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Education

Laptops in Every Backpack 174

Scott Sawyer writes: "Check out Wired to see that Maine is going to put a laptop in every 7th graders school bag. I remember when we had to go to another room to work on the Tandy, TRS-80's." We did a story about Laptops in Education a few months ago that had more information about this Maine proposal that's now a reality.
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Laptops in Every Backpack

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is it just me or will Susie find HER laptop more aptly applied as a lunch table and a method of inducing a concussion in Billy who put a worm in her sandwich than working out the bugs in her latest Perl script?
    • I agree... at 7th grade I was in the grade 12 programming class (Pascal), most of which I spent using my newfound skills to change the colors of my Win 3.1 desktop, but I suspect it will be a waste for most people. Later highschool or college/university would be a much better place.
  • There is no way something like this can happen without somebody getting some kickbacks somewhere. I would HATE to be the sap working tech support for those laptops, cuz they are gonna take more abuse than my tighty whities 2 hours after eating taco bell.
  • It's too bad that the story was audio only. some of us may not have sound cards or may be at work where we can't listen to such. Heh.
    • It's too bad that the story was audio only. some of us may not have sound cards or may be at work where we can't listen to such. Heh.

      Point. Not to mention non-natives! I can more or less read and write in English, but listening to it is a wholly different matter. Bleh.
      Hopefully some helpful person (or some determined karma whore :)) will post a summary of the article?
    • it starst in september '02 and they are all going to be NC's! sounds like a good applicatoin for an iBook with a small hard drive and Mac OS X server! (don't you just love my mac twists ;)
    • yeah someone should post the transcript of the interview .. quite a few karma points at stake here ..
  • weight?! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hes Nikke ( 237581 )
    when i was in middle school my backpack was heavy enough! now they want these kids to carry around an extra 8-12 lb?!

    we have to be serious here, would you intrust your 12 your old child with a $3000 wizbang lastest greatest laptop that only weighs 4 pounds or will you give him/her you 3 year old notebook that weighs almost as much as your child?

    i'd drop down to a $1300 laptop and most of those also weigh 8 lb! the exception to that rule is the Apple [apple.com] iBook [apple.com] and with one of those suckers then weight starts to become a non-issue, but at 5 lb it is still probably to much.
    • Re:weight?! (Score:5, Informative)

      by ziplux ( 261840 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @03:27AM (#2215787) Homepage
      Jesus, listen to the damn article before you post. He actually seems to know what he's talking about in the interview. He says the units will cost $500 or less each, and will contain a small amount of writable flash memory. They will function as thin clients when connected to the school's wireless network, and the sudents won't be allowed to load any programs on them. When they're at home, they'll dialup to access the network.
      • He actually seems to know what he's talking about in the interview.

        Or someone has written him a list of specs he can repeat in interviews.

        $500 or less each

        One piece, no upgradability, send back to manufacturer for repairs 3 year warranty - Maybe

        contain a small amount writable flash memory

        These are starting to sound like these little WinCE things we tried a few years ago. Looks like a kiddie laptop. Difficult to use. Screens dim after the first year. One solid piece. After the initial year warranty the company wouldn't call us back. The manual looks like a promotional pamphlet and there's no support otherwise.

        the sudents won't be allowed to load any programs on them

        That statement cracks me up. Sure, until your serious hacker kid gets bored with pocket Word and solitaire. Then he figures out how to put a copy of Scorched earth in the flash memory. Then his buddy asks him how he did it, so he shows him, and he shows another kid. Soon everyone's playing it. Then they figure out P2P, and now EVERYONE has a copy of Student X's assignment.

        If that's all they're getting, I estimate that these things will disappear within two years of showing up.
      • I'm not sure how useful it is to tech students on laptops they don't have total access too. I know when I was a student I would have hacked mine. If you give the units to the students as their property that they can use as they will then they will take better care of them. A new laptop in 7th grade could be expected to last them throughout highschool. I'd offer all graduating seniors new laptops to carry them into their college years too.

        Having well designed interactive education is a great way to take an overworked teacher and allow them to get more done.

        Myself I'd load Linux on all the laptops but would allow students to dual boot if they installed the other OS themself. I'd even give classes on how to do so.

        Putting laptops in the hands of every student is a great way to close the so called digital divide and cure fear of technology. The first generation that grows up this way will be among the most elite generation ever I'd imagine.
        • Having well designed interactive education is a great way to take an overworked teacher and allow them to get more done.

          That's a nice straw man, but "well designed interactive education" doesn't exist in a generic form.

          Rich private schools can afford to do something like that, but 99% of schools can't.

          I'm not talking out my ass here, I've implemented computers, networks, and Internet in schools. They're damn near useless.
          • So write the software and make it opensource and give it away. If teachers start letting be known what they need those of us who program will try to get it in their hands. As I haven't children yet I am somewhat limited in experience when it comes to educating them so I need very well defined wish lists to get things done. :)
            • Number one, it's a huge project, probably as difficult as writing an operating system. People who are willing to commit to something like that are rare, and mostly occupied with "sexier" pursuits.

              Second, it won't do a damn bit of good, when all the teachers don't know how to use a computer.

              Third, it'll require ongoing support and customization, and *THAT* is the reason hardly anybody has done it, because you need a staff or a contractor to continue to support it.

              Private schools do this better than public, because they use their money so incredibly much more efficiently since it's not being handled by bureaucrats and career government workers.
      • My 10 yo bro already has something like this... It's not a full fledged laptop, it's a smalling thing with some flash memory, can hold a bunch of pages, syncs with a real computer via usb..

        The point is, it's a VERY GOOD IDEA when done right. Some kids have played enough video games that they can find their way around application menus in about 10 minutes, while most adults I know who haven't been exposed to computers much keep 1000000000 files on their desktop because that's the only way they can remember where they are. Early, continuous, and repeated exposure to computing does allow kids to turn these skills into something that's second nature by the time they've graduated from high school, so they won't have to get their first job with some kind of lie that sounds like "Uh, yeah, well, I've *used* computers, and, um, I'm a real quick learner." Kids with this kind of experience will have a kind of computer literacy that I find shockingly absent in most "professional" adults these days; the kind who instantly call tech support if someone unplugs their monitor before they come in to work (although it is fun to unplug their monitors ;-)

        There is also real value is in learning a skill that can take years, but which is really essential these days; learning to type. And without making kids take some dopey typing course constructed 50 years ago and targeted exclusively at the lower 3rd of the class.

    • Actually their backpack ought to be lighter if they implement this change RIGHT-- ditch textbooks: if everyone has a laptop at these schools (is it more than one that's doing this?), then they should either a) be hooked up to a network and be reading PDF versions of their textbooks (or some exchangable document format, but you get the idea) or b) have CD-ROM copies of their textbooks, again, in a popular (or hell, even an unpopular) format for viewing.

      That just leaves whatever the kid totes to school in his/her backpack.

      About the trust issue, I agree, it's a bit excessive if they're giving the kids $3000 laptops. Those laptops shouldn't cost more than $1000-2000 at most (that's a 12.1 to 14" screen, 128MB RAM, 10GB HD and 600+ MHz Pentium III).. about the only thing that could drive the price up would be an agreement with the laptop manufacturer to replace any laptop, no questions asked, if the laptop stops working (eg: they are kids, kids do drop stuff and are a little more wreckless with technology than we'd like, I'm sure).
  • They'd better be toughbooks or the like, cause they will be broken within a month if they aren't.. I should know, I was in 7th grade not too long ago (7 years), and I know how they treat their backpacks. I'm in college and I broke my LCD screen cause it was in my backpack.. (fell off a bike)

    Kenny
  • Man, this guy has guts. On the other hand, you could call him a PHB too. From an administrative perspective, there's soooo many problems that are going to crop up, they may totally take away any usefulness of this project.

    And it's not just going to be the random "I can't open my lab report" type of problem. It's going to be the "I dropped my laptop on the way to school, and it fell apart" type of problem. All of the state.

    I'd hate to be the support staff for any school district up in Maine...
    • I'd hate to be the support staff for any school district up in Maine...

      Amen. I'll wager the budget for support is in no way tied to the # of PC's, laptops or whatever is coming into the state. They'll have all these machines and then wonder why the Network admin and his technician can't keep them all going.
      • wonder why the Network admin and his technician can't keep them all going

        Hahahaha...

        Thats such a laugh!

        Schools in Maine don't have network-admins.

        Schools in Maines have part-time computer teachers who are responsible for the entire network.

        Technicans...

        Haha again. Technicans = students who get tired of LOGO and playing with the lame educational programs.
  • Yeah! (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Alex Belits ( 437 )
    Don't spend money on revmping the curriculum so Physics won't be put after Chemistry (what makes just as much sense as installing XF86 before libc). Don't spend money on getting better teachers (now you can't get an educated person to become a teacher because salaries are beyond "poor" and closer to "insulting"). Don't do anything that forces students to study (it's more important to make them think that they live in a "free country" and have no duties whatsoever). Don't keep companies' interests and religious propaganda out of school. Don't even start a program that empahsized learning of technology (heck, a bunch of high school kids making a beowulf cluster out of old p150's just to find out what those Slashdot trolls are talking about would be better than what kids are learning now). Get a bunch of laptops, pay some Dell, Gateway, Sony or even Compaq a shitload of money, pay Microsoft more money, give laptops to unprepared kids, teach them "technology" like pointing and clicking through menus, and be afraid of those kids actually using those things for something you don't understand. And expect that when kids will finish school they will have detailed knowledge of every button, menu and dialog box of the obsolete by that time version of Microsoft Word.

    • What you fail to realize, is that even if the laptops in question are crappy, obsolete Dell or Gateway junk, they are still COMPUTERS. They can be NETWORKED. Their contents can be UPDATED.

      Think about it for a moment. Instead of working from obsolete, dumbed-down hard copy textbooks that have been eviscerated to satisfy the bible-thumpers in texas, kids can work from current material, obtained on line and edited or written by their teacher, or by community volunteers, etc.

      School districts will be able to get courses from the net that fit their own ideas of what to teach, not the insipid pablum that the textbook companies have to write.

      If you're offended by the idea of those kids working with windoze, then roll up your sleeves, and start putting together a Linux-based courseware package.

      -jcr

      • America's school textbook system is a racket, and the textbooks suck, not so much because of the religious wars but because it's a damn racket, but the computers don't solve that. It doesn't matter if material is "current." Algebra hasn't changed since I was in school, nor physics, nor history. And you can bet the laptops will be used to look at pablum just as bad as in the textbooks because this does nothing to address the corruption of America's educational-industrial complex.

      • What you fail to realize, is that even if the laptops in question are crappy, obsolete Dell or Gateway junk, they are still COMPUTERS. They can be NETWORKED. Their contents can be UPDATED.


        While this works in theory, your idea has one flaw. Computers must be updated by a human agency, and are therefore just as subject to flaws as normal teaching aids might be. Just because little Timmy finds out the sound is faster than light on a COMPUTER doesn't make it any less false than if a teacher told him the same thing.



        Instead of working from obsolete, dumbed-down hard copy textbooks that have been eviscerated to satisfy the bible-thumpers in texas, kids can work from current material, obtained on line and edited or written by their teacher, or by community volunteers... Who just happen to be those aformentioned Texan bible thumpers that will destroy any information that offends them.

      • I ask, what in the world does having a computer do to enhance one's education? About the only thing I used my computer for was writing essays, because I type faster than I write. Unfortunatly, I really can't spell very well because I learned to rely on the spell checker too much. I've found that going on-line to look at an encyclopedia is a pretty good waste of time, because all I have to do to get the same information is go out to my living room, and page through all the Time-Life books and Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia that I have. In fact, I usually find something else of intrest when paging though a book that I would have missed if I had just requested a certain article on-line.

        There's nothing dumbed-down about current textbooks. Sure, some of them have mistakes, but that should be easilly corrected by a teacher (the teacher's ability to do so is an entirely different debate). Besides, what do you really need current material for anyway? What's changed about the fundamentals of reading or science or mathematics in the past twenty years? I guarantee, nothing that a basic, well-rounded education should be concerned about. (For example, science has changed a few things, but a cation is still a cation.)

        There's no excuse for schools' being slaves to textbooks. I had an excellent calculus teacher my senior year. Finding our textbook unsatisfactory for teaching things like the meal value theorem, she got a separate workbook which worked rather well.

        The fact of the matter is that if a pupil wants to become educated, he has to do the work himself. The only thing having a computer changes is less money in the school's budget.

    • All that is dead on (sardonically, I'm hoping), except this:

      >Don't spend money on getting better teachers

      Sorry, but (IMHO) better teachers teach for the love of teaching, or perhaps for the enjoyment of being in control of what gets put in kids minds today.

      Poor teachers teach for the money.

      This is somewhat akin to Windows programmers vs. Open Source programmers. Windows programmers do it because they get paid. Most of them _hate_ the environment they work in, but won't do anything about it because if they do they become what they fear: unpaid open source programmers.

      I'm not suggesting that good teachers don't deserve to get well paid. I think they do. I am, however, suggesting that too high a pay attracts people who have no love for the profession. Again, look at your PHB (assuming you have one). Does he get paid more than you? Now, does he love the job more than you?

      My government (whom I won't mention since arguing about local government is usually senseless on an international forum) has cut education hard. They are continuing to cut it harder. So hard that the schools have finally started to cut the _real_ chaff from their budget. Programs like environmental "studies", phys-ed (past the regular 1 class/year), and such are being cut.

      Thank God. I can't believe the government had to cut funding this hard to get the schools to start going back to the 3 Rs! It's about time.

      The funding cuts have taken their toll though. I have permanently lost all respect for many school teachers after being involved in (as a student), and later on, witnessing teacher strikes. In teaching I think respect is key, and without it you may as well be teaching a brick wall.

      You don't build respect by using your students as a weapon against the government. You also can't build long-term respect by attempting to subvert young minds into thinking you are doing them a favour by striking. Eventually, if they are bright enough, and therefore the type who would enjoy a lifelong education, they will notice the disrespect of being used as a bargaining chip, traded for nothing more than cold, hard cash.

      Sorry if that turned out a little ranty...
      • Yeah, if those people don't love teaching enough to starve for it then who needs 'em?
        • The cuts I'm talking about took teachers from what was considered by society a slightly above average salary (a little over $35k from what I remember) to an average salary (I think its about $30k). US$ of course. BTW -- these may not be "average" for your area, but they are for mine.

          In my country you can live very reasonably on that amount. Not like a king, but then again do you know anyone who [but yourself] deserves to live the penultimate lifestyle?

          I know a surprising amount of people (well, hardly surprising since its average) making that amount who own houses and have a family with multiple kids. They own cars, and certainly don't live off macaroni and cheese. So society (or stats, your choice) still considered the pay level very reasonable.

          Had the pay levels been below average its likely our government wouldn't have been re-elected. It's hard to garner public support for a pay strike when you bring home more bacon than most.
      • "Sorry, but (IMHO) better teachers teach for the love of teaching, or perhaps for the enjoyment of being in control of what gets put in kids minds today.

        Poor teachers teach for the money. "

        Two things:

        Yes, teachers teach for the love of teaching, ideally. However, ideology is boolean, not scalar. It's not like there are people who live for an idea and people who don't. And nobody lives their life entirely on ideology.

        In order for a person to decide to spend their life in a field (teaching), there must also be comfort and respect involved. Currently, teaching anywhere outside a privite college lacks both, so the only people who teach outside private colleges are the educated people who are either very ideological and selfless (good for them, but there aren't many of 'em), those who have somehow managed to be affluent and/or respected through other means, and those who had to turn to teaching because they were unable to achieve a more affluent and respectable job. That third kind is the vast majority. Some of them just got screwed by the system, but waaaaaay more than any of us want to see are the kind who just aren't smart enough, or who are closed-minded.

        And all of this can be fixed by paying teachers more. If teachers are respected and well-paid, it'll be mroe competitive, and better teachers will get hired. Perhaps it'll happen slowly, But it'll happen. Money will make teachers affluent, and in the United States of America, there is little that's more respected than riches. Yeah, yeah, I think respecting money is bullshit, too, but that's the way this country works.

        Also, once we've got retards out of the school system, it's a fair expectation that the intelligent, professional teachers we end up with will be decent enough to get rid of the chaff you mentioned, without being forced to do so when their funding is cut off. Maybe we can even hire teachers who are smart enough to decide what the students learn, without relying on elected school boards consisting of people who don't know jack about how the human mind learns.

        My sincerest apologies to you people who aren't in the United States and think I'm insulting you by talking about the US without mentioning your country. The United States, oddly enough, is more important to me than any other country, because I'm stuck here.

        Errr - it feels like I ranted a little, too - sorry.

        Cheers
  • In the same vein, I saw this article [wired.com] yesterday about a school in NC that requires students to own a Palm IIIc and a portable keyboard. It certainly saves money to use PDA's instead of laptops, and I thought it was a neat idea.
  • Are they going to be allowed to wipe the harddisk and install some other OS than the preinstalled one? I'm not suggesting that it's a bad thing that some limits are imposed on the use of the product when given away for free, but on the other hand I dislike the idea of monopoly supporting giveaways.

    My little brother is very nearsighted and has such problems with his vision that he was eligble for a laptop to use at school. However, the fact that you get it for free means that you're essentially not allowed to anything with it, but use it for it's intended purposes. (You aren't even allowed to install games, but I don't think my brother minded that rule very much ;-)
    • Here's the problem with being a jackass and feeling some sort of deep need to install Linux on a free computer: you start down a path of broken compatibility. Suddenly you can't follow an assignment because you're using some GNOME based text editor rather than Word. You also are stranded if the computer came with some sort of encyclopedia program that you can't use under Linux and which there aren't any open source analogs. Thats like the guy in the English class who thinks he ought to be able to e-mail assignments in to the teacher when the syllabus clearly states all assignments must be printed.
      • I am aware of the problems that might arise when you completely do away with your MS Windows installation, so I was actually more wondering along the lines of wether it would be allowed to install a secondary OS on their harddrive or just in general use the computer for anything else than it's intended school-related purposes.
  • Laptops in school? Aren't there more efficient things to do with the money, like, paying teachers a bit more [slashdot.org], maybe?

    I may be wrong, and I kind of hope I am, but this SO sounds like a political trick to make it look like they do something for kids education, instead of REALLY tackling problems...
    • but this SO sounds like a political trick to make it look like they do something for kids education, instead of REALLY tackling problems...

      I can't speak for Maine, but here, the people responsible for making the major decisions in education have either NEVER been in a public school classroom as an instructor, or haven't been there in several years. They've become so far removed from the problem, that when they try to help, they're making decisions in a vacuum. Every few years, a new decision is made followed by several large purchases, and this is heraleded &ltsp?&gt as the new savior of public education.
    • No, that would be far too rational. Bureaucracies are never that reasonable.

      Example: My university purchased many 128 MB RAM chips to upgrade these old P2 400 computers (with 96 MB RAM) that some labs use. The result? They're just about as slow.

      I can't imagine how much money they wasted, but it's enough to make me shudder with disgust. The most reasonable approach, of course, is to slowly buy *new* computers that will have faster processors and harddrives.

  • Man..I really feel like I missed out. Oh, the mayhem i could have caused with wireless networking, if i were allowed to bring a lappy to all of my classes with me. Diablo during classes (Q3A or counterstrike if it had one of those snazzy mobile GF2's in them), sending provocative messages over the network, completing my homework minutes after it's assigned and selling the answers with paypal over the network..oh, what a glorious time it must be to be a 7th grader.

    As it was, i had to settle for flaying the classrooms macintosh computers with ResEdit
  • The article itself is almost as short as the slashdot article pointing to it. This should be preserved as an endangered species. Hmm, maybe Slashdotius Shortius?
  • Negativity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DarkZero ( 516460 )
    I'm shocked by the negativity here. You people are supposed to geeks. You're supposed to be the people that are most aware of the fact that by the next generation, computery literacy will rank in importance right up there with literacy itself. The people that know that very soon, it will be incredibly difficult to get any job beyond manual labor if you don't know how to use a computer. It's absolutely shameful that all of the kids I went to school with in high school just last year were wasting their time in two elective classes a day (80 minutes each) and going home to a home without a computer, when knowledge of how to use a computer is becoming one of the most important skills for getting a good job in America. Forget tech support, costs, and other understandably important things. At the very least, a Hell of a lot more of these kids won't be absolutely lost when they sit down at a computer. Better yet, quite a few of these kids that are currently computer illiterate are untapped geeks... a lot of computer illiterate kids could be given their calling in life and the hope of a good, high-paying job through these laptops. I expected more intelligence from the people here. This is one of the few examples of a politician really understanding the importance of computers, and you people are just throwing your usual pessimistic crap at him. This guy now has my respect, and he would have my vote if I were in his state.
    • just giving someone a computer doesn't make them computer literate. i think it all will depend on what the computers are used for.
    • By your logic forcing kids to join competitive sports could let them find the inner jock that's lain repressed for too long or focing them to study the bible in public schools could release the saint they secretly keep in side. Don't be a complete jackass. Giving someone a computer doesn't make them computer literate. Giving every 7th grader a laptop is just another means of tossing money at a problem in hopes it will go away. Using a computer is a monkey's job, programs will only get more user friendly and intuitive, by the time today's seventh graders are looking for their monkey jobs their interaction with a computer will involve little more than pushing a couple buttons. No one needs an intimate knowlege of computers in order to use them. Cynacism here isn't from a lack of intelligence but experience. Alot of people here realize that throwing money at something doesn't fix it and just because someone has a computer it doesn't suddenly make them smarter or more productive. In fact in the expereince of many people, introductions of computers into the workplace has made people less productive because its alot easier for them to screw around but look busy. I'd rather my kid be given a graphing calculator and instructions on how to use and program it rather than a laptop. They'll learn that computers are just tools are are pretty much expensive toys if you don't know what you're doing.
    • 'nuff said.
      • I'll elaborate.

        Computer literacy will never be as important as print literacy. Computers and technology in general are having an unprecedented (positive) effect on the world, but not everyone is interested in computers - I think you're losing your perspective, as "the importance of computers," whatever turgid definition you're using, is ubiquitous, while the skills to manipulate computers are increasingly specialized and will always be a vocational skill.

        As a geek, you should understand the importance of going into a large-scale rollout like this with a definate set of goals - and Angus King hasn't presented any compelling reason for shelling out the cash for these things when it could go toward teacher salaries, or even public computer equipment.

        I live in Maine, and I think the tax money would be better spent elsewhere. My high school had a great computer lab and an AP COS that taught the equivalent of a college COS 160. If the money were spent on more public computer lab equipment and COS courses, it would go further to teach computer literacy than these cheesy thin client half-ass laptop things will ever do. I don't think these laptops are about computer literacy at all. They are a spaced out attempt to "make teaching fun" by making the classroom into some kind of heinleinian, asimovian technocratic learning center.
    • The people that know that very soon, it will be incredibly difficult to get any job beyond manual labor if you don't know how to use a computer.


      And it's even harder to get a job if you don't know how to drive a car, but I don't see the school districts giving out compact cars to every student. Beyond the basics of how to use a mouse, how to use a keyboard, how to turn on a computer, any knowledge learned is going to be too specific to be useful in a job just 5 years later. The extent of mandatory computer education necessary for these kids amounts to a 2 week course for one period a day.


      On the other hand, I think this could be a great idea, not so much to teach students computer skills, but to gain efficiency in teaching students non-computer skills. With each student having a laptop, a program could be written to have adaptive tests, automatically graded and with anti-cheating mechanisms. Graphs could be made automatically to show the teacher what subjects the students need more help with, or which students might benefit from one on one tutoring in a particular area. You're not going to replace the teacher, but you can keep the menial tasks out of the teachers hand and let the teacher concentrate more on teaching. Ultimately the cost has to be looked at and compared to where the school needs the money spent. And for this reason it shouldn't be a state mandated program.


      Each school has different needs. If $1000/student could attract better teachers, and that is a place the school is lacking, it should probably be spent there. Tripling the productivity of a bad teacher isn't going to help much if that productivity is lacking. On the other hand, if most of your teaching staff is already tenured teachers who can't be replaced with any amount of money, maybe you're looking at a different situation. Have the state government focus on providing funds and hiring good superintendents. Let the superintendents make the decisions on where the money gets spent, and review their quality with regard to those decisions on a case by case basis.


    • Why do you think geeks ARE geeks? Is it because they had some clueless bureaucrat shove a computer in their face and pretend that it would help them learn? I opine that geeks are driven by, among other things, a passion for technology. Along side this is an inclination to experiment, and to learn from the results. I don't think any amount of education, with or without a laptop, can instill this passion if it's not already there.
  • Sex Education (Score:2, Insightful)

    Since sex ed classes are too controversial, they'll just let the kids trade cyberporn to learn about the human body.
  • Are they giving these laptops away, or do they have to be returned at the end of the year? What happens when (and not if) they get lost, broken, or stolen? Who pays for them? Losing a $20 mathbook is one thing, but what about a $1,000 laptop?
  • Way back in 7th grade I carried an old Compaq 286 laptop (I think it was an LTE). It had no mouse, a monochrome screen, and pcmcia modem. It was really useful for taking notes since my handwriting was/is atrocious. I believe the software of choice was wordperfect 5.1. While I admit that it was quite beneficial to be able to search through my notes and even format the data for studying, I also used the free time I had to use the modem to dial into various BBSes and play door games. On more than one occasion I was caught when the librarian wanted to know what those "strange tones" were when she picked up the line.

    Point being, a 7th grader is just as likely to use the laptop for a game in class instead of proper note taking. In the age of 802.11, it is more likely that there would be more in class chatting via Instant Messenger than legitimate note taking. Of course in-class computing habits will vary with each student so it is very possible that my assumption is completely wrong.
  • I have to say that the idea is good. In the college I went to, even new pc's (all running wintndo) had to be reinstalled every couple of weeks (of course you can blame part of that on M$). In educational systems, in Belgium, every computer has to run M$ Wintendo. That is because one of our ministers made a deal with beloved Bill Gates (remember the pie in his face)! If you give the students laptops, they are responsible for there own system (and some WILL make it dual boot ;). Only thing is, it is up to the school to take care of the deal between the comany that makes the laptops and students. Not all of us have the money to buy a laptop.

    Greetz,

    Menteb
  • Yoink (Score:5, Funny)

    by enneff ( 135842 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @04:10AM (#2215874) Homepage
    At my school, and many others here in Melbourne Australia, the whole student populous has their own personal laptop. In general, there's not a huge benefit. The only class I use it for is Information Systems (for coding in Java - ugh), and occasionally Physics (recording results, drawing graphs).

    What can I say about compulsory student-laptop programmes in general? I don't see them as a good thing. I think an optional scheme would be much better, as there are plenty of people who hardly ever use their laptops, or have access to desktop computers at home that are perfectly suitable for what they need to do (write an essay, for example). On top of this many famalies cannot afford to shell out $2-3k for a decent laptop.

    At my school they have a deal with a computer supplier which offers a 1 year parts, 3 year labour warranty, plus insurance, plus software at a not-too-unreasonable price. Twice a week or so they send out a technician to service the broken laptops, and we also have about three 'notebook service technicians' that look after staff and student problems. The system, in general, works pretty well.

    They have several default install disk images that they stick on every laptop - this consists of Windows 98, drivers, Office 97, and a few curriculum-based software programmes. They don't really care if you install the OS of your choice (I personally run Slackware on mine), as long as you don't get up to any mischief. (In fact, they recently took down the MAC addresses of everyone's network cards due to some ARP spoofing that was going on - little do they realise I'm only an 'ifconfig eth0 hw ether xx:xx...' away from anonymity)

    Many posters have commented on the breakability of laptops when put in this kind of environment. In the beginning this was a bit of a problem, but the Toshiba laptops that they reccommend generally serve us pretty well. I've had my 440cdx fall out of my locker a couple of times with the only damage being a cracked case. I'd estimate that, from a student body of 800 or so, only 20 LCDs would be replaced in one year. Not too bad, really.

    In any case, it's good to see the Yanks are catching up to where we've been for the past 6 years ;)

    • it should be noted that the laptops (which are actually thin clients) will be issued to the students -- the parents will not have to pay anything.

      i think this has the potential to be a very good thing. but from my experience i doubt it will succeed. the year i graduated HS an alumni donated a lab of sun workstations and a server with oracle. the lab sat dormant for 3 years before a half credit database class was created which utilized the lab for 3 hours a day.

      also, while i was in HS we had 3 computer labs which were administered by one tech (ex-science teacher) who also administered the labs in the middle school and at five elementary schools. he was at each school no more than twice a week so myself and another student took it upon ourselvs to pick up the slack (there were lots of problems). when the tech found out what we were doing he revoked our accounts. school wasn't over so we just made more with the admin password we had given ourselvs. he later found out about that and tried to suspended us and prevent me from graduating (he failed).
  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @04:29AM (#2215900) Journal

    It's the ultimate "dog bites man" story. Let's see: Americans are insanely mobile, and yet the country has no national curriculum, so children who move have gaps in what they've learned. Any attempts to write even a skeleton for a national curriculum gets shot down by politics. By the time kids enter kindergarten, they have been driven by television to have the attention span of a horny weasel, making discipline difficult, ever more so because every class will have two or more problem kids who cannot be disciplined without a confrontation with their parents. Another two or more will have been so neglected that the teacher will have to show them how to tie their shoes, use silverware, and sometimes how to brush their teeth. Separating problem children for the benefit of normal kids is too tied up in legalities, so it just doesn't happen. Wellcome to the circus. But hold, there's more.

    Teaching doesn't pay well. So few people enter it. Many of these come from the bottom of the collegiate barrel. Ed-school is a joke. Teacher unions worsen the problem by fighting against any attempt to tighten merit requirements in the hiring, tenuring, promotion, or firing of teachers. The only surefire way to fire a teacher is to lay an accusation of pedophilia. In ed-school, teachers learn methods based on the ideology of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his heirs, which is largely counterproductive. Ironically, ed-schools continue to represent Rousseau's ideas as grand innovation. So the classroom is a lunatic asylum, and the teachers can often be counted among the patients.

    First grade reading is hardest hit by ed-school methods, making for a piss-poor start. The impact of "whole-language" teaching has a negative effect on the entire 12 year system. Yet ed-schools stick to these methods because ed-schools are a cult, not a branch of academia. As students progress through the system, they are hit by popular culture and its pernicious influence against making any effort longer than thirty minutes. This same monstrosity also helps create the school clique system, which by high school comes to resemble wartime Beirut, minus the firearms.

    And the solution, says the state of Maine, is to give them all laptops. And people wonder why I am renewing my green card, but not filing for naturalization...

  • I remember when we had to go to another room to work on the Tandy, TRS-80's.

    well, you would have needed a try to carry a TRS-80, especially because of the monitor...

    Progress is a fantastic thing, isn't it? Think at when our grandchildren will be able to fire up their IntelliPrompter(TM), instead than asking Dad to do the homework for them!

    ciao, .mau.
  • I had teachers who would get annoyed when students would click pens. I wonder if these laptops have quiet keys.



    I think it's important to be computer literate but I think at that age alot of time is going to be spent keeping them from playing games during class.



    We also have this growing obsession with the internet. Students would be better off reading books, granted some are only available on the net. I hang around Gamedev.net alot and see too often "where can I get a tutorial?" for everything. Sometimes you have to figure things out on your own. You can't learn how to do that if you're constantly hitting Google for the walkthru for the current homework assignment.



    In the long run that won't help. Technology changes constantly. I know how to program and build computers because I learned how to experiment and figure things out on my own. As soon as my HP fried I ripped it apart and have built all the computers I have (4 in my room) just by looking at how the HP was assembled years ago. If those students with laptops don't learn how to learn, they'll never move past that laptop.



    Tech is nice but school doesn't need it. There's alot to learn in life and technology isn't a significant part of it.



    Ben

  • My school... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by V50 ( 248015 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @04:33AM (#2215905) Journal

    My school did something like this. They got a deal with IBM to get a whole bunch of ThinPad 365EDs. The result was a complete disaster. Kids were playing catch with them, messing with the BIOS, ripping out huge portions of Windows and other unspeakable things.

    Anyways, they have been sitting on a shelf in the library for a few years now. My dad is the auto teacher there and found them and asked if he could borrow them for my brother and I to use. We've had about 6 so far, two had physiclly wreaked hard drives, only one had the port covers still in place, two were missing _many_ drivers, on one someone had gone into the BIOS and disabled the cache, making it unbearably slow. One had Corel Suite 8 (the office app on these things) deleted and most had a few games and stuff installed. None had the PCMCIA modem that might have been there.

    So basiclly of these 17,000 Laptops expect about 1,700 of them to be in perfect working order.

    Off Topic Finish to my story: I currently have two working ones working: The one I'm writing this on, that I could just bearly get back working under Windows 95 and the other one was missing 3/4 of Windows 95 so I installed Linux on it. Then found out that Linux+X does not like a 486/100 with 12mb of memory as well as I have been told, so I dug out my 386's old copy of MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1 and installed it. I really wish I could morph them into a G4 Titanium PowerBook though...

    • All they did was wreck the laptops? What fools.
      The proper thing to do is fence them on the
      black market.
    • So what's wrong with ripping out portions of Windows:-)


      BTW, it should be possible to run X on a 486/100; speed is even okay on my 486/66. It's the low-memory that makes it a bit of a challenge. But you should be able to run a lightweight window-manager like BlackBox. Just don't try to install KDE or Gnome!

  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @04:54AM (#2215932) Journal
    1. What do you call a student who knows the
    laptops better than the teachers? "Hacker."
    Comes to mind. That and zero-tolerance should
    make for some interesting war stories in the
    letters section of the next 2600 issue.

    2. Muggers, burglars, and other scalawags
    and vagabonds will be making their way
    to Maine some time soon. There is probably
    good money to be had from robbing the students.

    3. How much class time will be devoted to
    waiting for everyone's software to boot up?
  • When I was in the 7th grade, I had to carry home at least 3-4 books a day. I'd get home, and I'd just drop my books on the floor. Now, if I had a laptop, I'd probably have been a little more careful, but I'm sure one day it would just slip my mind, and the laptop would get broken in half.

    The kids need tough laptops, tough laptops are expensive. Most schools are strapped for money as it is, so they're going to go as cheap as possible. The laptops they'll get are going to be the handle with care kind. I predict 80% of them are going to need expensive repairs (or total replacement) by the end of the first semester the kids have them.
  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @05:10AM (#2215959) Journal

    A lot of people are being left behind in the computer age because they are old and thus find it hard to learn an entire new vocabulary for dealing with computers. But that is not the problem kids have. Age 18 is not too old to catch this wave. Kids have other disadvantages in need of redress: if they can't write clearly, they come off as idiots in email. If they can't read, they're toast. If they don't have a good base of general knowledge and a good grasp on highbrow (i.e. technical or literate) English, they're toast. Laptops don't solve any of these problems, which means laptops don't close the real digital divide.

  • Computers for kids, great idea. But now what are all the fearful and anxious adults going to do to control how those computers are used? What are they going to do about the kids who use their computers to trade music, games, and (gasp) porn?

    The only thing worse than kids not having access to computers and the information and knowledge they unlock is for that access to be controlled or otherwise abridged, and yes that includes access to things that are sexually explicit. The world would be a much better place if our civilization didn't have this neurotic relationship with sex. Porn is harmless unless it is a person's sole or primary source of information about sex.

    Porn is used as the universal excuse for denying access to information. That wouldn't be so bad if it were actually harmful to anyone. The fact that it isn't just makes the lies it is used to defend that much more bitter.

    I'm 28 years old by the way.

    Lee
  • Schools are becoming nothing more than vocational schools for the tech industry. In the 60's if they would have insisted every kid learn about cars and give cars to ever 16 year old- people would have called such an idea moronic.

    But now? I guess since its computers - its cool.

    Computers are an interface to information - they are not the information. They are a tool. Not every kid needs to learn the tools of information. Especially if he has nothing to say - as more and more of these kids are going to show.

    They spend money on this while they kill music programs around the country. Can't afford new books. Its sad. We will eventually become a nation of high-tech plumbers and carpenters.

    Chet

  • by mlgm ( 61962 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @06:35AM (#2216055) Homepage
    I'm a computer geek myself and love to work with my computers. And I always found computers in schools a good idea. That's until I read Clifford Stolls [berkeley.edu] "High-Tech Heretic. Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian".

    You might know Clifford Stoll, he is famous from the early days of the Internet when he tracked down a computer spy. And he's programming computers since the mid 60s.

    But his reasons for keeping computers out of the shools are compelling:

    • computers and educational software are expensive. Much more expensive than say good school books. And computers will break faster than books.
    • computers are also expensive because they bind ressources which could be used better. E.g. teachers have to do system administration instead of teaching. And computers and educational software get old soon.
    • educational software e.g. in physics only simulates reality. To understand magnetism you have to hold the real thing in your hand.
    • and most of all he thinks that computers are easy to use and you don't need computers in school to become computer literate. You can learn how to use a computer (which is what people need) in only a couple of weeks.

    After I read the book, I was convinced, that we should have computers in school, but only where they are really useful. Giving a laptop to every pupil seems much too expensive and the money should better be spent for conventional education (more teachers, better books, better libraries).

    Clifford Stoll sometimes sounds too extreme or even fanatic to me, but then he has a lot of facts which prove his ideas. So you might want to read his book or give it to your school :-).

    • Responses to Clifford Stoll's 4 compelling reasons for keeping computers out of schools:

      computers and educational software are expensive. Much more expensive than say good school books. And computers will break faster than books.

      Prices for a suitable computer and software will come down in time. They add value by providing a way to supplement textbooks and libraries with cheap electronic books.

      computers are also expensive because they bind ressources which could be used better. E.g. teachers have to do system administration instead of teaching. And computers and educational software get old soon.

      The bios can be password locked. The hardware can be simplified (no feature loaded laptops). The OS's are more stable. The OS admin controls can be locked and centrally managed when laptops are plugged into the LAN. Don't simply deploy direct from the factory systems. Customize and lock them down before hand. Make them so that you have to be technically clever to break them so that the student can probably fix what they break.

      educational software e.g. in physics only simulates reality. To understand magnetism you have to hold the real thing in your hand.

      Computers should supplement curriculim and experiment labs, not replace them. Sometimes there is no practical way to perform an experiment in a school lab. Use computers to simulate it. Like combining sodium and water or launching edge-of-atmosphere weather balloons.

      and most of all he thinks that computers are easy to use and you don't need computers in school to become computer literate. You can learn how to use a computer (which is what people need) in only a couple of weeks.

      I didn't learn what I know in a couple weeks nor did you I'm sure. Many of the people I graduated school with are still cautious and intimidated by computers and software. They had little exposure to computers in their 13 years of school. I grew up with computers in my home and my attitude towards them is quite different.

      All students need to graduate with the ability to use computers to do research, solve problems and automate tasks. This ability only comes with instruction, familiarity and a lot of practice.

    • Cliff is 100% right.

      The average school needs 35 computers; five in the library, 30 in the Computer Science classroom.

      The average small school (especially rural ones) only needs the five in the library.

      Most of the kids have access to a computer at home, anyway.
  • Many teachers and school people in general are techno-phobic anal-retentive control freaks. (Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but those are usually good teachers who are still stuck with their hands tied due to a control-freak principal.) They will often have the insane urge to regulate everything, to the extent that some poor kid gets yelled at for changing the background.

    If the usage of laptops is at all regulated by the school, it won't help to acheive their computer literacy goals, because the students won't be allowed to experiment and learn and will be held down to the (generally low) level of computer literacy of the adults feeling the need to regulate them.

    Forget anything about kids changing the operating system on their computer, they probably wouldn't even be allowed to install any new software. Can you imagine some bright seventh grader getting in trouble for installing a C compiler (or even Visual Basic)? I have not yet met a computer literate child who learned what they know under the paranoid control of the teachers. To really learn, they'd need to experiment, and I don't think there's much chance of a school allowing that.

    To improve computer literacy, computers need to go to kids outside of the control of the school. Perhaps it is possible to teach them to act like a monkey pushing buttons (make a word document), but for them to actually learn anything they need to experiment and play. Due to the authoritarian nature of schools, the only place for this is outside of school.
    • Luckily there are alternatives... (shameless plug ahead)

      I work at a computer camp in Ottawa, Canada. It is run by university students with the assistance of high school students (myself being one of them), who generally study science or engineering, and all know about computers. We are teaching computers to kids from grade 1 to people my age, and we do it because we want to. Our curricula foster creativity, and allow the camper to learn more at home (if he/she can).

      While one week of camp is not enough to learn everything there is to know, it provides the spark for many newfound computer lovers to learn more.

      Not to mention, we have nothing to do with fanatical school boards.
  • Nice to see that they're not going to be spending too much on this stuff. It'd be really easy to spend money on capabilities which would never be used.

    I wonder though, if teachers will know what to do with this, if they will have net access easily available on these bastards (ethernet or some type of wireless lan in school, free dial-up from outside), and if these machines are going to be some kind of "information appliance"...perhaps hackable by you slashdot types but NOT by a 7th grader, or whether the intrepid could really do anything with them.
  • Ya, but will they be able to play Hammurabi?
  • I am from Maine, and I am screaming bloody hell.

    This is the deal in Maine. In our state, we are taxed the highest per capita of any state in the union. Local/State taxes average 19% on top of all other federal taxes and withholdings.

    Our State government teeters every year on the brink of ruin. This year we had a surplus of several million dollars, and the dweebs in the state capitol practically mess their pants trying to spend it first.

    My sister is a teacher in a very poor rural school district who makes barely $20k a year, even with a specialized degree and an extremely heavy class load - working with the worst of the many handicapped students (this area of the state seems to have a low number of unrealated single people, probably due to it being an island - and a a result, nearly 1 in 7 kids are severly handicapped).

    On top of that, our DHS and Child Protection systems are fatally broken. One child was recently removed from the custody of her mother for charges of unfitness, and while in the care of a former DHS employed foster mother was strapped into a high chair in the basement with duct tape until she suffocated.

    Our police in the only metro areas we have are routinely accused of racially motivated arrests, beatings, and abuses. Last year several six and seven figure verdicts were levied against the Portland police.

    Furthermore, the cities surrounding Portland, virtually the only area with a robust economy supporting opportunity, is suffering from a massive housing crunch with a vacancy rate of less than 1.5%. Single bedrooms unfurnished apartments on the edges of towns or in developments run anywhere from $700-$900 a month, not including substantial utilities including heating during the long winter months.

    There is also a tremendous disparity between wealthty communities and the poor ones. The northern section of Maine is so vastly different socially, economically, and industrial as to constitute a second state of Maine in reality.

    Whats more, our lame duck Congress has recently had term limits imposed on them by unsuspecting dupes and now suffer from a nearly terminal lack of leadership. Because of mere procedural issues the state nearly shut down while a budget was worked out. The house and senate leadership is so brazenly without leadership its not funny at times.

    On top of all that, some cities are building gigantic schools without any way to pay for them or to finance them long term. Meanwhile, other hundred plus year old schools are shutting down due to mold spores and bad air quality only weeks before school is to start.

    But, our governor, the vernable Angus King, an "Independent" who was a democrat until two weeks before the primary for the democrat seat allowed the democrats and republicans to bash it out while quietly spending untold millions of his personal wealth to reign supreme by just a few points.

    Now, as his time in office draws short, he is seeking that big push. His last big push was to support a now defunct tech support center who provided help-desk services for MSN and other ISPs and software companies. Just last week they went broke and got snarfed up by bigger fish.

    So now, King wants to give cheap-o WinCE "laptops" to all students.

    Great. That should really turn the state around, Angus.
  • I expect a few months after these come out we'll start seeing /. stories by seventh graders about how to hack them to connect to non school computers, etc... that could be interesting ^_^
  • This kind of program looks real nice in the press, but I'll be willing to bet no thought has been given to what will happen once these kids have a laptop in their hands. I work as a technician for a school district in a state where our governor thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing this year, plus give a well deserved raise to the teachers. It was a grand press event, but here were our pitfalls:

    1. Abuse. A school is one of the only environments in the world where your users are also actively trying to destroy the computers. Everyone forgets that one, but remember, the same kids that were carving their names on desks and slamming their peers into lockers, are now trying to pry the keys of keyboards to spell curse words. Not to mention the "leet script kiddie" set who are trying to prove how awesome they are.

    2. Support. I'll wager that it'll fall on the schools/districts/whatever to keep these laptops up and working. 17,000 laptops, let's say one technician per 500 laptops, that'll be 34 Technicians needed this year. He's planning on doing this every year until these kids become seniors. That's 204 Techs over the next 6 years. In our state, for a non-college grad w/experience, a tech can only expect to make $22,000/yr. That's $748,000 for new techs this year. and in 6 years it'll be $4,488,000 for 204 techs.

    3. Networking/Software. One of the first things people cry when they get a new computer is "when can I get on the internet?" I would assume these schools are gonna have to get wireless networking. If not, then what? Next, did they include a copy of Office on every PC? or Works? or Star Office (hopefully)?

    4. Teacher Training. They're spending $1 mil. on training according to the article. So let's drum up some numbers 17,000 students / 30 per classroom leaves about 566 Teachers. Now most teacher training occurs after school hours, so imagine spending 8 solid hours with 30 7th graders, then having to spend another couple in a class that you weren't really enthused about to begin with. Also, most likely they won't get to actually implement what they learned for at least 3 months (can't train in summer, b/c teachers are off contract then, and they'd have to be paid to come). By not using that training quickly, they'll start to lose it.

    5. Curriculum. I've seen teachers with only one pc in the classroom and turn that one PC into a wonderful teaching experience. But I've seen these same teachers frustrated beyond belief, because the day they had an entire class period planned around using the computer, it broke, or the network was down, or whatever. What happens when they plan a class activity, and one student has a broken laptop, another left his home, and a third student had it stolen? I'll wager there's no replacements, or loaners being budgeted for. Likewise I've seen teachers with an entire lab full of brand new computers, which were turned into garbage within a year, b/c the teacher didn't know (or care) about teaching with them, and didn't keep an eye on the kids. I've seen PC's given to kids as a "reward" for sitting through a class. At this point they become overpriced gaming consoles, because the teachers never implemented them in class correctly.

    Bottom line, it looks good in an election, and it's a great way for a governor to reward his supporters once it's over (big contracts for lots of PC's). But on the whole, the headaches can easily outway the gain here. And since I'm griping, I'd tell you how I'd fix it. I'd give a laptop to every teacher with a TV out, or TV converter, whatever is needed. Then I'd set up a number of labs on a campus, in proportion to the number of students on that campus. A teacher who is going to integrate technology in the curriculum can, with those tools, and one who doesn't care won't cause much trouble in the process. But new labs mean more room, and more room means new buildings, which means more money. And who's gonna be proud of a governor who promises "A laptop for every teacher, and you kids go share a lab?"

    My $0.02
  • On the off chance you don't have a soundcard, or are too lazy to listen to a 17 minute interview (of which, truth be told, only the first 10 min. or so cover the "laptops for 7th & 8th graders" program) here are some details. Note - these wouldn't be typical, off the shelf laptops - he's got a special 'new' beast in mind for the great state of Maine.

    Gov. King is asking for "Smart Client" laptops - which as of today don't exist. They're putting out RFP soon to see what various companies are willing/able to build. So what is a Smart Client laptop? No hard disk. No floppy/CD. Programs are stored via a 'flash memory' system which will be upgradable from the network. An example he gives of what this would be capable of: students can take the computers home and type a paper with a flashed-down version of a word processor, then upload it once returning to school. He's hoping they can be bought en masse for about $500/machine. No word on what sort of applications/OS they'd be built on, but one can presume our good friends in Redmond will offer WinCE or some such beast.

    I suppose you could think of it as being an X-client when at school, yet capable of functioning as a somewhat limited stand-alone machine if disconnected from the network.

    Assuming it worked, this would eliminate support hassles (oops, I deleted gui32.dll . . . ) and rampant mp3/p0rn/warez/etc trading during 3rd period Social Studies. It might also make them slightly more rugged - although the LCD screen is still probably the most fragile part of the machine.
    • I imagine these "smart clients" would look something like an IBM z50 [wincecity.com], and unfortunately discontinued machine. Although they couldn't use off the shelf machines, devices he describes certainly exist. And yes, Wyse and others, create all-solid-state thin clients running WinCE and NT Embedded that run apps out of flash memory.
  • Try any pawn shop in New England about 2 months from now. If 7th-graders in Maine are anything like they are in Seattle, half the laptops will be stolen by the end of September.
  • And how much is this going to cost the tax payer??
  • This is a dumb idea. What will the school board do when the laptops become outdated, and something new is out and better? This will work only if they run linux or some other *nix on those laptops where advanced hardware isn't and issue.
  • I never really explained why I left teaching in Northern Maine, so here goes.

    After teaching science for 11 years in an Aroostook County High School, I came to the conclusion that I did not want my kids going to that school. My son wasted 2 years in middle school being taught by teachers who thought that reading to them for 30-60 minutes every day was appropriate and that covering 1/2 of the book was ok. The administration was clueless (and basically didn't care), but very good at getting grants to pay for their pet projects. So every 2 years there was another bandwagon to jump on, this year I guess it's laptops. One year the superintendent hired a consultant to document our curriculm and write it the flowery prose required to get the next grant.

    Do you really think that these teachers will know what to do with those computers? That school already has more computers than it knows what to do with. They wrote a grant to get them (no surprise there) and they teach keyboarding and use them for word processing (and maybe printing, if the kids haven't hacked the printer and changed the Window settings). Does each kid need a laptop for that?

    No, I wasn't part of the problem. I do have a Ph.D and moved to your (adopted) state to give my kids a safe place to grow up and for my wife (who is from there) a chance to be closer to her family. Money was never really the issue though since I have left teaching, I'm making 2X what you consider appropriate. Paying teachers more won't improve existing teachers, it will just make them higher paid.

    So now you want to give out laptops so the kids will be computer literate. Do you really have a clue as to what computer literate means? Laptops won't solve that problem. All you'll be doing is letting the kids print out nicely formatted text. You need to focus on what the text says, not how it looks.

    Sign me,
    A former teacher who left the state

  • I live in Maine. I vote in Maine.

    Local teachers and other school officials have been asked to *donate* old laptops (NOT thin clients, NOT PDAs, these are old 486-586ish laptops) to this program. There is _NOT_ money in the budget that has been allocated to buy the machines; there is money set aside for training teachers to reinstall windows 98 and the like.

    Angus King is an otherwise excellent governor who is trying to end his second and last term as Governor with a whiz-bang techno-thing.

    I wish that people would sometimes check into actual facts before writing them up for Wired and then perverting the facts once more for Slashdot.

  • I went to a (IMO) nice college that decided all incoming freshmen should be required to purchase them beginning the year after I graduated. I thought it was a hideously bad idea. We're talking about a required purchase of a $2,000+ piece of hardware for something like 6.000 people. $12,000,000. Sitting in MOST of these classes I can't begin to imagine how a laptop would have helped or been useful. IT is simply not the cure-all nontechnical people would believe it is. I occasionally took my own laptop to class, where I would either work on other assignments or work on "real" (paid) work. Never once did it actually benefit the course I was in.


    I did however, get a big laugh the year it was implemented when I picked up a copy of the school paper. The cover story was about the new laptop initialitive and featured a picture (from behind) of a student in class during a lecture...playing solitaire. :)


    $12,000,000 so students can goof off and ignore the lectures. Way to go, guys. I'm sure 12 year olds will be so much more responsible than 18 year olds.

  • There is absolutely no question in my mind that 7th graders cannot handle laptops appropriately. I speak from disgusted personal experience here.

    Over the last two years, my former high school [k12.mn.us] changed dramatically, and what once was a fine, laid back academic environment I was happy in and excelled in, became much worse for the wear, IMNSHO. Junior year we received the curse of poorly implemented Block scheduling and the following year Apple iBooks were provided for every student in grades 9-12, along with AirPort wireless networking.

    Now, the admin did not even think of the effect of instant messaging progs beforehand, and within a week we were rolling strong and chatting whenever we could basically. This caused stress between the students and teachers. Most teachers, of course, didn't really need the laptops for much at all. I recall a couple PowerPoint presentations, some web research in history class and obviously typing up papers. But what a fucking hassle. There were a myriad of rules constructed around everything which obliterated personal privacy, (and the right to encrypt my Word files) of course. The admin decided that, rather than laying out our rights, they would just sort of hold all the students in fear of being busted for online activities by etherpeek (a packet-sniffer prog) They quickly banned games and recreational use of the CD-ROM drive. Now, how the HELL are you supposed to enforce that? Additionally, without ANY kind of discussion (for there was little all year, except when I was getting chewed out in the principal's office) Napster was outright censored, and the administration maintained a shield of protective ambiguity about what they were monitoring. Speaking of privacy, one time the backup server's permissions got blown apart and everyone could quickly grab other people's files. And also there was the time when I discovered the functionality of packet sniffing [slashdot.org] over 802.11 wireless networks. That was interesting. I wanted to sort of alert the admins to it, but they were having such fun with kill-the-messenger tactics.

    Simultaneously, dozens of kids (invariably boys) Got Busted for playing games. And a huge swath of the boys had pr0n on their computers. And about 15 screens got smashed.

    Over the course of the year, I got very angry and depressed at the whole situation. (additionally at this school I was the only Linux/Free Speech/anti-DMCA person present) One day after we found out that an exchange student we all liked had secretly been zapped back to Belarus over break, we exploded with anger. I made a personal attack on the Assistant Principal and got suspended. When a friend reported what I said on HIS web site, he got suspended too.

    Later that year we named out Physics balsa wood bridge "Suspension Bridge," which felt good.

    This ridiculous project did little but waste time and money, add stress and make my senior year fucking suck. I apologize for the rant, and I take Paxil now, thankyouverymuch.

  • No 7 year old needs a laptop, NOT ONE. Ten years down the road, when this kid goes to college, he will probably need a laptop to accomodate his cramped dorm room and mobile lifestyle (i.e. studying in the library when his roommate has stunk up the entire floor with his hangover vomit). Elementary school kids need to focus on studying fundamentals like the multiplication table rather than screwing around with thinkum-dinkum's that can do advanced calculus far better than most 40 year old's rusty brains.

    I don't think 5th grade teachers will be mandating their students to buy TI-83 graphing calculators any time soon. The reason is simple: they haven't reached that level of expertise with the subject (in this case math) or possess enough maturity or responsibility to take care of such an expensive item. There is no need for any type/brand/speed/variety of laptop in grade school. What the hell are these people thinking?

    There is one private prep high school in my city that requires all its students to purchase laptops. Frankly, I don't see the reason behind it. I never needed a laptop in high school either, and look, I performed fine, and I'm going to a college rated one of the top in the country. People need to realize that it isn't the tools that make the results or grades or products. Computers, PC's, laptops, whatever, are merely tools with which to work and create. And WHO does all the working and creating?

    I don't know. Maybe I'm all wrong about this. Whatever, spoil those little kids with distractions and luxuries. "Do what you want, but don't do it around me..."
  • I'm the tech coordinator for a Maine school district. The governor's proposal to put a "laptop" in the hands of every 7th and 8th grader in Maine is based on the worst lies that government perpetrates. First, this is about a legacy for a man in the grips of unbridled hubris, Governor Angus King. There is no relationship to the needs of kids in Maine. Governor King sold this idea on the basis of a gift of wireless iBooks ($1400 ea) to one Maine school district by a large paper company. He proposes to distribute a $450 wireless internet device to all teachers and students in grades 7 & 8 but promotes this one site with real computers as is "project". Many (probably most) tech coordinators don't want these. They'd rather have fewer full featured real laptops that would give access to our students. Maine is about to adopt a one-size-fits-all solution to every school district regardless of their plans or needs.
  • Now thousands more of our tax dollars per student are going to go toward technology that 99% of the teachers are completely unable to use in any effective way to teach them, and even more of the student's educational time will be spent not learning the basic skills necessary to get and hold a beginning job.

    Hurry up and build a stardrive, NASA, so I can get the fuck off this rock.
  • Perhaps input from a teacher is applicable to this topic. Computers are a tool. No different from paper, pencil or book. What is produced should be the focus of our taxpayers' money, not which tools we use.

    If Johnny can't read, how will Windows help him? This same dilemma has been glazed over by politician after politician as the candidates grasp straws of the newest fad to get (re)elected. These people are not educators, they do not have a tendency to listen to those of us who are, and they do not understand the needs of the student population. (I am sure you understand this as most politicians understand even less about technology than they do about 16 year-olds)

    We are failed time and time again. Our children are failed. We need not computers. We need human beings with the training and time to educate and listen.

    Secondary rant: We are raising a generation of people who rely on information given to them via spell check and any moron's web site more than their own judgment, experience and ability. I am constantly amazed at how often my students will blindly trust spell check or will cite information from unverifiable sources whose cites disappear as quickly as their credibility.

    Students do not need laptops. They need bullshit detectors, research skills, self confidence, imagination, and the ability to fuck up on their own so that they learn from their mistakes. The student who turned in the downloaded copy of a paper on Huck Finn didn't get to enjoy the wonderful characters created by Mark Twain, has no clue what local color is and isn't even bright enough to revamp his plagiarism so that I can't catch him in the act.

    For the students' sake Maine should have spent its money on textbooks and support staff (teacher's aides, reading specialists, mentors, etc.).
  • This doesn't seem like a very good idea to me... how might these kids treat the laptops? What happens when they break or some kid gets it infected with a nasty virus?

    scars are souveniers you never lose.
  • Having recently been in pubic schools, This sounds like a bad idea. I was in a number of school districts across the country, and this is my take.

    When I was in 9th grade, I was in history class doing "reasearch" on the 19th century america. We had a VERY restriced list of sites that we were to go to and a note on the board, also stated by the teacher, that if we went to any unrelated <b>sites</b> we were to be sent out of class. Now, Boise has(had?) it's whole school district sharing one 64kBit conenction. I was looking at a website, but it was loading VERY slowly. I opened up the MS Win calculator program to figure out how long the page was going to take to load. She saw it open, and sent me out of class. That's stupid because it's not a website as had been stated, and because it may not be directly related, but it's not malicous on any level.

    In Florida, they let you check a laptop out of the library to do essays and such on. One day, the kid on the bus next to me had one. I knew him so I took a look at it. It was an old system, a 386 or 486, running windows 3.1. It had no non-school software on it, and it didn't allow access to the controll pannel or other such things. It had "Foolproof" running on it. It did prevent you from messing with too much while in windows, and didn't let you boot to dos, but all I needed to do was crash windows to get to dos. Needless to say that wasn't exactly hard to do, especially with their "special" drivers. I got a dos prompt that gave limited ablilities. Given a floppy disk, I could have "fixed the system." I was able to figure out the basic limitations of the system and get the prompt in about 5 minutes, then the guy had to get off the bus.

    The advanced technoligy teacher (not the CS teacher) was pretty much incompetant. He did know some stuff, but was a burn out. He just had students follow exact instructions then he signed them off. He did no real work, as far as we could tell, he was plugging his laptop in to the T1 and was downloading movie clips or something. (No, AFAIK, no pr0n) He brought in a system one day that he was building but he couldn't get the system to work. He had me take a look at it. Quickly I realized that the newest drive was mis-jumpered. I put it as an IDE slave, and it worked fine.

    Earlier on in the year, he decided to challange the class on computer terms. He wanted to look smart. He started with "How many bits are in a byte?" I of course answered "8" and he wanted to show superiority. We kept going up until something like the size of a disk. He didn't seem to know that disks have a physical size that is different than their formated size. He also stated that "1.44 Megabyte floppy disks hold 1.2 megabytes of data! Ha!" Because I answered the size they hold as 1.44MB. He got this idea because the video he was about to show us was unclear and he didn't watch closely. One last thing with him, on a test, he defined "Clockspeed" as the speed of a clock, and "Uses 2MB of memory" was a moniter.

    In computer science, we had an OK teacher. The language of course is C++. She new (at least some) C++ and was always at least a week ahead of our lesson in the book "C++ how to program" or the AP test specs. In teaching C++, she wasn't familliar with C. She also didn't know about bitwise operators, and didn't know the difference between stderr and stdout. (Or for C++ people cout and cerr.) Granted *shutter* we were learning on System 8.6 iMacs with CodeWarrior, and she used CodeWarrior on her Win98 PC at home. Maybe the cerr stuff is excusable, but should she know about bitwise stuff?

    So what then are my concerns? Well, you've got standard staff who are wildly incompantant or scared of the big bad internet. There are the "tech teachers" who are there coaching and trying not to do work. And the programming teachers are there learning the same langauge you are, but at least they know some stuff. With all of this, a good portion of the student body will be able to out do most of their teachers.

    And in any event, in 7th grade if I had a lap top, I would have been writing QBasic programs to solve my math homework in class. Heck, maybe I'd have started on a better language and I'd be a better programmer now, who knows. I just don't see the benefits of this, but I do see where it's going to be more headaches and cost for school systems.

    --Josh
  • Why not require that they get an embedded handheld device(with mini-keyboard)? You R talking about a savings of 500$ or more, by going with the embedded device!


    --Yeah two party system!!\\\**Money4Laws**///

"Ada is PL/I trying to be Smalltalk. -- Codoso diBlini

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