Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 6 / SEPTEMBER 1983

Atari in the Classroom

Academic applications


A fourth grader in Iowa types a question into the computer. His eyes widen as he reads the reply - "NO I'VE NEVER SEEN A LOBSTER. BUT THERE ARE LOTS OF SHARKS!" The Iowan is getting a firsthand account of the Pacific Ocean from a sixth grader in California. In the meantime, one of his classmates is receiving programming tips from a student in Massachusetts.

Another student is engrossed in a bilingual game of States and Capitals. She's playing in English and her partner in California is answering the questions in Spanish.

These students are in classrooms linked together by Atari Sister School Network, a telecommunications networking project founded by the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research.

Now in its second year, the Sister School Network consists of 10 elementary schools scattered across the United States. The mix includes Montessori, parochial, alternative and public schools. The Atari Institute selects the schools and equips each with two ATARI 800 systems and the necessary peripherals and software. Atari also pays for the long distance phone charges between schools.

"The first year was a learning experience for us," explained Sandra Williams, manager of program development at the Atari Institute. "We started on a small scale, matching up schools by designating them 'Big Sister' or 'Little Sister' based on the technological expertise of the classroom instructor. With the Big Sister the primary resource for the Little Sister, we set up a buddy system that makes the learning process much easier for first-time computer users and gives students a chance to see teachers in the learning mode."

The network uses BASIC, PILOT and LOGO programs. Students usually work two on a computer as there is no computer-assisted instruction (the Big Sister school is the resource when questions arise). Individual programs include Factory by Sunburst, Master Type by Lightning, Story Machine by Spinnaker and Teasers by Tobbs by APX.

The actual networking software used by the project was designed by George Amy, a teacher at Our Lady of the Rosary School in Union City, California. Amy wanted his students to see each other's input and output on screen at the same time. He took an existing program from the public domain, added a data file and adapted it for use in his classroom.

The network was using Amy's software when Atari learned of a new telecommunications capability under development at Picodyne Corporation in nearby Portola Valley.

A combination of hardware and software, the Picodyne Switch is based on a large microcomputer and allows for simultaneous use of five communication channels. Picodyne offered a prototype of the new product to Atari Institute.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for us," said Williams. "The switch really expanded our capabilities."

The Picodyne Switch features cross execution where two or more users can cooperatively execute the same program; one-to-one, real time for private conversations; conference real time; and bulletin board and mailbox options so users can leave messages for each other.

Making "electronic pen pals" is one way students use the networking system, according to Sara Armstrong, director of the Terra Nuova Montessori School in Hayward, California.

"We write the first chapter in my classroom she explained. "And then students at the sister school add a chapter and send it to the next school, and so on.

"We communicated like this for several months and then at Christmas we visited a sister school and actually met the friends we'd made on the computer.

"It was really something;' continued Armstrong. "Networking took away the isolated and impersonal machine aspect of the computer and made learning fun."

-Lee Miller


When most people think about computers in education, they picture a third-grader learning multiplication tables or playing word games on the school microcomputer. Elementary and secondary schools across the country are exposing students to all aspects of computer use to prepare the children for the future. But who is training the older student - today's adult - who must use a database or word processing program in his everyday, workaday world right now?

John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California is one school that is committed to teaching "computer literacy" to its students and staff. JFK offers mostly evening and weekend courses for adults who must work during the week but want to further their education.

Last September the Graduate School of Management received a grant of two ATARI 800's for the purpose of teaching computing to the non-traditional user. "Most of our students never had any exposure to computers when they were growing up," said Shirley Daniels, instructor in the School of Management, "and certainly none of our faculty did."

In her business course this past spring, Daniels required her students to write their term reports (feasibility studies) on the ATARI using the Atari Word Processor.

Weekend workshops, open to the public, on the basics of computing had a large response. Business students involved in finance and accounting were also interested in learning programming on the ATARIs after class.

But the School's primary aim was to get the non-traditional user interested in computing. Late this spring Mike Apostolakakis, a graduate student in management with a strong programming background, began tutoring faculty and staff on the ATARI.

Mike spent four hours each with about 25 individual members of the faculty and administration all of whom had been reluctant to become involved with the group instruction. The first two hours were devoted to teaching the fundamentals of machine operation in the context of word processing. The second two hours were spent to exposing them to VisiCalc.

"Everybody liked this approach," said Mike. "Most people felt very good about it . . . in fact, they'were very eager."

According to John Stanford, dean of the School of Management, JFK was "a good testing ground for the older student population " He believes that one-on-one instruction is the most effective way for anyone to learn computing, especially the busy adult.

-Deborah Burns


Last spring semester more than 3,000 school children throughout California's Napa Valley were treated to hands-on experience with ATARI computers. A refurbished school bus with 17 ATARIs on board circulated among the 21 public schools in the district, giving each fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grader several opportunities to work with Atari's PILOT language.

"This was one of the most successful projects I have seen in this district," said James Gibbany, administrator of curriculum services development in the Napa District. "It had a large impact on the community and the schools. The kids couldn't wait for the bus to come and they were highly motivated to learn."

Three introductory lessons were taught. In the first two lessons, students learned how to manipulate the keyboard and joystick by using a program that generated geometric shapes and various size letters. They also learned some rudiments of PILOT. At the third session, scheduled about two weeks after the first two lessons, each child typed in his or her own program. The program was also printed out on the one available printer.

The bus was furnished with 16 ATARI 400's and one ATARI 800 (for the instructor) by Far West Laboratories, an educational research institute in San Francisco that is keeping data on the project. An old school bus (circa 1953), provided by the district, was painted red, white and blue and named the Napa Valley Unified School District Computer Lab.

The lab accomodated 32 students at a time with each child sharing a 400. Each learning station also included an 11-inch Quasar television for video display and a cassette recorder for storage. The instructor's station (the 800) was equipped with a disk drive and dot-matrix printer as well as a TV and tape recorder.

The students' TV screens could be switched to display the instructor's "host" computer program for instruction and demonstration. Students could also reproduce the assigned lesson on their 400s and respond to the teacher's instructions.

To prepare the students for the introduction to PILOT, teachers in each of the schools provided classroom exercises without the use of the computer. The preview lesson consisted of learning about how the keyboard operates and a few programming terms. The lab sessions were 45-minutes each and occurred three times within two weeks.

-Deborah Burns


Computers and kids seem to go together as naturally as peanut butter and jelly! Kids are enthusiastic about computers and all the games they can play on them. Learning is no longer a chore when they get to work on a computer.

In 1973 some foresighted administrators in Minnesota formed the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC). The computers used then were large time-sharing systems, but nonetheless, over 400 school systems were using computers. Five years later MECC began producing microcomputing courseware for the Apple, which helped Apple gain popularity in school systems throughout the country.

Today the consortium developing quality educational software for the ATARI computers. In the current catalog, it has about 25-30 courseware packages available for the ATARI. These packages are usually multi-program packages that include several related programs and a support manual. For example, one of the popular packages, Expeditions, contains three simulations that are ideal for history or social studies.

The Elementary Biology package (reviewed in our Products Reviews department) contains Circulation, Odell Lake and Odell Woods. Here children discover the relationships in a food chain by role-playing.

Other packages available from MECC cover several subject areas including language arts, math, music, sicence, and social studies. There are a variety of programs available for children from pre-school through grade 12.

Although some of the programs available for the ATARI were originally written for the APPLE computer, MECC would rather develop original programs for the ATARI computer. The majority of the programs are teachers written. MECC also sponsors contests during the year for new and original programs.

The MECC catalog with complete courseware description and price list is published twice a year. To obtain your catalog, call MECC at (612) 638-0627 or write: MECC, 2520 Broadway, St. Paul MN 55U3.

-Linda Schreiber


Over the last two years, students and teachers in Miami (Dade County), Florida and the county school board have made a real committment to computer education. Computers, mostly ATARls, can be found in all the elementary, junior high, and high schools. Computer literacy is stressed in every grade. In the elementary schools, students spend more time on drill and practice, while in the high schools, programming is the primary focus.

The Dade County School Board has purchased nearly 1,000 ATARI 800's. Individual schools have also obtained various computers on their own, bringing the total to about 1,300. These computers are spread throughout a county with an enrollment of over 256,000 students.

The Dade County School Board's involvement with computers has been a three-stage process. In 1981, a plan was developed for choosing a brand of computer and integrating it into the public schools. Based on price and performance, ATARI was the brand chosen.

Next, a curriculum guide was developed. It is not specific to any machine, but sets out the types of skills and learning activities with which students in different grades should be involved. The curriculum guide covers kindergarten through adult education. Based on the experiences gained over the last two years, the guide is being rewritten this summer.

In order to purchase nearly 1,000 ATARI 800s, the Dade County School Board applied for federal funds to supplement state funding. Under the federal grant, they were able to hire an education specialist who also serves as a librarian and programmer. That person runs a central lab where software can be collected and evaluated.

Educators who are interested in Dade County's computer education program can get more information by contacting Mrs. Marilyn Neff, Instructional Computing Coordinator, 1410 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33132.

-Richard Herring


ATARI computers practically run the whole show at the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, D.C.! Many of the exhibits at the museum are controlled by either an ATARI 400 or 800. The computer displays are just a part of the large Communication Hall containing a working radio and television studio, a telephone network, and a real satellite. The past as well as the future are represented, from the most primitive of technologies to the most advanced. Children are encouraged to learn by touching and playing with everything they see.

Avisitor's first introduction to the capabilities of the ATARI is through the Ice Age Cave. A sound and light show operated by an ATARI 400 demonstrates how our ancestors communicated back in the Ice Age by means of cave paintings, storytelling, and ancient rituals.

Another exhibit gives children the opportunity to watch an ATARI 400 outperform the room-sized 1950's Whirlwind computer. A videotape starring Edward R. Murrow and the Whirlwind is contrasted with a demonstration on the ATARI 400: the little ATARI runs exactly the same programs as the huge Whirlwind, but with greatly improved speed, sound, and graphics.

Five ATARI 800's at the Future Center are set up to display the voice, music, color, graphics, memory, and number-crunching power of the microcomputer. Games and programs illustrate the different ways microcomputers are used in communication: through simulation of an actual event, for example, or as a database, storing numerous items of information.

These displays give children a chance to really get to know an 800. When it's not reserved for classes and groups, visitors can use the 30 microcomputers in the Center to play games or write programs. Classes are offered for several different age groups: CompuTots, for ages three to seven, allows young children to learn about computers by playing educational games. CompuPlay provides an hour of directed exploration, while CompuBASIC teaches kids to write their own BASIC programs. CompuLab is for older children who have had a fair amount of experience and are interested in experimenting on their own.

Special events for groups can also be arranged: CompuGame turns the Future Center into a game arcade, and CompuParty lets children celebrate a birthday or special occasion. A visit to the Future Center is a favorite field trip for many classes from nearby schools, too.

Additional exhibits in the museum use ATARIs to demonstrate various educational concepts. Computers in the Think Metric Room teach children about measurement by enabling them to play Centimeter Eater. Players have to guess the metric length of a line before it is eaten by the Centimer Eater inch-worm. Children and adults alike enjoy creating bright, colorful pictures with Paint, a game that lets you select different shades from "paint cans," and then use a joystick to draw on the screen.

Other computers at the Capital Children's Museum include Wisecracker, a talking computer, the Kid-Net network of timesharing terminals. Children can send messages to different exhibits, or Add their own name to a database of information about previous visitors to the museum.

-Julie Sickert