What do you get when you throw 36 educators, some fiber optic cable, and a few computers into the woods near a secluded lake in Washington for a week? A network, of course.

“Get Wired at the Lake,” a program designed to give educators the skills they need to understand how to create and manage school computer networks, is going into its eighth year this summer, thanks to the efforts of Dick Barnhart and Don Laurence of Educational Services District (ESD) 113 near Olympia, Wash.

ESD 113 supports 45 school districts in a five-county area of Washington. According to Laurence, who is ESD 113’s director of network and telecommunications support, “Get Wired at the Lake” was the brainchild of Barnhart, who is director of the organization’s Education Technology Service Center and has been working with education and technology for 20-plus years.

“He’s the dreamer and I’m the doer,” said Laurence. “Dick saw a lot of folks struggling, and in 1993 he put on the first ‘Get Wired at the Lake’ program. There was an intimate cadre of folks—all educators—who were interested in the program, and Dick asked for me to help implement it.”

Armed with the belief that teachers really need to understand how technology works in order to implement it in their classrooms, the two found a remote spot on the Olympia Peninsula and brought 30 to 45 educators to the six admittedly “rustic” cabins at Camp Kiwanis.

“The setting is really beautiful and removed from everything,” said Laurence. “Folks are pretty much captive out there. You really eat, sleep, and drink this technology.”

Laurence said he likes to have no more than 36 participants, which he divides into six six-person teams.

“The first night we start with fun-and-games stuff to judge the technology expertise of the various participants,” he said. “That way, we make teams of both those with lots of experience and those with very little.”

“I like that people of varying ability surround you. That way, you get lots of answers to the questions you may have,” said Dawn Fisher, computer teacher at Grand Mound Elementary School in Rochester, Wash., and former “Get Wired at the Lake” participant.

According to the program’s organizers, the campers are an eclectic mix of teachers, technology personnel, school board members, and people from higher education, as well as a few superintendents.

Over the course of the week, Laurence and Barnhart establish two primary goals for their “campers.” First, participants must learn what networking is, so they can ask the right questions; and second, once the network is in place, they need to know how to use it.

The first day of camp consists of getting acquainted with network capabilities. “We are lucky to have vendors come in and explain the technology they will be using” in terms that are not vendor-specific, said Laurence.

Each team uses its cabin as a model “classroom.” The teams each are given a PC and a Macintosh and must wire the cabin to create a “peer-to-peer” network.

“We then run tests to make sure the networks work, and if they don’t, we help them until they do work,” said Laurence.

After the “classroom” scenario is complete, each virtual classroom becomes a school building, which participants connect with a lodge that represents the district office. That’s when the “counselors” introduce the use of fiber optic cable.

At this time, the group leaders also introduce electronics. According to Laurence, “We answer questions like, ‘What is a hub?’ ‘What is a shared network?’ We also teach what a network operating system is.”

At the end of the week, students are asked to show their peers what they have learned.

“When the hardware level of training is complete, we give them something to test on. For example, we ask them to do things like create word documents and print them out at the lodge,” said Laurence. “We also have the participants create personal web pages about their goals and ambitions for using technology.”

The student-educators say they go back to school with networking skills that might have taken months to learn in a conventional professional development class.

“Generally, participants are more technology aware when they leave. They bring back a knowledge of networking—not necessarily to do it themselves, but just the knowledge to ask the right questions,” Laurence said.

According to the camp’s organizers, any educators from across the country are eligible to participate in the program. The cost is $450.

“Sometimes the district pays that, and sometimes the teachers pay out of their own pockets. It just depends on their resources,” said Laurence.

Education Services District 113