3rd-graders Grab The Internet And Run With It

Dundalk Children Get Computers At Home

April 23, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Third-grader Danny Carlin-Weber was at home sick, feeling left out, when a message flashed on his teacher's computer at school, in his trademark big, bold, lime-green letters: COULD YOU PLEASE SEND ME SOME WORK.

Classmate Julianna Cornelius, 9, was in the middle of homework one afternoon, assigned to measure shapes, when she encountered a problem that in most schools would take another day to resolve.

"Beep" went the computer on her teacher's desk:

"Dear Miss Boyer. I do not have a centimeter ruler.

"Can I do something else, like look up rain forest on the computer?"

School has entered a new dimension for third-graders at Dundalk's Logan Elementary this year.

It doesn't stop on weekends, summers, snow days or when the bell rings.

Last summer, Bell Atlantic Corp., trying to show how a high-tech home-school connection can boost achievement, put 180 computers and free high-speed Internet access in the homes of all third-graders, teachers and administrators, and in the classrooms of grades three through five.

Everyone got printers from Xerox Corp.

Now, two and three generations in this mostly working-class community, some people who had never touched a keyboard before, huddle around the machine in the evenings, as the grandparents did around the radio in the '40s.

Children, who some had worried were too young for the project, took off on the Internet, learning so much on their own that they've pushed the technology curriculum a year or two ahead of schedule.

And they've taught their teachers a few things.

They find facts and photographs for research reports, publish brochures, and make databases and spread sheets on favorite ice cream flavors and pizza toppings.

They send each other music and Web sites to check out.

When Johnny misbehaves, parents get wind of it by e-mail before he gets home. No more notes disappearing on the bus. No more phone tag with teachers. Or communication blackouts with families with disconnected phones.

Many parents say they are more involved with the school than ever.

"Hi. Rick here," Rick Tillman, father of Hannah Saladino, wrote the teacher one recent night. "Hannah tells me she is supposed to look at the stars tonight.

"Could you please tell me what she is looking for? She doesn't remember it."

Spelling homework gets turned in by e-mail each afternoon. Teacher Theresa Boyer, amid after-school chores, often gives it a look and writes back: "Check your spelling, there are three mistakes."

There's no such thing as a snow day here. With the rest of the district closed Jan. 9, Logan students got an assignment: Write about whether you think the superintendent should have closed schools, measure the snowfall, check the Internet for other states that had a blizzard -- and send it in by 4 p.m.

School officials are tracking performance and family participation over three years, but no hard data are available. A similar Bell Atlantic program in a low-income Union City, N.J., middle school, beginning in 1993, coincided with significant gains in test scores, but most results have been attributed to broad reforms prompted by a threatened state takeover -- not to the technology alone.

Other programs in New York and Indiana have shown big gains in such areas as time spent reading and writing or parent involvement -- a key component to achievement -- but little direct link between technology and improved test scores.

Difficult to measure

Some experts, however, say that standardized tests cannot measure the sort of progress children make when technology is used properly: not for drills, but to explore, analyze, publish and take charge of one's education.

Logan's data might have an edge there, because those skills are measured by the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The school was chosen by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, partly for its receptiveness to innovation.

Whatever the results show, no one is claiming that the costly project -- $1.6 million from Bell Atlantic and an estimated $300,000-plus from other donors -- can be replicated on a wide scale.

Then why bother? Bell Atlantic hopes that lessons learned from Logan Online -- how to integrate technology into a curriculum -- can be used in other schools with less expensive equipment, and on a wider scale as home computers become more commonplace.

It also hopes the program will boost its Internet subsidiary in the burgeoning educational marketplace.

One such model is under way at Lansdowne Elementary. The school hired a San Diego company, the Lightspan Partnership, to provide educational software and take-home Sony PlayStations -- which play interactive video on television screens and cost $149 apiece -- for families that lack computers.

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