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
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-
"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
be seen. But given their popularity among politicians and especially
parents, computers will likely stay in the classroom, no matter
"You can't make a bad teacher with technology, but you can help
make a good teacher do more with technology," says George Brackett,
lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge,
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. …