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Travelers' gift equips high school writing/math lab with new computers (Released: 5/20/96)

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- A computer lab that has helped hundreds of students with disabilities learn writing and math has been equipped with nine new computers thanks to a $20,000 gift from Travelers Foundation.

The lab at Hartford's Bulkeley High School is run by faculty and students from the teacher preparation program in the University of Connecticut's School of Education. Graduate students Kerri Kerney, Marty Semmel and Theodore Kopcha served as instructors in the lab this year as part of their master's degree in education.

The lab caters to students in grades nine through 12 who have difficulties in language arts and math, and who enroll in a year-long writing and math program using computers.

"The students are learning how to use technology and be comfortable with it, at the same time as learning how to write and do math," says Kay Norlander, an associate professor of educational psychology and coordinator of UConn's special education program.

The program emphasizes hands-on experience, practical activities and learning to solve problems together. One assignment this year was to analyze the types of programming in TV Guide and tabulate the results in a graph. The students also tracked individual basketball players on the UConn teams and combined the statistics into a written narrative.

"We've had really good success in the lab," Norlander says. "The kids love it. Many of them have severe disabilities and most are non-writers when they start." Considering their background, she said, "You'd never expect (they) would be doing these things.

"We're very grateful to Travelers for enabling us to keep the lab open. We should now be in good shape for some time," Norlander says.

"Computers drive our business today," added Keith Anderson, vice president, corporate communications, Travelers/Aetna Property Casualty Corp. "And these students are our future. So supporting this effort between Bulkeley and UConn fits in well with our $2.5 million community support program -- a program heavily weighted toward primary and secondary education."

Using a computer to learn writing and math is particularly helpful for students having problems in those areas, according to Judi Sweeney, coordinator of the Special Education Technology Lab in the School of Education, who has developed a writing and math curriculum specially tailored to this project.

Because the computer compensates for any difficulties in handwriting and spelling the students may have, they can put all their effort into composition, Sweeney says. With an interactive spell check they can correct spelling errors right away, and they learn to use a page layout program so they can make documents look good.

The students publish their creative work, including poetry and a math publication that includes spreadsheets and graphics. "The kids are really proud of them," Sweeney says.

The lab was first established in 1990 with six Macintosh computers donated by Apple Computer. The new Macintosh multimedia terminals, which were installed earlier this month, are faster and have additional capabilities, including CD-ROM and modems.

More than 120 students a year use the lab, both for formal classroom activities and during recess. "The lab is packed from the time the doors open till the librarian kicks them out at the end of the day," Sweney says.

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