Computers are the communication tool of today and tomorrow. Parents are essential partners in their school's technology program.
Develop a plan. Include the teachers and administrators in the process. Get a copy of the district's Strategic Plan and the computer curriculum. Your plan needs to address the building or district's needs and goals.
Make an inventoryof all hardware and software in the school. This should include all equipment: old and current, working and broken, Macintosh and PC.
Establish some long term and short term goals for your school. We developed a five year plan. Our goals are: Acquire hardware, acquire curriculum supporting software, develop the teacher's and student's computer skills, improve management of the software, improve technical support for hardware and software, and increase the community awareness of the technology in education.
Set up a separate checking account for the Computer Fund.
Establish a regular fund raiser. We run the "Cans for Computers" campaign. On a weekly basis, we collect aluminum cans and recycle them. We earn about $30 per week. You can use this fund to make any purchase from an ink jet refill or a new battery, to a new computer or printer.
Take advantage of fund raisers that require minimal kid/parent selling. We ran the AT&T Learning Points program. Two phone calls and a flier later your school is earning points to make technology purchases from Scholastic. This program has been terminated.
A+America has teamed up with Sprint to offer a similar phone points program. Call 1-800-256-9469.
Scan the computer catalogs for "buys". This is done by one of our members who is really into computers. She lets us know when there are great sales that are consistent with the goals. Thanks to her efforts we've gotten unbelievable buys that have really stretched our dollars. We make our purchases through our checking account not a district PO. Many resellers will not sell the catalog bargains to districts only individuals. Or by the time the PO is cut the offer is over.
Solicit donations. Get out the word of what your doing. I had a father stop by as I loaded the aluminum cans. He offered used Apple computers from a local university. We snapped them up. With some tweaking we got many of them up and running.They are used every day for drilling math and language arts in Primary classes. The kids love them.
Write an article for a local paper urging folks to donate their old computers to their schools. We got five more! Important note: if you accept donations of old computers, be prepared to provide tech support. It is best to stay with the format the building is using. Computers no one knows how to use serve no purpose.
If someone will give you Mac Classics or Mac Pluses Classic Mac - provides many ideas of how to make great use of the life still left in your older Macs. ( Mac Plus, SE, and Classics) Low End Mac - is also helpful
I am most impressed by three of our teachers who donated their computers to the school. Wendy Heckles, Laura Stephan, and Judy Sheldon you are the crème de la crème!
Scholastic Software Program. If you do only one thing for your school: Do This. We do all the administrative work on behalf of our teachers. It runs the same way as the book clubs. You get fliers. Distribute them to the kids. You process the orders. You give out the software when it comes in @ 3 weeks. We have gotten over 100 FREE programs and CDs for our school in the past six years.
Christmas 1996, we earned 3000 points. We used them to get a World Atlas CD and US Atlas CD for each 4th, 5th, & 6th grade room plus more CDs at no cost! We do not decide which software to "buy" with the points. Teachers make wish lists and we fill them as points allow with equity in mind. Call Scholastic at 800-724-2424. Or visit http://place.scholastic.com/home.html Watch the catalogs, magazines, and the internet for specials. For example: Apple had a rebate special when you bought a computer.Visit your desired software publisher's web page regularly . They offer "web only" specials that have saved us big bucks. We got "Multimedia Bugs" a $39.00 title for $5, for example. Knowledge Adventure Software often offers internet specials.Check the Net for Free stuff. We have gotten cds for our school absolutely free by going to the offer and sending an email or writing a letter. It doesn't get easier than that folks!Example: The 5 A Day Adventures CD-ROM is available free to elementary schools as part of Dole Food Co.'s commitment to children's' nutrition education. This CD-ROM is currently used in more than 15,000 elementary schools and is the first nutrition CD-ROM designed to encourage children to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.Take advantage of freeware and shareware. We recently found a freeware program called "Subtraction is Fun". It was made by an educator. It is a super subtraction drilling program. Our second graders love it. Hats off to the creator, John. When we asked about a next level program, he wrote Advanced Subtraction program for us. John, you will surely have a special spot in heaven!I wouldn't pay for a math drill program without looking for freeware/shareware first. There are outstanding products readily available. You can get John's on my freeware page.
Although it is tempting to cheat, we pay shareware fees. Just because it is a school, that is no license to steal. Please pay all shareware fees when you bring a program to your school. A local university was caught violating a software license and had to pay a $10,000 fine. That would consume most of the money we've made in the past three years for our school.
What good is all the best software/hardware in the world if no one knows how to use it?
To help the teachers build their user skills, I write a weekly tip sheet. Some titles are: "Fonts change", "Apple Menu Items Folder", "Why are multiple copies pouring from the printer?", "Troubleshooting the LAN", "How to save correctly". I sprinkle humor liberally and write with a "been there; done that" flavor which makes these sheets very popular.Getting the students on was accomplished by offering an after school computer club. We took 10 kids at a time. They were allowed to use any kid program in the computer. When we offered it 75 kids register in two days. Pretty good for a school of 350 kids. It took us five months of after school weekly sessions to work through all the kids. Each session was supervised by 2 parent volunteers.The next year, I offered an after school "Working with Graphics" class for 5th and 6th graders. I showed them how to add graphics, build cards and posters in ClarisWorks and how to use the drawing tools. It prepared a core group to help their classmates build our school's first HyperStudio project a month later. Buy some good books and videos for the school library. We have provided the library with a copy of "The Macintosh Bible" and the "The System 7 Book". I recommend the teachers tune up their Mac skills with "Mac for Dummies". We also maintain a library of all the manuals that came with the software. We invested in the the MacAcademy ClarisWorks Training set (on sale, of course!). They are available to the teachers, who borrow them for a week at a time by a sign out system.
As some of the teachers become proficient technology users, there are different technology skill levels. In order to help the intermediate level users grow, I offered a ten session self directed training program. Each activity was directed at specific integration activities. Some of the lessons are: How to make a classroom database using ClarisWorks Assistants, How to Make a Stationery form letter, How to make a certificate using ClarisWorks Assistants, & How to mail merge. When the teacher completes an activity, they submit a "homework" which I review before giving them the next assignment. The class is at each teacher's pace. No due date for the homework is given. It also provided step by step instruction sheets for getting on the internet, using the scanner to scan an image, & emailing with an attachment.
We organized all the software in the building. We created two databases to track it and simplify finding what you want. We maintain the CDROM library. CD's are treated like books in the library. They have cards and are signed out by teachers. Students cannot take them home. They have shelf cards that are mingled with our books in the library card catalog. Each 4th, 5th, and 6th grade room has an encyclopedia on CD, and 2 atlases, at the very least.
We also maintain an extensive library of disk software like "ZipZap Map","Brain Quest", "Oregon Trail", "Storybook Weaver" and many others. We have purchased only a couple site licenses because we get the majority of our software for free through the Scholastic Program.
This is very important. Our district has three tech support people for ten buildings.
For new computer users, there are always the occasional glitches. When you have twenty seven kids watching you glitch it can be frustrating and embarrassing. We check every morning for problems or needs. We do minor repairs, troubleshoot problems, make note of needed upgrades, and offer work arounds. Because the teachers know they can count on us, they have been willing to try new things. Success builds interest, excitement, and encourages the teachers to envision other projects. As one teacher has a positive experience, I find others coming to me with "how do you do that?".We have parents who come in to help students use the computers in the classroom. This facilitates computer use by even the new users.
This tech support effort has been a driving force in growing my own skills as a troubleshooter and computer user. I tell the teachers I know what to do because I made this same mistake or had this problem, myself. :-)
When we started, a group of parents was strongly opposed to computers and to their use in the classroom. Many of them now own Macs or other computers. Give them the facts and don't fight. Get the kids on and show their parents.
We let our school's parents know where the money goes with a monthly report at the PTO meeting. The local newspaper has had articles about our "cans", our clubs, and our team. The local TV station did a report on our "Cans" program. We reported the "cans" money regularly. As of June 1997, we have recycled over 17,500 pounds of aluminum to raise over $6,300 for technology.
I spoke about our efforts with other PTOs in our district. Now three buildings are trying some of what we do. We let each other know about specials and good fund raisers.
You do not need to be a "Computer Nerd" to help technology at your school. Our head fund raiser can barely start her home computer. Rhonda helped me "Can" each week. She also runs our other fund raising events. She creates the cards and pockets for our CD collection. She is an important part of our success. Each member offers their unique and valuable skills. I strongly believe there are parents like us in every community. Successful schools must find them, empower them, and remember to thank them. Our principal gave us a chance.
Parents: stay flexible. Be willing to change immediate plans to take advantage of unusual opportunities in purchasing. Support the staff and avoid criticizing or arguing. Communicate often with the principal and staff. Do not attempt to impose your will on the school. Remain positive and dependable with the staff; you will be a lot more credible.
A word to the wise
Addendum 6/97 - 6/98
Our District now has a full time computer director. They have a strategic plan for the future. They are buying computers and training teachers and staff. All the buildings are networked and have access to the internet. I welcome and applaud this growth. Our children will be better prepared to face the challenges of the future. This means our role in aiding the school will change, as well.
My role has changed to training a 4th grade Tech Team. These core 8 students work with me on a specific activity. They then help their fellow students with the same activity in the classroom. These trainings support the current classroom studies.
I maintain a technology bulletin board in the school's lobby which I change monthly. I explain key concepts like what is a mouse or hard drive. I use it to show the printed school's web pages to parents who don't have web access. I highlight class technology activities. I have shown them how the internet helps their children explore the world.
I also help by doing the web work for the school's web site. Our site has grown substantially this year. I also watch several education lists for activities or sites that are relevant to our school or curriculum. I then email the teachers about them.
Excellence: Kudos to two outstanding principals: Deborah Holt and Vickie Hallock. They truly value parental involvement in education. Our district is blessed to have these forward thinking leaders.
Hats off to Gretchen Braun, Laura Stephan, Sue Hostetter, Lori Graham, Wendy Heckles, Peggy Schlegelmilch, Erin Kirk, Kathy Young, Eileen Shaffer, Anne Stewart, John Young and Cathy Erickson. You are all exceptionally fine educators. My children are fortunate to have had your guidance. Their success is due, in part, to the energy and the commitment you demonstrate every day.
Contact the local Macintosh and PC user groups. They are a remarkable resource for a multitude of computer matters. Look for their monthly meeting notice at your community library or in the newspaper. Membership in our local Mac group allows me to make discount purchases from the User Group Connection.
Ask your local internet service provider if they would give your school one free account. Many thanks to D&E Communications who provided ours for one year. I stuck their sticker on the internet computer in the library. When parents and teachers ask me about getting on the net, I ask them to use D&E Supernet and tell them why. If you live in the Lancaster, Pa area give them a call. You'll get good service at a great price. Tell them you are calling because they support the schools.
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