STATE OF THE ART COMPUTER LAB
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
Before you read further, would you please peruse the following case study: http://www.k12ltsp.org/rhs_casestudy.html
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.
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 graphs
-3D animation using Blender
-digital-image manipulation using G.I.M.P. (a Photoshop clone)
-space exploration using Celestia and other planetarium software
-podcasts and webcasts
-other lessons utilizing the wealth of software included with Edubuntu (http://www.edubuntu.org/UsingEdubuntu
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.
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
For audio editing and podcasts, we need headphones and microphones for the students. They can be inexpensive ones.
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.