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Computers

Retired teacher Virginia Armstrong, district head of IT Ken Jockers, head Buddhist Monk from Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center Bhante Nanda, and Superintendent Gordon Brosdal prepare to load computers to be donated into cars at Mount Sinai Elementary School July 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

An African proverb states that “It takes a village to raise a child.” Though when helping to get 140 computers in the hands of children overseas, more than just a village is necessary.

Virginia Armstrong, a retired Mount Sinai educator, joined up with Bhante Nanda, a Buddhist monk from the Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center in Riverhead, and the Mount Sinai School District to help ship 140 retired netbooks, or small laptop computers to children in both Sri Lanka and to the Maasai tribe in Kenya. Thirty will go to Sri Lanka and the rest to Africa. District Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, Armstrong, Nanda and others were at Mount Sinai Elementary School July 18 to help load the computers into cars headed back to the Riverhead facility where they will be shipped out.

“When the world is in many pieces – when people are just pushing each other away, it’s the little guy, the people on the ground that will keep the world going,” Armstrong said.

Both Armstrong and her partner Ron Hamilton have been working together for the past five years to raise donations for children of the Maasai tribe in Africa. Though the school district donated the computers to them last year, the project hit a snag this year when the district learned the shipping cost climbed upwards of $80 per box. The two requested the help of Nanda, who is a native of Sri Lanka, and he agreed to help ship the large bulk of computers as long as he could send some back to his homeland as well. Shipping donated items is something he and his community have been doing for more than two decades.

“We get satisfaction and happiness from helping others,” Nanda said.

Computers set to be shipped and donated to Kenya and Sri Lanka from Mount Sinai Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Barr

Armstrong retired from Mount Sinai after 28 years of teaching. After leaving the district she first decided to climb the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Afterwards she went to the rural parts of the country to teach. That’s where she met Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko, the leader of more than 5,000 Maasai tribal members who reside in Kenya and Tanzania. His group, the Maasai Good Salvage Outreach Organization, receives outside donations of many necessities and supplies from outside Africa. Armstrong and Hamilton have dedicated the past several years to sending clothing and other supplies for the children there, and the Mount Sinai School District has been a big supporter of their efforts.

“It’s faith over politics,” Brosdal said. “[Chief Joseph] and their culture is so strong, and then we have [Nanda] who’s helping too. It’s become so multicultural.”

The netbooks are all approximately five years old and were deemed obsolete by the district. Ken Jockers, the director of information technology at the school district, said each netbook has been reimaged, meaning all computer files have been wiped and all programs re-installed. All the netbooks currently run Windows XP operating system and contain Microsoft Office programs. Being reimaged means they should require little fixing and maintenance.

“That’s important, because maintenance is so hard in some of these places,” Armstrong said.

Nanda arrived in the United States from Sri Lanka in 2001, and he said he has come to love the cultural diversity of this country. While his group of Buddhists have existed in Port Jefferson for several years, in 2017 they opened their Riverhead meditation center, where Nanda said many people, not just Buddhists, come to meditate and find peace.

With a smile that can illuminate a dark room, Nanda said that doing things like donating the computers, helping children both overseas and in the U.S. is an integral part of his and his community’s beliefs.

“Everybody needs peace and happiness,” Nanda said. “Buddhist, Christian, whatever we are, if we don’t help human beings, and if we don’t help other people we lose a part of ourselves.”

Improving school safety also addressed during March 8 board of education meeting

Northport has put in its preliminary budget a focus on expanding its fleet of chromebooks. File photo

Northport administrators have placed an emphasis on getting more computers into classrooms and updating athletic gear and other essentials as part of the instruction, technology, BOCES and special education sections of the preliminary budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer said during a March 8 board of education meeting that the district intends to continue expanding the deployment of Chromebooks, laptops powered with Google applications, in the $166.2 million budget draft for 2018-19. The district began implementing a plan to provide personal computers to its students last September, piloting the program at the district’s two middle schools.

2018-19 draft budget highlights in instruction, technology, BOCES and special education:

  • $49,000 for responsive classroom training
  • $8,250 for new automated external defibrillators across district
  • $7,500 for training in CPR and AED use
  • $10,000 for upgrades to playgrounds
  • $3,860 for recycled clay for ceramics classes

“Kids want to have them available,” said Matt Nelson, assistant superintendent of student services, technology and assessment. “The biggest problem is the kids leave them at home then want to go get a loaner. They realize really quickly that the loaners run out, and they won’t have one for the day.”

Next year, the district has budgeted to give Chromebooks to its current eighth-grade students as they enter Northport High School and current fifth-grade students as they enter middle school. Banzer said the goal is to provide computers to all students in grades 10 through 12 by September 2019.

Denise Schwartz, of East Northport, asked school administrators to consider providing additional funding for more computers given some classes have students who are in different grade levels.

“I have a problem with some of the inequalities with co-seated classes,” Schwartz said. “For tenth and eleventh-graders to not have Chromebooks when ninth graders do is very unfair. What device does every student have at home to do homework?”

The superintendent has recommended $25,000 be set aside to redesign Northport High School’s career center with new seating, tables, desks and computer workstations “to update and create a learning environment conducive to group counseling, college counseling and professional development,” according to the budget draft. Banzer said staff was noticing the area was not being used as often as expected, and hopes the reconfiguration will promote it.

To build on increases in technology at the middle schools, the budget includes more than $8,000 to purchase six additional 3D printers, three for each building. There is also a proposal to include roughly $10,000 to support the FIRST robotics team and more than $4,000 for VEX robotics for high school students.

“I’m glad to see the robotics competitions fees and materials are included in here,” said trustee David Badanes.

For student-athletes, school administrators have recommended using part of the more than $40,000 budget to outfit the boys lacrosse program with school-issued helmets, similar to the football teams’. The proposal calls for purchasing approximately 30 helmets per year over the next six years.

Other athletic expenditures in the 2018-19 draft budget include more than $26,000 to replace 10-year old treadmills and elliptical machines; fix the girls field hockey goals; add new glass backboards in the north high school gym; purchase new junior varsity football uniforms in the school colors; and add new uniforms for teams.

The next presentation on the proposed budget for personnel and benefits, including security staff, is scheduled for March 15 at 7 p.m. at William J. Brosnan School building on Laurel Ave. A preliminary budget hearing for district taxpayers is set for March 22.

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Here is an interesting bit of research about our friendly computers, one which some of us had already intuited. I will quote from an article in the Nov. 26 edition of The New York Times Sunday Business section: “[A] growing body of evidence shows that overall, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Wow! That means a victory for pen and paper. That means classrooms filled with students busily typing notes as the lecturer speaks are doing themselves a disservice. Ditto for those paying big bucks to attend seminars, workshops and the like, who are shortchanging themselves.

“In a series of experiments at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture,” The Times reported. “Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.” Also those students who routinely used laptops in class did significantly less well at the end of the semester.

Because the notes taken on laptops more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries, the theory goes that the lecturer’s words go straight to the students fingers, which are typing faster than they can write, without going through their brains first for processing. To take notes by hand, the listener has to abridge the lecturer’s words in order to keep up and so must consider the essence of what is being said. Enter the brain.

Honestly, I am not a Luddite, looking to smash modern inventions and disavow progress. On the contrary, I marvel many times at what the computer and the internet can do. For example, it is so much easier for me to write my column, rearranging words and whole paragraphs with just the click of the mouse and a couple of keys. Before computers, I practically drank whiteout. And as I am writing, if there is something to check or research, I can engage the internet, get the facts and continue the column with only that brief interruption. So much for the encyclopedias of my youth.

But I still believe there will always be a place for pen and paper. There are instances where jotting something down quickly is easier and time saving compared to pulling out the computer, turning it on, finding the right file and typing in the info.

And then there is my real problem with computers and the internet: addiction. Most people, especially parents with teens, would agree that electronic devices are addicting. It is difficult to get kids to put down their cellphones in favor of conversation. Researchers in Utah are even studying a spike in teen suicides there in the last five years to see if there is a connection. Some 14 percent of the teens had recently lost privileges to use their electronics. Further there has been an increase in teen suicides from 2010 to 2015 across the nation, at the same time as social media use has surged. Teen suicides had declined in the two previous decades, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much more research is required before deciding cause and affect here, but anonymous bullying, made possible by Facebook or Twitter and other social networking services, in addition to relationship problems thought to result from diminishing face-to-face interaction, need to be evaluated.

It is not just kids who are so attached to their electronics. I chuckle when I see couples or whole families in restaurants, awaiting their food orders, completely absorbed in their cellphones. Then I feel sad for them. Conversation with people I enjoy is such a major part of life’s pleasures for me, and these phone addicts are missing that opportunity. I can only hope they are texting each other.

Superintendent Ken Bossert explains the difficulties of measuring how iPads affect student achievement in Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson schools will put more money toward using modern technology in the classroom next year.

Following a presentation from the staff technology committee at a board of education meeting Tuesday night, the trustees approved a request to spend about $17,000 on iPad tablets and Chromebook computers to assist instruction.

The district began using iPads in elementary classrooms in the 2013-14 school year on a pilot basis. After receiving a positive response to the tablets, the school board tripled the number of tablets in the current school year, to three carts of iPads for the teachers to rotate among their classrooms. The board’s approval will bring the number of carts next school year up to four, which officials said would be the program’s final expansion — moving forward, money would be spent on replacing iPads, not adding more to the supply.

According to Christine Austen, the district’s K-12 assistant principal and a technology committee member, each teacher could potentially have the iPads for five weeks of instructional use with those four carts.

The additional iPads will mean there will roughly be one for every five students, she said.

In classrooms where teachers are using the tablets, Austen said, students are more engaged and there are more opportunities for the kids to collaborate with one another, among other benefits.

Although the school board supported the iPad expansion, President Kathleen Brennan and Trustee Bob Ramus said they wanted to see more data on the technology’s effect on student performance. Ramus pointed out that the board had requested such information during previous presentations on the iPad program.

But Superintendent Ken Bossert said the matter is not so simple.

“When we talked about what a researcher would do to develop a model to measure that impact, it would be to give a class full-time use of the iPads for all initiatives and deny another class any use and then measure the achievement levels between the two. We weren’t comfortable with that model.”

He said the district would work to get more data on student performance, but there are ways to measure how much a student is learning within different educational applications on the iPads “and we saw student growth within the apps.”

There is also a staff development element — Austen said some teachers still need training to effectively use the tablets in their classrooms, as only about 69 percent of the staff is using them this year.

Another piece of the district technology program is using laptops with older students to access Google applications. Some teachers have incorporated those free applications — which are collectively known as Google Classroom and include functions like word processing, survey, slideshow and spreadsheet tools — into their lessons already.

According to the technology committee’s presentation, the Google system makes it easy to create assignments and grade them, encourages collaboration, organizes students’ class materials and reduces the use of paper. It also “provides students an opportunity to engage in an online learning environment prior to attending college.”

Austen said the district would like to start replacing “aging laptops” with Chromebooks, which run on Google software and have the applications built in. They are also less expensive than other laptops and run faster.

Roughly two-thirds of the cost for the Chromebooks, Bossert said, will be covered by state aid.