At One Texas School, Wired Is a Way of Life

Article excerpt

James Apel and Jose Castellon are giving an unusual tour of the Institute for Texas Cultures in San Antonio. Unusual, because they are sitting in front of a computer at their high school in Austin.

"The museum asked us to create an interactive Web site that would let people find out why there are not as many Indian tribes left in Texas," says Jose, a senior at Travis High School. His classmate James clicks on the screen, giving a 360-degree video view of the the main museum hall. Then he stops and zooms in on a portrait of Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of the Comanche chief Quanah Parker. "They sent us the text," Jose continues, "and we had to summarize it and adapt it and get to the point."

For those who haven't guessed already, this is the latest sign that today's high school experience just isn't the same old bag of books. At Travis High School, students create Web sites and educational CD-ROMs. Their classroom is a darkened room full of state-of-the-art Macintoshes, crammed with the same animation software used in the sci-fi movie "The Terminator." And their teacher is Keith Rutledge, a self-taught computer nerd with a vision of what helps kids learn, and what they need to know in the high- tech job market. "We've got everything from special-ed kids to valedictorians," says Mr. Rutledge. "Sometimes, with computers, we can reach students who learn in different ways." Rutledge's high-tech high school classes are a window into how much schools have embraced the Silicon Era. Chalkboards still exist, to be sure, and students still read and write on paper. But the 1990s will probably be remembered more as a decade when computers became a tool of choice for teaching and learning. Whether students learn as much - or as well - in front of a glowing monitor remains to be seen. But given their popularity among politicians and especially parents, computers will likely stay in the classroom, no matter what. "You can't make a bad teacher with technology, but you can help make a good teacher do more with technology," says George Brackett, a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass., and a high-tech adviser to a Boston-area high school. "The focus should not be on technology, but on the pursuit of relevant goals in children's education. To the extent that technology makes that possible, that's great." Tony Cipollone, director of evaluation at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, agrees. "Clearly, computers not only connect kids to the material, but they open doors to kids' diverse talents," But he points out that while computers are important, so are maintaining things like school buildings, teacher development, and high standards of learning. "In a tight budget, it's hard to keep all those goals on track. …

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