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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

Urban Success Stories

At an inner-city magnet school, students spend half their learning time on the computer.

Instructional StrategiesTechnologyTechnologyClassroom Management
What better way to learn reading than to read literature with sound and graphics? What better way to learn to write than to input ideas into a computer and edit later? What better way to learn about temperature than to watch while a computer graphs changing weather conditions or to learn about the planets than to explore them interactively with the computer?
At Benjamin Banneker Computers Unlimited Elementary School, we expect students to spend 50 percent of their daily learning time on a computer. For our racially mixed (60 percent minority) student body of 585 inner-city and suburban students, we have 412 computers, one computer for every two students in the classrooms, plus computers in two labs. In addition, all of our teachers have their own workstations from which they monitor students' progress and generate lessons using software such as Icon Author and Linkway, Live!
In our programming lab, K–2 students learn to program using Logo Writer, and the 3rd to 5th grade students program in Lego/Logo. We also teach BASIC programming and multimedia use. Some of our students have become so adept at programming that a visiting software producer has offered them scholarships to help him write educational software. In our second lab, which houses Macintoshes, students use First Connections (Golden Book Multimedia Encyclopedia) and Primary Integrated Language Arts (also known as Dragon Tales) to develop reading/writing skills using literature-based reading with sound and animation. They also develop and print their own books and publications.
I know you must be saying, “This is fine, but are you getting results?” Yes! At present, we have kindergarten students who consistently work on a 2nd grade-level and 5th graders working at a 10th grade level. Our 1993 Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores showed that our kindergartners have an average grade-level equivalency of 1.4; our 1st graders, 2.7; the 2nd graders, 3.4; the 3rd graders, 4.0; the 4th graders, 5.4; and the 5th graders, 5.8. When our 5th graders entered the program as 3rd graders (1993 was only our third year of operation), many of them were more than a year behind, some could not read well, and many showed little interest in school.
We believe that if exciting and challenging things are happening at school, students will be there for fear of missing something. Our attendance records prove this. Despite being part of a district that has historically had problems with school attendance, Banneker's average daily attendance is almost 94 percent and improving. The difference is what is happening in the classroom.

Envisioning the Future

Banneker School is one of several magnet schools in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District created as part of a court-ordered desegregation plan. The elementary schools in the district are schools of choice; parents must apply for the school they want their child to attend. Banneker is a new school, designed and built specifically for learning with technology. Our vision is to create a nurturing environment for children using technology to enhance every aspect of their learning. We teach children both to program and to use technology as a tool.
As we began planning the curriculum for Banneker School in 1989, we involved as many people as possible (to share the glory). We established a Site Task Force Committee of educators, community leaders, parents, and business people to define and refine our vision into a cohesive plan of action. A major portion of our task was to gain and hold the commitment of all stakeholders to the new concept of using technology as a tool for learning. This was critical due to the expense of building and maintaining an educational facility like Banneker. We did not want the computers to be used for “drill and kill,” but to be inseparable from instruction. We wanted to use technology to create an atmosphere of excitement and fun that would inspire a desire for learning.
To maintain our grip on reality without limiting our vision, we settled on three guiding principles: flexibility, usability, and applicability. Any technology (equipment, software, and the like) we purchased had to serve multiple purposes within the curriculum. For example, a program that enhances science learning might also be useful to help a student research information for a writing project or to develop reading comprehension skills.
The technology also had to be expandable in the future. We continually asked ourselves: Will we be able to add to this equipment or supplement this software as technology moves forward? We knew that replacing items each time new releases are announced can be prohibitively expensive. Finally, students should be able to apply the technology they used in school to their daily lives; we wanted them to dream, but to have those dreams be extensions of reality.

Laying the Foundation

We began turning our vision into reality by first establishing a building-wide local area network, or LAN. (A local area network allows software to be delivered from one central file server to multiple workstations and allows common files, data collection, and shared resources.) By linking our computers via the LAN we were able to cut software costs, maintain quality (and quantity) of curricular choices for every student and avoid having piles of disks to manage in each classroom.
When we moved into our building in February 1991, we implemented two concurrent networks: Novell and 3Com. We use Novell for our integrated learning system and for IBM classroom applications. The 3Com supports third-party software. We have since added MS LAN Manager, a Microsoft product that allows management of the LAN and provides our internal electronic mail.
Second, we recognized the need for a computerized learning system that would enhance learning of the basic skills in reading/language arts and math, and also include science and social studies content. The system had to be deliverable over the LAN. We chose Jostens' Integrated Learning System because it allows the delivery of other software over the same wire. Additionally, the amount of money Jostens spends annually on research and development impressed us. We felt this showed the company's commitment to the continued development of an exceptional learning system.
Third, we recognized the importance of developing a teaching staff who not only knew how to use a computer but who understood the computer-education relationship. From the outset, we realized that technology would never take the place of the teacher. Computers can't smile, wipe a tear, or give a hug. (They also, however, don't get up on the wrong side of the bed.) Most of the teachers who chose to come to Banneker had no prior computer experience either in the classroom or at home. Some staff members expressed open skepticism the first year regarding the scheme's viability, and they questioned whether we should be subjecting elementary school students to the computer environment at all. Now these same teachers are the first to submit new lists of software they can't live without!
To train our staff, we developed an extensive six-year plan. This plan included sending five teachers to systems manager training where they learned to assist in managing the local area network. We included training on integrating into the curriculum software published by Jostens, IBM, Microsoft, Tom Snyder, The Learning Company, Sunburst, and a multitude of others. In addition, all teachers are receiving training in DOS and in each of the software packages we selected for the education of the students (at present, more than 500 software titles), increasing their ability to utilize the system to its fullest extent.
We have altered our training plan several times to accommodate the rapidity with which our staff has advanced through the prescribed course. By fall 1993, after only two years, the staff had completed approximately half of our originally scheduled training program. Most teachers have taken or are taking computer courses on their own, and several have presented at regional and national education conferences on the uses of computers in education. Four staff members recently presented the Linkway and VCR Companion projects their students had completed at a conference in St. Louis, where they were surprised to find that other projects done by middle and high school students were less advanced than those done by our students. Other than nonteaching personnel who work full-time in computer operations, our staff members are among the most computer-knowledgeable people in the district.

The Unfolding Promise

There is some concern that we are “teaching the students too much.” We have been asked (unofficially, of course) by one middle school not to teach some of our programming courses because it is not prepared for our students. We have already taught our 5th graders programming that this school teaches in 6th and 7th grades. The knowledge level discrepancy between Banneker students and others entering the middle school also presents a dilemma.
On the other hand, we've had complaints from some of our students that they are not allowed enough time on the computers each day. In fact, one 3rd grader raised such a fuss that his parent asked to meet with me. During the meeting, the student presented charts and graphs he had independently created to prove he was not getting enough time on the computer. After sitting through his presentation, his parents told us how pleased they were that he was being taught problem solving to the extent that he could make such a presentation!
Even though we are an inner-city school, we have a waiting list of students trying to get into our program. While we have certainly realized some of the promises of technology, we have barely scratched the surface. Each day the promise of the future grows brighter.
References

3Com, 3COM Corporation, 5400 Bayfront Plaza, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8145. (408) 764-5000.

First Connections(Golden Book Multimedia Encyclopedia), Jostens Learning Corporation, 7878 N. 16th St., Suite 100, Pheonix, AZ 85020. (800) 422-4339.

IBM Educational Software, IBM, P. O. Box, 1328-W, Boca Raton, FL 33429-1328.

Icon Author, AIMTECH Coorporation, 20 Trafalgar Square, Nashua, NH 03063-1973. (603) 883-0220

Jostens' Integrated Learning System, Jostens Learning Corporation, 7878 N. 16th St., Suite 100, Pheonix, AZ 85020. (800) 422-4339.

Primary Integrated Language Arts (Dragon Tales), Jostens Learning Corporation, 7878 N. 16th St., Suite 100, Pheonix, AZ 85020. (800) 422-4339.

The Learning Company, The Learning Company, 6493 Kaiser Dr., Fremont, CA 94555. (800) 852-2255.

Lego/Logo, Lego Dacta, 555 Taylor Rd., Enfield, CT 06082. (800) 243-4870.

Logo Writer, LCSI - Logo Computer Systems, Inc., P. O. Box 780, Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada. (800) 321-5646.

Microsoft LAN Manager, Microsoft Corporation, P. O. Box 72368, Roselle, IL 60172-9901.

Novell, Novell, Inc., 122 E. 1700 South, P. O. Box 5900, Provo, UT 84601.

Sunburst, Sunburst/Wings for Learning, 101 Castleton St., P. O. Box 100, Pleasantville, NY 10570-0100. (800) 321-7511.

Tom Snyder, Tom Snyder Productions, 90 Sherman St., Cambridge, MA 02140. (800) 342-0236.

VCR Companion, Broderbund, 17 Paul Dr., San Rafael, CA 94903-2101. (415) 492-3500.

Esther Richey has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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