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[K12OSN] Proposal for Middle School Computer Lab



Any comments on the following?



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STATE OF THE ART COMPUTER LAB

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:  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.
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 graphs
   -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 (http://www.edubuntu.org/UsingEdubuntu).
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.


THIN CLIENTS

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.


SERVER

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 PowerEdgeâ„¢ 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.


OTHER HARDWARE

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 webcasts.

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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