September 30, 2021
40 YEARS AGO
SEPTEMBER 17, 1981
IN HIGH SCHOOL
The three R’s, readin’, riting and ‘rithmetic are still important at Thompson Falls High School, but a class has been added this year that teaches the R’s of another basic educational system. The random access, readout and restore signals of computer programming.
Thompson Falls has invested $5,100 into the Apple II Plus micro computer system which features two keyboards that can adequately serve a class of nine students. Math instructor MaryJo McCoy is advising and organizing the computer program, her second year of teaching a computer class. She is using the computers to teach general purpose math problems, although the system has almost limitless possibilities.
Just the word “computer” may scare off some students from interest in the class, but computer technology is flooding the business and private world of the 1980s. Computer systems are commonly found in grocery stores, office buildings, farms and even newspapers.
“Knowing how to program computers is as basic as the three R’s,” said school superintendent Gene Ostwald. “Just about every school of any size is going into computer programming.”
McCoy is in her eighth year of teaching math. She has also taken graduate courses in computer science and math. She said that a computer system is not difficult to learn once a person understands the basic computer language.
“No matter what field graduates get into they will run into computers,” she said. “They are becoming more and more common in society.”
There are nine students signed up for the semester class.
Since the computers are still new to the school, McCoy is starting the students out with basic assignments. But she said as the year progresses, she will expose the students to more and more complex problems. Right now her class is dealing with basic mathematics and graph diagramming. The computers lend themselves well to graphs and square root equations.
Computer systems consist of hardware and software. Hardware is the actual machines, such as the keyboards and monitor screens, while software consists of additional programming cards that can be hooked into the keyboard for extra versatility. McCoy said the high school system has the capability to teach science, physics, spelling and vocabulary.
The computer system is quite basic. There are two keyboards similar to typewriters, two monitor screens, one color that doubles as a portable TV, two disc drives that allow selecting individual assignments, and one readout printer which emits a print out, much like an adding machine.
The memory capability is stored on diskettes, which are about the size of a 45 rpm record. Each student has his own diskette, which costs the school about $5 each. The diskettes are popped into the disc drives and the students may push the correct keyboard codes to select anything from an index which lists the memory of the diskette. The reliable diskettes can store almost 120,000 characters that can be erased and reinstated.
McCoy said that all the students in the class are interested in computers, and more students around the school are becoming less afraid and more curious about the class with many already signing up for next semester.
“It really gives them satisfaction, seeing their error statement and what they did wrong.” McCoy said. “It also reinforces their need to type.”
The computer system is located in a recently partitioned area in the high school math room. One advantage to the Apple II system is that it requires no special treatment. Some computers require a climate-controlled room, while these units can be unplugged from the wall circuit and moved to any other room in the school.
Students in the class still must copy problems off the chalkboard and are given textbook assignments. But as the semester progresses they will have tests on the computers, with each student required to solve a problem by using the keyboards and monitors. Students in the class are seniors Evan Burnham, Art Dykstra, Jim Doherty, Scott Eichert, Mike LaBrosse, Steve Linderman, Nate Williams and juniors Owen Burch and Rick Quitt.
“Everyone thinks it’s really tough, but it’s easy,” Dykstra said about the computer class.
“It makes it easier to understand algebra,” Williams said.
Ostwald said the computers will gradually be used for more and more things at the school. He said that the system could be used to purchase orders, inventory and organize class schedules.
There are more than just three R’s to the computer language, but none are difficult to learn. All students with a computer background will benefit when they enter the “real world,” and now Thompson Falls has the basic components for a special educational curriculum.