To the Internet and Beyond

This is the last installment of the story I’ve been telling about how my classroom science lab went from no computers to a Power Mac computer lab in just three years.

Today’s Agenda

To G3 . . . and Beyond

This is the last installment of the story I’ve been telling about how my classroom science lab went from no computers to a Power Mac computer lab in just three years. In previous columns, I detailed how I began in year one with a Mac II-era set of computers (and older) used primarily for typing and simple simulations. Then I began to acquire donated and discarded machines as the administrative staff began to upgrade. Many of the computers I received became the basis for new computer labs in other science classrooms. We still have a long way to go, but we are getting there.

At the end of last year, I stopped by to visit our principal on an unrelated matter and noted that not only did she have a PowerBook G3 on her desk, she also had a G3 Blue-and-White tower on her counter, not connected to a monitor, keyboard, or anything else.

Before I left her office, I asked, oh-so-casually, “How do you synchronize files between these machines?”

“I don’t,” she said. “I do everything on the PowerBook. I don’t really want to fool around with that.”

“Really,” I said, thoughtfully. “Well, I can get that tower out of your way if you want.”

She looked at it, then at me, and then said, “Sure. Just tell the tech department.”

And it was almost that simple.

As I was rolling the tower across campus on a lab cart, the person in charge of the computer inventory spotted me.

“Where did you get that?” she said, a worried look in her eye. I already had a reputation for making unused hardware “disappear.” I told her where I got it. She got that look in her eye and said, “You’re not supposed to move computers without telling us.”

“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” I said, smiling.

“You don’t understand, the inventory is a mess, and its stuff like this that makes it worse. Without a proper inventory, we won’t get tech support, because they don’t know if the machine belongs to the school or is personal property.”

I nodded. This is what is known as a “put up or shut up” situation – for me. Either I gave control of the machine to the tech department or I took responsibility for my part of their misery. Therefore I said, “How about I do all the inventory for the machines I work on, and then you don’t have to worry about it?”

That worked. In fact, she ended up using the inventory tracking form I wrote for her in AppleWorks.

I found a 17″ monitor to attach to it from my growing storehouse (which has spilled over into another teacher’s room) and now have a functioning lab with nine Power Mac computers wired into the internet.

Getting School Computers Ready for the Internet

Getting the computers wired into the Internet required that I take the following steps:

  1. Removed all illegally (and legally) installed software left over from the original owners by initializing the drives and reinstalling Mac OS 8.6 (our district standard at the moment). If we don’t own the installer disks, I don’t use the software. (Just last week we were warned about the Microsoft Anti-Piracy Software Patrol coming to visit, and the school inventoried all legal copies of Microsoft software and asked us to make sure nothing else was installed. You Have Been Warned.)
  2. Installed Norton Anti-Virus on all the machines (district site license and policy for networked computers).
  3. Set up a file sharing host for students to save work in a central location, thus making their work accessible from any machine on the network. My host is a Quadra 700 with a 1 GB hard drive attached for students to use as a network folder (this requires an ethernet card, natch). In this way, I don’t have to worry about students having access to my teacher computer for either file sharing or network password access.
  4. Installed Foolproof network security software. Foolproof is network software designed to allow a server to manage several machines at once. I can use logins, special local folders for saving student work, set security access levels (such as disallowing access to the control panels), and log out or shut down the computers from a host. I found it a little confusing to set up at first, but the online help files were adequate to get the job done. All our district labs require the use of Foolproof for student login access. If it had a way of importing names and passwords, it would be almost perfect.
  5. Obtained IP addresses for the student computers from the tech department. They were very helpful with this. Putting IP info in the TCP/IP control panel was a snap. They just told me the numbers, and I typed them in. One machine wouldn’t connect because I typed the router address wrong (fixed that), and another wouldn’t connect because it had the same IP address (my bad). After that, they all have worked fine.
  6. In our district, we have students and parents sign a rules-awareness form, and then the students must pass an internet quiz. The quiz is online (hosted by www.funbrain.com – but I’m not telling you the quiz name for obvious reasons), and my students took the quiz right in my room.
  7. As far as browsers go, I decided to go with Netscape 3, because
    • I had it.
    • It fit nicely on my older machines with less than 100 MB free hard drive space left.
    • Everyone would then be using the same software.
    • For reading websites and doing searches, it seems to work fine.
  8. Our district firewall also does site filtering, so as long as I monitor the use of the computers to follow district policy it is not required for me to install local-machine “parental access” filtering software such as Netnanny.
  9. Installed Timbuktu remote-access software allows you not only to observe the screen of another user in real time, it also lets you control it by remote control. I doubt any of the other teachers actually use this software, because it’s there mainly for the admins. I use it to drive a second computer in the back of the room, attached to a projector and set to observe my teacher computer’s screen. This allows the students in the back to see presentations more easily than they can with the 27-inch TV I use in the front of the room. Most of the time I therefore have four screens (TV, my computer, client computer in the back, projector) where students can see the display from the presentation.

So now that I have the Internet in my classroom, what do I do with it?

That will have to wait until next time, dear readers! And as our school gets ready to upgrade to iMacs in an effort to have a 1:5 computer to student ratio (in a school with 3,000 students, that’s no mean feat) I’ll discuss the problems of a hybrid old/new Mac lab.

Future columns will deal with the specifics of using Vernier’s software to do lab experiments, the art of presentations, and spreadsheet basics. I’m also planning a series on how to conduct and take an online class for college credit. Eventually, I’m going to document everything I’ve learned here so other readers and teachers can benefit from it. If you have questions or comments, I’d be glad to receive them.

Thanks for all the feedback regarding last week’s column. Seems there are a lot of folks out there with discarded, leftover, or obsolete equipment, wondering if it can be used for something besides holding the door open (as my burned out Dell monitor does).

Well, that’s what Low End Mac is all about, isn’t it? My attitude is, do a little research starting on Low End Mac, and give it a try!

Keywords: #macsintheclassroom

Short link: http://goo.gl/YEQKEz

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