Mobile Watching Pioneered at Ozark High

Posted by Jim Yeager on August 26, 2014

I can easily recall the late summer of 1965 and the events surrounding the first day of school at Ozark High. Paris was our football rival, although I am not sure why, since I can’t recall a single victory over the Eagles in the entire decade of the 1960s. Nonetheless Ozark felt compelled to use Paris as a measuring stick, not only in athletics, but every area of education.

Dari-Delite signRumors spread at the Dari-Delite

I am pretty sure I was at the Dari Delite, where all news for teenagers was discussed, when I heard for the first time our arch rival’s innovative academic plan. Paris High School was initiating 1-to-1 television. Now television had been around for quite some time and most of us had a set in our homes. We could get all three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, by simply going outside and turning the antenna from west to east and from Fort Smith to Little Rock. TV was our main source of entertainment and in the last few years we were even able to see the World Series in color, but new technologies were about to change this narrow view of television as only a source of entertainment. Education was coming to TV and Paris was way ahead of the game. Televisions had gotten smaller and lighter in the last few years and Frankie and Annette could even take one to the beach. Portable TV was a reality, and now mobile watching meant blossoming possibilities for education. The Arkansas Legislature had passed a bill creating AETN, the Arkansas Educational Television Network. This new station, located in Conway, would broadcast educational programming all day, every day starting in 1966. Paris had seen the possibilities.

Which device to get?

Woman holding portable TV circa 1957
An early Philco portable television.

There were several choices for mobile watching devices. Philco had a small, lightweight portable with a no-frills look and a modest price tag. Most of us had Philcos in our homes. Zenith was the choice for discerning viewers with the means to have one. Zenith’s portable had the added feature of a Z on the back of it’s portable model, which readily identified the owner as a more informed and well-off individual. Folks liked that Z even though Bonanza looked about the same on their device as on our Philco. Paris’s plan was that each student at Paris High would get their own Philco 12 inch portable. They would carry the 20 pound model in a specially designed backpack with cushioned straps and pockets for supplies. Girls and smaller students could use carts designed and maintained by the shop classes. These were painted blue and white with an eagle on the side. There were no bounds to our envy!

Infrastructure needs

Old Zenith logo
The cool “Z”

Wires would have to be run to each desk and connected to an antenna on the roof, a small price to pay if students could see television at school. Add to this already innovative approach to mobile watching the added perk that kids could actually take the TV home! They could start watching an AETN program at school and finish at home. The school-issued TV would eliminate the need for fine tuning and channel selection since the student was already tuned in at school. How cool! Ozark had only two weeks to catch up! The school board meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd and the packed house cheered when the superintendent announced a plan to “beat Paris in mobile watching.” Every student at Ozark High would get their own take home Zenith! Our carrying backpacks would be much cooler and our carts a beautiful purple and gold.

Funding priorities

The day after Labor Day 1965 I started my senior year at Ozark High. The excitement normally associated with the opening of school was heightened exponentially by the anticipated implementation of 1-to-1 TV. Ozark had to let Mrs. Smith go. She was our Spanish teacher and since there was really no need for Spanish in Arkansas, she was expendable to make ends meet. We would miss her. The district hired the superintendent’s nephew to direct the new 1-to-1 TV program. He came highly recommended by the superintendent as a “young man who has probably watched more TV than anyone in Franklin County.” He could recite the plot of every episode of Andy Griffith. We also employed Mr. Homer Bosworth who ran the TV repair shop in town as a technician and Billy Wilson, an athletic young fellow, to run wire. No school could be more ready than Ozark for 1-to-1. We all met in the cafeteria to get our Zenith portables and backpack. The newspaper was there taking pictures and the cheerleaders even did a cheer spelling out Z-E-N-I-T-H and ending with “beat Paris!”

Levels of implementation

Mr. Wizard - television science man
Mr. Wizard – By NBC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I remember Mrs. Willosent in English was not actually sure how to use the mobile watching devices, but she promised to find a way. Biology was a different story altogether and we had an assignment the first week. Our teacher was ready to go with the program. “Watch Mr. Wizard after school and there will be a test tomorrow.” It did seem odd that Mr. Wizard was covering simple machines and we were studying cell structure, but we had to adapt to the new technology. He called it “flipping the class” and we snickered. It was an exciting year. Ozark High was even featured in the Fort Smith paper. Our TVs with the cool Z were the envy of all the neighboring schools and most made plans for 1-to-1 TV for the next school year. Mrs. Willosent never really got it, but she let us turn on our TVs occasionally, especially when we had guests at school. We watched Mr. Wizard a lot and our American History teacher required us to watch the 6 o’clock news, which we eventually abandoned since we never covered the news in class. I also recall that I usually preferred to watch on my own television and I never quite got why I needed to carry one. I remember thinking it might have been a good idea to have a plan for how to use the TVs, but that was secondary to a need to compete with our rivals.

#1 in 1-to-1!

I graduated the next spring and I never really followed Ozark’s 1 to 1 TV program. I did hear that Clarksville was planning a “bring your own television” idea. I don’t know how that turned out. I will never forget the pride Ozark experienced touting an innovative technology program to compete with our rivals. We were number 1 in 1-to-1! I also remember that Paris beat us 36 to 0 in football.

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One-to-Anything: Being Technologically Faithful

Posted by Jim Yeager on August 29, 2012

The letters NEW on springsA friend of mine called this week to see what I thought about my new Nexus 7 tablet.  My quick answer? “I love it!”  When we started talking about the Nexus 7 in schools, I gave a little more thoughtful reply:  “Would I trade my 200 iPads for 500 Nexus 7s?  Yes, in a second.”

The problem with my enthusiasm is that I am always ready to trade my previous favorite for next year’s new and better idea. In fact, it may not even be a year before Apple makes their own 7-inch iPad.  (They won’t dare call it an Ipad will they?)   What if the next Kindle offers a student-friendly device at an even more attractive price?  School leaders who make hardware purchases based solely on the “coolness” of the hardware may experience a severe case of buyer’s remorse.

When our fickle nature concerning educational technology hardware shows itself, I call it being “technologically unfaithful.”  We have a relationship with an attractive device.  We swear loyalty to.  Yet our faithfulness lasts only until the next cool innovation turns our heads.

What does this mean for technology leaders—and those administrators who write the checks to buy the stuff those leaders recommend?  It means that we have to refocus on student skills rather than hardware.

The Common Core Standards will require students to do what they know.  The National Educational Technology Standards for Students place the emphasis squarely on skills.  The new assessments we are so concerned about will not be device specific, nor require students to utilize a collection of apps to prove competence.  The new core curriculum will ask students to collaborate, think critically, and be creative.  Such skills are well served by technology, but not dependent on specific tools.

My new suggestion for the schools I work with is to adopt a “one-to-anything” approach.  Utilizing Web 2.0 tools, cloud-based resources, and a varied selection of hardware solutions, we can help students learn and practice common technology skills on whatever hardware they encounter.  For example, at Two Rivers School District we have wired labs, laptop labs, mobile netbook labs, Chromebook labs, and iPad labs.  Next, we’ll add a Nexus 7 lab.

The point is to focus on student skills that will enable our students to create, evaluate, and collaborate, regardless of the hardware they encounter. Our goal is technology-skilled students who will be able to use technology tools to perform relevant tasks, not operate specific devices.  After all, the next greatest thing is right around the corner.

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Keeping Our Netbooks…for now!

Posted by Jim Yeager on February 14, 2011

As my iPad and I get more acquainted, I find myself analyzing its place in my instructional technology program.  For example, one of the cornerstones of our program is a modified 1-to-1 netbook project with fourth grade.  We utilize a toolbox that consists of a word processor, a presentation application, a spreadsheet, and the Internet.  A typical activity will call for the students to brainstorm in their word processor, create a presentation, and work with some data.  Often they do simple research or get their instructions from the Internet.

My teachers utilize shared learning spaces to share assignments, links, and prompts.  Many times students share documents with classmates and the teacher.  These fourth graders have become amazingly proficient with Google Docs and can manage several applications at one time.  My teachers and I can readily create tasks that not only address content standards, but offer connections to NETS standards as well.

For personal use, the iPad is my favorite information consumption device.  I keep it handy for tasks that range from educational research to Angry Birds.  I could see it replacing our textbooks, but at the moment, I can’t see replacing my $300 netbooks for our projects that call for student-directed research, collaboration, and creativity.  For now, I’ll wait and see what the next generation iPad, or its competitor, has to offer.

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