Dollars And Sense In Education
Barton M. Bresnik, Educational Software Editor
This article concerns the use of Atari eight-bit home computers (400/800, XL/XE/, XEGS) to aid education in the home, in the classroom or anywhere else. (Oh, the title? Well, one eighth of a Spanish coin-and later of a dollar-was a bit. But the title also implies that educators using these computers may be operating on a "shoestring budget".) Despite the orphan status of these computers, many are seeing active use in education. We invite all readers to keep us alerted to educational software and to inform us of educational programs involving the Atari; we even solicit suggestions to develop new educational software.
Here's my profile as an educator using Ataris: A teacher in Attleboro, Massachusetts for 21 years, I've been using computers in my middle-school classroom for the past ten years. I've acquired six systems, consisting of 800XLs and a 600XL (expanded to 64k RAM), 1050 disk drives, monochrome televisions and composite color monitors and two printers. The equipment was obtained from flea markets, ads on GEnie, through Horace Mann Grants and from donations.
My philosophy regarding the use of Atati 8-bits in an educational setting runs like this: "Ownership is important: I could have my students share 15 networked IBM PCs with 600 other children, but having these six Atari computers in my own classroom means that the logisitics of assigning use is made easier. A 19 inch monitor displays graphics, edited on a Koala-pad, to the class as if it were a blackboard, or generates sound or music in the classroom."
Since I'm familiar with the Atari operating system and languages such as BASIC and Turbo BASIC, C, and 6502 Assembler, I write programs to accompany the curricula. For example, an animated picture of atoms in random motion demonstrates the concept of heat. Students can "terraform" a planet, transforming a world similar to Venus into one like Earth, by importing various organisms, in the "Ecologian" simulation. Some of the programs, such as "Ecologian" and "Optical Illusions" are being distributed commercially.
During "study", a student can generate a wordsearch for use in another class. The class has also used the computers to produce a school newspaper, the COELHO CHRONICLE. Students gather information, obtain ads, write articles and learn to edit their writing. This coming year, I hope to produce a newsletter of student activities that will be distributed throughout the Attleboro school system.
My eight-bit system is continually in use at home, as well. Tests, permission forms and other handouts are produced with ATARIWRITER PLUS; posters, cards and awards are produced with AWARDWARE and PRINT POWER, and I keep track of grades with VISICALC spreadsheet. I access a local BBS (the "School Forum") and GEnie using my 800XL and BobTerm telecom software.