Sometimes computers in Juneau's schools aren't used because they're broken. Other times they sit idle because teachers don't know how to use them, especially to support the curriculum.
The school district has won about $450,000 in federal grants in recent years to train teachers. When those grants dry up, the district or teachers will have to shoulder more of that expense.
"The training teachers do receive is usually too little, too basic, and too generic to help them develop real facility in teaching with technology," according to a recent report from the federal Web-Based Education Commission.
School districts should spend 30 percent of their technology budget to train teachers, according to the federal Office of Technology Assessment. It's been more like 8 percent nationally.
Some Juneau teachers have taken brief computer training sessions from the school district or, at their own expense, courses at the University of Alaska Southeast. One-on-one training is very labor-intensive and costly.
A $327,000 federal grant paid, among other things, for four local teachers to train other teachers last school year. The mentors helped about a third of the district's teachers, estimated Kathi Yanamura, who manages technology grants for the district.
The one-on-one help with specific projects that teachers wanted to do was the most valuable training he has seen, said Henry Hopkins, one of the mentors.
"Different teachers need different things. Teachers are a lot like kids. A single approach doesn't work for every teacher, so you have to customize your mentoring," he said.
"Every teacher was at a different stage," said mentor Sheila Degener, a teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School.
Among other projects, Degener showed a social studies teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School how to use spreadsheets on Excel for a comparative study of African nations. She helped a teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School post a class newspaper on the Web.
"What we found as mentors," said Riordan Burch, who helped teachers at three elementary schools, "was they didn't even know what they could do with the computers, so they didn't even know what they could ask."
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.