Kids in Charge

Article excerpt

Across the country, students of all ages are being empowered to use computers and other technologies not just to enhance their own education, but to enrich their schools' programs, help maintain their districts' technology resources, and provide valuable services for their communities.

Students are often viewed as the recipients of education. Wise teachers, however, have discovered the power inherent in turning over to the students significant responsibility for their own learning. Students of all ages, they find, are capable of a great deal when you give them the opportunities and choices that enable them to construct their own knowledge. At the same time, allowing them to take a leadership role often results in a significant learning experience for the adults involved--and can benefit the school and broader community.

Nowhere is this more true than in the area of technology. Educational technology changes with astonishing rapidity, and it is the rare teacher who can keep up with the pace. But if that teacher can harness the energy and creativity of his or her students, together they can accomplish more than ever seemed possible.

KIDS AS TECHIES

Among the most common ways for kids to take a leadership role is to have them serve as computer support staff--the crew that keeps a school's computers functioning. Like the A.V. Squads of old, student tech crews keep their fellow students and their teachers supplied with functioning, usable computers that can enhance any lesson.

In Arizona, some of Pamela Hopkins's students at Desert View High School spent the first part of their summer refurbishing the school's computers--checking connections, replacing missing parts, making sure floppy drives and keyboards worked, and installing software. "They learn by doing," notes Hopkins. The school donated $500 to pay the students for refurbishing 60 old computers this summer--enough to equip the school's entire business department. "School let out for the year on a Wednesday, and on Thursday four kids showed up to work," Hopkins reports. "I was impressed."

In fact, Hopkins's students don't just troubleshoot and refurbish--they also build computers from scratch. "The kids put together a shopping list and the teacher who needs a computer buys the parts," Hopkins explains. At least three completely student-built machines have been added to the school's technology resources that way.

According to Winnie Bolinsky, Technology & Learning's 1995 Teacher of the Year, you don't have to wait until students are in high school to have them build their own computers. Three years ago her Pennsylvania fifth-graders put together a 486 machine with 80MHz processor, CD-ROM drive, and sound card--"at the time, a fairly good computer," she says. As part of the process, which the kids videotaped, they took apart an old 386 machine, calculating how much smaller the new parts were and how much faster they ran. And that machine is still in use at Fogelsville Elementary. "It's quite a workhorse," Bolinsky says proudly.

Carol Utay, district technology coordinator for Jessamine County, Kentucky, agrees that even young kids can take a leadership role as techies. The Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP), an ambitious statewide effort "designed to develop student leadership and technology skills and allow opportunities for students to assist in implementation of the Kentucky Educational Technology System," uses the talents of children as young as kindergartners. "You would be amazed at what they can do," she says. Kentucky's tiny techies help out by running Norton Utilities programs on their schools' Macintoshes, reloading the printers with paper, checking wiring connections every day, creating banners for classrooms, and teaching teachers how to operate their favorite educational programs.

"In middle school," says Utay, "the students develop training manuals and act as troubleshooters. …

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