Hybrid Fiber/copper LAN Meets School's 25-Year Networking Requirements

Article excerpt

Millcreek Township School District is in the process of implementing an innovative new curriculum, one combining traditional academic studies with early exposure to real-world business practices. The program, known as the "Community and World at Work," has been adopted Walnut Creek Middle School (grades 6 through 8).

In support of the new curriculum, and with an eye to the future, the district decided to install an advanced networked computer environment. The goal was to build a computing environment that would provide the capacity needed to last 25 years, while keeping pace with emerging technologies such as multimedia. To meet this goal, the district's technology staff knew that they would have to create an extendable cable plant and network infrastructure. Ultimately, they opted for a plant architecture based on mix of copper and fiber-optic technologies.

This article discusses the innovative curriculum and also delves deeply into the technical side of the new network. Final decisions, and how they were arrived at, are described in detail.

* Physical & Philosophical

The Walnut Creek Middle School is unique in that it is organized like many businesses, both in terms of physical layout and goals. Physically, the classrooms for each grade are clustered together around a common "company" area--not along hallways as in a conventional school.

Philosophically, the theme of Community and World of Work is a good match to the curriculum of the middle grades as well as to the intellectual, emotional and physical activity needs of its students. The concepts of "companies" and "production areas" are integrated into multidisciplinary learning activities; the physical facilities have been expressly designed to support the curriculum.

The new curriculum consists of traditional core subjects such as math, English and science, which are then bolstered by other studies related to actual business practices. Every school year, each of the "companies" (grades) works on a new product line. Students are immersed in all aspects of product development and marketing, from concept and design to manufacturing and sales. Physically, "production areas"--containing specialized computer systems (Macs with add-in cards), peripherals and assorted external devices--enable the collaborative, hands-on learning.

This new curriculum has the full support of the local business community. In fact, one local firm helped the school work within ISO-9000's quality guidelines in the areas of design and manufacturing.

The following scenario offers a glimpse of the new curriculum in action: A student "company, planning team prepares to implement a project. These seventh graders are working in a cross-disciplinary mode that combines science, social studies, math and language arts. The team has a limited amount of time to find and gather pertinent materials and to then develop a "product" that can be shared in the class and put into "production mode."

This (and every) team starts by vicariously experiencing the real life behind product development. They gather material from the multi-media, statistical and print sources offered over the network; they use e-mail and fax to correspond with industry experts and students at other schools. Once the "product" is agreed upon and put into "production," students utilize many specialized pieces of equipment.

Depending on the project, some student teams may write reports based on their experiences and observations; others write stories, make videos or create a drama about what they have learned. All is done, however, within the larger context of a "company" producing something tangible, as in real business.

Teacher teams serve as advisors to various student groups, depending on needs and interests. Instructor teams meet once a week to plan activities for each project, check on the resources and to ensure that students cover the necessary content for the district's curriculum plan while they also are given the opportunity to study something in sufficient depth to "know" it. …