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Federal Funds Buy Computers for Dade Students

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Beginning next week, students in Dade County, Fla., public schools will start "logging on" microcomputers to solve geometry problems or to work on reading skills as part of a pilot program designed to acquaint students with computer technology and to supplement classroom instruction.

The county school board has spent $300,000 to purchase 162 microcomputers for use in 38 of the system's 255 elementary, junior high, and high schools, financing the project with federal money from the Title 4-B program, which funds the purchase of educational equipment.

The new equipment, which arrived in classrooms this week, incorporates Atari 800 central processing units, Atari 810 disc drives, tape recorders (for sound), and General Electric color TV monitors.

Each school in the program will receive at least one set of components, with some high schools receiving as many as 15. Most have been sent to math classes and some elementary-school media centers, where 5,000 to 6,000 of Dade County's 225,000 students will be trained as part of the pilot.

Playing 'Catch-Up'

"We felt that we were a little behind states like California, Oregon, and Minnesota in this area, so we needed to play catch-up," says Marilyn Neff, director of basic skills and coordinator of the microcomputer project. "Broward County was already using computers in their schools, but ours is the biggest single purchase in the state so far.

"We're hoping that the pilot will become a breeding ground so that within five years, every school in the county will be using comput6ers," says Ms. Neff, who worked with teachers, school administrators, university faculty members, and business people for over a year, studying the use of computers in the schools.

"At the elementary level, the emphasis is on computer awareness," explains Ms. Neff. "By junior high, the student should be familiar with the basic design and should be able to handle simple programming. Senior high courses will emphasize more sophisticated computer programming."

In addition to their use in teaching computer sciences, she said, the units will serve as aids in the teaching of reading, social studies, science, and math.

"Just as we expect certain levels of proficiency in math, reading and writing, we'rehoping that by the time a student graduates, he or she is 'computer literate'." says Ms. Neff.

In launching the pilot, committee members asked teachers and principals to examine their current programs to see how computers could best be utilized.

"The schools involved have played an active role in the whole process, from selecting hardware and software to anticipating educational uses," says Dave Arnett, an education specialist with the county.

To introduce teachers, administrators, and board members to the new system, an "awareness session" covering the equipment and its possible uses is scheduled for a day this week. The following day, a hands-on training session will be held for pilot participants.

Next week, pilot teachers and their principals have been invited to attend two software fairs to choose appropriate computer programs for their schools.

The county board has set aside about $80,000 of the total $300,000 as a software allowance for participating schools. And for teachers who wish to create their own materials, pre-formatted programs and additional training will be offered.

Not all Dade County educators, however, are computer converts yet. "The implications are going to be threatening to some teachers who will not have the background, especially those who have traditionally relied on rote learning methods to teach," says Mr. Arnett. "But it's not a trend like the programmed learners of the early '70s," he adds. "The teacher will continue to be the dynamic element in the classroom, but the computer is here to stay."

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