For young graduates, computers elementary

Experiment: Given Internet access as a teaching aid for the past three years, Dundalk fifth-graders are sorry to see end of line.

June 03, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Alicia Cady and her classmates at Logan Elementary School are going to have a tougher time than most fifth-graders adjusting to middle school in the fall.

"I won't be able to e-mail my teachers for help on homework anymore," said Alicia, 11. "I'm really going to miss it."

This month, the Baltimore County experiment known as Logan Online comes to an end. Three years after Bell Atlantic outfitted the homes and classrooms of the entire third grade with computers and high-speed Internet connections, students are graduating from fifth grade, and they're sorry to see the program end.

"We learned so much about how to use computers and the Internet and how to do research and make databases," said Juan Hill, 10. "It's been great for our education."

During their last three years at the Dundalk elementary school, the 100 or so students have traded e-mail with teachers and students on everything from homework questions to weekend plans.

They've researched classroom assignments on the Internet, learning how to find the most credible information and display it in multimedia presentations.

And, thanks to regular e-mail assignments from their teachers, they've given up some freedom during summers and snowstorms.

"The kids grumbled a little bit at getting homework over the summer, but I think they really liked it," said teacher Sonja Karwarki. "Last summer, as soon as some of the children would get back from vacation, I would get e-mail from them that very night telling me everything they had done in Ocean City."

Not all of the testing data has been completed, but initial results suggest that the heavy dose of technology at home and in school helped student achievement, according to educators at both the school and in Baltimore County.

On the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, the students went from the 37th to the 46th percentile in reading from fall of 1996 to this spring. In math, they rose from the 33rd to the 40th percentile. Most of the gains occurred during the past school year, said principal Patricia Lawton.

The most important piece of data will come late in the fall when Logan receives its results on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program exams.

"The technology was the tool, and it was up to the teachers to use it effectively," Lawton said. "They did a tremendous job of taking the technology and making it an important part of the curriculum."

Yesterday, Bell Atlantic officials and representatives from some of the other companies involved in the $1.6 million project -- including Xerox Corp., Cisco Connections, AST Computers and Microsoft -- visited Logan to mark the end of the program.

Students showed off their computer skills and ate ice cream sundaes served by their teachers and the company officials.

"You made so much progress," said Sherry F. Bellamy, president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland Inc. "All of you seem to be more proficient than I am."

Over the past three years, many of the Logan students became computer teachers for their families and their neighbors, including many with little experience with computers. More than 50 percent of the students who attend Logan come from low-income families.

"There was just such an increase in the computer literacy of the whole community," said fifth-grade teacher Marzelle Thomas-Smith. "Having computers and the Internet in their homes opened up so many kids' eyes to the possibilities for jobs and careers outside of their neighborhood here in Dundalk."

The three years weren't completely trouble-free, even though parents were encouraged to always monitor their children's activities on the Internet. A brief fling with e-mail chain letters was quickly quashed.

The end of the Logan project doesn't mean that all of the computers will disappear. The school will keep its computers and Bell Atlantic will continue donating the high-speed Internet connections.

All of the students will get to keep their computers, too, though their Internet connections will be replaced with slower modems.

"It's great that we get to keep the computers," said Greg Smith, 10. "Even if we can't e-mail our teachers or our classrooms, at least we can keep using them for a lot of our work."

Bell Atlantic doesn't have plans to replicate Logan Online elsewhere, though company officials say they will continue their efforts to improve education through technology.

Some lessons from the project are being used across Maryland. Educators have been visiting Logan during the past three years, and Logan teachers have regularly been involved in writing Baltimore County curriculum.

A national instructional movie for teachers on how to use technology in the classroom is scheduled to be filmed today at Logan. In April, the school's program became part of the permanent Research Collection on Information Technology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"It's almost going to be a step backward to see these kids leave and the project end," said Thomas-Smith. "But we're still going to have computers in the classroom, and I've learned so much about technology that I know I'm going to be a better teacher for all of my kids next year."

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