The Principal Questions Copyright 1997 Miguel Guhlin



"Here's the situation, Miguel," the principal begins, "there are three questions that I have to answer." As I reach for my pen and notepad, a lady arrives. With the introductions past, the principal begins again.
"We don't have the money to pay for new technology. Our goal is to put at least one computer in every classroom. Ms. Lopez," he says, referring to the lady who walked in late, "has done some training after school for teachers, but only about 5 or 6 of my staff show up."
"I've seen that before," I respond, nodding my head. "Are teachers required to earn the technology that goes into their classrooms or is technology use linked to their evaluations? The Professional Development Appraisal System (PDAS) incorporates a technology component."
"No," Ms. Lopez responds, "I try to encourage them to learn how to use computers, but while some are excited, others don't even bother to show up to classes."
"How's your hardware situation?" I ask, beginning a semantic map that branches out in three areas: 1) Software; 2) Hardware; 3) Instructional Goals.
"We have one lab of Macintosh LC computers. We teach computer literacy in that lab. In some classrooms, we have Macintoshes and, in others, we have Apple //e computers."
"What software do you have?" The principal looks a question at the campus technology coordinator.
"We have Clarisworks 4.0, Grolier's encyclopedia, and some of the other software that came with some new PowerMacs."
As I add the information to the semantic map, I pause for a second.
"Do you have a technology committee?"
"Yes, we do," the principal answers, "but they don't meet regularly."
"When I first arrived," I ask, "you mentioned that there were three questions you need to answer."
The questions this principal asked are the same questions I hear every day. As a matter of fact, I've heard these questions time and again.

#1: "What should I do with the computers I have now?"

"I've put Apple e computers in kindergarten," the principal told me, "and we're going to move up from there, upgrading as best we can." Unfortunately, this isn't the best approach for putting computers into the hands of our children. My advice to these principals is, "Move those Apple e and DOS machines into the upper grades. Start from the top and move down." About this time, they're taking notes. "Why?" is the question in their minds. "Your goal has to be teaching students to use technology in the same way it is used in the workplace--as a word processor, for multimedia, spreadsheets, and database. The concepts students learn are exactly the same no matter what computer they are working on."
"You mean," the technology coordinator says, "put the older machines with the older students, the newer multimedia machines with the early grades?"
"Yes, that's what I mean. If you have Apple e computers, get a program like Appleworks for word processing and database design. If you're using a DOS machine, they are tons of different programs you can get that will run. An excellent program for spreadsheets is Labs for Learning's LABQUEST program. It comes with a pile of books that will fit into most themes your teachers may focus on during the school year."
For those schools that have Macintoshes, "You can easily use older versions of programs that have all the functionality of the newer programs. You can also hook up Macs, DOS, or Apple
e machines to a television and create computers on wheels (COWS) so that your teachers will have a multimedia presentation station."
Another common question, "What computer platform should we invest in next?" For schools with bilingual students, Macintosh continues to offer the only available productivity tools in Spanish (Clarisworks, for example, comes in Spanish on the Mac, as does The Bilingual Writing Center, but Windows versions are not currently available).
"Multimedia Windows 95 computers," I reply thinking of my beloved Macintosh at home, "are a more common choice these days. Many school districts applying for TIF and TIE grants, that I'm aware of, are going with Windows 95. While this doesn't make the operating system better than Macintosh, there's definitely a shift from Macintosh to Windows in the works." Inside, I think the sharks can smell the blood in the water."Whatever you decide to buy, Macintosh or Windows 95, invest in multimedia computers that meet multimedia and Internet hardware specifications" (you can find some at this web site: http://www.esc20.k12.tx.us/techserv").

#2: "How do I get my teachers excited about obsolete computers?"

"No computer is obsolete if it does what it was made to do." That's the opening salvo on the concept that "We can't teach our kids how to use computers if we don't have the latest and the best." For most teachers, making do has become the only way of doing business. To think or say teachers can't make do with obsolete computers if the latest and the best aren't available implies that technology is worthless the minute it becomes obsolete. The underlying concept of what productivity tools do remains the same, regardless of the new tools needed."
Move your older machines into a computer lab or create mini-labs around your school as writing workstations. I also share with principals, "Most teachers will not learn how to use computers or other technology unless they have staff development that answers one question: 'How do I use these gizmos with my students and be able to rely on it in the middle of a lesson?'"
There can be only one response to this question: More staff development and in classroom modelling. To accomplish this, I remind principals that their local education service centers offer a variety of options. For example, some education service centers offer training options: Option 1 might allows schools to sign up at cost per average daily attendance. Option 2 might offer schools on-site training days. The training can range from technology planning to computer literacy to integrating technology into the curriculum.
Using outside consultants, whether from other districts or from education service centers can take the heat out of campus personnel's comments against training. "Mr. Gustafson is boring and what's he going to teach me that I haven't seen already?"
This is especially critical during technology planning. Trainers need to have the distance and objectivity to say, "I've used technology in my classroom and I've seen others use it in their classrooms. I'll hold your hand but you have to make the effort and just do it." Funny that technology integration boils down to a NIKE tennis shoe commercial.
For most, excitement can be generated with a focus on using particular tools, such as Kid Pix 2 (available for Mac and Windows). Used in combination with free audio recording programs (i.e. Sample Editor for the Macintosh, available at http://www.esc20.k12.tx.us/techserv/software/), students can record, edit sounds for inclusion in multimedia presentations as quicktime movies. Whether you're using Kid Pix 2, HyperStudio, or PowerPoint, the techniques for gathering information from multiple sources, planning the activities, and helping students share their knowledge
are the same.

#3: "What do I tell parents when they ask me why their child is not on the Internet?"

"The value of the Internet isn't in being on the Internet, but knowing what to do with the information from the Internet, in using electronic mail to collaborate on projects, and publishing and evaluating online projects." If your computers are old Mac LC IIs, then use a program like QuickMail for Appletalk networks. Stringing telephone wire from classroom to classroom isn't that hard to accomplish, and I've seen email attachments that include sound and video. While this lacks the international quality of Internet access, students can still learn how to use email.

As to publishing to the World Wide Web, Internet Service Providers in your area provide free web page hosting, as well as free dial-up accounts to school districts. If you live in a rural district, you can publish your student's web page from hosts such as Education Service Centers (i.e. Region 20 offers free web page hosting for schools) and other places like Classroom Connect.
If we can't afford the latest and the best, then we'll have to learn how to accomplish the same objectives for preparing our students for the 21st Century. Those objectives--using productivity tools, including web page design programs, and increased communication via email--can be accomplished. It's just a matter of being a little creative with what we already have. So, what are you waiting for?