Mac Lab Report

Mac minis for the Classroom Despite 'No New Macs' Policy

- 2005.05.03

Any day now, my shipment of seven Mac mini's should arrive in the classroom. I have a bunch of Blue and White Power Mac G3s, two or three G3 All In Ones, and a beige G3 tower with a lot of peripherals.

And a couple of iMacs (one slot-loading, one tray-loading).

And some iBooks in various states of disrepair. (Apple's best kept design problem is not the infamous logic board problem, it's the poor power supply input port that breaks under the slightest provocation.)

The mini's will displace the oldest and most crash-prone computers, bringing my functional computer to student ratio to 1:2.

I ordered mice and keyboards, because my supply of USB spare parts is minimal - I've handed most of my supply out to various teachers. I'm sure I have enough monitors, so I didn't invest in any of those.

The most important physical feature of the mini for me is the extremely small footprint. I have limited counter space, and this will enable me to dedicate more space for experiment equipment instead of towers and peripherals. If I had more money, I would have gone with flat panel displays and minis instead of iMacs, because the iMacs are too tall for my limited counter-to-storage counter space.

Mac mini As configured, each Mini is more powerful than any other computer in my room. They are coming with 40 GB hard drives and 1.25 GHz processors. The best computer my students currently have access to is a 500 MHz iMac with a 20 GB hard drive. Even my workaday computer, the once top-of-the-line TiBook, has only a 1 GHz processor, though it still outranks the minis on RAM and hard drive space.

I ordered the minis without modems to save a little money (a nice option that PC users have enjoyed for years). I only use a modem twice a year when visiting relatives and checking email - certainly never in the classroom.

I'll take some photos of the machines in use when I get them. I'm looking forward to setting them up, as these are the first Macs I've managed to order under the district's "No New Macs" policy. We have a lot of new personnel in our IT office lately - the current crop is still staunchly in the "One Platform To Rule Them All" camp, and the district administration is locked into that concept as well.

Nevertheless, with justifications they agreed to let me get Macs (primarily due to some software professional astronomers use that will only run in a Unix environment). That's something we've heard from scientists from everywhere we've visited lately - Lawrence Berkeley Labs, various professional astronomers, and others have told us that the best thing we can do for students is to give them an introduction to Unix.

The only way to do that and stay compatible with most district functions is to get Mac.

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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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