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Tech kids: Today’s students are used to technology

Jeff Clemetson, Sierra Sun

Keeping up with today’s technology may be difficult for the generations that remember the first televisions.

Even to the generation that played the first home video game machine called Pong, some of the advanced applications of hand-held wireless devices can be confusing.

But to the generation of children in school today, technology is second nature.

“They love it. It’s the world they’ve always known,” said Sierra Mountain Middle School computer instructor Rebecca Maas. “They’ve never known a time without technology – unlike some of us old farts like me.”

Maas, who teaches the mandatory computer classes at Sierra Mountain, said her class covers everything from word processing to spread sheets, database, multi media presentation, Internet and Internet research.

Kristena Rump, an incoming freshman at Tahoe-Truckee High School, said she learned about downloading images and researching on the Internet at Sierra Mountain, but felt the class focused too much on learning to type. Rump said she wants to study architecture and thinks that more computer skills will help her.

“They’re not only getting the skills to use it as a tool, they’re also using it as a tool in the different subject areas that they’re studying like natural science and social studies,” Maas said.

But gauging how much a student already knows about computers before taking the course is sometimes a problem when students feel the course is covering old ground compared to their skill level.

“Each year they know more and more and more because they have more availability at home,” Mass said.

Kaya Lampe, an incoming freshman at Tahoe-Truckee High School, said he knew a decent amount about computers before taking the mandatory courses at Sierra Mountain Middle School.

“I didn’t know a great deal more after taking it,” he said, although he admitted that some of his fellow students were less familiar with computers than he was.

Lampe suggested that more advanced courses in programming should be offered as well as extending classes to after-school hours for students who don’t have time in the day.

Computer and technology courses in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District are relatively new. District Technology Coordinator Jim Maass wrote the first grant proposal for classroom computers for Tahoe-Truckee High School in 1993 and received funding in 1995.

“I was at Truckee High dealing with technology there, wrote a small grant and put in a 30-station lab – now there’s probably 270 computers in the building,” Maass said.

Since then, Maass has worked to get the entire district wired, installing Internet servers for the district and a computer in every classroom.

“Virtually all the classrooms by later this fall or winter will be on the Internet,” he said.

In addition to getting the computers, Maass has also worked to fund later hours for the high school labs and extra training for teachers.

Learning with computers starts early in the TTUSD. As early as kindergarten, students are working with the mouse and getting familiar with the machines, said Eric Rohlf, computer lab teacher at Glenshire and Donner Trail elementary schools. By the fifth grade, the students are using the Internet and multimedia programs like Hyperstudio to create presentations of class projects.

“If a teacher has a certain theme that they’re studying I try to get up with them and come up with a way to use the technology,” Rohlf said.

Even at the elementary school level, there are students who excel in technology concepts.

“There’s often a couple (students) that pick it up quick, especially the conceptual stuff,” Rohlf said. “Whenever I start talking about how all the computers are networked together and they can all communicate with each other and that there’s a server – that stuff, conceptually, they can really grab onto.”

With a growing number of students understanding technology at younger and younger ages and using more advanced devices like Palm Pilots and MP3 players, it is increasingly tougher for schools to keep up with the demands of students.

“We’re trying very hard,” Rebecca Maas said, adding that she is thankful for funding from Excellence in Education, Measure A and community support to keep the computer program going.

But an even greater concern is keeping access to computers available for all students.

“We don’t want the old quote of the digital divide – the haves and the have nots,” she said.


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