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'sshould arrive in the classroom. I have a bunch of Blue and White Power Mac G3s,two or three G3 All InOnes, and a beige G3tower 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 keptdesign problem is not the infamous logic board problem, it's the poorpower supply input port that breaks under the slightestprovocation.)

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 partsis minimal - I've handed most of my supply out to various teachers. I'msure I have enough monitors, so I didn't invest in any of those.

The most important physical feature of the mini for me is theextremely small footprint. I have limited counter space, and this willenable me to dedicate more space for experiment equipment instead oftowers and peripherals. If I had more money, I would have gone withflat panel displays and minis instead of iMacs, because the iMacs aretoo tall for my limited counter-to-storage counter space.

Mac mini As configured, each Mini is more powerful than anyother computer in my room. They are coming with 40 GB hard drives and1.25 GHz processors. The best computer my students currently haveaccess to is a 500 MHziMac with a 20 GB hard drive. Even my workaday computer, theonce top-of-the-lineTiBook, has only a 1 GHz processor, though it still outranksthe minis on RAM and hard drive space.

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

I'll take some photos of the machines in use when I get them. I'mlooking forward to setting them up, as these are the first Macs I'vemanaged to order under the district's "No New Macs" policy. We have alot of new personnel in our IT office lately - the current crop isstill staunchly in the "One Platform To Rule Them All" camp, and thedistrict 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 willonly run in a Unix environment). That's something we've heard fromscientists from everywhere we've visited lately - Lawrence BerkeleyLabs, various professional astronomers, and others have told us thatthe best thing we can do for students is to give them an introductionto Unix.

The only way to do that and stay compatible with most districtfunctions is to get Mac. LEM


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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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