Brooklyn elementary school teacher Janet Torkel discusses the importance of understanding the computer and the Internet as tools rather than as subjects in themselves.
What are some simple ways to get started?
Starting to use the Net in your classroom can seem like a daunting task. There are many issues that you need to consider. What do your students know about the technology? Are they comfortable using it? Will you be able to locate resources and tools you can use? Will students find inappropriate material? These are just some of many questions.
Carol Hinkelman, a District Technology Coordinator in Brooklyn, NY, and Ivan Mosesman, a computer teacher at P.S. 200 in Brooklyn, explain how a corps of technologically adept student assistants help them and other students less familiar with the Internet.
One of the important things to remember as you begin to consider the use of the Net in you class is to "Define your objectives, then embrace the technology." In some ways the Net is no different from any other tool a teacher would bring into his or her classroom -- you need to consider its purpose, not just use it because it's the "latest" thing. There are times when the Net can be a powerful tool, and there are times when it would be better for students to be using crayons. Teachers should be critical of the resources and tools they bring into the classroom, while providing room for the students to explore and learn.
The next thing to remember as you begin exploring the Net is not to be intimidated. As you would when learning to use any other resource, you should try new things, ask questions, and take notes as you go along. Exploring resources on the Net is very safe. You can't break anything, and if you do come across inappropriate material by mistake, you can just click back to the previous page or close the window.
Getting started with communication and collaboration through e-mail
By interacting with students in other states via the World Wide Web, students at P.S. 200 in New York City expand the scope of learning beyond the classroom and into the world at large.
One of the most powerful features of the Net is the increased communication and collaboration made possible through the use of e-mail. To participate in any online collaboration, you must have an e-mail account. As a matter of fact, you have to have an e-mail account if you are taking this course. The issue that some schools and teachers face is getting e-mail accounts for students.
There are a variety of options available to teachers for getting accounts for students. You and your students may already have access to e-mail accounts -- you should ask your school or district technology contact for information about student accounts. You can generally get information about, and training on, your school's e-mail system from your local technical contact. If your school's computer system does not provide e-mail addresses for individual students, you may want to have them sign up for one of the numerous free, Web-based e-mail services currently available online. These free e-mail accounts have many features and can be very useful. As long as a computer has a connection to the Internet and a current Web browser, students with accounts will have access to all of the communication capacity of the Internet.
Before you have students create accounts for your class, you should review your school and district policies regarding use of technology. Your students should also review these policies so they are aware of what their responsibilities are while using e-mail for school projects. Each of the e-mail providers will also have policies regarding the use of their system, and students and teachers should be aware of these policies.
The following is a brief list of sites that offer free e-mail accounts:
Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.com)
Once you and your students have e-mail accounts, you can participate in many of the collaborative projects that are available on the Web. The next step is to become more familiar with how the Net works and some of the incredible resources that are available there.
Getting started with research
. Locating resources to use in your class:
To take advantage of the many projects and resources that are available on the Net, you need to know where they are located. In general, there are two ways to locate these resources that can be useful for your students. One of the best ways to find resources and projects on the Net is by learning about them from other teachers who are already using them. The teaching profession is rich with journals and Web sites that review online resources and teacher projects. These journals and online resources review sites and include documentation on how teachers and students have used these projects. Fellow teachers in your school can also be excellent sources of information. Some sample sites for locating teacher and student resources on the Net are:
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
. Searching for resources on the Net:
The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)
The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT)
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
The resources you are looking for may not be published in a journal, and those resources may not be available easily for students. The next step is to search for the information online. The best tools for locating resources and information on the Web are search engines
Al Doyle, the technology coordinator at PolyPrep Country Day School in Brooklyn, NY, explains how effective classroom Web use is contingent upon a carefully targeted Web search.
Conducting research on the Web begins the same way it does in any other medium: You need to start with a specific focus and questions. The Web is not forgiving when it comes to unfocused research questions. The result of not being specific on the Internet is lots of useless information and wasted time wading through it. To avoid this, take the time to help students develop specific questions or search terms before they start their searches.
Before you begin any work with your students on the Net, it's also a good idea to research the topic yourself. Having seen the sites the students are likely to find, you can prepare for their questions and issues. Another way to help with research on the Web is to give students a list of sites to visit. This way the work is focused on studying the topic at hand and not on learning how to search!
There are three primary types of search engines on the Internet: site directories
3, and meta-searches
4. Each of these types of search engines manages the information it has about the Internet differently, and, as you will see, each of the different search engines may produce different results, even given the same search information.
Try starting your search with an indexed site, since they are the most organized. If you don't find what you are looking for there, try a meta-search location, and then finally a Web-crawler engine.
Each search engine includes a "help" or "instructions" page that describes the syntax you should use for searches and how it will sort the results. It is a good idea to start by looking at these pages, even if you think you already know how to search, because they often offer time-saving tips and tricks specific to the search engine you are using.
These are some general standards for syntax that are used on Internet search engines. For these examples we will be conducting a search for information about global warming trends.
Al Doyle, the technology coordinator at PolyPrep Country Day School explains why focus is so necessary for Web searches.
- Entering the words "global warning trends" will produce the Web pages that have all of the words -- global, warming, and trends -- anywhere on the Web site. Sites that have the phrase "global warming trend" will be ranked
5 higher in the results.
- Entering "'global warming trends'" in quotes will search for the phase "global warming trends" on Web pages.
- You can also add Boolean expressions to your search -- terms such as AND, OR, NOT, and NOR. We could change our search to "'global warming trends' AND Brazil." This search would produce results that had the phrase "global warming trends" and the word Brazil on the page. Consult the help section of the search engine you are using for details on the syntax you can use in the search engine.
- You can also combine phrases with Boolean searches. For example, to make the search even narrower, you could search for "'global warming trends' AND Brazil AND 'rain forest.'" This search would produce results that had the phrase "global warming trend" and the word Brazil and the phrase "rain forest."
Helping students search on the Net:
After you try a few searches on your own, you will begin to get an understanding of how search engines function, and the type of results each engine will produce. You will notice that sometimes it takes a while to find what you want, and there are many times when searching produces thousands of results. Unguided searches can be a big time waster for students in a class. Some pointers that will help you and your students with effective searching are:
- Have specific focusing questions. Make sure that your students have a clear topic in mind before they begin any research on the Net.
- Try the search yourself. Before having students research a topic, it is a good idea to review the search first and see what type of results it may produce.
- Provide your students with starting points. Make a list in advance of sites that include useful information and resources and have your students start work there.
Assessing your results:
Kelly Willis, Director of Technology at the Collegiate School in New York, advises elementary school teacher Jocko McKean on how teachers and students can differentiate useful, accurate sites from less reliable ones.
You should consider the results from any search with the same critical eye with which you would review any source of information -- perhaps being even more skeptical of data on the Web. Remember, while the Web is a great resource for information, it is not peer-reviewed or censored. Anybody can publish a Web site. Many have strong points of view, and some don't disclose their biases. Some pointers for assessing search results on the Web are:
- Look at all information critically. Does it make sense in relation to your other results? Just because it is on the Web doesn't mean it is true.
- Know the sources of the information. Anybody in the world can put up a Web page. To discover more about the creators of a site, click the button labeled "About" or "Who We Are." This usually provides information on the history and funding sources for the organization.
- Look at the Web site's URL (universal resource locator)
6. Many times, the name of the organization will be in the URL, or you can tell if the Web page you are using is from a company, a government office, or a non-profit organization. The last three letters of a URL tell you the following about a site:
".com" or ".net" sites are most likely to be those of commercial, for-profit organizations. (.net sites were originally reserved for business networks, but they are now often used as a substitute for the dwindling number of .com addresses available.)
".edu" site is most likely a reputable academic center linked to a university. "edu" stands for educational, and college and university Web sites end with this designation.
".gov" sites are U.S. government sites of institutions like the Postal Service and the National Institutes of Health.
".mil" sites are military sites.
Foreign countries have their own designations; for example, the United Kingdom is ".co.uk."
".org" simply means "organization," and many non-profits, charities, and independent research centers and institutes use this designation. However, so do political organizations and groups with specific agendas. When using the Net, teachers and students must always be aware that information providers may -- and most often do -- have particular political biases.
Collaboration between teachers, students, and experts is the key to a successful Web classroom project, according to Jane Carlson-Pickering, Multiple Intelligences Specialist and Technology Coordinator for Hope Valley Middle School, Charleston, Rhode Island.
Getting started with publication
Publication on the Net requires more technical skills than communication and collaboration and research activities. Many schools have the ability to publish students' work on the Web, and you should talk to your school or district technology contact to find out if you and your students can do so. The technical directions for publishing on the Web are beyond the scope of this course, but try The Teachers.NET Homepage Maker (http://www.teachers.net/sampler/) for help making a simple homepage.
If your class has the capacity to publish online, the following are some helpful suggestions for getting started.
The added publicity of publishing content to the Web also adds responsibility for both teachers and students. Before students are permitted to publish their work online, they should read and understand the school's Appropriate Use Policy (AUP) and what the consequences are for violating that AUP.
Since the Web is a very public community, students need to understand that there will be a review and approval process before publication. Students tend to be very careful about their work when they find that it is going to be made available to a broader community, but teachers should also be aware of what students are publishing.
Sometimes the technology can get in the way. As your students are creating their projects and producing them on the Web, make sure that the technical requirements are not hindering some of your students. One of the most important things about technology and education is the students' comfort with the tool. Sometimes it may take them a while to pick up the skills, but if you are aware of their needs, you can help the students focus on the content while learning the new skills needed.