digital equipment corporation · maynard, massachusetts

Damascus area schools offer varied computer opportunities

Technology in the schools

Computers in schools popular items

by Pat Ehrlich Special to the Courier

The computers are coming! The computers are coming! As a matter of fact, they are already here in the Damascus schools.

Damascus High School Math Department Resource Teacher Charles Marks says, "The computers are so popular that students are busy in the Math Lab from morning til night. We have to chase them out at 5 p.m."

The computers he is talking about are self-contained micro-computers acquired during the school's renovation. Originally, the department was budgeted for hand held calculators, but the price of these had dropped so drastically that it was cheaper for the students to buy their own. The money was used to purchase a computer instead. The school now has three, the newest of which is a disk-drive Challenger manufactured by Ohio Scientific.

This is a far cry from the first computer at DHS. According to a Damascus Courier account Jan. 27, 1972, it was a "computer that didn't compute!" Math Teacher Walt Frear was responsible for the school getting that computer almost 10 years ago because he had set up a time sharing program with local companies.

When the School Board was given an outdated RPC 4000, Walt got his wish for the school to have its own computer. He recalled, "The computer didn't work when it was hot or when it was cold and was a constant maintenance problem besides almost filling the room." Computers have come a long way since those days.

For the past three years, students at DHS have been introduced to the new microcomputers by Frear through a demonstration in all geometry classes. Students are then invited to sign up for the one semester course in computer science that he teaches. It is the graduates of this course who are authorized to use the computer in the Math Lab.

Some of these students have become "compulsive programmers." Senior John DeFayette describes his interest this way: "I don't have a reason, I just program for the fun of it." John is one of the regulars in the Math Lab. His interest has helped him make a career decision to continue study in college in the computer field.

Junior David Gesswein is looked upon as the resident expert. Through the On-Job Training Program at DHS, he works part-time at Comsat where he is getting invaluable experience programming. Senior Scott Mund also has a part-time job through OJT. He works at the National Bureau of Standards in computer-related work.

Both David and Scott are studying 6502 Assemble Language from textbooks so they can finish the line editor they are programming for the school's computer.

Even with all their time at the computer, Scott and David never tire of showing their schoolmates what they have learned. The "peer teaching" has increased interest.

As David said, "The nicer you are to people the sooner you get on the computer yourself." On any given day there are those who come to watch or those who come to play computer games or those who are programming new games and problems but there is always someone at the computer terminals.

The sharing of knowledge taking place within the school is expanding to include other schools in the county. The DHS Computer Club has sent a letter to other schools asking for an exchange of computer software by way of 8 inch diskettes. They have already received positive responses from two area schools.

"Every senior high school in Montgomery County has at least one disk-drive computer and one other," comfirmed county spokesman John Randall. "The main emphasis is to develop computer literacy for as many students as possible. In some schools as many as 70 percent of the students have had exposure to computer programming. The numbers depend on staff training and equipment availability."

"It's important," he continued, "for the students to get an appreciation and a comfortableness with computers, more comfortableness than their parents will ever get. Skills develop from the interacting." Randall noted that Montgomery County will be working through a National Science Foundation Grant to develop computer literacy in grades K-8 next year. The objective will be to deal with computers as part of the regular curriculum rather than as an add-on to the curriculum.

Many elementary schools in the county, after having PET computers on loan from the school department, had funds available to them from organizations like the PTA, and have purchased their own computer. This is how Cedar Grove got one. Principal Leroy Harper envisions using the new computer in spelling and math classes. He said, "We plan to use the computer with as many students as possible instead of limiting use to the so-called "gifted students." The April PTA meeting at Cedar Grove will be geared to showing off the machine that was purchased with profits from last year's Spring Fair.

Meanwhile, at John T. Baker Junior High, Resource Teacher Dave Berkmyre mused, "We didn't get in on the ground floor, but we're getting in early enough to shape career thinking." The school's APPLE computer was sort of a Christmas present since it arrived in December of last year. In just three short months it has become a popular item.

The Baker enthusiasts, members of the Computer Club, number about 20. Use of the terminal this year is on a drop-in basis by way of a sign-up sheet in the Math Office. The would-be operators start off with a lesson and instruction in the BASIC language and then they take off on their own. Like the high school, students come in before school and after school and sometimes during school hours and are picking up skills faster than adults.

Berkmyre observed that they start off by playing the games and when they ask, "What can I do next?" he gives them projects and they find solutions. "It's the instant feedback and the well done feeling that keeps them interested," he feels. "The APPLE computer is prefect for the Junior High because of the many APPLE clubs in the area where disks can be swapped and shared without commercial purchase."

All In-Service Program for the teachers at Baker on March 24 will deal with using the computer as a visual aid in the classroom.

David Gesswein, a junior at Damascus High School, experiments with one of the school's computers.
Courier photo by Jeff Taylor

Scan of page 1 of original article and page 2

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