Note that this is old. I really need to go back here and see how things have changed.
East Hampton Middle School is a 450 student public school in the village of East Hampton, New York. The grade 4 through grade 8 students come from the village of East Hampton and from a number of smaller, neighboring school districts. Tuition from students from other districts will be $14,100 for the 1995/96 school year, a 3% increase over this year.
My primary interest being computers, I started my tour in the computer lab. The interdisciplinary computer lab is housed in a double sized classroom. The computer lab has 41 Apple IIGS computers and 6 Apple Macintosh computers. The Apple IIGS systems are networked with most software stored on a central server. The lab has a complete set of MECC software licensed for and installed on the network. The Apples share printers using switchers. These systems all have mice and headphones for sound. Some of the Macs have CD-ROM drives. It is planned that the Macs will be networked using AppleTalk. Also planned is the gradual replacement of the Apple IIs with Macs.
The lab is manned by a full time teacher and a para professional aide. The lab staff is responsible for hardware and software acquisition, installation, maintenance, and training and support for the classroom teachers who bring their students to the lab. The lab is open through each of the school day's 9 - 40 minute periods and after school. It is seldom idle.
Classroom teachers are responsible for determining the curriculum uses of the lab. The lab staff prepares the lab for a class, installing and setting up software, and may help students use the software. They do not teach the material to be covered by the class.
Teachers schedule computer time as they feel appropriate. Generally, each class has one class period a week scheduled as a regular computer time. Additional visits to the computer lab may be scheduled as needed. Generally extra lab time must be reserved about two weeks in advance. The computer lab is devisable in half through the use of a sliding barrier. Up to three classrooms may be in the lab at a time depending on the size of the classes and the type of activity being done. It is not unusual for an English class, for example, to reserve time every day for a week to allow students to work on a writing project with their teachers help.
Teachers are not required to use the lab but, as far as I could tell, all do. Special Education, Language (French and Spanish are offered), and even Home Economics (a required middle school offering in New York) use the computer lab from time to time.
Teachers use existing software but also make recommendations for new software acquisitions. The computer lab has a budget for software purchases and tries, after evaluation, to purchase software in support of the curriculum. One of the reasons that the lab staff is pushing to upgrade the computers is to support software for use with new curriculum. Many textbooks and curriculum have software available to augment regular classroom work. This software is increasingly only available on CD-ROM and/or requires computers more modern and powerful then the Apple IIGS computers. The existing network is concedered inadequate as well. The storage capacity is almost used up and the network is slow. On the plus side, however, is that a network makes preparing for classes significantly easier. The staff indicated that the network allowed them to make much more effective use of their time.
There are computers in only a few classrooms, outside the computer lab. The computers I saw were all older Apple IIe computers. One teacher told me that she "rescued" her computer from a storeroom where it was about to be thrown out. Several teachers told me that they had very little software for these computers. A Special Ed teacher told me that she was limited because of the lack of a 3.5" disk drive. Classroom teachers complained about not being able to get funds for classroom computers.
The teachers I talked to seemed to really appreciate the computer lab and find it very useful. They like the ability of children to work at their own pace and comfort level. Also the fact that students like using the computers makes learning more fun for student and teacher a like. Fifth grade teachers I talked to would like a classroom computer as an additional workstation. They would like to use the same software they use in the lab to give some students additional time with areas they needed work.
I was surprised to find that computers as a subject was not taught. Some use of the keyboard is taught as is Appleworks. (For word processing at least.) The school would like to offer high school credit in keyboarding for eighth and perhaps seventh graders. There are some state rules and standards that may prevent this. At this time though students are taught specific skills for use in specific courses and for specific projects.
On the plus side, I was pleased to see computers being used as a tool for interdisciplinary study. Social studies, language arts, and mathematics all seem to be merging in the computer lab. The classroom teachers being in control of the curriculum for a computer lab visit is also of great benefit. It is impossible for a "computer teacher" to be expert in all subjects and at all grade levels. I believe that both students and classroom teachers benefit from this approach. Of course, the existence of a staff to maintain the lab and support the teacher in both acquiring software and learning how to use it is also a critical part of this lab. Similarly, the ability to use the lab with a whole class at a time and with multiple visits in a week multiplies the effectiveness of using computers as an educational tool.
I saw word processing software (Appleworks) being used by some students after school which suggests to me that students are learning how to use such tools, as part of learning other things on the computer, and using them for other tasks as well. Students learning to use tools to solve specific problems rather then as an end in themselves helps the students understand how to pick tools to solve their own tasks.
I believe that the computer teacher assists in teaching the use of tools. Having a specialist, aide and the regular classroom teacher in the lab at the same time would seem to make this way of teaching very effective.
On the other hand, I believe that some computer education, what is called computer literacy, should start in the lower grades and not wait until high school as appears to be the case here. I would also like to see classroom computers used on a regular basis as a preparation for lab visits and as a general presentation tool. This does not seem to be available at East Hampton Middle School. [Note this report is 7 years old.]
I saw some computers in administrative offices but did not have the opportunity to find how what sort of computer they are or how they are being used. Perhaps on an other visit I will have that chance.
Note: This essay was written 5 May 1995. An update is planned for the future. I assume that things have changed in the years since my last visit to this school. In the mean time, comments are welcome.
Copyright Alfred C Thompson II 2007