Friday, November 3, 2006
From DNA to digital art, computers aid learning at CCHS
Change has been called the one constant in the field of computers, and that applies to the use of computers in education. Gene Warfel, director of Information Technology Services for Concord Public Schools and Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS), described recent upgrades and innovative uses of computers at the high school.
New computers add speed
Warfel announced at the October 24 meeting of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) that a grant from the Concord Education Foundation allowed for 24 computers to be updated to dual-processor PCs (personal computers) in the PC Lab at CCHS. These 24 PCs are used by the Art Department for digital imaging, animation and creating videos. Rendering speeds have been greatly enhanced by these new computers. Warfel said, "Rendering [for a specific application] has gone from taking one hour to just five minutes."
Rendering is a process that adds details to pictures. For example, the artist tells the program where the source of light is and the rendering program adds the correct shadows to the objects in the picture. The program also adds texture to objects in the picture. It would take an artist an unreasonable amount of time to do this by hand. The rendering program uses extensive calculations to add details. These calculations are done much faster with the dual processors in the new PCs. In addition to the 24 PCs for the Art Department, there are another 10 PCs for the Music Department in the PC Lab.
For a few, games are "homework"
Warfel told the RSC that a few CCHS students are doing internships for major game companies. CCHS has an internship program that gives juniors and seniors the opportunity to work side-by-side with mentors in businesses and community-based organizations. Students request the fields they are interested in during the fall and generally intern in the late winter and spring. While participating in internships, students apply academic, technical, and personal development skills that they have learned to "real-world" tasks. They are expected to learn about the workplace, the career and gain skills.
Computers used extensively
Warfel thinks there are about 500 PCs and Macintosh Computers (Macs) at CCHS. PCs are scattered around the school. Every department and almost every teacher has a computer or a laptop. Guidance Department staff and administrative staff have PCs as well. There is a Mac Lab with 30 Macintosh Computers. RSC member Michael Fitzgerald asked if there was a commitment to both platforms, PCs and Macs. Warfel replied yes and added, "Macs are much better. Their hardware reliability and network management are much better."
CCHS received lots of new hardware, including six PC servers, 28 PCs and a variety of other products over the last few months. Warfel would like technology to be replaced every five years, as management is easier on newer equipment.
A year and a half ago, Warfel had created a bio-informatics cluster. Informatics is the science of information and the practice of information processing. It is the study of the structure, behavior, and interactions of natural and artificial systems that store, process and communicate information. The bio-informatics cluster is used for biology and mathematical modeling. It allows for pattern matching of DNA sequencing or protein sequencing. It permits students to compare two species by determining the degree of similarities of their genes. The cluster supports the statistical side of biology. Warfel said, "This is cutting edge for high schools. It's common in colleges."
Warfel was asked whether there were enough computers at the high school. He replied, "I believe we are meeting the need. There are a lot of opportunities to get to computers."
CCHS Principal Art Dulong said a group was working on a computer-lending program to help those who do not have a computer at home. There are roughly a dozen computers that can be lent out.
© 2006 The