[K12OSN] Proposal for Middle School Computer Lab

Stephen Crampton SteveSings at gmail.com
Tue Jul 29 17:10:46 UTC 2008

Any comments on the following?



My preference would be to set up my classroom as a thin-client system.  With
the hardware I discuss below, we could have a "cutting edge" computer lab
that would be ideal for the educational needs of our students.

Before you read further, would you please peruse the following case study:

I think we could set up a Linux lab for considerably less money than
described in the case study:
1. The case study cites 2002 prices; all of the equipment should be much
cheaper today.
2. We should look to local businesses and parents to donate equipment.
3. With a down-turned economy, there has got to be an excess of computer
equipment out there from down-sized businesses, etc.  We may be able to get
new or gently used equipment at big discounts.

Note that the case study includes Mac, Linux, and Windows.  For my lab, I
would recommend having only Linux to start with.  In this case, we would
have $0 licensing costs.

I like the thin-client paradigm for the following reasons:
1. It is easy to maintain; only one machine (the server) needs to be
configured and updated.  By the way, the school's network will directly
interact only with the server, so security and other issues should be easy
to resolve.
2. It is easy to control the classroom.  In particular, from the server I
can see what everyone is doing, send messages to them, take control of their
computers to help them with issues, and blank the screens when I want
everyone's attention.  Moreover, I can display student work on an LCD
projector so that students can evaluate each other's work.

My syllabus for the year would include the following topics, all of which
the lab would be ideal for:
   -programming using Logo and Alice
   -using spreadsheets to organize data, perform computations, and display
   -3D animation using Blender
   -digital-image manipulation using G.I.M.P. (a Photoshop clone)
   -space exploration using Celestia and other planetarium software
   -web-page creation
   -podcasts and webcasts
   -other lessons utilizing the wealth of software included with Edubuntu (
I'd like to tie in my topics with other teachers, especially math and
science teachers, so that topics learned in other classes can be explored
further in my lab using constructivist learning techniques.


Regarding the "client" machines (the machines the students actually use), I
think we should have 27 of them (2 spares).  Here are three options:

1. Diskless, fanless machines similar to these:  5 HP clients for $750.
These machines save a lot of space, heat, energy, and noise.  Fans actually
make a lot of noise, especially when you have 27 of them.  I really like the
idea of having LCD screens to replace the CRT monitors.  The ones used in
the case study can be gotten for $107 (
http://www.starsurplus.com/viewitem.lasso?i=LCD1550V-B).  We might be able
to get a better price buying 28 of them (includes one for the server).  They
save a lot of space, heat, and energy.  In addition, they are better for the
students' eyes.  We might also be able to get a vendor to throw in some free
keyboards and mice.  Total price <= $7,000.

2. Laptops with hard drives removed give you a "thin client," keyboard,
mouse, and LCD monitor in one.  It's possible that we could get business
donations for these.

3. We could use the machines in the room, plus another 14 or so similar
machines, so that each student has access to a computer.  The biggest
challenge with this is fitting all of the machines and students into the
space in such a way that it is a good learning environment.  The current
machines are noisy, hot, and energy inefficient.  Replacing the CRT monitors
with LCD monitors would help a lot.


Because I would like to have the students do 3D animation using Blender and
video editing, we need as powerful a server as we can get.  The minimum
recommended memory is 128 MB per client x 25 = 3.2 GB memory.  To permit
animation and video, I would like at least 6 GB of memory.

Here is a sample server:  Dell PowerEdge™ SC1430  I'm attaching a quote for
$3,500 for the server.  I assume that we can get a better price as a public
school.  For the quote, I chose a RAID5 controller with three disks.  This
speeds up disk access and protects us against disk failure.  If one disk
fails, the system still works until we replace the disk.  If we want to
stick with a single disk drive, we can save a few hundred dollars.  I also
chose the maximum memory of 8 GB for the best performance.  We could save a
few hundred dollars by starting with less memory.

It's also possible that the school district has a server we could use or
that we could get a donated server.


We need a switch for the 27 computers plus one server.  I would recommend a
gigabit switch so that there will be enough speed to display videos and
animations on all of the clients.  We also need cabling for all of the
computers, including network cabling and power cables.  It might be a good
idea to put the server on a UPS power supply to protect against surges and
power outages.

We need enough tables for all of the computers.  I'd like to cluster the
computers into groups of 5-6 students, where each student can see all of his
or her group members' screens.  If the clients are very small, we may want
to lock them to the desk to prevent theft.

I need an LCD projector and screen so I can demonstrate how to do things on
the computer.  The image should be large and bright enough so that everyone
can see it clearly.  The LCD resolution should be at least 1024x768 so that
the kids can see the little buttons and controls on programs such as
Blender.  With the thin-client setup, I will be able to display one or more
student screens on the projector.  This may be how we wrap up most classes,
by having each student (or perhaps each group) show their day's work.  I've
attached a sample screen shot to this email.

For audio editing and podcasts, we need headphones and microphones for the
students.  They can be inexpensive ones.

For video work, it might be a good idea to get some webcams.  Most webcams
have microphones built in.  The webcams could be also used for creating

For image editing, I would like to coordinate with the photography teacher.
In particular, does he or she have digital cameras for student use?  If not,
I think it would be a good idea to get 5 or 6 inexpensive digital cameras,
so that each group can have one camera.
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