1:30? Oh, playing a game? Thanks." And the next day the kid would get detention. As TripMaster Monkey said, a competent IT staff solved all of the problems from that end.

      The issue is why is the program worthwhile? In what way does the education of the students become more successful by requiring their parents to spend xxxx dollars on a laptop for each of their children? And is it worth the hassle to the school's IT people?

      Some might argue that it helps develop the students' computer skills. I'm not sure about national statistics, but I can assure you that every one of my students had at least one computer in their home. And trust me; they knew how to use it. Toting a laptop around campus all day didn't make them better users.

      I have also heard arguments that each student having a computer affords for excellent instructional opportunities beyond the standard lecture and note-taking approach. Of course this is true, but I would have much rather had a projector in my room (which I did not) so that I could show visual aids from my computer. They are many ways to reach out to students with different learning styles and to make class more exciting that don't require every single child to have a laptop. And many ways that are less expensive.

      In addition to the burden on IT of keeping up with the above-mentioned 'security measures', they had to employ one guy who did nothing but repair laptops (or send them off to be replaced) five days a week. That was his entire job. I've seen more laptops in multiple pieces, with broken/missing keys, and with cracked screens than I can count. Children in grade school do not need to be held responsible for keeping a laptop in running order. The average fifteen-year-old can barely be help responsible for walking across the room without tripping over his own feet. High school students rough house, drop things, are clumsy, are forgetful (I would never dream of leaving my computer on a bench for two hours), and just generally are not prepared to take care of these expensive pieces of equipment.

      Most importantly, I know of very few teachers who in any way used the laptop capability regularly in their class. Some teachers forbid the students from using their computers during class, probably to reduce unacceptable use. I never had any problems with in-class laptop use because I taught physics and I don't know many people that can keep pace note-taking with that much mathematical notation (and 98% of the students couldn't type fast enough to keep pace in history class, much for the 'saves paper from note-taking' argument), so if a laptop was out while I was teaching, knew someone was up to no good. The only time the computers ever saw the light of day in my room is when I didn't want to start on a new subject for the last five minutes of class, so I would let the kids work on WebAssign homework. As for lab data analysis, the upper-end TI's that all of the students had could do everything I needed, and if they couldn't, it's nothing that couldn't be done at home.

      My point is: mandatory laptop programs in grade school have a short list of benefits which is overwhelmed by the subsequent detriments. The (questionable) honing of computer skills and introduction of new (seldom-used) teaching tools does not outweigh the cost to everyone involved and hassle to the IT group.

  • by hullabalucination (886901) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:57PM (#16018441) Journal

    'the laptop has helped her twelve-year-old son master critical professional skills like how to compile a PowerPoint presentation.'

    I need to talk to that young man. I keep getting this error when trying to compile a PowerPoint presentation:

    make: *** No rule to make target `mindblowingpresentation.powerpoint', needed by `'

    * * * * *

    All my life, I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific.
    --Jane Wagner

  • Children.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Parker703 (767865) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:58PM (#16018449)
    Children need neither laptops nor cell phones. They need to learn the basics. Not PowerPoint!
    • Re:Children.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:14PM (#16018641)
      I'm a master of the computer, and I never saw one until my senior year of highschool. Even later for the rocket scientists who put us on the moon. yada yada yada.

      That kid needs an education that will give him the ability to know what to put into that powerpoint. The clicks will come later. Hell, the clicks will change by the time he needs it professionally.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Neil Watson (60859)
      Indeed. PowerPoint is no substitute for speech writing and presentation skills. There is a book called "What coporate Americal can't build: A sentence".
  • Really... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Apocalypse111 (597674) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @03:59PM (#16018459) Journal
    'the laptop has helped her twelve-year-old son master critical professional skills like how to compile a PowerPoint presentation.'

    So now he's prepared to show his friends a 15 minute slideshow about why girls have cooties?
    • by debilo (612116) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:04PM (#16018512)
      So now he's prepared to show his friends a 15 minute slideshow about why girls have cooties?

      Fascinating idea, but please make it 30 minutes and forward it to me, thanks.
    • by HelloKitty (71619) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:39PM (#16018919) Homepage
      >> critical professional skills

      these parents have no idea what "critical professional skills" are... sure, maybe if your career goal is to be some kind of personal assistant for powerpoint, then yeah, ok... but powerpoint? critical? really?

      but damn, you can learn powerpoint on your own, it's not that difficult... and certainly not worth spending the amount on a laptop...

      now... if you said learning c++ was a critical professional skill, sure, that makes sense... but why can't the kid do this at home?

      don't get me wrong, I like the idea of laptops in class, but only as a fast way to take notes in class, or convenience of keeping all your data and projects in once place (productivity tool)... considering the big distraction they can be, maybe for learning software or programming languages kids should use computer labs or the laptop at home only? But that doesn't even seem to fix everything...

      school is about rigid regementation, partly to get the unfocused kids to focus (common theory of the school catering to the slowest)... having a laptop in the classroom presents a huge hole if websites, IM, or even a more interesting personal project is distracting the user...

      this may sound lame, but maybe there needs to be some technology added here to force the laptops into a state where only relevent work is happening. something as simple as the teacher being able to see all screens to police the students to be on topic... or better yet, have in classroom computers with a good centralized user account system (i.e. linux with NFS mounted user accounts)...

      Maybe the goal should be, a computer in every classroom... and a computer at home for every child...
      More expensive I know... but it would help to regement things... Clearly, having a laptop for each child IS important for those children who have limited access to a computer at home. At least this way, the student can learn computer skills on their own...

      Another thought. Has anyone done research into whether having distracting things like laptops help kids multitask better and actually focus better? It may actually help students learn to tune out distractions... Again, I bet there's a percentage of students that mentally just can't handle this temptation... I wonder if laptops for kids actually polarize kids, making the ubergeeks brilliant and well prepared, and the distractable kids uber stupid...

      This issue is apparently complex. :)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dangitman (862676)
        school is about rigid regementation, partly to get the unfocused kids to focus

        Some schools, maybe. However, I attended a school (after leaving a regimented one) that was all about teaching, exploration, creativity, innovation and community. It was much more effective. There were also very few issues with "problem" students, as the students were inspired by the teachers. As there weren't rigid rules to obey, that also meant fewer students rebelling against the "system." This was despite having a large numbe

  • by jcr (53032)
    In my day, we had ASR-33's and our only bulk storage was paper tape! And we were grateful!

  • I concur (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nelsonal (549144) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:00PM (#16018465) Journal
    I went to a college that required lap tops, and even in the classes where they made sense, they were either kept off by rule almost all the time, or it was a game/chat fest. I remember one military science class that had 16 of the 30 kids all playing the same Red Alert game.

    Too many kids can't do basic arithmatic without a calculator (literally they can't do it anymore unless they punch it in) why are we giving 10-12 year olds more technology? I think systems for home use (with computer assignments would be a far more effective use of the money).
    • by dch24 (904899)
      What? Red Alert wasn't the most important thing to learn at college?

      Seriously, give the parents the money that would have been spent on the laptop. If they think their kid needs a laptop, they'll buy it and the kid will be labelled a geek.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by pkulak (815640)
      I agree as well. Sure you CAN learn by using a computer, but they are entertainment/communication devices now. And we are requiring them in classrooms? In my 4 years getting a CS degree, I never needed a laptop in class, let alone when I was in the 8th grade. I think I turned out okay.
      • I agree; I think it's possible for a computer to be an educational tool, but honestly that's not the way that your garden-variety PC (and its accompanying software, including Windows) is designed.

        If there are really that many schools interested in sending students home with laptops, then it stands to reason there ought to be a market for a purpose-built computerized educational tool. Something that didn't function as an entertainment device, and was more like an educational appliance than a computer.

  • Gak! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:01PM (#16018469) Homepage
    A twelve-year-old making PowerPoint slides???

    Wow. When I was 12 we were learning the basics of how to write an essay, look up stuff in the library, and how to organize a paper.

    PowerPoint just seems totally wrong for kids in middle school. Teach 'em the foundations, they're gonna need them. They have the whole rest of their lives to get RSI.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joggle (594025)
      I grew up using computers (even way back in '84) and have always been an avid computer user. Even so, I wouldn't want schools to insist on students bringing laptops to school. For guys like me, I would just spend even more time playing or coding on the computer and spending less time doing school work, reading books, being social, etc. And for people with just a passing interest in computers they would just waste time playing games or doing online activities. I simply don't see the benefit, especially if th
  • by triskaidekaphile (252815) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:01PM (#16018471) Homepage
    If you cannot read, write, or speak, what good will PowerPoint do for you?
  • by PFI_Optix (936301) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:01PM (#16018482) Journal
    Seriously. The majority of middle school teachers assign little- to no homework these days, and most schools provide plenty of time for internet and application access during school hours. In addition, schools can make computer resources available after hours in the same way they do tutoring and other assistance for students.

    So why should we be putting laptops in the hands of 12-year-olds? Isn't there a better way to spend that kind of money?

    (the district I work for couldn't possibly afford something like this anyway, we're treading water thanks to Texas' lovely Robin Hood program taking 51% of our budget)
  • Powerpoint... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:02PM (#16018486)
    should not be taught in schools as a 'professional skill.' What kids need is a strong grounding in the maths, hard sciences, and history, as well as being literate; preferably in more than one language. Who knows if Powerpoint will even be around in 10 years when those kids enter the workforce. The way things are looking now, Microsoft's power might be much less by that time.

    Apart from purposes of research or computer science courses, I hesitate to say that there's even a place for ubiquitous computing in the classroom. Typing noises *are* distracting, and a good teacher can teach more than 100 computers! And, as far as electronic demonstrations replacing *real* dissections and chemistry experiments for reasons of "ethics" and "safety" - some school administrators need a good punch upside the head since the virtual world is only a poor approximation of the real one.


  • i agree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AndersOSU (873247) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:02PM (#16018489)
    As much as I know I'll provoke the ire of slashdot, I agree with the parents. In most classes, Jr High, high school, or even college, there is no need for the student to have a laptop. I always find that I pay more attention, take better notes, and learn more, when I'm not distracted by the electronic toy.

    Sure the students should have access to a computer, and it is beneficial to have computers for some classes, but there is no reason for any student to have a computer in 6th grade math.

    In addition to this 12 yrs old is not the time to be learning how to make power point presentations. Sure it is a professional skill, and valuable at some point, but I'd rather have 12 yr olds who knew who Newton or Napolean were than, 12 yr olds who were capable of doing mommies homework.
  • But after school started, Ms. Adam started to worry.

    Ms. Adam - that's the name grandpa Simpson is going by these days?

    "My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!"
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:02PM (#16018494) Journal
    Is it so bad to oppose laptops? I oppose them (disclaimer: have no kids) in schools on the grounds that they probably provide little educational value given their costs. They are typically given (like "a computer in every classroom") as part of a fad to use the coolest new technology, irrespective of any actual benefit. This is not to say students don't need computers -- they do -- but that's what the computer lab is for. The "enthusiastic parent" referenced didn't see her child master PowerPoint skills because because he had a laptop -- that was because he had access to *a computer*. He didn't need to have it on the go to accomplish that.

    I'm all for using the best available technology -- as long as it makes you better off than before.
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      This is not to say students don't need computers -- they do -- but that's what the computer lab is for.

      Or a single desktop in every classroom, preferably linked to a projector, so a teacher can look up stuff and display presentations/educational films when required. But putting 25 laptops (restricted or not) in the hands of a class of teenagers is jsut asking for them to be distracted.


  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:02PM (#16018497) Homepage
    It used to be that parents would put their kid on their lap and teach them to read a book. These days, since most parents are too busy to be parents, the laptops are supposed to teach the kids. Go figure.
  • Some parents however are 'enthusiastic laptop proponents', one saying 'the laptop has helped her twelve-year-old son master critical professional skills like how to compile a PowerPoint presentation.'

    All you need to know these days...

  • Filmstrips (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rwven (663186) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:03PM (#16018504)
    Back in the 80's and 90's filmstrips saw widespread use because they were a convenient and "entertaining" way to get students to learn. They eventually rejected the idea because kids were in "entertainment" mode (so to speak) while watching the filmstrips and really just weren't learning anything. I've got a feeling that this would multiply 10-fold when using laptops unless the machines were designed from the ground up JUST for education and lacked the ability to do anything that wasn't "school-related."

    Kids + computers = fun-and-games. These kids go home and do nothing on a computer but check e-mail, surf, chat, play games, and things of that nature. What do you think they're going to do when they're put in a classroom with a computer in front of them? I know when I was in HS and we had classes in the computer lab or library...that's all ANY of us did on them. Things like that don't change.
    • Re:Filmstrips (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MBCook (132727) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:30PM (#16018817) Homepage

      I was in a small private middle/highschool years ago and they decided to do a laptop program. Now I loved it (it meant I got a laptop), but that didn't make them useful. For computer classes, the students used... the school computers (because they couldn't afford to give out the software they used). For most classes you weren't allowed to use them. The classes that really didn't make much use of them. I remember our science class. The laptops were used for typing up lab reports and notes and definition lists. None of them were due in class so while we could type them up and turn them in, there was no need to if you could look busy enough to not annoy the teacher. This was quite a while ago (Pentium MMX 266 was new for laptops, about '98 or so?) so chatting wasn't too big of a problem (ICQ was the big one then). But the kids used them to play games (Solitare, etc because they couldn't play many real games) or just surf the net (good thing they put those network jacks everywhere) and e-mail. I shudder to think what MySpace would have wrought.

      As a kid I enjoyed it, because I the kind who used it for school and learning on my own. For 98% of the students there, the laptops were an expensive waste and often a distraction when used. Plus they were heavy.

      A good computer lab and a good teacher will do far more for most students than giving them laptops will. Require them to have desktops and home and give THOSE out if little Billy "must" have a computer. Take all that laptop money and make more computer labs. If you are going to spend $1000 on each student to give them a laptop, get a computer for every forth kid in the school that's really nice with great software for $2000. That costs half as much and is probably better for everyone. Spend the rest on a good admin and a couple of very competent computer teachers.

  • As an educator, I can't assign any computer based work without asssurances that 100% of my students have access to a computer. Issuing everyone a laptop solves that problem.

    And before someone cries "library, school computer lab!" - you have obviously never had to deal with a parent throwing a hissy fit about their kid's homework assignment.

    • Unless you're teaching a computer class, what need do you have to assign computer based homework?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)
      Can you assign homework without checking to see if they have books? paper? pencil? pen? time?

      Unless you are teaching computer programming, you shouldn't be assigning computer work.
      The computer is onme aspect need for reference, but there are others.
      As long as the reference is cited, what do you car if it's a web site or a reference book from the library?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Thiss iz mi Powhour pont prezentation four Engish clas".
  • Usually "concerns" like this can be attributed to people that dont understand the technology. There are plenty of ways to block ports, restrict access and diable services, any half-competent sys admin can accomplish this. The benefits far outweigh the negatives if its done properly. Take the "dig thorough books" comment as an example, many times a book is checked out or there is only one reference copy, that problem is completely eliminated if the data is available online. Typing and basic computer appl
  • by douthitb (714709) <bcwood AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:05PM (#16018526) Homepage
    the laptop has helped her twelve-year-old son master critical professional skills like how to compile a PowerPoint presentation

    The terms "critical professional skill" and "PowerPoint presentation" should never appear in the same sentence. PowerPoint presentations are one of the most overused and misused pieces of technology. At my current job, I have sat through 400+ slide PowerPoint presentations on more than one occasion.

    What they should be teaching kids is how to quickly and effectively get their point across.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PFI_Optix (936301)
      And also how to NOT read directly from a PP presentation.

      PowerPoint has done two things to meetings: lengthened them, and made them less informative. And made them take longer to set up for. Three things. Lengthen them, make them less informative and harder to set up. Oh, and greatly increase their lethal effect on brain cells. Four things...
  • Gaah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:06PM (#16018530) Homepage Journal
    is right.

    Nothing like preparing your child for middle managment. well done.
  • ...PowerPoint corrupts absolutely. -- Edward Tufte
  • When I was in 3rd grade, I learned critical professional skills such as Turtle Graphics and Vic 20 Basic.

    Lord knows those came in handy when I entered the job market in 1995.
  • When I was in grade school we has a couple of computers, and about the only thing you could do on them was programming. So we learned to program.

    The parents have found out the problem with modern computers - they come out of the box with "everything you need to have fun." Heck, isn't that the whole push of Apples new commercials (except calling Windows users stupid)? Why? Because that's how you sell computers.

    They need to provide dtipped down, locked down versions for education. Oh, I know, think of the chi
  • My $.02 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_wesman (106427) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:10PM (#16018579) Homepage
    I am also a laptop owner, college graduate and full-time nerd. Hell, I even think we should use less paper. Despite all of that, I am an outspoken opponent of laptops in the classroom.

    As a teacher/professor, you are charged with getting through to the students. Helping them understand the material involves interacting with them. I can't fathom how a teacher could be expected to do that in front of 30 kids who are staring intently at the computer screen on their desk and not at the teacher. This lack of eye contact and interaction cannot be good for the educational process. I've seen it in action: it's tough to get through to kids sometimes and giving each one a laptop is not going to help.

    Also, slightly less important, but still worth noting is how crappy my hand-writing has become since I started using a computer on a daily basis (this happened for me in 1994 or 1995). I've mostly forgotten how to write in cursive, my signature is a joke and when I do have to write something it is almost entirely non legible.

    Computers are really great. With access to the internet in particular, you've got a wealth of knowledge (and lies and opinionations) at your fingertips. There are valuable computer skills that can be learned (programming, graphic design, even powerpoint, etc.), however, I don't feel that incorporating computer usage into every class is practical or useful. A notebook makes a hell of a lot more sense in a chemistry lab than a laptop... unless you set it on fire. Actually, the computer is not great set on fire either, so I'll strike that last comment.

    When I was in school, note-passing was all the rage. It was the way that the students had come up with to communicate with each other (about things that should be dealt with outside of school) without the teachers knowing. With a classroom full of kids that aren't looking at you and all staring at their laptops, you can bet that many of them will be doing the modern equivalent of note-passing: myspace, IM, etc.

    Let the little brats take notes in a notebook.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:12PM (#16018623) Homepage
    Laptops for students makes no sense. A laptop is just an expensive machine that is not going to do anything for a student with bad teachers and little motivation to learn. It'll just be another taxpayer-paid for toy.
  • by rantingkitten (938138) <> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:15PM (#16018648) Homepage
    Anyone who thinks school is about learning hasn't been to school in decades; at least, not a public school. They are essentially daycare centers designed to keep the little punks off the street until they're 18. The only reason they bother teaching anything is because they have to make it *look* like they're doing something worthwhile.

    But in the end, how many of those students are ever going to need to factor a quadratic equation, know what a midochondria is, explain the tidal forces of the moon, be able to identify key characteristics of Southern Gothic literature, etc? How much of this stuff do you think they even remember?

    Like most everyone here I went through high school and did the usual two or three years of algebra, plus another year in college, and today I couldn't tell you how to factor a quadratic equation if my life depended on it. I barely know what one is aside from some vague, dimly remembered notion of "something to do with parabolas". I'm 27. I'm not unique.

    Most people "learn" the material taught in school long enough to pass a test, at which point it is forgotten forever, and school makes no attempt at pretending this isn't the case. As for "skills", as opposed to "facts" -- things like "how to research a paper" -- school is equally useless, cramming everyone into a one-approach-works-for-all method and emphasizing how you format your citations instead of why citations are important, or the content of the paper. I myself do not use notecards, outlines, and make only marginal use of rough drafts (certainly not in the rigidly formalized style touted by educators), yet consistently handed in highly marked papers. At the same time we were all being told that without these things, your "research" is wrong and can barely be dignified with the word "research" at all.

    Really, what are we worried about the kids learning / not learning? In the real world, it IS more important for this kid to learn how to use a computer and make inane presentations, because that's what corporate America values, not your ability to think creatively, or recite the presidents of the US in chronological order, or memorize a bunch of math formulas you don't even understand.

    Assuming we're going to keep the same basic curriculum and education system, then it doesn't matter if the kids are learning "normal" stuff, or how to make Powerpoint presentations. If we care at all about education, then it is time to utterly, completely scrap the system we have, start over with a system that actually works, revise the curriculum, and perhaps admit to ourselves that not everyone can be / wants to be / needs to be "well-rounded".

    Throwing technical contrivances like laptops at the education system is useless but harmless; just more bread and circuses for the politicians to point at and say "See, we're really doing something to help the kids!"
  • Laptops are tools (Score:4, Insightful)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:18PM (#16018676) Homepage Journal
    They are not magic bullets nor will they, by themselves, cause a talented student to blow their potential. However I think that most schools look at them in one of those two lights. Some schools seem to take either of the two extremes and thus do a major disservice to their students.
    Giving a kid a computer won't automatically grant them superior research skills or even get them interested in a topic they just aren't interested in. They can aid both of those. Laptops can make looking up a book in the library much easier when compared to a card catalog for instance. They can also allow students to explore materials that are not in their library if they find a topic that particularly sparks their interest.
    That being said, computers can be used to goof off easily if the student is so inclined. Motivating the student is the job of the parents, teacher, and especially as time goes on the student themselves. The student who posts to myspace all day long probably isn't the student who 30 years ago would have been staying after school to learn how a slide rule works. They would have been the students that snuck a comic book inside their textbooks. Slacking is not a new phenomena.
    But instead of taking responsibility, teachers and parents are blaming laptops or trying to use them to compensate for their own shortcomings. That is like trying to thread a screw with the hammer then when that fails, blaming the hammer manufacturer.
  • by mspohr (589790) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:18PM (#16018681)
    I was struck by the high cost of these laptops quoted in the article... $1400 and $1200.

    Since I can buy a very capable laptop for about $500 these days (in fact, I have bought a few for my daughters in college), why are the schools paying so much?

  • The trouble is... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LevKuleshov (998639) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:19PM (#16018688)

    Those in charge of school curricula have recognised that IT will be important in the future (at least we should credit them with that) but they have no idea in what sense or how to impart the knowledge needed to deal with this to the next generation. This is the generation that elects a senator who thinks the internet is a series of tubes! How can it be expected to come up with a meaningful strategy for teaching this stuff.

    If all middle school can teach is how to make a PowerPoint presentation, then maybe it's best to leave learning about IT to the traditional method -- by kids hacking into the Pentagon's most secure system in their spare time.

  • Oh my God!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sprotch (832431) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:20PM (#16018699)
    We sound just like our parents!!
  • by IflyRC (956454) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:20PM (#16018710)
    The dog ate my hard drive!!
  • by Oz0ne (13272) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:26PM (#16018772) Homepage
    Why spend vast sums of money for kids to have laptops, when it doesn't really gain them anything?

    I mean what is to gain really? I'm all for learning to use technology, but include it in the curriculum as a class, or part of a class instead of an integral part of the entire schooling process.

    I view them as more of a crutch than anything else.
  • Too Late (Score:5, Insightful)

    by istartedi (132515) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:26PM (#16018775) Journal

    Parents who think learning PowerPoint is important? It's too late. Nevermind this kid's education. Just make sure we have an extra cell in the prison system for him.

    I program computers for a living. I didn't get a computer until I was in 8th grade. What does that tell you?

    This reminds me of the study that was done regarding chess. A lot of people got the idea that chess taught students "critical thinking". The conclusion of the study was that students who were taught chess learned... chess. That's it.

    I'm also reminded of the first incarnation of "computers to help disadvantaged students" that I witnessed first-hand in the 80s. There, at the computer, was one of the "slow kids" interacting with a computer. What was it doing? A computerized version of... flash cards. Yes. The Atari 800 was being used as a virtual stack of 3 by 5 cards with simple multiplication problems on them.

    Now, for those of us who were learning algebra, the computer was a fantastic tool. In fact, when I was just being introduced to the idea that variables could be involved in math problems, the computer illustrated the point most vividly. So, I don't think that computers are useless in schools. I think it probably makes sense to introduce them right around the time students are learning algebra, but it's hard to tell if I'm being prejudiced because of my own personal experience. At any rate, having a computer certainly made me better at... computing! Whether or not it would have made me good at anything else I can't say.

    As a general rule though, I don't see why we should be spending several hundred dollars for a stack of 3 by 5 cards with multiplication tables on them. I certainly don't thinnk we should be giving kids eyestrain by having them read books of computers. Get paper books, OK? I definitely don't think we should be giving vocational training to kids in gradeschool. A kid with an average eduction should be able to learn PowerPoint quickly after graduating highschool, via a brief seminar. A kid with a superior education should be able to attend the same seminar, and recognize PowerPoint for the mind numbing crap that it is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by radtea (464814)
      I program computers for a living. I didn't get a computer until I was in 8th grade. What does that tell you?

      I program computers for a living and I didn't even see a computer until I was in my senior year of highschool, where I learned that aways-useful language: APL.

      That was followed by a first-year engineering course on FORTRAN, complete with punch cards, which I worked in as an academic of one kind or another for most of the next decade, with a little BASIC thrown in for controlling hardware on Apple ]['s
  • by Kope (11702) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:41PM (#16018934)
    My son attends a "Charter" school -- one of the best schools in one of the best school districts in our state. It's not a perfect school, but it is good enough that there's no real reason to look to private schools until the high school years.

    This year they opened a computer lab filled with brand new high end Dell computers. I was really excited to see what they'd use them for.

    Sadly, the majority of use thus far is not for teaching programming skills, or exploring how computers work, but for "research" (read surfing the web) and homework (read surfing the web and using cut-n-paste).

    In order to meet state requirements for computer education, they are also teaching classes on how to use powerpoint.

    What amazes me is that in no other field would a professional teacher consider the teaching of a specific application as sufficient substitution for actual knoweldge of a subject. Being able to successfully grow a tomato plant in the greenhouse might be extra credit, but it doesn't get you through the biology exam. You can't present your tomato plant as proof that you understand the Krebs cycle. I know of no math class where so long as you can use a calculator you get an 'A' (though I've heard horror stories, so maybe that's not a good example!) You don't pass a creative writting course by demonstrating an ability to watch a movie adaptation of a creative written work.

    What happened to teaching something about computers?

    When I was in middle school, we built an Altair 8800. We learned programming, and even produced a project as a class that we got to code into the local university's Burroughs PLP.

    The news every week is about how the USA isn't making enough engineers, mathematicians and scientists. And here nearly every school has all these computers that instead of using to teach these critical subjects and to develop skills and abilities that will lead to fixing that gap instead resort to teaching an application.

    It's pathetic. And frankly, mind-numbingly stupid behavior on the parts of the schools.
  • Mobile computer lab (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cliffwoolley (506733) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:50PM (#16019045)
    At the K-12 school where I work, our upper school campus (grades 7-12) recently purchased a "mobile lab" -- a cart with enough notebook computers on it for a class to use, one notebook per kid.

    Yes, we have sufficient web filtering and other blocks in place, so the kids can't waste time playing games or instant messenging. Yes, there is sufficient security on the computers to prevent the kids from installing a bunch of junk or otherwise modifying the settings of the computers. Yes, the school has 100% wireless coverage to service the mobile lab, but personally-owned computers are not allowed to connect to our network (wired *or* wireless).

    Why am I posting this? Several comments responding to this article have stated things like, "That's what the COMPUTER LAB is for". But here's why that doesn't hold: yes, we have a traditional computer lab with a bunch of desktops in it. But we only have ONE traditional lab, and it's constantly overbooked. Many more teachers want to use it for their classes than there are time slots in the day available for them. So we have to turn classes away. As in many schools, space here is at an absolute premium... we don't have any "extra rooms" sitting around just waiting for me to load another twenty desktops into it. So the ONLY way for us to expand our lab facilities was to use the CLASSROOMS as labs... which means notebooks (and a cart). Sure desktops would have been a bit cheaper, but there was no place to PUT them.

    I was initially concerned about excessive wear and tear on notebooks and the breakage that might ensue. But I was reassured by a number of my peers at other schools around the country that the mobile labs they've set up get a lot less broken than they anticipated, and furthermore, accidental damage insurance on the notebooks covers us just in case a screen gets broken or something else catastrophic occurs to one of the notebooks.

  • by briancnorton (586947) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:03PM (#16019192) Homepage
    Learning to communicate effectively is important, but a twelve year old needs to learn how to think critically and solve problems before they learn to be a sales-weasel. Aside from that, powerpoint is a terrible communication medium, with no more educational value than the clear plastic cover I used to put on my papers to get a better grade.
  • Fullerton (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:37PM (#16019496) Homepage

    I live in Fullerton, one of the communities discussed in the article. The deal was that they built a new subdivision, with extremely expensive houses in it -- real estate prices have gone nuts here recently, like $700,000 for a four-bedroom house with almost no yard. So they had this new community of very affluent people, and they built a new elementary school for them. (I live up the street in an older subdivision, which is served by an older, preexisting school.) They wanted to make this new school super duper special and innovative, because, after all, rich people deserve to have the best schools, right? So they announced that certain kids (I think it was one grade at that school) were going to be required to have laptops, and the parents would have to pay. If you could demonstrate that you couldn't afford it, they would supposedly buy one for your kid, but that would be pretty hard to demonstrate, given that you bought a $700,000 house within the last year. If you just said you didn't want your kid to participate in the laptop program, the district's solution was that they would transfer your kid to another school.

    If the public schools really want to do something super special, there are a lot of other options that would make sense, e.g., resume class size reduction, which was abandoned a few years ago because of the budget crisis in California. Another idea would be to pay more money to lure in math and science teachers who actually have bachelor's degrees in their math or science.

    • Degrees (Score:4, Interesting)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:46PM (#16020397) Journal
      [...] Another idea would be to pay more money to lure in math and science teachers who actually have bachelor's degrees in their math or science.

      A teacher has to enjoy what they're teaching. A teacher has to be able to communicate not only the facts about what their teaching but their enjoyment of the subject matter. Whether they have a bachelors, masters, or PhD in the subject matter is inconsequential.

      Do you need to know calculus to teach arithmetic, algebra, or geometry? Heck, if I had a bachelors degree in mathematics, I'd be bored stuff teaching kids algebra! I wouldn't be using my college education one damn bit!

      My father was a high school math teacher for 21 years because he loved teaching math. He has a masters degree, which he got while teaching. He never used the math he learned getting his masters in the classroom. But most of his former students consider him to have been a good math teacher because he communicate his interest in math as well as the facts. He didn't suddenly become a better teacher because he had a masters degree.

      You don't have to be a genius to be a high school teacher--it's high school! But you have to be able to interest others in what you're interested in. That's the hard part.
  • by AgentPaper (968688) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:56PM (#16019643)
    When I was a HS senior way back in 1999-2000, my school became one of the first in the nation to require laptops for all students in Grades 6-12. Each student was "issued" (read: their parents had to cough up an additional $2500 for) a new Dell Latitude laptop with all the bells and whistles and Microsoft everything (no surprise, given that Steve Ballmer is one of our alumni). Supposedly, all our books were going to come on CDROM, all our classes were going to be models of networked interaction between students and faculty, and the laptops were going to usher in a new era of interactive, advanced learning.

    The first year was an unmitigated disaster. I spent my study hall and my lunch hour every day working as a helpdesk tech, and we averaged thirty kids an hour with dying and dead machines, all suffering from malfunctions, viruses and just plain abuse. When people weren't loading their machines full of music/movies/warez/porn, they were playing games and IMing each other in class. This contributed to all sorts of network problems, which exacerbated the problems the machines already had. (Did I mention that the Microsoft "Knowledge Technologies" package had more bugs than the AP Biology fruit-fly lab?) Moreover, you couldn't use the laptops for any of the programming, advanced graphic design or publishing software we used, for which having a laptop might actually have been useful - that stuff was all Apple-based, and restricted by hardware dongles to boot. Finally, since 90% of the teachers were technologically incompetent themselves, they had no idea how to use the machines in class. I can count on one hand the number of kids who actually used the machines for anything useful during class time, and that counts myself. (Five classes out of six, my laptop sat in its bag and I took notes on paper.)

    The program is still in operation, and it's still useless as ever. Nowadays, they added two new functionalities to the machines, digital whiteboards and computerized attendance. The latter program takes class attendance using a map of IPs and locations, which any enterprising geek can rig by using a static IP.

    I can't fault the program completely, though. I had a great laptop when I went to college. I just found it completely, utterly useless in high school.

  • by kilodelta (843627) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:01PM (#16019683) Homepage
    Pretty easy to proxy everything and use DansGuardian to filter objectionable content. It's also easy to block port 5190 to stop IM's, etc. Libraries do it, why don't schools? I don't get it.
  • by EastCoastSurfer (310758) on Friday September 01, 2006 @09:12AM (#16023409)
    I'm torn about laptops in schools. I think kids need exposure to technology, but does every student prior to HS need a laptop? As kids are maturing I think they need less distractions in the classroom so that they can learn the basics. Have computer classes or class computer time, but I don't think kids need a laptop prior to HS.

    Once in HS, this might change a bit as you would expect students to be more mature and perhaps be able to deal with the additional distractions a laptop in the class could bring.

Your own mileage may vary.