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Better Plan Needed for Computers in Classroom

July 25, 1993

* I would like to comment on Pat Becker's premise in the commentary article "Computers Belong in the Classroom" (July 11). She believes that computer labs should cease to exist in school. Having worked as an educational technology consultant with both public and private schools throughout Southern California, I don't believe computers in the classroom might always be as effective as the author writes.

The root of the problem usually isn't the computer lab but a weak or nonexistent philosophy of computer education for that particular school. Many schools want computers but don't know why. When a school first sets up a computer program, the faculty and administration should carefully lay out what is to be accomplished and how to do it. The computer lab instructor, a fully credentialed teacher with a strong K-6 curriculum orientation, would communicate with each teacher as to how the computer lab can work effectively with their curriculum projects.

Often, when computers go into classrooms, they become "just one more thing" that the already overburdened teacher has to learn and plan for. They just don't have the time to sift through hundreds of available educational software titles.

The computer teacher, on the other hand, would keep vendor catalogues of software and hardware, ask vendors to come to the school and give in-service programs to teachers. The computer teacher and vendors would be the ones to train and inform the faculty without very much cost to the school or district.

At Sierra Canyon (a private school), there is obviously a philosophy that is working well for them. But one doesn't find the wide range of reading levels in each class that is found in Valley public schools.

For example, if a sixth-grade teacher in a public school were using one of the Carmen Sandiego series, it would require reading and research skills on at least the fifth-grade level.

Since many children wouldn't be on that level, what would they do? Perhaps a simpler geography program, say on the third-grade level, would be the answer. But the third-grade teacher has that program.

In the computer lab, which houses programs in all subject areas and all grade levels, learning could be geared toward the level of the child with both individualized and cooperative learning.

If classroom teachers in schools want a computer center in their classroom and know how to make it work--great! But when teachers are forced to use computers, children often end up sitting unsupervised, working with programs that the teacher finds easy to put into the disk drive and just run.



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