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Stars Elementary School
Thursday, January 2, 8:45 A.M.
Karen Marlow, elementary school principal and mother of livewire twins, stepped briskly down the hall toward the multipurpose room. Kevin and Kellie hoppity-skipped at each side of their hurrying mother, breathless from the cold air they had just left behind and the excitement brought on by the current change in their daily schedule.
"Mommy, are we really going to get to be in a teachers meeting with all the teachers? Are we Mommy? Are we?" chirped Kevin.
"Will Miss Black be there, too? I've never been in a meeting with Miss Black before," Kellie added.
Kevin's bluegreen eyes suddenly sparkled with mischief. "Yeah, and if Miss Black talks too much, will you yell at her? Hey, Kellie, wouldn't it be neat if Mommy had to yell at Miss Black and we got to watch?"
Karen couldn't resist a chuckle as she remembered her first exposure to a faculty meeting while student teaching during her senior year. She had been amazed to find that thirty teachers in one room exhibited just about the same behaviors as thirty children in one room. Too much talking and not enough listening. Waiting till the last minute before taking a seat and settling down. Back-of-the-hand wisecracks with accompanying giggles. Numerous trips to the coffee urn and, consequently, the rest room. Dragging chairs to the back of the room to be with friends instead of sitting where the chairs were originally located. After 24 years as a teacher and principal, Karen knew for a fact the twins were about to be treated to a demonstration of group behavior they didn't really need to see. She looked down at her 6-year-old son with mock severity.
"Yes, Kevin, if Miss Black talks as much in my meeting this morning as you seem to talk in her first grade class, I may just have to yell at her. And both of you can watch." The twins tee-heed gleefully.
"Now that that's settled, let me go over your instructions again," Karen said as she hunkered down to their eye level and placed a gentle hand behind each curly red head. "I want you to get a drink here and use the rest room before you go into the multipurpose room. When you do go in there, take your crayons and coloring books and sit at the low table in the back. Oh, and one more thing. After the meeting starts, I don't want to hear one peep out of either of you unless you think you're about to pass out or throw up--"
"--or both," giggled Kellie, ducking into the girls' room.
"That goes for you, too, young man," Karen warned to the back of Kevin's head as he, in turn, disappeared into the boys' room.
With things apparently under control on the domestic front, Karen turned her thoughts to the faculty meeting about to begin. Early that morning she'd received a call from Dr. Finsterbush stating that he had called a two-hour delay for all students in the district. Hazardous driving conditions for buses which had to travel some pretty narrow back roads was the obvious reason. Teachers, however, were to report to their buildings at 8:45 with all principals conducting a one-hour inservice training session beginning at nine.
The sudden prospect of keeping 20 teachers meaningfully occupied during their first hour back on the job after the Christmas break angered Karen more than a little. Easy for him to make sweeping proclamations. A lot tougher for us to carry them out. Then she had remembered a brief conversation she'd had before Christmas with Tom Jackson, the new assistant superintendent for curriculum. Tom had told her the district was planning to launch a new program for improving computer-assisted instruction in grades 4 through 6. Although this new program wouldn't be in full operation until September, the district wanted to start exposing teachers to the basic concepts as soon as possible.
Frantically she had dialed Jackson's home number, afraid one of the other principals might have the same idea she had. Tom readily agreed to Karen's request, however, and had just finished setting up his equipment when the principal stepped into the room.
morning, Dr. Jackson, and am I ever glad you were able to make it. When the superintendent
called this morning and said I had to do something with the teachers for an hour,
you were the first person who popped into my head."
"Glad to be so close to your consciousness level," winked the curriculum specialist genially. "Seriously, though, I'm happy to talk with teachers and try to erode a little of the stock resistance I encounter when some people hear the word 'computer'-- even though we're now in the next century. Just about ready to start?"
"I think so," Karen said slowly as she scanned the activity around the large room. The teachers were scattered in clumps and clusters, chatting amiably and making frequent trips to the coffee urn and doughnut tray on the counter. She spied the twins, installed at their rear table. Someone had supplied them with doughnuts and what must be cups of milk. The canny mother accurately predicted that right then Kevin was saying to Kellie, "Looks more like a party than a meeting." Miss Black stopped at their table to say hello and Karen turned back to her guest.
"Yes, Dr. Jackson, I think we'll try to get started. Teachers are a lot like the kids, you know. Just a little hard to get them settled down on the first day after Christmas vacation."
Before Karen had arrived, Jackson had arranged 20 chairs in a double semicircle facing a large movie screen. The projector was a type Karen had never seen before and a very compact microcomputer was hooked to the projector with a slim, black cable.
As Tom moved across the room for another cup of coffee, Karen spoke above the buzz of voices. "Folks, would you mind moving over this way, please? Over this way, please. That's right, just take these seats here in front of the screen . . . Janet, I'd prefer that you didn't move the chairs around. We're going to have a little demonstration and we've tried to set things up so everyone has a chance to see. Thank you. All right, I guess everyone's ready to go now."
a minor flurry of chair scraping and refreshment juggling, the group got seated
and assumed a moderately expectant attitude. Karen felt comfortable with her teachers,
in spite of the last-minute arrangements for the meeting. Her appearance was easily
the equal of her younger female teachers in terms of both fashion and form. In
addition, her qualifications were superior to any teachers in the room. Five years
as a classroom teacher, 14 years as a full-time principal, with permanent certification
as both teacher and principal. She knew that many of her teachers had opinions
other than those she supported. She was fair and open in her dealings with them,
however, and each person on the staff enjoyed the right of stating an opinion
if not making a decision.
Today's meeting is different, Karen mused. Teachers still resist using computers in the classroom for any real instruction. Maybe they're afraid the technology revolution will replace them with beeping, blinking boxes. Whatever the reasons, several Seven Stars teachers did resent the incursion of the non-human element in the classroom and did see the computer as a threat.
had purchased an Apple computer when they first came out, certain that microcomputers
were here to stay and that they would become very important to the education process.
As the years passed, she kept step with the latest Macintosh technology. She often
played the latest Blue's Clues or Little Bear with the twins in the evening.
Now, she was looking forward to what Jackson had to say about the district's plans to give computers a bigger role in the schools. She leaned back against a table, her hands resting on its edge. She casually crossed her fashionably-booted ankles and smiled openly at her teachers.
"To be perfectly honest with you people, this meeting is as big a surprise for me as it is for you. I am glad to see that you all got the message on your radios and I want to compliment you on being on time, in spite of the snow. And, come to think of it, maybe you'd rather face me for the first hour after Christmas vacation than 30 little angels who've been penned up at home for the last ten days." Appreciative laughter greeted this remark.
"Actually, you won't have to face me very much at all during this meeting. On very, very short notice I was able to secure the services of a guest speaker. He's fairly new to the Valley Area School District and I'm not sure you've all had a chance to meet him. You're heard about him, though. I'd like you to meet Dr. Tom Jackson, our new assistant superintendent for curriculum. He'll be talking with us about the district's new plan to increase computer-assisted instruction in grades four, five, and six. I know that 'computer' may not be your favorite word but I'm sure you'll give him your attention."
The administrator took Karen's place in the front of the room and she was pleased to see that he was an excellent presenter. Briefly he outlined the district computer plan as it applied to the elementary grades. Starting in September, typing would be taught in the fourth grade. The following year, word processing would be added to the fifth grade curriculum and the year after that, sixth graders would be getting database and spreadsheet utilization.
Then Jackson moved on to his demonstration. "Now, there's one thing I know for sure about computers and that's this: You can't learn how to use them without touching them. So, I need a volunteer operator. Here's one. You look like you're on the edge of your seat and about to volunteer," and Jackson pointed to a young fifth grade teacher named Bonnie Carter. Maybe there was a computer under the tree this Christmas. Now Mom will get a chance to keep up with her kids."
Karen was both amused and amazed at Jackson's insight into the structure of the group. Bonnie was definitely the unofficial leader and usually set the pace for the manner in which the rest of the articulate teachers would react to a given situation. So far during the meeting she had been sitting sideways in her chair and gazing serenely at the flank of a snowy mountain which could be seen through the high windows at the rear of the room. Everyone was quick to catch the significance of Bonnie's so-called offer to volunteer and a few male chuckles were heard around the semicircle. The young teacher rose gracefully, though, and took a seat in front of the keyboard. Jackson noticed she immediately rested her fingers on the home keys.
"Ah hah! I can tell by where Bonnie has placed her fingers that she knows a little about touch typing. Have you had any experience with computers?" Bonnie smiled but shook her head.
"No problem. In fact, it's kind of fun to introduce someone to a computer for the first time. Since you already have some typing ability, you'll do well, I'm sure." Bonnie continued to look pleasant but noncommittal.
Then Jackson held up a thin, wafer-like object about three and one half inches square. "Some of you may be familiar with floppy disks. They used to come in two sizes, five and a quarter inches and eight inches. However, in the mid 80s the microcomputer industry began switching over to this type of disk. I'll pass one of these around and you can see it's completely enclosed with a rigid plastic shell. At the edge which goes into the disk drive first, there's a sliding metal cover which gives the drive access to a disk inside. This inner plastic disk is coated with a magnetic material very much like the surface of recording tape. Commercial computer programs can be recorded on the inner disk. Then, you can buy that commercial computer program at a computer store, take it home, and use it in your own computer."
While Jackson was speaking, the disk was making the rounds and several teachers examined it with real interest. Their interest increased as Jackson continued. "Computer memory and storage is measured in megabytes of data. A meg, we usually call it, is about 10,000 typewriter characters, including letters, numerals, spaces, anything that takes up space on a line. We usually call a megabyte a meg. The disk you are passing around now will hold 1.4 megs of information, or 10,400 megs of typewriter characters. That's equal to roughly 1,000 typewritten pages, about enough space to hold the manuscript of your first novel." The group laughed with interest and appreciation.
Bonnie looked up from the computer keyboard which she had been studying. "I understand that secretaries and professional writers use word processors on computers to do their work. But what you said a while ago, about starting kids on word processing in the fifth grade. Hey, none of my kids are secretaries and the only novels they're writing will fit on the notes they pass back and forth." A few teachers chuckled supportively.
"You're right, at this point in time. But where will these same kids be say ten, twenty years from now? I'll tell you where they'll be if we don't give them functional computer skills now. They'll be lost." The issues were serious but Jackson kept his tone light and a smile on his face.
Nate Dike, one of the older teachers, spoke for the first time. "My kids can barely get their math problems right. Now you want to make computer programmers out of them. I say let's get the basics down first. Then, if we have any time, we can start thinking about messing around with computers." Henrietta Coop reached over and slapped Nate on the back.
Jackson responded in his same light tone. "I couldn't agree more about not teaching kids about computer programming in the elementary grades. But we're talking about two different things here. The elementary computer program which the district is planning will help the students develop computer application and not computer programming skills. Application skills relate to a person's ability to use such computer applications as word processing, databases, spreadsheets, telecommunications, spell checking, and mail merge. The ratio of computer users to computer programmers is about the same as the ratio of car drivers to car mechanics. Some of your kids may end up as programmers but that is a career choice we'll not ask them to make in the fifth grade. By the time they get to junior high, they can choose an introductory programming course. If they like that, they can go on to a computer programmer training program at the tech school."
Next Jackson asked Karen to have someone dim lights and pull the blackout drapes over the windows at the rear of the room. While that was being done, he turned on the strange-looking projector which was sitting atop of a conventional overhead projector.
"A microcomputer system is made up of four basic elements. The microprocessor is housed in the keyboard unit where Bonnie is sitting. The a hard disk drive is also in the keyboard, and that can read programs from disks and write data onto disks, and I'm talking about disks like the one we passed around earlier. The monitor is the part of the computer which looks like a TV screen. Since I wanted all of you to see what's happening on the monitor's screen, I hooked up the computer to this computer projector instead of a monitor. But I believe all of you should be able to see.
"Now, Bonnie, I'd like you press the key with the delta symbol, at the upper right corner of the keyboard. Good."
The computer responded with a pleasant chime and a red tally light winked on the front as the program began to run. "As you can see on the screen, this program is called SchoolWorks. It's really a combination of three very useful computer applications: word processing, database, and spreadsheet. Today, we'll just work with the word processor and save the others for another session. The list of items you see on the screen now is called a menu. The select cursor is in the form this black arrow. And the arrow is controlled by this little device called a --
chimed in Bonnie. "And it's the only kind of a mouse I ever want to see in
"Right, a mouse. See! You're already becoming computer literate.
To get you started, Bonnie, we'll bring a word processing file up from the hard drive which needs a little more work done on it. Just move your mouse until the arrow is pointing to Word Processing on the Menus. All right, good. There it is."
Karen watched with interest as Jackson demonstrated the various features of the word processing program including single-character and block actions. She marveled at the ease with which a computer beginner was able to edit, delete, move, and copy the text on the screen. With Jackson's prompting, Bonnie even did a find and replace action throughout the entire document.
Then Karen had a question of her own. "Dr. Jackson, have you gotten any reaction from the high school business ed teachers to having fourth graders learn to type?"
"Yes I have and their feelings are mixed. Some say, 'The younger the better.' Others say, 'They'll learn bad habits we won't be able to break.' All of which makes my job of curriculum coordinator that much more interesting. I think the answer will have to come out of the elementary and secondary teachers getting together and roughing in the outlines of a multi-grade keyboarding curriculum." Several teachers began to interact with Jackson and the discussion was self-propelled for several minutes.
Karen checked her watch and was startled to see the buses would be arriving in ten minutes. She walked over to the wall and switched on the lights as a signal it was time to close the meeting. Jackson wrapped it up. "I know the buses are due any minute but this final word. Today I'll be installing a complete microcomputer system in the faculty room complete with that fourth component, the printer, which I didn't have time to demonstrate today. This computer will have the SchoolWorks integrated software and a manual which documents how all the features work. Please use it for the next couple months. Do your lesson plans on it. Write your doctoral thesis on it. Make up a database file for your favorite recipes. Whatever. I'll be training Mrs. Marlow's secretary in how everything works and you can use her as a resource person if you get stuck.
"And one more thing. The district has a number of loaner computers we're prepared to allow parents to borrow in case their kids don't already have one at home.
"And now I'm really done. Thanks very much for inviting me to talk to your teachers, Mrs. Marlow. And I do believe the first bus is coming up the drive now."
There was a flurry of scraping chairs and retrieving belongings as the principal concluded the meeting.
in the hall, Kevin and Kellie bubbled and bounced with enthusiasm. Karen shooed
them toward Miss Black's first grade room and then headed to her office.
As Karen stepped into the outer office she noted that Dr. Jackson was in serious conversation with Martha Metz, her secretary. So serious, in fact, that Martha's face was the color of fresh putty and a torrent of tears seemed about to cascade down her chubby cheeks. The white lace cap perched on the back of her head bobbed spasmodically as she struggled to control the sobs which shook her torso.
Karen was instantly alarmed. Martha Metz was no crybaby. The converse was true and she was considered the most unflappable person on the whole staff, including the principal. Blistering phone calls from disgruntled parents, playground accidents, kids upchucking on the floor, an overflowing commode in the girls' room, nothing seemed to rock her boat. And if the nurse or janitor or principal was a little late in arriving at the scene of the crisis, Martha was an expert at sticking her finger in the dike until help arrived.
While Karen was mentally searching for an answer, Martha turned and ran from the office in the direction of the rest room. Karen shot a quick question mark at Jackson who spread his hands defensively. "Your guess is as good as mine. I absolutely didn't do a thing to that woman. In fact, I didn't even have time. I simply walked into the office and asked her if she was ready to become a computer expert. She turned as white as a ghost." Jackson waved in the direction of some cartons of computer equipment in a corner of the office. "When she saw that stuff there she started to shake like an old Pinto's front end."
Karen followed the wave of Jackson's hand and noted for the first time that she did indeed have some cartons of new equipment in her outer office. Must be the stuff Jackson had told the teachers he would be putting in the faculty room.
Turning back to the assistant superintendent, Karen smiled and said, "I think I may have just a little insight into Martha's problem. That is, if this stuff here is what I think it is."
"You're looking at the very latest microcomputer system, completewith a laser printer," Jackson responded with more than a touch of professional pride. "This company makes over 85% of the computers in Pennsylvania schools.
Karen rested her right hand on the top carton of computer equipment and mused, "I think I know what the problem is. Back in September, when I first heard that the District might be putting more computers in the elementary schools, I mentioned the idea of breaking the teachers in gently by putting one in the faculty room. And I told Martha she might have to become the resident expert so she could help everyone out when they locked up their keyboard. She got all white and nervous then, too. Said she didn't think she'd be able to do something like that. I just passed it off as some more Pennsylvania Dutch stubbornness and dropped the subject. From the looks of Martha this morning, though, she's suffering from something more substantial than stubbornness."
Jackson shook his head as he reached for his topcoat and briefcase. "Sure seems strange to me but I'll let the intricacies of personnel management up to administrative pros. She you later."
Karen responded automatically, still staring at the somehow offensive computer equipment. Sure looks harmless enough, just like the system we have at home only newer. Wonder what Martha's problem really is? Maybe something to do with her religion. Mennonites are pretty strict about some things. Never heard of anyone having a religious conviction against a computer, though.
At that moment Martha re-entered the room silently and walked straight through to Karen's private office. The principal, eyes soft with concern, stared at the broad back of her secretary and with a puzzled shake of her head, followed her into the office, closing the door.
"Feeling a little better now, Martha"? she asked softly.
"Awk, Mrs. Marlow, I'm sorry to have to act so dumb. I chust can't stand to be in the same room with that computer sing. I haint being lazy and trying to get out of my verk, but it chust makes me feel all scairt inside, still."
Karen smiled encouragement. "Martha Metz! The last thing I'd think about you is that you're lazy so get that out of your head. I must say, though, that I am a little puzzled about why you seem so frightened by the computer equipment."
Martha kneaded her work-reddened hands in her ample lap and stared out the window at the yellow buses still erupting noisy children. "It's ... It's my church, Mrs. Marlow." She shifted in her chair and extracted a red bandanna from a commodious pocket in her smock. After several honks and an assortment of wipes and sniffles she looked into her boss's face with eyes filled with pure terror. "Brudder Schwartz, that's ow-wur preacher, Brudder Schwartz says them computer sings is of the dewil."
Karen had no difficulty understanding Martha's heavy Pennsylvania Dutch accent. She'd had plenty of practice with that. She was at a total loss, however, when it came to comprehending what Martha had just said. "Martha, I don't know what you mean when you talk about computers and the devil. But I can see that you're very upset. Why don't you take the rest of the day off and go home. Try and get yourself straightened out. You haven't used a sick day so far this school year so you don't need to feel guilty about going home now, as upset as you are."
Martha shook her head stubbornly. "Awk, now, you don't have to treat me like a baby. If you voud chust take those sings out of my office, I sink I could still do my verk," she proposed as she heaved her large frame from the upholstered office chair.
Karen was briefly annoyed but quickly softened when she saw the look of terror in Martha's eyes. "All right, Martha, tell you what we'll do," she said briskly. "We'll just put those cartons over in the faculty room where they belong. Think that'll make you feel better?"
"Chust so I don't have to verk it, still. I don't want to be no computer expert.
Karen quickly agreed. Besides, she preferred to be the one who did any teaching about computers. She didn't want them to get the idea that word processing and other computer applications were strictly clerical tasks for secretaries.
started to say the janitor could take care of moving the equipment but Martha
didn't seem to want to wait. She trotted down to the supply room and came back
with a light-weight hand truck. Refusing help from Karen, she stacked the cartons
and trucked them easily. While Karen held the door, Martha trundled the unwanted
computer equipment out of the office and down the hall towards the faculty room.
Karen watched her go and, with a puzzled shake of her head, turned back to the
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