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Program teaches students computers are more than a hammer

December 1, 2010

From left, Abby Patrick, Grace Cupka and Elise Patrick listen during troubleshooting instruction at Lincoln Junior High. Photo by Rusty Nixon

PLYMOUTH — “We want you exploring. We want you learning new things and new software.”
Students involved in Lincoln Junior High’s “Genius” program sponsored by Apple Computer heard that urging from Plymouth Schools Media Specialist Ben Waymouth as they went through their first day of training from Kevin Sheppard — a consultant contracted with Apple — on trouble shooting the school’s new Macbook computers. Students were chosen to participate in the program, making them the first line of help when another student is having “technical difficulties” with their computer.
Lincoln became Plymouth’s first school to have a laptop computer for every student in the school. The plan is to eventually get computers in the hands of every child in the Plymouth system and the Genius program is a way to provide a ready “help desk” for those computers. It goes much further according to Janice Curtis, in charge of Instructional Technology for the Plymouth Schools.
“Obviously there are so many students and so few of us,” she said with a smile. “This is just learning at it’s best. Students learning and then teaching other students. These students will come into the high school next year with this knowledge and it’s great way to spread it through the whole school system.”
Sheppard took that idea to the students during his session explaining that the responsibility of the “help desk” was to give others the ability to not have to return time and time again.
“It might make you feel good to have somebody dependent on you but that isn’t the purpose of the help desk,” he said. “When you fix a problem make sure to take the time to show them how you did it.”
“You know I see these machines like a hammer or a screwdriver. A hardware tool to perform a function,” said Waymouth. “We need kids on the cusp of new software and ideas that see these machines as more than that. They are open to all the things that these machines can do.”
Sheppard also sees the unique possibility of the program he’s teaching.
“There are a lot of cases where the kids are using the technology much better than the teachers,” said Sheppard. “Kids are sometimes more willing to let that creativity go and find out just what they can do and find really unique solutions on better ways to do things.”
“As teachers we are concerned with controlling the learning environment, making sure we meet standards and other requirements of our jobs,” said Waymouth. “The kids don’t have those concerns.”
The Plymouth program of making students the base for troubleshooting and exploring new ways to use their Macs is groundbreaking.
“I’m almost always teaching this program to teachers – about one in every ten times I do it I’m teaching students,” said Sheppard. “It’s a very unique situation here at Plymouth to be teaching this to students. I think it’s a great thing.”
“This is really a good opportunity to learn more and get more knowledge,” said Garrick Nate, one of the students in the program. “I’m learning to take a look at very specific details to things.”
“It’s really interesting and a great opportunity,” said fellow student Brennan McPherron. “I’m thinking of engineering as a career so I might be building computers someday.”
To show the effect of the technology, neither could imagine a world without computers.
“Since I read a study where 63 percent of the people asked said they couldn’t live without the Internet, I really couldn’t see a world without computers,” said Brennan with a smile. “I think it would be a pretty chaotic place.”
“I think chaotic is a good word,” added Garrick. “It would certainly be very unorganized. We’ve gotten pretty dependent on computers.”

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