Room 439

Room 439 was an art room until 1984 when sixteen computers were placed in it. These were early Tandy 1000 two drive (5 1/4") computers with one 10 meg harddrive computer for the teacher. They were arranged in four rows back to back with a dot matrix printer for each row. The teacher station had its own dot matrix printer. The room was designed by an electrician and not a teacher. The design was not condusive for teaching since the teacher never had a line of sight to all the computers at once. In the early days disks were necessary to operate the computers so lots of disk management was necessary.

It was in those early years that I had many epiphanies. The first came when our copy machine broke down. I had been creating handouts, quizes, tests and the like on my computer at home. I'd bring the disk to school and print the material onto mimeograph paper for reproduction on the mimeograph machine to be distributed to the students. One day the mimeograph machine was broken. Panic set in. What was I going to do said I as I was banging the 5 1/4 floppy against my head. The disk must have spoken to me as I suddenly realized I could distribute the work via disks. I immediately went back to the classroom and grabbed 16 floppies and began to transfer the data fro my disk to the 16. When the students came in I handed them the disks and told them to do the work on the disk and print it out. Later, I stopped printing and just read off the disk and slowly became a paperless classroom. The printers became obsolete.

Another epiphany occurred which became the basis for our peer-review process. As the students were writing their papers on the computer, rather than have them print out their work and pass it around, I had the students move from computer to computer and read each other's work and leave notes on a piece of paper that was left by each computer. We followed some of the early National Writing Project criteria for peer review. When we installed a network to this room in 1989, many more features were added to my power. I was able to access each students computer from my own and in fact have control of their keyboard. With this power I was able to observe them in the writing process. I could watch them type, erase, revise, pause and think, and then write some more. I could broadcast their screen to everyone else's computer so we could have a quick chat about someone else's work. I was able to distribute the class work to everyone else so quickly and efficiently and without much disturbance to the class. Needless to say the writing improved because I was able to show more examples to the students while they too were in the process of writing, which addresses relavancy. They became better writers because they knew they had a more real audience than just the teacher. In fact they began to solicit the aid of peers when writing.

Providing individualized instruction was an epiphany that emerged as I trid to address each student's needs as determined by their writing, Grammar lessons were generated from their work. I had obtained a great grammar program from the NYC BOE. It had very specific lessons which addressed every aspect of grammar and on a simple basic level. But what made it even more powerful was that I had the capability to alter the lessons or create my own. So I was able to transfer the student's work into the lessons. All this was delivered on the computer. The use of CAI, Computer Assisted/Aided Instruction, became very valuable to me as I was able to customize the instructio of my students will ease. I would determine a need and provide the student with a disk that would provide instruction that I had created using the student's work. It was merely the mater of transferring didgital material from one disk to another, seconds actually and bingo I had a lesson for a student. I was finding I was getting lots more done in the short ime I had with my students. In fact I was able to let the students who had computers at home take this stuff home. More and more of my students were getting computers at home, even though we were a Title I school. Being a Title I school meant 77% of our students were under the poverty level.

In 1986, NYC engaged in a global communications program with CUNY an sour school was one of the orginal six schools involved with that program. I was given a phone line into my room. The line was ut into my new 1200 baud modem and I was connected to the Internet. A local not for profit, Dorsai provided me with an account for telnet, ftp, and gopher use. I was amazed at what I could find on college gopher sites. I had access to shareware software on bulletin boards and found lots of great CAI software. Telnet gave me access to email and to listserves where I was able to talk with college professors just begoinning to use the Internet in their classes, esp writing classes. Email also allowed be to begin to connect with other schools around the world. Our first projects were with schools in Austria, England and Japan.

In 1992, I wrote a grant to upgrade my computer room from the 16 two drive 88 processors to 34 486 computers. This would be room for the next eight years. In 1994 I added a LINUX box configured and setup by Dorsai. I obtained an IP from the Internic and Murry Bergtraum was on the Internet. In the fall of 1994, I began CyberEnglish.

My office was an old book room that I converted into an office. I ran telephone lines and computer cable into it. I took some book shelves added some tables, a rug, and other items like a coffee pt and fan to make it more homey. My office became a home away from home and served me well over the years in more ways than one can imagine.

© Ted Nellen 2000