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Software-savvy students

February 23, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING - When Tony Paci's industrial arts classes at Clear Spring Middle School were renamed "technology education" 10 or 12 years ago, it didn't bother the veteran shop teacher one bit.

"Changing from shop to technology education wasn't frightening at all because we had no technology," Paci said.

Approaching then-Washington County Schools Superintendent Herman Bartlett, Paci told him that it would be hard to teach technology without any, well, technology.

A computer novice then, Paci and his department have come a long way. The computer-based curriculum even has become a model for other shop/industrial arts programs both in and out of the county.

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In the 21st century, "shop" has become a whole lot more than hammering a nail and making birdhouses and Paci, like many other teachers, has had to adapt.

Paci said once the technology began to work its way into program, there were a lot of changes in store for the department, his students and most of all, for him.

Now 56, there were no computers during Paci's public school days and few when he attended and graduated from California University of Pennsylvania.

"My background before 1994 was zero computers, but when I started a sporting goods business, I had to learn them and I brought that knowledge into my classroom," he said.

Through his own desire to learn and adapt to the new technology, Paci first set out to revamp the traditional shop room into a modern center.

And he devised a format through which his most proficient students work with the other students, helping them solve problems and complete their work.

"It's really fun to design a house on a computer," said Brett Hendershot, 14, who is one of Paci's student assistants. Hendershot and Derek Reichard, both eighth-graders, arrive early each class day to start up the computers.

To them, this extra responsibility is a perk, not a chore. They also are available to assist other students who need help during class.

The difference between Paci and his students is that he had to learn from scratch as an adult. Most, if not all, of his more than 500 students have always had computers in their lives.

"We still teach tools and machines and how to use them - they are all in the back room," Paci said. "Sawdust and computers just don't mix."

The difference is that now, the students "talk" the projects, working out drafting and sketching assignments on the computers. If there is a problem, the student mentors are right there, Paci said.

Paci compared his technology curriculum with a road race in which every vehicle has to make a pit stop at some point in time. "We set up 12 modules so every student gets a turn at each module," he said. "You can't teach 30 students with one computer."

For example, while some students are at the computer doing sketching or drafting, others are doing it the old-fashioned way. And then they switch.

"We just got 17 new Dell computers, a color laser printer and a black-ink laser printer," Paci said. Each of the computers is part of a wireless printer network so they can use the printers from any part of the room.

Paci said that in actuality, computer-aided drafting really isn't so different. It just took some getting used to. Now he's hooked and his enthusiasm has hooked his students.

"I couldn't have done this without the support of my supervisors, who have backed up every piece of the puzzle I put together," Paci said.

Elsewhere in the Tri-State area, other school districts coping with the rise in technology also have given their teachers the tools they need to get on board.

"Some of our teachers were more phobic than others about computer technology, so we began by starting them out on e-mail," said Jack Appleby, director of secondary education for the Greencastle-Antrim school district in Franklin County, Pa.

For many educators there, Appleby said, getting them used to e-mail and learning how valuable that knowledge could be was a precursor to familiarizing them with broader computer applications.

Appleby said at least one professional is available in each school to work with teachers who need help with computer technology.

"We also encourage our teachers not to be afraid to let their students teach them," Appleby said.

In Berkeley County, W.Va., schools, support also is available for staff and educators in all the schools. And again, e-mail was used in a number of instances to introduce computer technology.

"We opened in the fall of 2001 and from the start, our teachers have been brought along through the technology," said Margaret Kursey, principal of Berkeley County's newest school, Eagle School Intermediate.

Kursey said every school in Berkeley County has a designated computer "guru" who is available to help with technology support, show staff how to fix printers and who keeps up with ever- changing software.

"I'm happy to say all my teachers are technology literate," Kursey said.

Dave Kenney, a technology specialist with Berkeley County Public Schools, said he used to be one of those "gurus" and now helps oversee all the schools.

"I do a lot of training for secondary teachers and I find that those closer to retirement tend to resist the new technology," Kenney said. "Some others get very excited and latch onto it."

As for Paci, now that he has become computer-literate in his field, he sees all kinds of new challenges ahead, both for him and his students. And that keeps him interested in staying in the classroom.

"I want to keep on teaching as long as it is still fun," Paci said.

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