Mac Lab Report

Virtual PC, the Dock, No-Button Mice, and Other Things That Freak Out My Students

- 2004.08.30

Stuff I observed during last year's computer lab work:

Using Virtual PC for the first time, they are stunned. "You got a PC?" they ask. Then they say, "Macs can be real computers?"

Writing notes with Mimio on a whiteboard and printing them out is more astounding than posting them on the Internet. "You can print those out? And put them in notebooks?" a kid asked having been in my room for eight months, not understanding what he saw me do or what I said it meant.

The Dock. "That is so cool! Do they make that for Windows." Then I do the slow-mo slurping thing, and they freak out again, 2 for 1.

"You've never had a virus? Never?" Then I tell them I've been a teetotaler all my life, never had a beer or wine or any alcohol beyond cough syrup. They're nonplused by that compared to never having needed to wipe my hard drive to clear a virus.

Using a second monitor as an extended desktop. "How do you do that?" "I plug it in." "Can you do that with Windows?" "Only if you're very brave." Okay, that's exaggerating, but try using three monitors on a PC. Just try.

"Where's the button?" referring to the Apple mouse. "The whole thing's a button," I reply. "Where's the right-click?" "Hold down the option key and click." Then they get this expression that looks like they're having an ice cream brain freeze.

Trackpads. "Roll your finger like a ball for fine tune control." Most kids don't have laptops, hence they've never used trackpads.

Operating systems. About a third of students do not comprehend the concept of an operating system. I Am Not Making This Up. "Do you have Windows?" Blank stare. "Does your computer run Windows, or is it a Mac?" Shrug. "I dunno." Pause. "It runs Dell."

Burning CDs for things other than music. "You can save things on a CD like a floppy?"

No floppy drive on Macs. "Where is the disk drive?" "Doesn't have one." "Why did you take it out?"

People who pay for music. "Why?"

There are things you can do with a computer that make it more versatile than a calculator. Like, say, printing. "That is so cool! I wish we could use that in math class." They know computers can print - they don't know it can graph. You have to connect the two together for them for the light bulb to go off.

Someone over the age of 20 using a chat room. "They use whole sentences!"

I can't text message on my cell phone with one hand with my eyes closed, as if it were hidden under a desk where I can't see it. "That's so lame."

I may be the only adult some of them have ever met who has played a networked game with strangers. I'm sort of like a Sasquatch. Rumored to be real, but not ever seen in the wild.

Devices that can play CDs but not burn them. They don't get it. "But how do you make CDs?" "I use a different computer." "Lame."

I could go on, but I'm too old, and I need a nap.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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