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How To Help Our Public Schools With Technology?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the freedom-programmers dept.

Education 378

armorer writes "I'm a programmer engaged to an inner-city public school teacher. I've been thinking for a long time now about what I can do to help close the technology gap, and I finally did something (very small) about it. I convinced my company to give me a few old computers they were replacing, refurbished them, installed Edubuntu on them, and donated them to her classroom. I also took some vacation time to go in, install everything, and give a lesson on computers to the kids. It was a great experience, but now I know first-hand how little technology these schools have. I only helped one classroom. The school needs more. (Really the whole district needs more!) And while I want to help them, I don't really know how. With Thanksgiving a week away and more holidays approaching, I suspect I'm not the only one thinking about this sort of thing. I know it's a hard problem, so I'm not looking for any silver bullets. What do Slashdot readers do? What should I be doing so that I'm more effective? How do you find resources and time to give back?"

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Freecycle (5, Informative)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848579)

Look for old computers on freecycle/craigslist that you can put Edubuntu on and what-not. CRTs are hard to get rid of so I've found them being given away for free.

Re:Freecycle (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848793)

No, look for the computers you donated on craigslist after one of those 'inner-city' students steals them and puts them up for sale.

Re:Freecycle (-1, Troll)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848917)

"No, look for the computers you donated on craigslist after one of those 'inner-city' students steals them and puts them up for sale."

Or, perhaps a few entrepreneurial ones will find that they can use them to sell crack or craigslist, or help the young ladies there set up 'personals' ads as providers to make a little money on the side?

Re:Freecycle (1)

m1ss1ontomars2k4 (1302833) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849125)

Hey, it's not just the inner city. My university in particular used to have problems with computers being stolen until they got locks.

Re:Freecycle (3, Informative)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849095)

if you want old computers, go down the recycling centre. you'd be surprised how many good PCs get thrown out.

I'm not sure if they'll let you take them (though the bloke at my local tip was happy for me to have a few bits) but if not, you can hang around and ask people who are bringing their old PCs to throw away to give them to your cause (or get a big poster up)

Re:Freecycle (3, Insightful)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849205)

Wait a minute...
Checking listings on those websites is a great recommendation, but as someone who has tried to donate like this to another type of underfunded public organization let me say donor beware!

Even if you are able to make the donation legally, and politically (ie: another cash-strapped dept doesn't complain about fairness of who gets the benefit from your donation etc.), it is difficult to cut the cord after the donation.

Whatever you are donating needs to be recognized by whatever type of group maintains infrastructure for the organization.

While providing computers to help educate is definitely the greater gift in terms of changing the learning environment for every child, it might be wiser to spend time individually helping to educate the children(after school program?).

Question.... (5, Insightful)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848613)

How much technology did they have in the first place?

You see, I'm still not sold on the idea that PCs in every classroom is a solution to the woes of modern education but it would be nice to know what your experience is compared to mind. I haven't been in a non-college classroom in nearly 20 years and at that point it was mainly the computer labs plus a handful scattered between other departments. The PCs outside of the computer lab didn't seem to serve any educational use at all even though students had access to them.

Also, a bit off topic but, why isn't this an AskSlashdot topic? I think that line is getting badly blurred.

Re:Question.... (5, Interesting)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848691)

When I worked at an inner city school, the computers in the classroom caused more distraction than anything. The kids would just download games and play flash music videos on them all day. But the teachers in the rooms where that went on were pretty lazy.

In the end, I think computers in the room can be helpful, but should not be relied on and should not be mandated. For instance, my wife teaches 3rd grade only uses the computers to let her Mexican kids use Rosetta Stone to learn english for about an hour a day.

Re:Question.... (5, Informative)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848863)

Why are these PCs on the internet? I bet if they were firewalled off and actually used in class they would be a boon to education, not a liability. If the teacher needs a site for them to use it can be whitelisted. Its incredible how thoughtlessly PCs are deployed in schools. You need access and internet controls from day 1.

Re:Question.... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849151)

FWIW, there are some schools that are as you've described. I have a friend who works as a school councilor. When he got his current job a couple of years ago, he was dismayed to find that he couldn't update his fantasy sports teams during his lunch hour (he's a bit of a fantasy fanatic) since the filtering software had classified Yahoo's fantasy sports section as a gambling site.

It was at this point that he came to me looking for a way to get around the filtering. The solution that I came up with (basically using remote desktop to connect to his home PC, which also had the additional benefit of allowing him to retrieve work files that he worked on at home) worked for about 6-8 months and then they started blocking that traffic as well. He had an iPhone at this point, so he didn't really need a replacement solution, but it still shows that there are at least a few schools that take the time to filter properly.

The indicative word from the story is probably "inner-city." The schools that have enough budget or have parents of students who have the necessary know how to put the necessary infrastructure in place will do so. But in areas where the public schools are constantly running into budget problems, it's the kind of expense that's an easy cut to make.

Re:Question.... (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849157)

You need access and internet controls from day 1.

I like to call that supervision--a skill teachers are supposed to have.

Re:Question.... (1)

mweather (1089505) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849069)

The kids would just download games and play flash music videos on them all day

Good thing these are Linux computers, then. You need the password to install flash and games.

Re:Question.... (2, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849159)

I would suggest introducing them to Scratch.

http://scratch.mit.edu/ [mit.edu]

I've taught my 8 year old to program with it. You can upload your programs to the MIT website and get kudos from other kids, which gives positive feedback. You can download other peoples programs and see how they made them, then hack them and upload them again, and it will preserve the fact that you created it, and whose work it was based upon, giving some opportunity to see the rewards that come with sharing information.

Re:Question.... (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849175)

I have to agree but for another reason... my highschool had the same "computer in every class" stupidity... all they ever did was collect dust. thirty five students, one pc... what exactly was it to be used for? You cant plan an assignment around it, you can't show any content to that many students on a 15" screen... and to make things even more silly, the room was locked after classes so the only time you could theoretically use it was in class time, when the teacher was doing something else...

Re:Question.... (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848775)

I'm not sold on the technology thing, either. it's good to have computer labs for the students to use; they need to learn basic computer skills and all that. But for almost everything taught before at least middle school, you don't need computers. Math, reading, science, history, etc. were all taught fine for decades without computers. Go back to "old math" and actually teach them something, instead of coddling them with "emotionally sensitive" material.

And get off my lawn!

Re:Question.... (1)

tsalmark (1265778) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848871)

I think there should be ample computers in the Library and in Computer Labs. Individual class rooms, I don't see the value unless every kid, or pair has one. Really you don't put one book in each class room and tell the kids to go nuts.

Re:Question.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849233)

You sir haven't been through the New York City Public Education system. Many times there are a handful of books, whether they are textbooks or novels that need to be photocopied or just have the material reviewed in class by the teacher. This often leads to students with excellent potential being held down by the pace of the rest of the class, which is the lowest common denominator. If as much effort went into providing text books as these technocrats want to place a PC at every desk I think we could see improvement from the ground up, not shared textbooks that still have Germany as 2 countries and a Soviet Republic.

Re:Question.... (2, Insightful)

segfaultcoredump (226031) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848887)

I'm thinking along the same lines.

I never touched a computer till the 7th grade, and never did anything more than basic word processing with them till the 10th grade. I learned how to do calculus using chaulkboards and paper.

My kid is in the 2nd grade and already doing powerpoint. WTF?!?!?! The focus is on presentation, not content. The kids know how to make things 'look nice' but they dont have anything worth saying.

Here is my take it on: remove all computers from elementary school (K -> 6th grade), add them in at the 7th grade level for basic word processing only (no powerpoint) along with a typing class. In high school add them in where the material can actually use it (physics visualizations, math, etc). Add them to the library at that level as another research tool.

Call me technophobic, but I see the use of computers in the classroom as a crutch more than as a tool that extends the students knowledge.

Great Points - why computers and not PE? (1)

ObiWonKanblomi (320618) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848955)

These are all great points, and it reminded me of a recent point I made in a somewhat recent discussion....

Seriously, I didn't have it and I don't see why kids need them now to learn.

From hindsight, I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in the 1980s. My parents threw in all they earned for me to attend a Catholic school, and they didn't offer much in the way of computers. When I went on to Catholic high school in the early 90s, I didn't get much in the way with computers until I took AP Computer Science which was taught using already old 286 boxes. I went on to earn my BSCS and have been developing and designing software for about the past 7 years.

More anecdotal evidence. Many people I know who have come to work (not just in software) in the US from countries such as China, India, and Russia when told me their first exposure to computers was around 16-18, right when they are beginning to enter their upper learning institutions.

Fortunately, Physical Education class is cheaper and meets all of these objectives and has other wonderful benefits! It's not fair to choose one over the other, yet many seem to value computer education over physical education in schools, especially with budget cuts.

Why PE and not the arts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849207)

Here in the US, more than 40 years of emphasizing PE hasn't actually achieved anything other than a slow dismantling of our arts programs.

Technology does help if open and integrated (4, Insightful)

xzvf (924443) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848999)

I'm currently working at a large urban school district deploying LTSP based thin clients. Access in the classroom to education web sites is extremely useful and shows measurable results. First pilot schools significantly improved their reading and math scores. It is also a nice reward. Many of these kids have no computer at home and 15-20 minutes of free time is a treat. Some even skip breakfast to get in line outside their classroom for computer time before school starts. It isn't a cure all, but as long as you integrate technology tools into the instructional mix correctly, it can be a wonderful supplement.

Re:Technology does help if open and integrated (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849077)

I think that you're right. If you can't offer equipment and support, perhaps a person would have time (maybe once/week twice/month) to talk to kids who are interested in learning about the parts inside a computer, how they work, how to build a computer etc.

Learning to use office applications is good, but there are some who would like to learn more than that. If you can, that is also a valuable contribution to 'education'.

Learning about the guts of the thing fosters inquiry into more than how to play flash games.

Re:Question.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849099)

This isn't an AskSlashdot topic because kdawson posted it, and he has no clue what he's doing.

Re:Question.... (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849155)

You're not sold? I would suggest that "a computer for every student" is/would be quite counterproductive. What is lacking in current education is fundamental math and reading skills, and lack of development of critical thinking skills. None of those require a computer nor are they obviously enhanced by having a computer. You could argue that you could hypothetically develop critical thinking skills by teaching programming, but in reality it would be highly counterproductive.

      Brett

Inner-city schools (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848619)

First, install some Edubuntu or Xubuntu on all of the student's computers. Then, explain to all those hopeless rug-headed negroes that "Ubuntu" is an African word.

They'll slowly start to realize, "Holy shit! We can help make stuff like this! We can stick it to all those white devils who made Windows!"

Soon after they'll begin wearing their pants above their buttocks, speaking in somewhat-intelligible dialect, quit smoking the chronic and drinking the malt liquor, listen to NPR instead of Puff Daddy, drive Priuses instead of '82 Cutlass Supremes, work for a living, and practice birth control!

Soon, we'll have hordes of little Obamas running around our proud nation before racial integration will finally be completed!

Re:Inner-city schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848685)

This is so wrong, and yet somehow very insightful at the same time.

Re:Inner-city schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849139)

Satire maybe?

Re:Inner-city schools (1, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848723)

Yeahhhh.....I think maybe you've been smoking a little too much chronic and drinking a little too much malt liquor...

Re:Inner-city schools (4, Funny)

MaxwellEdison (1368785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848753)

I believe the plural of Prius is Prii. Also, nice troll.

Inner city? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848637)

Just get the kids to steal whatever you need.

Re:Inner city? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848747)

yes, of course. because everyone that is poor is also a thief.
asshole.

Re:Inner city? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848947)

He's right you know. Some of them are on welfare.

Re:Inner city? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848899)

That'll turn them off to linux because you can't steal it.

Re:Inner city? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848983)

Sure they can, they just have to modify it and distribute it without source.

Put out the word (1)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848663)

Starting with one school, have the kids in the different classrooms start to write to various companies that use computers and ask for donations of old computers, monitors, money, etc and be prepared for the overwhelming support you get. Also, there is a lot of support from computer servicing places that just trash their old 'puters.

Good luck.

A Letter campaign! (1)

TinFoilMan (1371973) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848725)

Works for dear abby during the holidays - why not kids in school?

Re:Put out the word (1)

Defectuous (1097475) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848967)

I beleive the Portland Public Schools did this at some point a few years back & the response was overwhelming for those who we're setting up and maintaining the school systems. As for an OS, defiantly would love to see more Linux desktops out there.

Starting with one school, have the kids in the different classrooms start to write to various companies that use computers and ask for donations of old computers, monitors, money, etc and be prepared for the overwhelming support you get. Also, there is a lot of support from computer servicing places that just trash their old 'puters. Good luck.

Gothamschools (1)

dmayle (200765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848667)

Whatever you end up doing, could I ask you to send a note about it to the people behind GothamSchools.org [gothamschools.org] . It's a slightly New York-centric education blog, but they work with people around the country on improving education, and I'm sure they'd love to know about anything you end up doing.

<disclaimer>The non-profit that employs me is a parent of that organization as well.</disclaimer>

Schools don't need technology (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848671)

They need dedicated, enthusiastic teachers who:

- push the students to succeed
- maintain discipline (and are backed up by the administration when parents complain/sue)
- make the students do the work
- inspire the students to do better
- don't take shit from the students

What you say is true, but... (2, Insightful)

Millennium (2451) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848807)

Part of the problem is that in most districts, teachers are no longer able to do the things you mention; the necessary power to carry out that responsibility has been taken away, by regulation and bylaws and lawsuits and a whole mess of other bureaucratic crap. You seem to recognize at least some of this with your comment about lawsuits, but I'm not sure you realize how deep it goes.

Of course it's still important to have dedicated and enthusiastic teachers, but there's only so much good these teachers can do when the system hamstrings them on the day they sign up. You also need a system that allows the teachers to teach.

Re:What you say is true, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849103)

I agree completely with you Millennium. I spent a year teaching math in a high school as an emergency higher (degree is in engineering not teaching). You can't pay me enough to go back into a classroom for k-12.

Re:What you say is true, but... (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849249)

>I agree completely with you Millennium. I spent a year teaching math in a high school as an emergency higher

As a what?

Re:Schools don't need technology (1)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848829)

Unfortunately, 'maintain discipline' is against the rules (and insurance policies re: lawsuits) of most schools. Without that, 'don't take shit from the students' fails, leading to teacher burnout, leading to a failure of your first, third, and fourth points.

Welcome to most inner-city schools.

Now, with that, sure, technology may not be neccessary, but - the lack of technology sure doesn't help anyone.

Re:Schools don't need technology (4, Insightful)

sherriw (794536) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848837)

My boyfriend is a high-school teacher... and there's no lack of dedicated teachers out there. What they really need is:

- Parents who place a priority on studying and homework.
- Parents who don't come in and berate the teacher if their child did poorly, arguing over every lost mark on the child's behalf, leaving with a huff that it's the teacher's fault the child left all those answers on the test blank.
- Drop the no child left behind policy. Being almost unable to fail a student even if he/she does jack-all, is hurting morale of the hard-working students and putting out unqualified graduates who are unprepared for college.
- Parents who give a crap.
- The ability to dish out punishments like detentions or extra homework without going through miles of red tape and backlash from parents and principals.
- Go back to letter grades. This 1 to 4 and R thing we have here is BS. An 'F' doesn't damage the child's psyche for crying out loud, and an A+ is more encouraging than a '1'.

Re:Schools don't need technology (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849031)

The "no child left behind" policy is less than 8 years old, school policies that make it almost impossible to fail a student go back much longer than that.

Re:Schools don't need technology (1)

jlarocco (851450) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849173)

- Go back to letter grades. This 1 to 4 and R thing we have here is BS. An 'F' doesn't damage the child's psyche for crying out loud, and an A+ is more encouraging than a '1'.

I agreee with everything you said, but what is this? I've never heard of it.

Re:Schools don't need technology (3, Informative)

MykeBNY (303290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848867)

This.

My high school, when I first got there, had an Apple //e in certain classrooms. They were never used for anything educational at all, unless you count some kids looking up "dysentery" after they died from it a hundred times over in Oregon Trail.

Then, for some reason, we got a Computer Lab room. One dozen shiny new 486 computers. No software, not even the latest version of Oregon Trail. No direction whatsoever with them. The most the students did was play Solitaire and Minesweeper. Some used Write (the predecessor to WordPad) to type up things, but hardly ever school-related.

Meanwhile the art teacher bought her own paper and pencils for the students to use because there wasn't enough budget.

Re:Schools don't need technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848883)

...and kids whose parents who have actually have a clue...

Re:Schools don't need technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849037)

This requires teachers be respected; that they not being treated as a second class citizen, as a glorified baby-sitter, and as the reason for all failures.

Disclaimer: I'm on my path to becoming an educator.

More importantly (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848709)

engaged to an inner-city public school teacher.

You should get her a gun. Those inner city kids are going to kill her one day.

Equipment alone is useless (2, Insightful)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848715)

The school needs more.

The school needs TEACHERS, people who actually know how to use the equipment and how to teach others to.

Just putting equipment in the room has been a failing and expensive step for as long as personal computers have existed.

Re:Equipment alone is useless (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848843)

The opening scene of this week's South Park [southparkstudios.com] is a perfect example of this.

Re:Equipment alone is useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849055)

Totally agreed. I use to work in a school district as the lone computer tech. We had computers (some ancient) in each classroom. But so often, they were used for so little. And 2 - 4 machines in a class of 20 - 24 doesn't cut it.

But it's not just training the teachers to use the equipment. It's training them on APPROPRIATE use of the equipment! Don't just plop the kid in front of it with a "Reader Rabbit" CD. Use it to engage the kids in the lesson.

Re:Equipment alone is useless (3, Interesting)

rosasaul (1412829) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849197)

I used to work in a public school system, and that's exactly the case. The teachers often knew far less than the student's and thats not saying much; most of them just knew how to update a myspace page. The other main issue was this idea that donating a computer solves things. Often if they don't have the computers then they don't have the resources to upkeep them either.

Re:Equipment alone is useless (1)

rho (6063) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849267)

Having access to the technology is a pretty important thing, IMO. This isn't 1980 when personal computers were a rarity. Being computer illiterate is almost as bad as being actually illiterate.

There are also several things that computers can do that even good teachers cannot do. Computer-guided instruction allows the student to go at their own pace, rather than be held behind or left behind. You don't want to lose either of these groups. Students who fall behind tend to drop out, and bored students are, if anything even worse. Computer-guided instruction may also allow for a student to wander off the beaten track to follow a particular interest. Instead of just studying when Einstein developed his theory of relativity, the student can follow the theory itself.

We broke up school into discreet subjects because that's a good method for one-to-many instruction. But learning is rarely so segmented. A few hours of clicking through Wikipedia is often better than a couple of weeks of ordinary classroom instruction.

With a well-designed computer-aided library of knowledge you could cram 50 kids into a room with one well-rounded and competent teacher without too much trouble. Going this route would radically change the way people think about education. It would, I believe, even be cheaper than our current warehouse-style, time-clocked factory schooling methods. But it would anger the teachers' unions, the textbook publishers, the thousands of people employed to service the status quo, and most of all politicians who like being in control of piles of money.

Public School Tech (and I don't work for Intel) (4, Interesting)

GMonkeyLouie (1372035) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848717)

Intel is a great company to look at; I went to a US News and World Report conference about three weeks ago where an Intel VP came to talk about the special deals and discounts they've worked out with select school systems. Apparently, Intel contributes not only by donating technology for classrooms and computer labs, but also by training teachers in how to use them effectively in the classroom and developing a "digital literacy" curriculum for them to use. Intel takes great pride in their school involvement, and you can find details about that at http://www.intel.com/education/ [intel.com] . Now, there was a panel at this conference talking about the role of private interests in fulfilling the technology needs of 21st century schools beyond just straight philanthropy, and the perspective that came out was that more private companies should be selling deeply discounted equipment to schools to get bulk orders steady customers, not to mention the image boost. There was also a very touching vignette about New York middle school students reading Romeo and Juliet videoconferencing with an Israeli class that was reading the same work. Finally, the Brookings Institution had a little bit about how the Federal government can facilitate involvement in "educational entrepreneurship" which is developing cheap, classroom-relevant tech specifically targeted for school use. This was part of the Blueprint for Prosperity report which can be found at http://www.blueprintprosperity.org./ [www.bluepr...perity.org]

Does "technology" alone really help? (3, Insightful)

krlynch (158571) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848731)

I only helped one classroom. The school needs more.

The problem I always have with these statements is that this seems to be the end of it. "Getting" the technology into the classroom is not really that big of a problem ... there are huge numbers of companies that would gladly take the tax breaks available for donating old computers to schools (that may not put computers on every school desk, but it would be a start).

No, the real problem is finding something USEFUL to do with all that hardware. Just as pens, paper, and chalk aren't enough to teach students math, piles of computers and ethernet switches by themselves aren't enough to teach students .... well, anything.

And if you aren't willing to make a sustained, long term commitment to maintain, repair, and upgrade the hardware, along with ongoing teach training, course development and integration into the greater learning environment, all that hardware isn't going to be any more useful than a truckload of donated boat anchors.

Widescale computing technology deployment in classrooms has, for at least 25 years, been some kind of hold grail. But it's always been a "learning solution" in search of a problem.

Training Training Training (2, Insightful)

frankie (91710) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848739)

The most important thing you can provide is computer education for the educators. There have been far too many times when a school district (or grant foundation) lays out millions of dollars, and every classroom gets a shiny row of networked computers ... which lie unused all year. Unless the teachers know both how to use the technology (which you can provide) and concrete ways it can improve their lessons (which may be the hard part), you'll be wasting a lot of effort.

Re:Training Training Training (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848939)

Being the good geek that I am, I'm all for the increased use of Linux and everything. But the concern I have is that if you put old, donated PCs in a classroom running Edubuntu (or pick your other favorite Linux flavor), you're going to see a bunch of old, outdated computers sitting in a lab that no teacher is going to want to touch for real coursework. Sadly, I think most teachers are going to either expect a PC to run Windows, or use MacOS (which, albeit a similar OS to Linux, is still easier to use and has more solid support than Linux). Of course, the teachers, already overworked with everything else that they have to do, aren't going to want to put the extra effort into utilizing some extra system that doesn't have an easy-to-understand teachers' manual for (unless, of course, her fiance is the one setting it up for her). So, effectively, schools will just become PC graveyards; a disposal point for corporations to dump their unwanted computers in the name of "saving the environment" and "helping the community",...

Re:Training Training Training (1)

armorer (1412191) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849035)

I completely agree, and that's why I went in and gave a lesson to this particular classroom. Some of the educational games in Edubuntu tie up pretty well with the state standards at various levels, but working them into a lesson can be tricky. In this particular school, educating the teachers on the use of these machines would be very important. They have a computer lab, but it hasn't been run by anyone with a computer background in ages. They really don't have anyone on staff with basic admin skills (which I see as one of the biggest challenges in general, much bigger than acquiring hardware.)

Re:Training Training Training (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849073)

... and concrete ways it can improve their lessons (which may be the hard part)

Interdisciplinary education. Taking a writing class? Teach the kid how to write (no technology needed), how to use a word processor, and how to use the Internet to get information. The kid then gets a grade that is applied to both a Writing class and a Technology class. The Technology teacher grades the paper based on its technology merit (used appropriate online resources, formatted correctly, etc.) and the Writing teacher grades it on the Writing. There is some crossover, such as citing online references. Two options exist, depending on the curriculum. The student can get one Writing grade, with technology being a portion of the overall grade, or, better yet, two grades...a writing grade and a technology grade.

This way, in the technology class, the student isn't just aimlessly doing typing tests or messing around on YouTube. They are learning exactly how technology helps them in their other studies--kind of like real life.

It isn't limited to just word processors and writing either. Audio and video could be included in a History project. Web design could be integrated with a Foreign Language program (my area of expertise). You can teach kids how to speak German, but have them build a web page about themselves (text in German) to send to a potential exchange family in Germany. They have to learn the technology required to type German characters, posting images, creating html pages, hosting, etc. AND they have to do their page in German.

The possibilities are endless and any teacher who can't figure out a way to integrate technology into his or her curriculum needs to get training fast, or rethink their career choice.

It's a trap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848743)

Education is not about technology, it's about people. Access to information is not the same as sitting in front of a computer. Don't rob the kids of their teacher by giving the school outdated or inhomogeneous hardware which requires a lot of administrative time. If you really want to help, offer your time and expertise, not your hardware. Or raise funds for current hardware which doesn't need to be replaced next year. Just because refurbishing computers and installing free software is what you can do, it isn't necessarily what the school needs.

It's not the lack of computers that is the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848745)

It's the utter, total lack of teacher training to effectively use them in the classroom that is the problem.

See Larry Cuban's book "Oversold and Underused" [hull.ac.uk]

Community Service Project (3, Interesting)

bouaketh (731170) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848795)

During my work at a local University we held an e-waste drive. In addition to Freecycle, craigslist, slavation army, and goodwill we were able to provide computers for 2 classrooms (30 seats). We also put Edubuntu on those computers and they are still kicking, that was 2 years ago. Since then they have garnered funding from grants through the NSF and local business. It is now a student run organization with faculty supervision. They invite faculty, staff, and employees from local businesses to donate their time, expertise, and equipment to help outfit the schools. If you have a connection to a local University you might want to consider doing the same. Get the compu-geeks and eco-trip hippies together. It is good press for the University and anybody involved. The students learn something. You do your part to save the earth. Kids get computers and slowly everyone is happy...slowly.

Focus on teachers (2, Insightful)

jcronen (325664) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848809)

Most public school teachers are clueless when it comes to technology. At best, half of the math and science teachers will be technically savvy, while less than 25% of the English and social studies teachers will know the difference between a browser and a word processor. At the elementary level, you're talking 10%, tops.

It's the whole "teach a man to fish" thing. Having a single teacher on staff that is technically savvy breeds dependence on that one teacher and continued naïveté. If all teachers on staff except for a handful are clueful, the others feel obligated to catch up out of peer pressure.

The fact that you're installing Edubuntu is great, but teachers will go to the one technological in-service they get per year and wonder where the "Start" menu is when they get back to their school and sit down in front of one of your machines.

I'm a former high school teacher. Teachers are under exceptional amounts of stress in a classroom. You're performing in front of an audience for several hours every day. Anything that they're even slightly uncomfortable with will be left behind in favor of the familiar. You can either give up or you can work to breed familiarity.

I'd say keep up building machines, but also volunteer to offer in-service or after-hours training. You might not have to do it alone — you could probably get one of the clueful teachers at the school to teach sessions during the day or after school. But I promise, if you build machines and don't provide any kind of support for how to use them, they'll only gather dust.

The Problem (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848813)

What the OP did was noble, but this is a solution that doesn't scale. If schools started excepting donations of old computers, everybody would bring in their broken computers and the schools would be stuck with a pile of e-waste. This e-waste could potentially cost more to dispose of than the cost of purchasing a few new computers.

Re:The Problem (1)

macbuzz01 (1074795) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849013)

I work as an the lone person in the IT department at a school and what you say is true. We have clear standards of what we will accept due to the fact that we were a dumping ground in the past. If I can't use their donation, I give them the contact info for the local e-waste recyclers which accept discards from individuals for free. I also advise them about DBAN and give a copy if need be.

The recycling aspect breaks down without e-waste recyclers in your vicinity.

If recycling is a priority (it should be), have an e-exchange event and fill a truck with the leftovers and bring to an e-waste recycler. This gives you the opportunity to get a lot of parts for nothing and do some good at the same time.

Re:The Problem (1)

armorer (1412191) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849229)

I know it doesn't scale :) I'm the first to recognize that, and that's why I'm asking for advice! That said, I didn't donate junk. I replaced countless parts with new ones, and locked down a lot on the machines so that the kids couldn't use them as goof-off distractions. It was a time consuming and moderately expensive undertaking. But yeah, I have no delusions that what I did can scale at all.

School Board (2, Informative)

Buddy_DoQ (922706) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848819)

I work at a small and fairly wealthy rural ISD, a far cry from a struggling inner-city operation, but one of the best things you can do is get to know your school board. Their meetings are open to the public, and often have plenty of time for Q&A. Calling ahead can land you a slotted time to make a presentation. Convince them of the need for technology, and if you can stress the actual VALUE short and long term, you may be surprised at their willingness to budget for this sort of thing.

Re:School Board (1)

Buddy_DoQ (922706) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849109)

I'm going to reply to my own post, to basically second what's being shouted over and over. Teachers.

We're 90% Mac, running 10.4.11 (with a few 10.5.5 *ehem*) and as easy as Macs are to use, we still spend over a week each summer training our teachers in the BASICS. I'll get calls every day, clear to the next summer, with teachers wanting to do the most simple tasks. This is not a critique on their skills as teachers, not at all, but many of them simply do not GET computers. There are days I feel, that it is likely that they never will.

So when presenting to your school board, also stress that it'll be all for naught without competent teachers, to teach the teachers. I lucked out, as one of our most excellent regular classroom teachers is also in love with technology, and helps our department with training each year. Don't know where we'd be without someone like her. Likely dusting off the computer labs.

Re:School Board (1)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849199)

The PTA in this area spends a lot of time fund raising for technology. Being a little tech hub doesn't hurt either.

What do \. readers do? (-1)

TheNecromancer (179644) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848835)

1. Diatribe on the benefits of *nix over other operating systems
2. Diatribe on the bad products and business practices of Microsoft
3. Diatribe on how annoying it is that \. readers do not RTFA
4. Diatribe on the diatribes of \.ers

and finally,

5. Surf pr0n (preferably goat pr0n) on their PCs in their parents' basements!!

Hey, you asked.

Haven't read them all yet but... (5, Interesting)

armorer (1412191) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848859)

I submitted as AskSlashdot, so I'm not sure why it's under news. I'm not sold on the idea that our district should spend its money putting a computer in every classroom either (I'm not asking them too though.) I agree wholeheartedly with the folks here who say that the school's really need dedicated teachers. Unforunately, I can't provide teachers so I'm trying to help with something closer to my area of expertise. As for the machines and kids goofing off instead of doing work: I locked down a lot of things on the machines I brought in so that the kids can only use them for educational games. And I was amazed at how much fun these kids had with TuxMath.

Find people that already do this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848873)

I know some guys in Atlanta that install linux thin clients on a school sized deployment. They're called GOSEF.

You might want to talk with them. http://www.gosef.org/ [gosef.org]

I'd bet they have a lot of other resources to get you started and/or involved in larger organizations.

Gotta start with teachers (4, Insightful)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848875)

I wrote my Ed thesis on this. You've gotta start with the teachers, as they are woefully unprepared (some argue unwilling) to integrate technology into their lesson plans. What good is a 1:1 student:computer ratio if the teachers don't actually have students use the computers for their work?

A second, lingering problem is trying to figure out what we actually do with computers. There are far too many old-fashioned minds that think education should teach kids about computers, which is an outdated paradigm for sure.

Keep the Computer Science classes for those truly interested in that field, but quit trying to pretend the computer is a magical box that requires special skills to operate. Realize that any 8-year olds know how to click a mouse, type some words, go on the Internet, etc. (the same assumptions cannot, however, be made about their teachers) and stop trying to teach them to be Computer Scientists.

Start thinking about how the students can USE the tool to learn as opposed to teaching students how to make the tool work. If they do the first, the second takes care of its self.

Re:Gotta start with teachers (1)

phaggood (690955) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849131)

> wrote my ed thesis on this

And where might a curious fellow find a *copy* of said thesis?

Aim for low-tech shortages (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848897)

Use technology to find ways to get around shortages in other areas that aren't tech centric. Maybe start an "open textbook" movement where people write high quality textbooks under creative commons licenses and then get Amazon to donate a bunch of Kindles (or developer a low cost ebook device).

To fix big, think big. (1)

MaxwellEdison (1368785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848909)

To help more than just the one classroom you're going to need to deal with the school board. Take the time to put together a proposal for a real computer lab, where students learn more than just typing but also learn how the hardware and networking actually work. Talk to some fellow parents and begin a petition to take to the board. And also go around to the local companies with this proposal and see if any would be willing to provide their old computers/networking hardware for the comp lab. Once you have a solid base, pitch what you are doing to the local news to see if will help spread the word. People trying to improve schools are great human interest pieces. Once you have some momentum behind it all take the proposal to the next school board meeting.

Its a time consuming process, but the only way to gain community support is by taking the time to address the community.

simple (1)

youngdev (1238812) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848913)

step 1: Buy a printer
step 2: print vouchers

explicit statement on how computers help (1)

drfireman (101623) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848915)

Computers in schools have a bit of a checkered history. My knowledge is probably a bit out of date, but I think the first step needs to be laying out exactly why you think this is a good idea in the first place. I would suggest writing a very specific description of the subject areas with which you think the computers will help and a run-down of why and how you believe computers can improve on how these subjects are taught without them. From this will flow some obvious questions about what other resources might be needed to make it work, and how best to provide these resources perpetually, which is also important. But I think in general it's pointless to ask questions about how to deploy computers in schools in general, without a more concrete idea of how they fit into teaching exactly which subjects (and by subjects I mean something a little more specific than "history," "english," etc.).

$100 Laptop? How about free? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25848925)

I'm typing this on a computer I obtained for free off of Craigslist. PIII 700 megahertz. It does absolutely everything I need it to do: video, youtube, Word, XP, WIFI. It does not run fancy games.

It's a damn shame that a majority of such computers are now in the landfill, since companies just throw them away. In addition to creating more waste, you have deprived someone of a perfectly good computer.

There is no organization that properly routes, vets, and refurbishes these types of computers to people who need them. Perhaps computer makers are actively discouraging them.

I'd be willing to start one up with enough seed money.

I think this sort of exchange is the way to go. With Moore's law making computers cheaper and cheaper, there will always be a steady supply of usable computers headed for the landfill.

If you support OLPC, then you should support such an exchange of technology.

Really?! (2, Funny)

Peregr1n (904456) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848933)

I'm not trolling, and don't worry about modding this question, I just want to read the answers.
But... I assume you're in the USA? Does the government there really not equip public schools with IT facilities? I'm genuinely astonished. Surely schools have some facilities, if only a computer room for IT lessons? Is IT on the curriculum at all?!

Re:Really?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849071)

It depends on the school. Wealthy public schools and private schools have well equipped computer labs and competent faculty. Poor schools have an old Windows 95 box in the "library."

Every school will report that they technically have a computer lab. Thus, the statistics will show that computer penetration is high. The reality is different.

Re:Really?! (1)

armorer (1412191) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849105)

I am in the US, and the school does have a computer lab. At the moment though this school has no one to run the lab (although they are looking, as far as I know this one isn't a funding issue.) Since they have no one to run the lab, it spends every day locked.

Re:Really?! (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849213)

I But... I assume you're in the USA? Does the government there really not equip public schools with IT facilities? I'm genuinely astonished. Surely schools have some facilities, if only a computer room for IT lessons? Is IT on the curriculum at all?!

The answer is: it depends. In the US, education is a local issue (as it should be), so what the government equips the schools with depends on each school district (in the US, a school district is the local government entity responsible for the public schools). In addition to the local control, each state has a basic curriculum that each school must meet, but this curriculum is decided at the state level. There is really no authorization in the US Constitution for the Federal Government to get involved in education (I believe that this was done on purpose by the Founding Fathers and that if they saw what the Federal Government was doing today, they would have made the restrictions on what it can do more explicit).

Re:Really?! (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849245)

It depends on the state and the local government, and how much funding those areas choose to give their schools. I've never heard of a public school anywhere in the US that did not have a computer lab of some kind, and the classes you'd expect to see held in such a lab. Putting computers in individual classrooms (that aren't computer classes/labs) is another matter, and I suspect you'll see a lot of variation from place to place. It's not clear to me how much value this actually provides if the students have access to a lab. I recall in my grade school days having a PC tucked away in the corner of the classroom that never got used (except by the teacher to do grades). So as other posters say, just sticking hardware in a classroom isn't enough.

Some clarifications (1)

armorer (1412191) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848971)

Reading these I should clarify a few things: I know this is a big problem. I don't think it's worth it for the district to spend large amounts of money of computer equipment for a lot of the reasons that people here mention. So for the folks out here generally presenting that idea, I agree with you, but that doesn't mean the computers don't help. I can't give the district teachers, or money for teachers. The truth as I see it when it comes to technology is that there are a lot of resources going to waste that could be made available to these school for much less than they might pay if they go it alone. Another big problem that some folks have mentioned is administration of the boxes, and appropriate use / education of the teachers. This is the type of question that prompted me to ask slashdot! I know that there's a big difference one person having some computers in her classroom which I can realistically administer myself when needed, and donating machines to an entire school or beyond. It's a big problem, slashdot readers are a big audience and I'm hoping that someone has ideas.

Resources and Information (2)

xzvf (924443) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849281)

Most urban districts have significant resources to add technology in the classroom. With the e-rate program up to 90% of the cost for providing internet access can be recovered. Using devices like n-computing can multiply the amount of hardware available. K12LTSP and K12Linux are excellent starting points for putting large numbers of computers in the classroom. There are literally hundreds of free eduction websites that are proven to increase reading and mathematical abilities. Moodle and Sakai are great classroom management and collaboration software suites. Evergreen for library management is nice. Cups for school printing management. Training and integration with the lesson plans are critical. Add in Fedora Directory server for user management, LTSP is built into Edubuntu, add open source monitoring, package management and configuration management tools and a school can easily be managed by one person remotely. Despite what you are reading here, pervasive computing has a role in education just like it does in the workspace and our personal lives. What you can do here will make a difference for these kids. End note, make sure you design for easy maintenance and control, you want it to survive after you leave.

The Bigger Issue (1)

AskFirefly (757114) | more than 5 years ago | (#25848979)

is not how to get computers into classrooms, but what do the students learn on them? Are they taught how they work, how programming works, how the logic is constructed; or do they learn how to be good consumers, to buy the Dell PC with Windows and MS Office, to use Google, because that's what they learned in school and they know how to use it? I'm all in favor of increasing technology education in schools as long as the schools recognize that the computers are tools, not the end result. If we teach our children how the computer does what it does, and not just how to use it, then we accomplish something. BTW, a lot of kids don't have to be taught how to use a keyboard and mouse. My kids are self-taught!

They don't need technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849025)

If a school has a working computer lab where students can type up their papers and do online research, that is good enough.

I cannot tell you how many districts are pouring money into adding plasma TVs, top of the line computers, and "intelligent blackboards" with digital projectors into classrooms. But at the same time, the teachers are underpaid, there are no funds for supplies, the students have to use old textbooks, lockers that don't work, bathrooms that never have the vandalism cleaned up.

Schools rarely get the kind of funding they should as administrators want to horde that cash for their district-owned car, or cell phone service, or other perks. They make it as hard as possible for teachers to do their jobs and for students to learn. If there is any kind of excess money, for god's sake use it for what matters. Pay the teachers, get the classrooms fixed up, buy new books, keep the campus safe and clean. Hire more teachers so students aren't packed 50 to a classroom.

Stop. Rethink. (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849039)

Students these days will learn 'computers' no matter what you do in the schools. Just putting more computer in won't do any good.

Instead, they need to be taught how to do things on them. Programming, art, CAD... Mostly things -can- be done without the computer, but that proper use of the computer will make them more productive. (Or let them have more fun!)

In other words, if you aren't volunteering your time, you can't really help.

Become a tutor (2, Insightful)

jmyers (208878) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849063)

You will make the most difference by helping some kid(s) by tutoring them. There are lots of organizations around that will connect you with the students that need help. Search one out in your area. You are not going to make a big difference by giving them hardware.

DIY interactive whiteboards (1)

betacha (1388285) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849065)

At our school I've helped the grade 8 kids to create their own interactive whiteboard using Johnny Chung's wiimote hack. It works pretty well! They also organized some fund raising to pay for the computer and projector and I donated my second wiimote to the project. The kids are extremely proud of the 3 different infrared pens they built! http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~johnny/projects/wii/ [cmu.edu]

Spend time in schools helping the teachers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849067)

What if every slashdot reader spent one hour a week in an elementary school helping the teachers teach math and science.

Smaller groups help all the kids, the kids that are ahead
can be challenged, and the ones that are behind can be
helped catch up.

I am in the same pport. (5, Interesting)

SteveHencye (1400473) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849145)

I am a 9th grade student and I know exactly what you are talking about! I go to a small private school of about 800 kids in 1st-12th grade. I am the only real computer geek here, there is one other kid but he is just about gaming and a little bit of hardware. Which won't get you much. So out of the whole school aside from the computer technician I am the computer guy. People come to me before they go to anybody else, I kind of like it but it almost hurts knowing that these people know nothing about computers (aside from myspace, they all have myspace) and that they are going to have trouble getting jobs because so much requires some type of computer skill. We used to have a computer class but that only lasted for about a year because nobody wanted to sign up. Now I have all the text books and use them for my own learning. This is pathetic. But a lot of parents that I know do not want their kids knowing stuff about the computers for fear that they will become non-active and start gaming, and sad but true thinking that they will become violent. I think that an example of why it might be the way it is would be something like Columbine. After Columbine nerds were being kicked out of school for days because of gaming and such, slashdot especially was jam packed with people telling their stories about how people had grown a fear for them. Many children had their computers taken from them for fear that they would act upon the actions in those video games. The truth is that the games and such are not bringing the violence in, its people that fear these children. These kids are rejected. People in schools do not support computers, they support sports and jocks. Stuff that will get these children no where in life. Something has got to be done to help the education of computers in schools. It is pathetic and very annoying. The teachers do not even know anything. The sad thing is that you have to be careful about how you come upon it, we do not want to raise a bunch of computer hackers and people that will turn to the dark side. Great point. I hope you can work someting out. As far as teaching these kids I have no clue, I have tried but they do not want to learn. I guess you have it or you don't.

Ubuntu Domain Server. (1)

betacha (1388285) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849163)

If you need a Domain Server at your school like I did, here is a link to a great tutorial to put one together. It has been working without flaw since september! It is running on an old Pentium 3 machine and allows for the students to have a personal network drive and shared network drive to use for collaborative projects... http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=640760 [ubuntuforums.org]

3 SIMPLE words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849193)

Apple
Apple
and more Apple!

Apple computers will make your students smarter AND better looking. Plus, since Apple is so fucking awesome, it will also make kids cooler, giving them a much better chance of becoming a doctor, lawyer or architect.

Some of the people who have used Apple computers include:

- His Holiness Pope John II
- Bll Gates
- President Barack Obama
- Albert Einstein
- that guy from Independence day
- many many others

Why "old computers"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25849209)

Where I work, we get nice new Dell's for $400.00 each right now. Please don't act like you're doing the poor school some big favor because you give them your junk. Buy them something nice, or give them cash so they can use their leverage as an educational institution to buy something better than the junk you're giving them.

I'll be the flamebait. (4, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849227)

The problem is not too little technology. All too often technology is crammed in where it doesn't belong, under the supervision of people who aren't capable of maintaining or correctly utilizing it.

Unless you are teaching something intrinsically tecnological, the utility of a bunch of computers is limited, doubly so if there is no budget for maintenance.

do for them whatever you do best (1)

flopunctro (1165675) | more than 5 years ago | (#25849279)

I grew up and went to school in a small village, 1hr away to this big city. Now i don't live there anymore, but i'm dreaming to be able to, some day. I consider the school there to be "my school". Here's what I do for it:
1. I'm a sysadmin, so I'm taking care of it's little server. For free.
2. I'm also running a small ISP business there (~20 clients), so I'm providing the school with internet access. For free.
3. They still don't have a IT/PC lab (that is, a lab with computers, where pupils have their "informatics" class); they only have 2 PCs. But when they will have a full lab, I will design+implement its network, and help somebody maintain it. For free.
3 1/2. I feel somewhat bad because I [still] can't afford to buy a bunch of old PC and donate them.
4. I am helping the teachers with their various IT-related chores; For example, basic audio editing for their ethnic dance class, or uploading to Youtube the shows of the school's chorus. Of course, for free.

I believe this: if anyone would do a little pro-bono work for his/her community (not necessarily school, but it's a good candidate), in the field that [s]he is goot at, this world would be a much better place. And i'm acting on this belief.
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